Jordan: Petra and a restaurant without a kitchen

My knowledge of Jordan was severely limited. I knew about the Dead Sea, but the extent of my familiarity with the country’s history and archaeological sites were completely molded by a single episode of An Idiot Abroad. This is appropriate, as it is how I felt for the majority of the trip.

The night before we visited Petra, I listened as Matthias eagerly outlined his plan for the following day:

“We’ll start with the Treasury, and then there’s a great hike up toward the Monastery that provides an excellent view, though the High Place of Sacrifice also has some nice overlooks.”

“My colleague actually suggested we take the opposite route,” Meghan chimed in. Others murmured their assents enthusiastically. I had no idea what they were talking about.

All I knew was that Harrison Ford had visited Petra once. And so had Karl Pilkington. Any other information regarding Petra – what it actually was, for example – was beyond me.

We spent the next day hiking around Petra, musing at stone monuments and gaping awe-struck at the fact that this was once a city. A series of informational boards explained each stone location: a dining hall, a funerary hall, someone’s home, a tomb. On each board was a timeline, roughly estimating when the construction of that particular edifice had been completed. As I stood among a pile of toppled rock, I scanned the timeline. It seemed that Petra was a hotspot for earthquakes; between nearly every major historical event, there was some kind of earthquake.

Year 1: Petra is built.

Year 2: Petra is attacked by minions of Alexander the Great.

Year 3: Earthquake destroys part of the city. Thousands die.

Year 4: The first crusade.

Year 5: More of Petra is destroyed by an even greater earthquake.

Year 6: Things are looking up for Petra!

Year 7: All of Petra is destroyed in an earthquake.

The frequency of earthquakes in Petra was unsettling. I silently crept away from the fallen rock. We hiked for an hour or so up steep cliffsides to reach the High Place of Sacrifice, an altar carved out of rock on the top of a hill. Citizens of Petra would slaughter animals to sacrifice the gods, a thoughtful gesture that didn’t seem very effective given the amount of earthquakes.

“I’m glad that’s not my job,” Mark observed. “Drag a sheep up the mountain, kill it, drag it back down. Hell if I’ll be doing that. Where’s my union rep?”

The High Place of Sacrifice and the subsequent lengthy hike back down rendered Amy, Stephen, Myles, and me exhausted, so we retired to an outdoor restaurant boasting shisha, French fries, and a monkey named Monica. It should be noted at this point that one of our top priority on this trip was beer, and it was near impossible to find beer, shisha, and food all in one place. This would prove to be our undoing.

The next day, we drove to Karak, an old crusader castle.               Once again, Amy read to us from the Lonely Planet, delineating the suggested walking route and pausing to emphasize what she and I seemed to think was the most fascinating aspect of the Karak visit: apparently, from the top of a flight of steps, one can glance out to the west at Wadi Karak and see the alleged site of Sodom and Gomorrah, the two salacious cities of Biblical times.

“Really? In Jordan?” I asked, flabbergasted.

“Is Jordan considered the Holy Land?” Amy wondered.

I did remember reading that Moses supposedly struck the rock and sprung a fountain for the Israelites in one of two locations in Jordan, and Jordan had brazenly printed Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock on its currency, so we assumed it had to be part of the Holy Land.

Karak was chilly and much like any other castle one might opt to visit. We picked up a tour guide by accident and allowed him to lead us through the passages of the castle. As usual, I was sorely underprepared for the drastic temperature changes – sizzling at the Dead Sea and shivering in Karak – but Meghan had done her research and kindly loaned me a sweater.

By the end of our tour, we were all enthusiastic about the much anticipated meal that would follow. Amy had discovered a highly reputable restaurant in the guidebook that just happened to be located down the road we’d parked on. The swanky establishment offered ostrich steaks and mushroom chicken, to name a few succulent dishes, and claimed to be the only source of beer in the area.

Of course, they were not selling beer that day. Some kind of national holiday or legislation prohibited them from selling alcohol and they were very sorry.

Disheartened – and out for a beer to warm our bones – we were immediately snatched up by a man whose restaurant stood just beside our parked cars.

“You have beer?” we asked tentatively.

“Yes! Yes, come in!”

As seasoned travelers, at least one of us should’ve spotted the red flag. It’s embarrassing that, in a group of ten veteran jetsetters, not one of us noticed the overly enthusiastic salesmanship or the fact that, despite being labeled a restaurant, the place offered one single menu and no visible kitchen.

That was okay, though, because it had beer. With the exception of Amy, who smartly opted for a Coke, we all ordered beer. The day’s special was Turkish chicken or lamb kebab, which we all agreed would suffice. After placing our orders, we settled down to wait.

And a long wait it was. After about fifteen minutes, we noticed the man walking up the street in our direction with two plastic bags in his hands.

“He must’ve gone to the store to buy our beers,” someone concluded.

As it turned out, he went to the store to buy everything. From Amy’s Coke to the hummus we’d ordered as an appetizer, nothing was available in the “restaurant” itself. The beer, which was poured behind closed doors and served in squat goblets, tasted like warm apple juice.

“Could I see the bottle this came in?” Rachel asked cleverly. “I like to take pictures of the local beer wherever I go.”

“A good hobby!” the man remarked, disappearing into the kitchen.

We never did see the bottle.

While we originally thought it might have been a home brew, we quickly realized it was simply nonalcoholic. As our meals were served, Rhonda and I ordered Cokes and everyone else a second round of hummus. Again, the man left the restaurant and headed down the road to the store.

The meals were monumentally disappointing. The grilled chicken kebab was deep fried chicken cubes scattered haphazardly on the plate. No vegetables, no kebab sticks. It was then that we decided we should pay the bill and get the heck out.

This we did, and rapidly, though there was no reason to hurry. Whatever store the man was using was located far down the road, and by the time he returned, we’d already paid the bill, piled into the car, and even spared a few moments for Meghan to politely discourage some new patrons from dining there. She pointed them down the road to our first choice of restaurant, which we all gazed toward wistfully.

Crushed by our silly mistake, we ended our trip the best way we knew how: giving Amman a miss and settling into comfy couches at the airport bar, sipping on frosty pints of Amstel.

Categories: Jordan

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