Jordanian Novelties III

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The invisible steps of a Roman theatre

In recent years, the ever-increasing irritating nanny-stateness of life in Britain has driven me mad on countless occasions.

So daily life and tourist travel in Jordan is balm to my soul. A complete lack of concern for classic Health and Safety issues has made this last week challenging, exciting and rewarding in equal measure.

Ordinary pedestrian obstacles take some getting used to. Curbstones are not for the faint hearted or moderately infirm. And the slender steel cables used to anchor street lighting to the pavement offer the prospect of clean and swift decapitation to the unwary.

Smoking is still freely permitted indoors everywhere (and although a non-smoker, I’ve always quite liked smoky atmosphere) and naturally no one gives a monkeys if you photograph the entire collection in the small folk museum at the base of the Roman Theatre in downtown Amman.

Amman is a city built on hills, so there are charmingly pretty but lethally crumbling irregular steps and staircases everywhere, and the most impressive of these are to be found in the Roman Theatre itself. Viewed in the harsh light of early afternoon sun, deprived of shadowed form, these 2,000 year old blocks of rock left me paralysed with fear as I stood wondering just how I was going to get back down.

Another exciting event was an invitation to the opening of a new but-not-quite finished arty-chic hotel in downtown, where we were encouraged to explore the delightful uninhabited guest rooms and the impressive nighttime view from an extensive unlit rooftop terrace six stories above the city centre- with a three-inch parapet.

The highlight, though, is Wadi Rum in Jordan’s southern desert. Better than Petra (yes, really) in so many ways, but above all offering the sort of outward-bound physical endurance, balance and agility challenge that all real travellers are looking for in their hearts. And no H&S namby pamby restrictions to stop the fun.

It started with a bone-shattering ride across desert sands in an ancient 4×4 (which by the end of the day needed Himself to run alongside and push to jump-start it, our young Bedouin guide cheering with relief on our behalf). At various points, our “guide” would stop and point in a vaguely upwards direction and suggest a climb to a viewpoint. And so we did free scrambles up vertiginous rock falls; punishing climbs up sand dunes; a Spider-man inspired vertical scramble up a sheer rock face; and edged along footwide shelves and over narrow rock bridges with clear drops either side.

There was no moment when at least one person in our party wasn’t being challenged by a lifelong phobia of some sort. And it made men of all of us. And the next day no one could move.

But lest anyone should be in any doubt, Wadi Rum is absolutely worth it.

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