During my eight-day trip to The Bahamas, I stayed in the Presidential Suite at The Cove Atlantis, whose rate cannot even be looked up online. It’s one of those if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it rooms at $6500 or so per night. Along with free water and sodas, which is no insignificant benefit at a resort that happily charges $7 minimum for them, we had access to a butler. Even our housekeeping person was dedicated, knowing our names and greeting me each morning. The butler performed many services, typical of ultra-luxury hotels, but with which I could do without, such as restaurant reservations and even packing and unpacking one’s luggage. My friend complained that the unpacking service at the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan was not to her liking.
The one butler service I did use was upon departing the resort and country. In a region that is notorious for tardiness, I had a driver of a standard black Lincoln Town Car pull up and drive me to the airport. Upon arrival, there was a guy who already had my documents ready. He walked me to the security queue in case there were enough people in it, in which case, I would whisk past the hoi polloi. The only other time I visited in 2011 was the last time I missed a flight due to lengthy security questioning of my friends, on account of the amount of cash they were carrying. There was no queue so I bid my assistant farewell. I did not have to touch my bag until this point.
I went from this over-the-top luxury to riding a bus full of Arabs to Amman. On my world tour, I am used to taking public transportation. I experienced my first long airport queue at the visa counter and passport control. For U.S. citizens, Jordan requires a visa that can be purchased upon arrival for 40 Jordanian dinars. Not subtly, there are two foreign exchange booths and two ATMs located in this area, as the visa purchase requires local currency. The ATM charged me an extra $3.63 surcharge. Visas are rackets and this one was one of the more obvious ones. I wish they would streamline the whole process into one quick transaction instead of potentially having to suffer three different actions.
The network of the counters went down, which caused immense delays. I was told that a typical clearing time is 10 minutes, but it took me 70 minutes! In addition, Jordan is a popular place for workers from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. There were recruitment agency men going up to the front of each line with many passports in hand. Apparently, these imported workers take longer to process so they put a few in each line so everyone suffers delays! After clearing passport control, at least I did not have to wait for my 50-pound bag at the carousel.
The Airport Express traveled 33 kilometers in 47 minutes. Amman traffic is much heavier and denser than I would have imagined. Jordan is a poor country, with a purchasing power parity of only $6134 per capita, with a good chunk of that likely going toward cars. Unlike much of the Middle East, Jordan is not a producer of oil, although it has phosphate mines.
At the bus stop, several taxicab drivers immediately proffered their services. They were arguing over whose fare I was. My luggage was eventually moved from one car to another. I repeated in a raised voice, “يللا ! يللا!” I have only a few words in my Arabic arsenal. There was a white teenager who shockingly spoke fluent Arabic. I received a little guidance from her and secured a taxicab ride for $7. I think I might have overpaid by $2, as the taxicab driver claimed heavy traffic, which was certainly true, but I think now is always present, which would not warrant any extra surcharge.
The taxis are standard yellow Nissans. It took 32 minutes to go 10 kilometers east! One stretch was five lanes wide but cars went however they wanted. Straight lines were not observed. The light wet conditions did not make things easier. I saw my driver scrolling through the Camera Roll on his iPhone 5S for frighteningly long stretches, despite the need for constant aggressive maneuvers. We were not going fast so any collision would not have caused much damage.
I am staying at the Amman Pasha Hotel, which offers more attention and service than a standard hotel but has the cleanliness slightly above a hostel, although that may be considered sanitary by the standards of this city. My biggest objection is how dirty my tiled floor gets. In particular, the bathroom always seems to leak moisture, so the floor resembles light mud. When tip toeing out of the shower, I minimize surface contact to preserve the net effect of the self-cleaning.
The people are extremely friendly, and I have spent hours loitering in the lobby and adjoining restaurant. I am paying $35 per night but relative to other prices, it feels expensive. For example, I have gone out to a dinner a couple of times at the same restaurant, perhaps the best local joint in the city, Hashem. Each time, I am stunned when my share is only a couple of dollars.
I think I am fairly adventurous, but then I meet people who have traveled through Syria and Iran. The English spoken by the staff at this hotel is impressive, given that they have only a high school education, at most. They are quite humorous with their command of sarcasm and exaggeration.
Yesterday, I was sitting at an impromptu discussion between an Italiano and a Jordanian. It went something like this: