Thursday, June 11, 2009


On May 14, I flew from Delhi to Amman, Jordan via Kuwait City. Of Cairo, Tel Aviv and Amman, Amman was the cheapest place to fly to from Delhi. Of all the carriers to Amman, Kuwait Airways was cheaper than the others by about $50. So I thought, why spend $50 more for the same ride? Kuwait is the third richest country in the world in per-capita income. How bad could their national airline be? I would later come to regret that decision. I purchased a ticket on their website. I've had problems with my Capital One Visa credit card authorizing plane and train tickets purchased online. I've been denied a total of five times, each time involving at least two phone calls to Capital One. One of those times was for a $10 train ticket purchased on the India Rail website. I've explained to those morons no less than eight times that I'm traveling and airline and train tickets should be expected, so I thought that finally it would be over. I was actually a bit surprised when the transaction went through. I got a confirmation email and all was right with the world, until the next day.

I got an email from Capital One stating that there had been suspicious activity on my account and I needed to call them. I also got an email from Kuwait Airways saying my reservation had been canceled due to "suspected activity on the account" I called them and, sure enough, they thought my airline ticket was a suspicious activity. I asked to speak with a manager. I asked her, "How many ^*$^#W@ times do I have to tell you I'm traveling and will be buying airline tickets online? Will you look at my transaction history? How many charges were denied for suspected fraud? How many went through after calling? All of them right? Do you people just like hearing my voice?". I was talking loudly because I was using Skype and the connection wasn't the best. Everyone in the internet cafe was looking at me. She said the charge was not denied and it was simply a verification service to alert me of potential fraud. The airline website didn't have a customer service number, so I called the local Delhi office. They told me the charge did not go though, which is not what my credit card company told me. It was coming up on two days before my scheduled flight. They said they would check with headquarters and try to resolve for me. My goal was to fly to Amman, Jordan on May 14 and only be charged once for it. It didn't seem like too much to ask for. They told me that to fly on that route, I would need to come to their office on Cannaught Place in Delhi and to pay for the ticket. I had a hotel near the airport and was looking forward to sleeping after that crappy 12 hour bus ride back from Dharamsala. So I took a rickshaw into Cannaught Place ($3). Went to the Kuwait Airways office on the fourth floor of a non-descript building and paid cash for a ticket that cost $7 more than the ticket I'd booked online (they said that booking through the internet was cheaper). What kind of payment acceptance operation is this? I then took a rickshaw back to my hotel ($3). Having gone through that, Capital One owes me $13 and a day of my life back. I'm still waiting. I could have booked a ticket online on antother website, but I really couldn't chance having another charge denied by Capital One since I was flying out the next day.

I cannot wait until I get home and cut up this stupid Capital One Visa card. In fact, I don't think cutting it up will do justice. I need something bigger. In an action movie, the villain cannot die simply from a random gunshot. He has to die some spectacular, horrible death with explosions. I need to think of some spectacular way to destroy this credit card when I get back. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I went to the airport and boarded my 6:00am Kuwait Airlines flight. The in flight magazine gave a history of Kuwait Airways and noted that in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the company and all it's aircraft fleet were stolen or destroyed. In 1991, they relaunched with an all new, modern fleet. It appeared that little had changed since 1991. The plane, and everything about it seemed old. When the in flight safety instruction video got to the part about portable electronic devices, it showed crossed out pictures of an old Sony Walkman cassette player, an early 90's Gameboy, and a really ancient looking laptop computer. The seat in front of me had a very small, fuzzy screen for in flight entertainment. They passed out headphones, but that was pretty much a worthless exercise since the audio wasn't working on the entire plane. I probably shouldn't complain, it was really no worse than flying Delta, but after flying Ethiad from Brisbane to Singapore, with the personal entertainment center with over 100 movies, young and attractive flight attendants, great food, and a wide variety of free booze, it was really a let down. It was how I imagine flying was 50 years ago (except for the personal entertainment center). Kuwait Airways had crappy food, mostly male flight attendants, an entertainment center that would have been impressive 15 years ago had it had sound, and no booze at all (alcohol is illegal in Kuwait). Looking back, I would have gladly spent the extra $50 to fly Ethiad through Abu Dahbi or Gulf Air through Bahrain. I couldn't have possibly envisioned the hassle and disappointment this flight would bring when I booked the ticket.

I had an eight hour layover at the Kuwait airport. The airport was really nice but small and with few shops and restaurants. No smoking signs were flagrantly disregarded. There was a cloudy haze as the airplane was approaching. I thought I would be able to see one of the average two days of rain Kuwait gets annually. I boarded my connecting flight to Amman. I guess the airport is pretty far out of the city, because all I could see out the window was the desert and a massive sandstorm.

Jordan is a country of over 6 million, 65% of which are Palestinian. Jordan has taken in a lot of Palestinian and later, Iraqi refugees. It has a very western friendly King (Abdullah II) who is the head of state, but there is an elected parliament. His wife, Queen Rainia wears western clothes, champions many causes such as education and womens' rights in the middle east, and is absolutely stunning. The Jordanians love their royal family and their pictures are literally everywhere. It has pretty good relations with Israel. Alcohol is legal (although not really part of the culture). Although it has its problems, Jordan seems to be a model of what a modern, moderate middle-eastern country can be. I don't think that gets enough attention in the press.

I got into Amman that evening and took a bus from the airport into town, then a taxi to my hotel. Amman was a good base for day trips and I spent a couple of days there. The first couple of days I spent walking around Amman getting oriented.

The Roman Amphitheater.

Al-Husseiny Mosque.

The Citadel.

The National Archeological Museum includes parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The hotel arranged day tours and I took two. They weren't tours so much as they were an arranged driver. On May 17, I took a day trip with four Italians to sights in northern Jordan. The first stop was to the Roman ruins of Umm Qais.

The second stop was Ajloun Castle. Ajloun was built high on a hill between 1184-1188 by the Arabs as protection against the crusaders. It had some fantastic views over the countryside.

The third stop was Jerash. Jerash is probably the second most popular attraction in Jordan next to Petra. It has an outstanding collection of Roman ruins - much better than the one's I've seen in Rome.

On May 18, I took a trip to Madaba, Mt Nebo, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, and the Dead sea with two old French ladies. Old people share a lot of similarities regardless of where they are from. They are a bit clueless and verbalize it. If they can't find something, they will say, "I can't find this, where is it?" to no one in particular. They were very sweet, however, and I had a great time with them that day.

They had both either been to or were going to Syria. Most people I met traveling in Jordan were going there. It was not somewhere I had originally thought of going, but it sounded like an interesting place to visit and a lot of people go there. I did a little research. Syria requires a visa before going and the consulate in Amman does not issue visas to foreigners. So I'll add that to the list for a future trip - maybe when I'm as old as the French ladies.

The first stop was St George's Church in the city of Madaba. St. George's was built in the 19th century, but has a floor with a mosaic map of the holy land that dates back to 560 AD. The map was a remnant of an old Byzantine church long since destroyed.

The second stop was Mt. Nebo. Mt. Nebo is the place where Moses climbed, looked out over the promised land, and subsequently died at age 120. On a clear day you can see Jerusalem. It was a bit hazy that day and I, unfortunately, could not see the promised land.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan is the site of the baptism of Jesus. Over the years several churches had been built near the sight, all of which which were destroyed by flooding, earthquakes, and/or invaders. These ruins were not excavated until 1994 after Jordan signed the peace treaty with Israel. Jesus was actually baptized in a spring feeding into the Jordan, not the actual river itself. After 2000 years of climate change and 50 years of diversion of the Jordan for irrigation, the river is a sad little stream that could easily be walked across if not for the Israeli soldiers with big guns on the other side. The actual sight of the baptism is no longer under water, but a hole has been dug and filled with water from the spring. You can be baptized in this very sight if you have the forethought to bring along your own priest or minister and don't mind getting in green, stagnant water.

The Jordan River (what's left of it) near the sight.

The Baptism sight.

Ruins of churches built near the sight.

Modern Greek Orthodox church built near the sight. Most Christian churches in the Middle East are Greek Orthodox.

The fourth and final stop of the day was the Dead Sea. The Jordan River runs from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. It does not empty into an ocean, so the salt and mineral content are incredible high and one can float quite well. It was a strange experience and one I'd been looking forward to for a long time. Out of curiosity I touched my finger to my tongue to see what it tasted like. I expected something close to the taste of ocean water. But it was so strong and powerful I can't really describe it. It burned my tongue. The Dead Sea is actually evaporating at what is quite an alarming rate.

I posed for the obligatory picture.

As I was posing for the camera, one small drop of water rolled from the top of my head into my eye and burned like crazy. Much worse than my tongue.

On May 19, I took a public bus to Wadi Musa, home of the famous Petra ruins. Petra is probably most famous for being a filming location for the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

My guidebook recommended devoting two days to Petra. I went the first afternoon and then the next day. If pressed for time, I could have probably gotten most in most of it in one full day.

Petra was built in the 3rd century BC by the Nabataeans. From the park entrance it is about a 1.5 kilometer walk through a ravine that comes out at the Treasury.

On the second day, I hiked up to the monastery. It was a long climb but well worth the effort.

Climbing around the monastery is forbidden, but after 5:00, apparently no one cares. A guide took a few of us up to the top. It was a strange feeling being on top.

It was even stranger when the guide took off running from the rim and climbed up on top of the center ball.

The Treasury and the Monastery were the two best preserved carvings. There were many other sights that were a bit more worn by time and the elements.

The desert landscape views were incredible.

After the second day, I stopped at the Cave Bar outside the park entrance for an incredibly expensive beer. I couldn't resist a beer in a bar that was 2,000 years old (the cave structure, not the actual bar).

On May 21, I left Wadi Musa by bus to Aqaba. Aqaba is a resort town on the Red Sea. I was going to spend a few days here, but decided to leave after a day as there was not really much going on and I'd heard Dahab in Egypt was a better Red Sea location.

On May 22, I took a ferry from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt.


toomuchcountry said...

So Mt. Nebo is really kind of like Rock City in Chattanooga, right? Holy land, 7 states. About the same experience I'd think. ~ Great post and pics as always.

Ozzy Nelson said...

You should have added "capital one" to your tags. I can't believe there wasn't a religous person at the Jordan to Baptise you for a fee. I would have paid it.