From Salt to Amman by foot. Accidently.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; a country universally known for Petra (the rose-stoned capital of the Nabateans) and the third Indiana Jones movie. Seasoned travelers out there will also associate Lawrence of Arabia, the Hijaz railway, the vast deserts of various Wadis, the mediocre port of Aqaba, and the Roman Decapolis, alongside the typical commercial attractions. None, however, introduce a country quite like a 25km solo hike along a motorway in the heat of a 40-degree summer. Hungover Wearing a fleece. With no water.

Heading out on a Friday night as an idealistic 18-year-old, I wasn’t too attentive of the drive with friends from Amman to Jordan’s ancient capital city, Salt. Yes, like the stuff you put on your chips. We eventually arrived in late evening, the night sky hanging heavily over a small stone country shed we’d call home for the night. The stars were out in force, lighting up an otherwise pitch-black canvas. Time passes quickly in good company and I was soon drinking a cold Amstel and smoking something vaguely funny. The rest I forget.

Woken at the crack of dawn by an over-zealous rooster is fun the first few minutes, then it just gets annoying. The single-story shed-thing I woke in, well more of a decorated shack, was not actually in the old city, not even on the outskirts, but a good few miles further out still, and straddled a small dusty hill overlooking a small dusty hamlet. Biblical indeed. A strong smell of something nauseous drifted past my nostrils, no doubt I’d seen my dinner again at some point during the night, but where it ended up was anybody’s guess. For some obscure reason, and one that I can only put down to being 18 years old and full of fucking stupid ideas, I crawled out my sleeping-bag, packed up my meager belongings, and slipped out the front door as quiet as a mouse. I found myself on top of a dusty biblical hill overlooking a dusty biblical hamlet, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with a stinking hangover in the height of summer. Things didn’t bode well for the day ahead.

Walking down the hill, I past wide-eyed roosters and slumbering sheep, finally arriving at the hill’s base to find a dusty path that meandered past a disarray of knackered tractors and derelict homesteads, now playgrounds for small gatherings of equally dusty children. Eventually, I found a small concrete road that led to a bigger concrete road, and then on to an even bigger tarmac road that finally intersected with a dual-carriageway appearing on the horizon like a sparkly slithering snake. Already starting to feel nauseous as the morning heat of a wicked summer’s sunset in for the day, I realised I had no water, food or money. To top it off, I was wearing a heavy winter fleece rain jacket my mum bought me from Debenhams. I’d kinda promised I’d keep it on me at all times.

At least the dual-carriageway provided me with a direction, a road sign pointing to Amman read 25 kilometers, not counting the few I’d already wandered that morning. Not too far I thought, a brisk walk and I’ll be home for lunch. I’d just passed my DofE Gold back in the UK and was in the mind I could climb Everest blindfolded, so this should be a piece of cake, even with a fleecy hangover. So off I plodded down the hard shoulder, just me, my rucksack and Debenhams for company, but it wasn’t long until things started to go horribly pear-shaped.

Time becomes an abstract concept in the heat of an Arabian summer’s day; hills merge and collide creating silhouettes of big fat cats, cars roar by as if dragons swooping out the sky, and heavy plant trucks stampede past like herds of angry Elephants. Somewhere in northern Jordan, a young accidental adventurer was picking his way slowly along the side of a motorway, desperate for a drink of anything, and feeling desperately lost.

Bored with the disappointing tarmac view, I switched my attention to turning out every fleecy-pocket in my coat in a search for stray coins and boiled sweets. Hidden deep in one of the many pointless zipped pouches-within-pouches I stumbled on a single shiny Dinar, worth about 1 pound. Stopping at a small derelict metal shipping container masquerading as a mobile motorway retail station, I entered apprehensively and showed the grizzly owner my riches. I then pointed at one of the many full dusty bottles of slightly-off-looking water. Not a normal Saturday morning experience for the container owner, I mused, but I thought it might have helped ease the pain of negotiation. The greedy retail magnate nonchalantly demanded 10 Dinar for one toxic bottle of water, and I only had 1, albeit a nice shiny one. I argued for a bit in my best Arabic but eventually left empty-handed, my ears ringing from dehydration.

By this point my mouth was beyond dry, the numbness went so far down my throat I couldn’t even think about how to swallow, an odd sensation really, one that possibly comes hours before complete dehydration and death… I thought to myself as I cursed the shop-owners first-born in a fit of rage suitable for the geographic location. The following two hours saw me ambling along the motorway in a kind of shuffling sloth-like movement, the midday sun so hot it burnt into my face like a jet engine. I pulled my fleece-lined hood up to protect my fair head but tripped every other step from disorientation. I eventually resigned to getting burnt to a crisp instead.

As morning turned to early afternoon a large truck slowed by my side, the engine coughing and hiccupping to a steady crawl a few meters away. With a clatter the passenger door flung open and a routinely-fat Jordanian man peered out, grinning he waved at me, beckoning to ride with him. I’ll be honest here, I did actually seriously consider the option, but in the back of mind I thought of that night in one of Amman’s less than halal downtown movie theaters and politely declined his offer. He persisted, slowing his mobile disco-truck even more, and for a single moment, I  suddenly felt way out of my depth.  Maybe he was just a nice guy, maybe he wasn’t, but before long an angry horn blared behind us breaking the standoff. The truck revved its engine, the door slammed shut, and he was gone. I got away, this time. Shouldering my rucksack, I continued my solo Exodus, now a little more aware of the situation I’d put myself in. Stupid fleece.

Towards late afternoon I shuffled over the motorway railings and started to move away from the tarmac snake, down into deserted valleys, cutting through small smokey hamlets and villages towards the city-scape of Amman now intercepting the horizon. Still no water or food, and it had started to get dark. As I approached the city limits I somehow took a wrong turn (choice was left or right at the tethered goat, literally) and found myself in the middle of a rather massive refugee camp. Not to be put-off, I nonchalantly marched through the social disarray with my blonde head held high as if it were the most normal thing in the world. It wasn’t. Once out the other side, now being trailed by a horde of dusty children wanting to play football, I hailed a lone passing taxi heading for the city centre. I gave him the shiny 1 Dinar coin and through dry, dusty tears asked if he would take me home. He smiled and said, “of course”, drove 50 meters up the road and stopped outside my house. A 50 cents fair for a dollar, you couldn’t make it up. Recounting the Exodus to my colleagues, I realized what an absolute legend idiot I’d been; it was an adventure I’d never forget, and one which taught me the teenage constitution is something to be proud of.

All content copyright Barnaby Jaco Skinner 2018

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