Amman · Jordan · travel

Guide to taxis in Jordan

Hospitality workers and taxi drivers have a heavy burden to carry. Not only are they professions where long hours equate with low pay, they also become the default cultural ambassadors of any country.

The intersection between taxi drivers, generally working class folk (though I’ve met drivers who are struggling grad students) and generally privileged travellers is a fascinating study in itself (some might contest ‘privileged’ but even if you’re a poor traveller, by virtue of being able to choose to be away from your western home country you are privileged imo).

Generally taxi drivers here have been pretty friendly and helpful, with my mishmash of Arabic we can figure out where to go. Things are bit more, shall we say, laissez faire here. Be prepared for lots of chain smoking (Mad Men prevalent here), talkback morning radio and the driver stopping for a roadside coffee pick up or even to say hi to a friend. The smoking carries on in cafes, restaurants and in most public spaces (which makes the incessant warnings not to smoke on the plane on my way to Amman finally make sense).

 

Catching taxis in Amman is a precarious business. Picture: Paul Keller, Flickr
Catching taxis in Amman is a precarious business. Picture: Paul Keller, Flickr.

The fastest way to get around is a taxi which is relatively affordable, safe and in plentiful supply (at least in non peak hour times). Knowing enough Arabic phrases to get around is a must. Street addresses won’t cut it here, so best to know a landmark around where you’re going.  Drivers are nothing if not resourceful and will stop locals or even call a friend to find a tricky destination with limited information.

Catching a taxi is a great way to practice street Arabic, understand local culture and get the best tips on restaurants (though there is no obligation to make conversation if you’re a female, or if you are uncomfortable with any personal questions). I’ve heard grumblings about economy and cost of living, and gained insights into social interactions.

Dealing with drivers is also the best way to do to your head in trying to control what I will delicately call the ‘the meter situation’.

The battle of the meter begins when you step in. You need to make sure it is set to 25 qirsh or a quarter of a dinar. A trip anywhere in Amman should cost no more than three to four JD.

Every traveller and even locals have taxi war stories to tell. Some drivers won’t turn on the meter and will want to negotiate a price and then maybe ramp it up later. Some travellers ruefully admit to being charged up to 10 and even 20 JD.

After 11pm the fare will generally double and the meter will start from a higher base. Yellow taxis are your best bet. You can venture into the shared white taxis which are cheaper (you shouldn’t pay more than a dinar) but prepared to share with other passengers.

Now if I were poor taxi driver I would try to extort as much as I can too. But being on the other side of the driver’s seat (and if you’re a woman it’s culturally most appropriate to ride in the back) I’m here to provide practical tips to avoid being ripped off.

Besides refusing to ride into a non-metered taxi, there are some beautiful Arabic phrases to deal with tricky taxi or market negotiations. My favourite idiom “fi mish mish”  (which means something like “in the apricot/s”) translates delightfully to convey the ridiculousness of a proposition; an Arabic “when pigs fly” if you will. This is all part of the drama of bargaining in countries where respect derives from your ability to Apricot the situation.

The way you negotiate living in a city is I feel almost a microcosm of a society’s values. In western countries most commercial transactions are passive, fixed, cold. In others, everything is a negotiation, a dance, a play between two people where one’s knowledge and wits can be tested. This can be stressful when you’re used to the latter way of doing things, but once you understand how it works it can be enjoyable.

If all else fails just remember throw up your hands Arab style and shout,  “In the Apricots!”

 

 

fashion · travel

Climbing Kinabalu

Smiling from delirium.
 Smiling from delirium inspired by lack of oxygen. 

I want to die. But first I want to kill my editor, then the PR woman, then the smug athletes racing past me.

It is this train of morbid thoughts that sustains me as I struggle up South-East Asia’s highest peak – Mount Kinabalu.

It is dark, about 2.30am and freezing. I have my thermals on but quickly discard them as the energy needed for the climb generates body heat.

I am aching in places I didn’t know existed. I am finding new reservoirs of endurance as my mind baulks at the miles still above me, illuminated in the dark by the twinkling trail of headlights as climbers crawl to the summit.

But I am not in the mood to appreciate the beauty of the scene – the stately neighbouring peaks and wispy white clouds enveloping us as we ascend into the sky.

The mountain is in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo in the state of Sabah, about two hours flight from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

It stands 4,095m above sea level and to conquer the beast requires a round 17km two-day trek.

Mt Kinabalu is regarded as holy by the local Kadazan people who believe it is a resting place of the spirits of those who have died.

The Kadazan perform regular ceremonies to protect climbers attempting the trek.

That a team of people are praying for my well-being calms me down.

We start Day One at 8am on Ground Zero ready to scale a 6km trail made of steep formed steps and large rocks.

The climb operator, Mountain Torq, provides our group of journalists with a guide, Taising Samadin who becomes my personal saviour.

Taising is a 55-year-old Malaysian man who has been conquering the mountain for over 30 years.

He has smiling eyes and accompanies me patiently through rock falls, tricky crevices and hallucination-inducing altitude.

He is my Tenzing Norgay in the Everest-like battle for this non-sporty beginner to accomplish the impossible – reach the summit before sunrise the next day.

We reach the Mountain Torq’s Pendant hut at base camp at around 2pm where we will spend the night and then prepare for the final haul of the journey the next day.

I am feeling weak and mumble to the group something about “this not being my thing” and staying at base camp.

The group (all men of superior physical strength) look at me in pity.

Georgia, the PR woman, assures me it is my choice to go on.

There is only after all 2.7km left to reach the summit. It would be a shame to stop now.

But it is the last leg which is the steepest, with more climbing and using ropes to scale steep rock in high altitude.

I think of my story and the impossible triumph. I think of who I represent – women, the unfit, the fearful.

I must do it for them.

Taising tells me to hold his hand, I grab him like a liferaft as he navigates my climb through our last kilometre.

We have done the scary rope climbing and now are doing the steady upward climb across smooth rock, our legs like lead.

We have passed the checkpoint where those deemed unfit are turned back or voluntarily retire.

But the idea of going back through those ropes is more painful than going forward.

I munch on the granola bars with Taising as we silently scale forward.

The summit looms ahead but is still so desperately far.

It is a sheer almost vertical rocky drop which stands separately on the flat part of the mountain.

Finally, I am at the top. I understand why this mountain is considered sacred.

We are on top of the world, with the orange red colours of daybreak bathing us, high above the clouds.

I feel like dying. But this time in a good way.

My satisfaction at having reached the summit is dampened by realising we still have to go down.

Many climbers maintain that the steep 8.7km trek back down the mountain is the most difficult as jelly knees struggle to get a grip on slippery rock.

I take my time hobbling down.

When I see the team back at the hut, they are pleased and proud of my accomplishment, especially since being lean, mean climbing machines even they found the trek an intense challenge.

If you are considering the trek be sure to cushion your journey in the comfort of five-star luxury.

We land in Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria resort post climb and are rewarded with a luxurious room with an outdoor hot tub, spa massages and attentive room service that provides a welcome balm to our exhaustion.

Our preparation for the climb was spent lounging in Sutera Harbour’s Magellan Sutera hotel in Borneo.

Sutera Habour resort provides adventure packages to the mountain and to Poring Hot Springs where you can rest your weary limbs in hot baths in the World Heritage listed Kinabalu Park rainforest.

It hurts to walk but the pain wears away as amnesia sets in and I start to grasp my achievement.

I am quick to share my mountain war stories to whoever will listen, bragging unashamedly about my triumph in Borneo.

I find that every Malay I meet has a mountain story – those who have climbed, those who failed and those who are thinking of climbing.

We share strategies, stories and memories.

I wave around my certificate of completion.

I find I am now part of an exclusive club – those who have reached the summit.

IF YOU GO:

Malaysia Airlines flies 47 times a week from Australia to Kuala Lumpur and has regular connections to Kota Kinabalu.

To book a holiday to Malaysia, call Flight Centre on 1300-939-414 to book or visit: www.flightcentre.com.au/world-travel/malaysia.

* The writer was a guest of Malaysian Airlines, Sutera Harbour Resort and Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort in Borneo.