‘This road, very safe!’ Abu-Zaid said, attempting to reassure me as I noticed the broad dent on the bumper of his once white car. I was a little nervous, hitch-hiking isn’t one of the more common things to do in Jordan and, although he meant well, bringing up the issue of safety wasn’t the most calming topic of small talk. As I belted up he looked at me and wiped the sweat from his creased forehead. ‘Smoke?’ He asked. I said no. ‘Wife?’ He asked. Again, no. He started the car. It wasn’t going well. ‘Coffee?’ He asked. I nodded. We were away.
I’d spent the morning in Jerash, a city known for its sprawl of Roman ruins – one of the most impressive sights in Jordan. Tourists visit not only to walk amongst the mustard yellow ancient brickwork but also to see one of the theatrical chariot races that occur on the track next to the ruins. It’s surprisingly thrilling, with the chariots thrusting up cartoonish swirls of dust to the excitement of those watching. In the crowd I met Paul, a portly Brit who assured me that he was there just for the sake of his son before doing his best to deafen me with his cheering as gladiatorial bloodlust got the better of him.
Nothing instils a dose of can-do attitude quite like seeing a bunch of marauding gladiators put each other to the sword, and following the show I wanted to hurl myself into my own adventure by hitch-hiking back to Amman. I’d hitched a few times before with relative success, one time managing to hitch across the UK for very little reason. Buoyed by that memory I saw nothing but firm logic in the idea that hitching in the Middle East would be simple. My poor comprehension of Arabic, my inadequate supply of water and my inability to convincingly withstand the harsh of the early afternoon sun were all irrelevancies to my misguided sense of purpose.
The tall columns that dominate Jerash were distant fingers when a car choked to a stop ahead of me. I’d been hobbling on the uneven roadside like a broken show pony and was cautiously excited by the potential ride. The door swung open and a man shuffled out. He was a well fed and aging man with pale sweat stains on his shirt. He stood by his car door and beckoned me over. ‘Jebel Amman?’ I tentatively asked. He nodded and told me his name before shepherding me into the car, which dealt with the slight hill we were on like a seabird struggling against the wind.
During the drive we communicated mostly in gestures. Every now and then Abu-Zaid would motion for me to drink his coffee and laugh warmly when I did. At first this made me assume that I was being poisoned but I later came to realise that he was just uncommonly jolly. Outside, distant towns came and went, their sandy stacked houses set deep into the passing hillsides. The weight of the heat in the comfortable silence was tiring but I was helplessly giddy. Hitching opened up a side to travel in Jordan that I didn’t think I’d see. Travel, I decided, is most exciting when you give up feeling certain about where you’ll be and when.
We soon pulled up in downtown Amman and shuffled through the formalities of parting. In a handshake we wished each other well and I wondered if he knew that my adventure was all down to him. He probably did, being British I had bathed him in more thanks and apologies than was necessary. As he was about to leave I told him that I was glad he took me down the very safe road.
Back at the hostel, I bumped into my dorm friend, Chris. ‘Good travels today?’ He asked. I smirked. ‘It’s been unusual.’
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