After a few minutes the owner arrived and both he and the driver carried our bags up to the third floor. It was a great little apartment with a balcony that nestled in the boughs of a tree and overlooked the street. We ventured out on the first evening to get the lie of the land and find a place to eat. We made our way to the main street and after a short walk we came upon the bars and restaurants. A number of establishments had not reopened after covid, I guess they were unable to ride out the storm (no covid payments here). But there were still many places open and they served every cuisine you could want but all I wanted was a steak. We hadn’t realised that Sri Lanka was in such dire straits, economically until after we had left but you could feel a quiet desperation in the air. Everyone was desperate to get our money. Don’t get me wrong no one was trying to steal from us but there were so few tourist that everyone from tuk tuk drivers to restaurant owners were aggressively vying for our business. So we find ourselves in a very up beat restaurant with the type of food I was looking for, Róisín would eat anything and enjoyed new food experiences but not me. Our food had just been placed on the table in front of us when there was a power cut and we found ourselves in total darkness.
Luckily, this establishment had a generator, not common as you may remember from our visit to Fort Galle, candles were brought to the tables to cast light on our fare during that power cut. I had googled to see why there were so many outages and discovered that the country was zoned for power cuts at different times in the day or evening. This place was a bar restaurant and I could imagine it would have been queues at the door to get a seat then but now there was just a handful of tourists there. Róisín and I had taken a table upstairs by the balcony that over looked the floor below. Of the 20 or so tables only two were occupied. Róisín and I at one and a group of four French tourists sat at another. Below we could see an English couple and in a far corner a small group of Irish, the staff outnumbered the customers We finished our meal and strolled slowly back to our accommodation.
Early the next morning we located a shop nearby and bought a few supplies for the apartment, snacks and lunch we would eat in and venture out in the evenings for our dinner. I was very surprised by the price of just basics groceries, milk, bread, eggs were comparable to European prices it was working out more expensive to eat in rather than out and it was getting harder to haggle with tuk tuk drivers as the price of petrol was raising daily. Desperation hung in the air and everyone seemed hungry for our money just short of aggression. This part of our trip was in February 2022, just a month or so before the riots started. I had heard of hyper inflation but reading about it and seeing it play out really brings home its full impact. We felt like voyeurs in someone else’s tragedy and could only justify our presents to ourselves by knowing we were at the least bringing in much needed foreign currency. The people seemed positively defeated and hopeless. We didn't venture out much other than to stroll on the beach at sunset and find a nice place to dine each evening.
Sunset on Negombo Beach
On our final evening we did manage to find a very lively bar/restaurant. It was run by a very friendly English man who had relocated to Sri Lanka 20 years ago and set up his business. As a side line he also ran a dog rescue where most of his profits from the bar went at this time, he told us he had 49 dogs living in his home. On my travels through India and Sri Lanka dogs were very low down the pecking order, the vast majority being strays. You would see them on dumps or rummaging through bins only rarely did you see one attached to an owner. Besides being dirty they mostly seemed in good health but for those that became sick it was a whole other story. I wont describe the state of them because just remembering them is stomach turning but these were the dogs this man was helping and for that he has my admiration. He had only reopened that week and had pulled out all the stops. Pre-covid, I imagined, this bar would have had queues around the corner or perhaps even invitation only, it had everything. Live music, great food, very professional staff, and a wall of those pedicure fish. The fish tanks stood on the ground and ran in a semicircle just to the side of the bar. Low benches straddled the edge of the tanks so that patrons of the bar, if so inspired, could have their little drinky-winks while the tiny fish feasted. The benches could hold approximately 12 people very comfortably. I did try to give it a go but never got further than dipping my toes in the water before rapidly removing them, no fish came close. Roisin gave it a go as did others. It was so funny watching the fish swarming toward the new entrants to the fish tanks. Lords Restaurant Complex was the liveliest bar on this strip and like ourselves it seemed to have drawn every tourist in the district all eager to party and have fun. You entered from the street down a very long hallway before arriving at the club, it was utterly removed from the world outside and remenistant of clubs and bars you would encounter in any of the Spanish resorts or notorious Ibiza. This was the closest to holiday vibe I had encountered since leaving home. Easy atmosphere and friendly people and on that note big HELLO to Angela! A lovely English lady who we ended up chatting with for a time before Róisín and I called it a night and headed home.
Bar in Negombo
We had booked our accommodation for a day more than we needed as our flight wasn’t leaving until midnight. The owner of the apartments and now our driver picked us up at 8 pm that evening and deposited us at the airport in plenty of time to get our flight. Check in opened at 9 pm and we were about sixth in line. Unbelievably, we stood for the best part of an hour while those in front tried to argue the most bizarre items on to the plane. A woman who had about six small children and a 35 kg bag for each of them refused to accept that the children didn’t have the same baggage allowance as her adult ticket allowed. A man with a Buddha statute equal to the size of a 35 kg bag and a bag of his father's ashes stood his ground until the check-in staff gave in and let him pass. People with cardboard boxes held together with string lobbed them into check-in. After an hour it was our turn. We showed our phones with the PCR test and flight details to the attendant who asked us for a hard copy. It was unbelievable especially after the stuff I had just witnessed being let through. Moreover, this was Covid so no other airport was accepting paper copies of anything. No point in arguing we had to wander the airport looking for some way of printing our papers. The problem was we had no cash and no way of getting to an ATM which was on the other side of the security we had past through coming in. I was fit to cry. Róisín did manage to convince the bag wrapping people to print our papers and take a card payment but by the time that was done we were now at the back of the queu. It was eleven thirty by the time we got back to the check-in desk with the same mean faced sullen women who had sent us off two hours previously. She turns the papers over. Read every detail. Asked totally unnecessary questions which included where we were staying in Thailand. I was now really fed up and her supervisor sitting at the next counter was listening to our conversation. When she asked where we were staying, I told her it was none of her business as she could clearly see from the papers she had in her hand we had our thai visas. The supervisor instructed her to print the boarding passes and let us go. It was now 11.45 our flight was leaving in fifteen minutes, so we ran. When we got to the next floor, we had to pass through another security check I really thought this flight was going without us but with minutes to spare we arrive at our gate and board the plane. Sri Lanka I will see you again hopefully in better times. On to Phuket!
I tried another card but again the same problem. I was fit to cry. I am a total coffee addict and was counting on a good hit of caffeine before our flight. There was absolutely nothing to do but put everything back and go on our way as there were no ATM machines after security check-in. The staff had said their machines that could only cover local cards not international so we were stuck, it would be at least four hours until we reached Sri Lanka. While sitting at one of the café tables trying o figure out what could be the problem with the cards a staff member approached us, I was sure they were going to ask us to leave. The girls and the guy (all students age and part time I guessed) in the coffee shop took pity on us and arrived over with the items we had intended to purchase, all of them. I just could not believe their kindness and I have to emphasize that the eldest member of staff here was about 20 years old. I gratefully accepted the coffee for myself and the bottle of water for Róisín but tried to insist they take the other items back but they refused saying they would cover the cost between them. There comes a point where it is best and necessary to acknowledge and appreciate a kindness when done and that is just what we did. Besides a re-enactment of "Father Ted" and the cup of tea “go on, go on, go on" I just couldn’t face without the coffee. So to the staff in terminal 3 coffee near gate 4 my daughter and I are and were amazed by your kindness. I did have one unopened box of the lovely chocolates left which I rooted out of my bag to offer as a thank you. So all told India was beautiful and where our first encounter with the country was not a positive one most interactions thereafter were wonderful. We board the plane for Sri Lanka where the contents of the plane and ourselves are sprayed with something from a similar container that I would use to spray the garden. I figured it was a need to know and if I wanted to go to Sri Lanka I didn't need to know. Thank God or covid for the masks; or are they both manmade!
Sunset at Galle Fort
Arriving at Galle Fort
We flew into Colombo and had a driver organised to take us from the Airport to our hotel in Galle Fort, a two and a half hour journey away. The property in Galle Fort was receiving great reviews and although not within the parameters of 4 star, it was flagged as spotlessly clean by previous guests. Every thing else you can work with or around but if a place is dirty you sunk. Sometimes you can just be lucky with your plans. The guest house was called Sirene Galle Fort and it was beautiful. A real old world style. The room was small for the netted four poster bed with mosquito netting. Mosquito nets are not just a romantic aesthetic as they are in Europe. In these parts they are functional too, they save you from being the main course for the hungry little beasties. The hotel was a small family run establishment with every review mentioning the breakfast. It was one hell of a breakfast prepared by the grandmother of the house with love. Honestly you felt like a member of the family or at least a much welcomed relative the way this lady looked after us. We had platters of fruit. My first introduction to dosa, a rice flour pancake with a fried egg and a noodle type roll with a sweet paste filling, and an array of jams and spreads, wow an excellent start to the day and all delivered with the kindly countenance of the grandmother.
Breakfast in Sri Lanka
Galle Fort Food
Directly across the street was a Buddhist temple. The street was not more than 3 meters wide (10 feet). So, every morning as we sat on the veranda having our breakfast we watched the monks meditating for the betterment of the world, very comforting even if not of the same belief system. We spent the day just wandering the fort city along its battlements that towered towards the sea. The raised headland and 16th century battlements of the fort saved the old city from the worst of the destruction during the 2004 Tsunami. This was not the case with the low lying modern city which was all but washed away and 4000 of the city inhabitants died. This tragic event is still fresh in the minds of most people here but I have to honestly say it was far in the back of my mind until I saw the location. How quickly we forget things that don’t directly affect us. The buildings and streets in the fort are pretty much as they have been since the Portuguese’ arrived and established themselves here back in 1505. Jack Sparrow wouldn’t look out of place here. Well, less out of place here than in that court room defending his character against his ex. In this court of public opinion all I can say is “Mrs Ex, hard to come back from what you did in the bed, forget about the antics in the lift or the apartment”. Dirty, dirty, dirty. Need to wipe that from my mind so moving on.
As we strolled around the city we managed to find a fantastic restaurant specializing in fish dishes. I know a port town what a surprise but on advice from google we entered the establishment and promptly set to ordering the house specials. Now for those who know me well I’m not really a fish eater. Personally I believe it comes from the fact that my father was from a coastal village and fish was a staple in their household either that or his mother was a dreadful cook. Let us take it that my grand mother was not a dreadful cook but that the abundance and frequency of fish at mealtime meant it was under valued. At a guess I think this analogy is closer to the truth. I do remember in my childhood summers that steak was the dish offered to visitors when they arrived. My, my, what would I not do for a taste of wild salmon now? Okay, back to my restaurant story. So I peruse the menu and to my horror realise there is only fish on the menu so fish I must have. I have no intention of having it out with the chef if for any reason I don’t like it so I make a deal with Róisín to consume it if I cant. I decide on the Red Snapper and I am escorted to a glass fronted display fridge with every sort of fish laid out on a bed of crushed ice. I wouldn’t know a good Red Snapper from a bad one and so deferred to the chef for his professional opinion. I watched him pick out the chunkiest of the Red fish from the fridge, placed it on a plate and closing the lid took my offering to the kitchen. While we were waiting there was a power cut and candles in bottles were brought. The kitchen cooked with gas so cooking was still on schedule. One thing that struck me about Galle Fort was the numbers of visiting Russians. It's not like I spend a lot of my time wondering where Russians go on holiday. But I realised for the first time their absence from the Costas, the Cliffs of Moher, Temple Bar, the typical Euro/US zones where at some point I have met every nationality but no cannot say I have met any visiting Russians. So while we are waiting four stunning looking Russian women come into the place and ask if food is being served. The restaurant is getting very busy now with large family groups being turned away and yet these four beautiful women show up and they have the undivided attention of the waiters. Do I need to say it. Feck! I will surprise, surprise. Well these women went to the chilled cabinet like they owned a fish stall in Moscow. They took each fish out and turned it over, punched it, slapped it and then left it to the side before going at the next one. Believe me when I tell you they could have taught the lovely Nigela a thing or two about handling a fish. I was getting mad just looking at them. I mean there’s a power cut and unless there is such an object as a gas fridge these women were doing their best to ensure what was left would spoil and yet the waiters smiled and fawned over these beauties. Well I laughed out loud as the beauties left the building and the fish remained spread out around the counter. More power to ye ladies and that’s only because the fish you mauled was not mine. Lads, just keep it professional and you wont be made fools of, is that too much to ask? Well to end the story of the Red Snapper he arrived just as the power was restored and I ate every bit of him except the eyes which kept looking at me accusingly. So I think I have established that the food in Sri Lanka at this point has not disappointed.
Red Snapper in Galle Fort
Day Out in Galle Fort
So on to our tour and a walk through the Old city with the lovely Uzman, a part time guide we came across on Airbnb. When he is not guiding people around his native city he is practising law. He is an absolute gentleman. He brought us through the streets to the Court buildings, old entrance, along the battlements, pointing out all the interesting features along the way. Galle Fort is an UNESCO heritage site and as such the owners of the properties have obligations towards maintenance. Many of the properties in the old city are being bought up by large hotel groups which in turn is forcing the indigence population out. I have no issue with the capitalist system of profit first but I do have a problem with local people being forced out of their homes because they do not have the type of funds to make repairs to these properties to a heritage standard level. There are funds available but as is often the case they are not there for the little people. Uzman and his family are the 8th generation to live in their historical Dutch house. As part of his tour we had the privilege of being invited to his home and chatting with the matriarch of the family. She sat in the courtyard at the centre of the house. Part of the building is in urgent need of repair but the resources are just not there to cover it. Now, I appreciate that many would say that if they cant afford to do repairs they should move. Personally I think repairs to the level of heritage site integrity should be funded by government at the very least through an interest free loans scheme. Accepting that house has been in the same family for generations. They have cared and maintained it through many decades so that it is still standing to be in a position to be labelled UNESCO. Do the state not have some obligation to maintain such building without the eviction of the residence. I am confident that this property has been maintained with contemporary materials available as needed and at reasonable cost. Not the case with heritage materials. But sadly this is mostly a moot point with Sri Lanka being on the verge of failed state status. I was there in early January and there was a tension in the air. As we drove from the airport I at first thought that Sri Lanka was booming. The highway we were on was brand new and massive, far in excess of the volume of traffic I could see traveling on it. Our driver told me that the Chinese owned the new toll roads in his country. So every time a Sri Lankan drove on this road that was another rupee for China. I live in a country where the state sold off a lot of the silver and it took a lot of time and money to get bits of it back, M50 toll, shell oil and tax. I live in a country where we are still paying interest on state borrowing used to pay unsecured shareholders in the rest of Europe. I live in a country where our economy is booming but our public services are stressed. I will end this rant and this episode with a heart felt sorrow for the people of Sri Lanka. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when the people are banging on your door telling you its time to go history tells us its best to go before your pushed. Oh and what really would be original is leaving the silver and not filling your pockets as you go.
After the agent left I took a look around. We had been promised some provisions but none could be found. I opened one of the kitchen cupboards and, to my surprise, I found a giant cockroach lying dead. I was grateful it was dead but not impressed that it was there.
It was getting late and we had no way of getting to the local supermarket, so I texted the host asking where the supplies promised were hidden and told him about the cockroach. Our host sent a man immediately around with the groceries we were promised before arrival and this man removed the dead cockroach. When he left I set to making food. Nothing exciting, just eggs and bread but it would see us to the next morning. The kitchen was very grubby and everything was in a really bad state. Dishes looked like they were barely wiped and put into the press and the fridge looked as if it had never seen a cloth. The table cover was covered in cigarette holes and breadcrumbs. The bed sheets had holes and generally looked like they should have been on kitchen duty as cleaning cloths at this stage. This was clearly not the standard I had expected when I booked an AirBnB property which claimed to have signed up to the COVID cleaning protocols. However, It was too late to do anything about this place now, instead I would deal with it in the morning. Róisín was taking it all in her stride. She had seen bigger bugs when doing her J1 in the USA. So giving full gratitude for her bravery and refusing to go into the kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom until it was first inspected we settled in (as best we could for the night). We boiled the eggs to eat with our bread as it required the least use of equipment. I was o grateful for the sleeping bags which backpackers revert to for just such occasions. I did wonder if my 5 star living had raised my expectations to a level that I could never return, but no, the place was a tip. I decided that in the morning we would find a shop and buy some cleaning products. Crazy I know! But the next day was New Years Eve and I knew it would be impossible to find anywhere else to stay.
View from balcony of AirBnB
New Years' Eve
We got up the next morning and headed out to explore the area and to find a shop. It was about a ten minute walk to the beach from our AirBnB and along the way we passed a few little shops but nothing like a supermarket. The beach was pristine white, beautiful and stretched for miles with nobody else around. I hated the thought of going back to the dirty apartment and we failed to find a shop that sold any kind of cleaning products. I could not understand how this guy had managed to get a 5 star rating on AirBnB and a cleanliness badge with his apartment in such a state. I had been an AirBnB host for a few years and cleanliness was my highest priority. To my surprise I learned that buried deep in the small print was a statement that the reviews listed for this property were actually from another property the host owns. I had been an AirBnB host and never knew this could be done. I was so mad when I realised and resigned myself to leaving and taking the loss. I got back to the apartment and started looking for another place to stay. It was the 31st of January and there was no room at the Inn unless you were prepared to pay over €300 for 2 nights. I had stayed at the Marriott for 50 euros per night so this was a huge inflation. I understood it was business. No one was preparing a room on New Years' Eve without being well compensated.
We found a resort further up the cost which we could book for €300 plus an additional €80 for the mandatory New Years' Eve party. I text the owner of the AirBnB we were staying in and told him I was leaving as his property was filthy. I told him I would appreciate a refund of remaining days as the property he had rented to me did not meet even basic cleanliness standards. I put it to him that if he gave me a refund I would not review, as in any real since the booking had been cancelled. If he chose not to give a refund I would be reviewing his property with pictures and I would not be glossing over the state of the place. Having to book alternative accommodation at this late stage was costing me a fortune and I was not going to take this hit alone. I was giving him a chance to get out of this but he claimed I was blackmailing him. He claimed that the apartment was not as bad as I was saying and that the problem was that I had expected "European" standards of cleanliness and not Indian. I sent him the full collection of pictures taken and he returned with an apology. He was quite good about things in the end and offered to compensate us for the alternative accommodation which I told him was very generous but not necessary. I knew it had been very difficult in the tourist industry for the past two years and I had no intention of making matters worse for this man. I knew a review from a European could make or break a business this part of the world as things were opening back up since the pandemic. I was happy to get the remaining days refunded and not review his property at all, good or bad which I felt was fair. We managed to book a taxi to our next destination, which again because of the day was now being charged at €40 and an hour long wait to be picked up. Beggars can't be choosers, so within the hour we were collected and driven to our new accommodation.
Coconut Creek Resort even as a 3 star was an enormous step up from what we had just left behind. Between finding new accommodations and trying to find a taxi it was 6:30 pm by the time we got to our hotel room. By 7 pm the reception were phoning the room to say we had to head over to the New Years' Eve party. The mandatory party that we had to attend because we were being charged whether we went or not. The hotel bar and restaurant were closed for the evening so if we wanted to eat we had little choice but to go to the party. Now party attire was not something we had considered when packing our rucksacks so I had little choice but to go in what I had. Oh my god! what I had was fine for hoofing around street markets but not for a New Years' Eve party. But luckily I was born with the gift of “brazen it out” as the gran used to say. Quick shower, brushed the hair, no drying as I was going for that "don’t care" look as nothing in my bag could challenge that persona. We were guided along some sandy paths and through some sand dunes to arrive at a beach bar where everything was set up for a fab night of festivities. There was entertainment, great food, table service and drinks included so the €40 ticket wasn’t looking too painful after all. They had participant games which I joined in with (if your doing the "I don’t care wardrobe" you need to be in the thick of it to pull it off!). There were a lot of English families which I hadn’t expected. I later discovered that they were all employees of the British consulate working in India and I suppose it was cheaper to put them up in India for the holidays than fly them all home. Róisín and I had our own table near the back of the room. Where other guests may have seen each other around the pool or at breakfast we knew no one and no one knew us. The owner of the club had, just a short time earlier, placed a bottle of wine on our table and said it was for an activity that was happening later. So when the request for volunteers from the audience to come to the stage to take part in a game went out, I put my hand up immediately. I figured if we didn't get with the program we would be out in the wings for the night. So in my not inspired t-shirt and ill fitting pants I took to the stage and I had a fabulous time. The game required that we had a set time to get particular items and return with them to the stage. As everyone on stage with the exception of myself had large groups or family with them to help, the host very kindly asked the audience to help me as it was only Róisín and I. It was great fun running among the audience asking people for whatever object we were required to get. It was also a great ice breaker. When I returned to our table the people at the next table started chatting and then asked us to join them. That turned out to be a 4 am party and one of the best in memory although it still doesn’t beat Vicars' Street Dublin New Years' Eve 2017. The resort was fabulous with some great craic! (Irish for fun, pronounced crack). The other hotel guests there, as well as an Indian party, kindly invited us to join them into the wee hours. The food was exceptional. I hadn’t had steak since leaving home and was surprised to discover that Goa didn't have the same reverence for cows compared to the rest of India. I had my first steak in this fabulous establishment and it was so good. I don’t usually eat a lot of steak but its extraordinary how we crave the things we are not allowed. We were relocating to a less expensive hotel the following day but for now it was new years day and we were treated ourselves to some spa treatments, good food and any other facilities available to us before our departure.
New Years' Eve fireworks
We checked out of Coconut Creek the next day and relocated to Palmieri’s Dourado, a little further down the coast and on the edge of a tropical forest, only minutes from the beach. This was more within our budget at €182 for 4 nights. We had gotten lost a few times on the trip there and at one point we pulled into the forecourt of the wrong hotel and were told by the owner that the place we were looking for was closed down. I figured he was lying as I had only booked the hotel the previous day and our taxi driver agreed saying he was just hoping to get our booking. But we did eventually find the correct location and this place was a real little find. Our room was on the ground floor with a balcony that lead onto the pool deck and to the restaurant. New Year was over for most and the hotel was empty except for Róisín and I. I think this must be what its like to own a fully staffed private villa with everyone there just to ensure every whim is answered. The restaurant had two members of staff and someone was in attendance at all times.
Goa Beach near hotel
Bike Tour of Goa
We took the opportunity to go on an electric bike tour of the area. We arrived at the place to get bikes and to meet our guide. We were given a little lesson on how to operate them and they checked that we understood the rules of the road. I was confident I could handle this and so off we went. The tour took us out of the village and along a quiet busy road for a stretch before turning off into the narrower roads along the paddy fields and into the jungle. When I went to turn left off the main road and onto the side road I employed my rules of the road training, right arm out and moved to the center of the road, whereupon a motorbike swerved across the center line and just missed hitting me. So the lesson was take everything you know about the rules of the road and forget them. In India. rules of the road are an aesthetic aspiration but nobody really uses them and you are likely to get yourself killed if you try. Any junctions I came to afterwords, I pulled the bike to the side of the road and ensured there was no traffic near me before crossing. Our guide was great stopping along the way to point out interesting things to us like the touch me not plant which curls up when you run your finger along the leaves.
We went up a mountain to see a church and free wheeled down on the bikes. It was mighty craic (even more fun!) and the guide enjoyed my sense of humor. He brought us to some very off the beaten track locations, one being through a village in the forest and down to a beautiful river bank. As we cycled through the village children hung out the windows shouting “Hello” and laughing when I replied. I said hello to everyone I passed and everyone without exception returned a smiling "Hello" back to me. I cannot fault the friendliness of the Indian people. We Irish have a repetition for being friendly but you can still meet the odd grump, haven’t met any here, very pleasant people. Our guide told me that most of the tours he does, the tourists don’t talk and just want to take pictures so he cannot tell whether the group are enjoying themselves or not, ergo he sticks to the program and ends the tour as planned. So if you want to see the road less traveled and less commercialized, be nice to your guide and show them you are interested. Our 10 km cycle with numerous pit stops ended back at the starting point after 3 hours. It was getting pretty hot now so we headed back to the hotel to lazy by the pool for the afternoon. Oh what a wonderful life, Ahhhhhhhh! We spent a relaxing few days in this hotel. Found our way eventually to the beach through a coconut grove where deserted white sandy beaches stretched as far as the eye could see. This hotel was the perfect location to catch a breath and recharge. We had one more location to see in India and then we were on to Sri Lanka. We flew from Goa heading for Kochi after our week long break.
We decided to start the day with a hunt in the market shops below for a keyboard for my tablet. Ever the procrastinator I had bought a tablet with a pen function which I convinced myself would be fabulous for my musings. It wasn’t, and so I had another excuse not to document our journey. Roisin, who can always find a solution to my excuses insisted that we search the electrical shops and so we find ourselves on the busy market street approaching any shop or stall with Samsung in its signage. The owners were very pleasant and if they did not have English they called someone from another stall who did. I cannot imagine that happening at home. It is fair to say most young people speak English so they were usually called on to mediate transactions. Those who couldn’t help were still very polite and curious to know where we were from and conversations regarding temperature at home compared to Jordan. Finally, we found a shop and being shown the keyboard and asked for 60 JOD, I said “No, no foreign prices I want Jordan prices, I’ll give you 15 JOD”. The young lad looks over at the older man who is seated like a king on a throne at the back of the shop. The boy says “30 JOD” again I said “No, its a display piece you don’t even have the box for it, 25 JOD come on, agree 25 and I will leave here happy” At each haggle the young lad looks to the king in the back of the shop. Finally I say “25 JOD best I will do, you don’t want 25 I will walk”. The young lad looks to the king again and the king agrees. I’m thrilled I love a good haggle and now I am ready to share the details of the trip with the world. We walked further along the street and come to a stall selling bread rolls with every type of filling. There is cheese, curry, spiced, devilled chicken, ham, vegetable that will be heated when chosen. I am a little on the very nervous side in trying any of the rolls on offer. We have all heard the horror stories of eating street food and if it didn't kill you, you might wish it did for the discommoding it can bring to the body. I had thought they were just bread rolls and figured how wrong can you go with a bread roll. So now as we point to each tray “What’s this one?” the seller announces “Chicken” and puts some in the bag, “Cheese” and puts some more into the bag. This went on until we had 12 rolls in the bag and none of them were plain bread. We stopped pointing and asked how much? I thought this was going to cost a small fortune and we took out a bunch of money and ruffle through to find a 20 dinar note. He leans in over our stash and takes a 5 dinar note handing us back our 20. Turns out it was 1 dinar for four rolls. He took the money and gave us change. So incredibly honest, he could have so easily taken more and we would have been none the wiser. We chatted for a while and he asked where we were from and he told us he was Egyptian and had been working this stall for 20 years. We took our bag of goodies and headed back to the apartment.
At the apartment, we made some tea and nibbled on the mixed bag of bread rolls before eagerly getting down to testing out my new keyboard. I checked it had power. Everything was perfect and so I set to work. It worked like a dream until I realize that there was a problem with email addresses or dialogue. The "@" symbol is where the “ key should be and vice versa. I laughed so much at my killer bargain. Regardless, it works fine and its not so pricey that I’m afraid of breaking it or losing it so ‘a bargain is a bargain’.
We ordered an Uber (its a good app for Jordan) and headed out to our now favourite restaurant on Rainbow street. As we are traveling so much and staying just short duration of time in any one place I tend to stick with a good food place when I find it. The staff recognized us from the previous evening and we had another gorgeous meal on our last night in Jordan. Saying our goodnight to all we headed down the hill to our apartment. We were very relaxed as we strolled. There was a little traffic on the streets but overall the street was very quiet. As we got closer to the end of the street and more into the residential area I noticed a guy was following close behind us. I stopped to look in his direction figuring it is always best to see what’s coming rather than hope for the best with head down and walking. We stopped then he stopped. I crossed the road pulling Roisin by the arm and moved to the other path and he did the same. Grabbing Roisin by the arm again I make a quick return toward the original path and he went to do the same. I stopped in the middle of the road. I had no intention of putting myself or Roisin on some shadowy path. Center of the road, plenty of light and if a car did happen to pass there was a chance of flagging it down for assistance. I quickly turned on him, pointed directly at him and shouted “Enough, I am warning you to stop following us or I will shout Police! and that is international. Get out of here!” This I did in a voice just loud enough to get anyone’s attention who might be around but not hysterically. The guy starts apologising “Please lady, I sorry, I sorry” as he ran like the clappers up the road. The entrance to the apartment was just a few meters away so I made sure the guy was far enough away to allow us time to get inside quickly and safely. Relieved and grateful, I put the kettle on had the universal Irish cure for everything a cup of tea. I was grateful for the level of security I had seen in Jordan because I knew that if I had to shout police they would have been there in seconds and so did the guy following us. So all came right in the end. We were off to India tomorrow having had a wonderful time in Jordan.
Click below to read part two and three of our Amman adventure!
The first sound on our first day in the Amman apartment was the call to prayer which started at 5 am. The apartment as previously explained overlooked the market in the valley below and on the opposite side of this valley stood four Mosques, identifiable by there elevated towers highlighted in a green light. Mohammad, our Airbnb host, had told us that the four Mosques did try to synchronize their vocals but despite their best efforts each was out of sync by possibly milliseconds. This had the affect of creating this quite haunting echo which slinked away down the valley and over the horizon, then closely followed by the next line of prayer reminiscent of a Gregorian chant. It was spellbinding. Having listened for a while we turned over and went back to sleep.
We rose around 9 am, showered and dressed. I noticed the shower was very slow to drain but didn’t think much of it just assumed it was one of the quirks of the ancient drains in the ancient city. Going to the little kitchenette I started breakfast by putting a pot on the boil with the eggs that we had managed to track down on our hunt the previous evening. I went to wash the cups I had left in the sink the previous evening and not wearing my glasses I was a little confused about the black blobs inside the first mug, but I went ahead and washed it out anyway. On lifting the second mug and seeing the same discoloration I thought to put on my glasses and investigate. Inside the cups where hundreds of tiny little ants, in my shock I let out a scream which brought Róisín running. In a very speedy manner she identified the creatures and her analysis was “Oh cop on mam they are only ants”. So I did. We found the source and the attraction. The source was a tiny gap in the wall corner and the attraction was the residue of Róisín’s sugary apple drink which we had left unwashed in the sink overnight. We called Mohammad who was at the door in record time to sort the problem. Lesson learned, don’t leave exposed food or unwashed dishes in the sink if you don’t want visitors but you have to admire the diligence of these little creatures.
We decided that after breakfast we would head down to the market and take in our surroundings. So going out the side gate just off the courtyard we made our way down the tier of steps to the small roadway below. You better like hills if you want to enjoy Amman or, as I was to discover later, Uber will be your life saver. We passed a number of small shops not more than 4 meters wide and each stepped down from the last on this very pronounced incline. They were mainly service shops, a few barber shops, each beside each other. A man making hand made sandals and shoes which looked beautiful and I would have bought but for the journey we were doing and the limit on luggage space, I decided to leave it. We made our way down the hill to connect with the main street which was on level ground and heaving with people. We moved through the crowd attracting everyone’s attention as our chalky pallor made us stand out. Children stared open mouthed as we passed. I have to say it was a little unnerving to be the center of so much attention. The streets were packed with people going about their business. All kinds of shops were on this street, electrical stalls were all beside each other and all fighting for the same business. Furniture shops, bedding, tyres, car parts and all themed within a particular stretch of the road. To give an example, if I wanted to buy a mattress for a bed along this street there would be say four shops and each beside each other. I could only imagine that the haggle for a mattress must be cut throat. We walked along the street fascinated by the number and variety of shops. One stretch of the path had a number of sellers with what looked like old clothes, old shoes, old spectacles anything that had any useful attributes left in them were being sold here and nothing went to waste. As we went further down the street we passed some gun shops which to my eyes, coming from a country where even the police are not armed was a bit of a shock. The window displays didn’t carry any double barrelled shot guns that would be commonly used by farmers back home but had a full array of hand guns, assault rifles, and machine guns which fully challenged my understanding of normal.
We spotted the national museum of Jordan just across the road and decided to have a little nosey. The first challenge was to cross the street this was a lot harder than you might think. Pedestrian crossings sometimes mean safe for pedestrian to cross and other times you are taking your life in your hands. The problem is that its very, very difficult to figure out when the rules of the road apply and when they don’t. To cross the road is like being a moving target in an amusement arcade and my nerves were fried. I decided to just take the lead from the locals and run when they did and this strategy worked and we managed to get to the opposite side of the road. Museums can be boring but these are the homes of our history and our national identity and so it is for this museum. It is really well done because as you enter the museum you are directed in a particular direction which brings you around the display rooms from oldest to youngest. The directional discovery was made because we were going in the wrong direction and a guard came and directed us in the right direction. Although millennia of history is covered here one or two displays caught my attention more than others. So first there was the display of the different Bedouin dress. To the western eye they all look beautiful and exotic and until now I had no idea that each dress was particular to individual tribes much like the Aran jumpers design are particular to a family or island in the west of Ireland. The last leg of the museum brings you right up to date showing the huge strides Jordan is making in water conservation and renewable energy. Finally, there was an interactive piece which on picking up an ear piece allowed you to listen to classic Arabian poetry, I cant pretend to say I had any idea as to what was being said but there was pace, debt, drama, and character to the voice. It would put you in mind of our dear old president Michael D. Higgins reciting some ancient Gaelic piece of literature with heavy dulcet tones, again, no clue as to what’s being said but I know its deep.
We finished at the museum and made out way back to the apartment. Oh my God! The steps nearly killed me, word to the wise, when on steps having left the streets below there is no chance of hailing a passing taxi, that option was left on the street far below. Huffed my way back to the apartment and swore "money no object from here on, it was taxis up the hills" I would be happy to walk back down. Planned to shower and head out again but notice the water from the morning shower had failed to drain so texted Mohammad again to let him know. I could almost hear him looking at my name ping on his phone and as he recognized the name his brain goes “what now!?”. Mohammad apologized for the problems and asked if we would mind moving to another one of his apartments as he would be unable to get a plumber in at this hour. Mohammad helped transfer us to another room. The new room was fabulous with a kitchen, separate living room, bedroom and big en suite. This was one hell of an upgrade from what we had booked. This was perfect for a small family or perhaps if you planned to stay for a longer time the space would be appreciated.
We hopped into a cab and off to a restaurant we had found on TripAdvisor which had fantastic reviews. As the streets were so narrow in this part of the city most were one-way. Our taxi driver explained that even though the restaurant saw a very short walking distance he would have to go the long way around in a car. I didn’t care as long as I did not have to climb that hill again. Karen and Annette’s (my fountain of youth cousins) voices were ringing in my ears going “think of the steps Olive, every daily activity is an opportunity to exercise Olive!" Okay ladies I’ll think of the steps but I am not doing them. We arrive at the restaurant all fresh and shiny and all for the equivalent of a euro. Oh my God, I may never think of steps again at these prices I can Uber everywhere! The restaurant was fabulous and was true to all its reviews. Sufras on Rainbow street was a lovely experience with great food and service.
The next morning we realized that we had left a plug adapter behind in the old studio, Roisin went to retrieve it. She met with Mohammad again and she asked if the problem with the drain had been sorted. It turned out that there was no problem with the shower drain and here’s how we made our mistake. At home the stainless steel covers about the size of small plate in the shower that covers the drain is just that, its decorative and it covers the ugly drain well, here it functions as a plug. If pushed down or stepped on, as I did, it will stop the water and acts as a plug. Luckily I didn’t drown the place and totally bemused as to why you might want to contain 2 or 3 inches of water in the shower tray. Anyhow, Mohammad was very gracious about the whole episode and took it with good humour.
Read Part Three of our Amman Adventure by clicking below!
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.