WEDNESDAY 8 MAY – AQABA, JORDAN. Readers Richard Jones and Martin Hadlow are well-travelled gentlemen and, to paraphrase Plato on Socrates, wherever I go, I seem to meet them coming back.
In our Recent Comments column both men advise me along the lines that to visit Aqaba without travelling overland to witness the antiquities of Petra is like taking a bath without soap and water.
My pressing problem, as diligent readers may have noticed, is that I have a recuperating Achilles tendon which restricts my walking to a kilometre or so at a time - although today I manage about two as I hobble slowly around the impoverished streets of Aqaba.
To walk five hours around Petra is more than the lacerated ankle could tolerate. So dry and dusty Aqaba it is that provides our locus of interest this day.
Here in Aqaba, on this slender strip of land which provides Jordan with its sea access, is a population struggling to make end meet in a country whose budget has to be propped up by the US – especially now hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to the sanctuary of its refugee camps.
So I extract 50 dinars (about K140) from an ATM to do my bit for the flagging economy and, finding a bookshop, spend D7.50 buying The Jordan Times (headline - ‘Amman-Washington finalising $200m grant’), Morality in Islam by Dr Moh Ali Alkhuli (“A believer must not hate his wife. If he is dissatisfied with one trait of hers, he is satisfied with another”) and Islamic Faith, also by Dr Alkhuli (“Islam is the only religion not named after a person, a country or a people”).
Which leaves me with some reading to do and D42.50 burning a hole in my pocket. The souks hold no retail attraction, so, left ankle burning like Hades, I seek and find an oasis, the Ali Baba, which serves cold Becks beer and mineral water for Ingrid.
We have two each, in fact, which I calculate leaves me with D26.50. (Pardon this preoccupation with money but I will get to the point in a moment.) This being our only day in Jordan, there is no point in hanging on to currency, so I am determined to spend.
Thus I ask one of the waiters to bring me a bottle of Jordanian rosé to take back to the ship and, appropriately chilled, enjoy this evening. “That will be D25,” he says. Perfect. I have but D1.50 remaining, which will constitute a small tip.
Then the bill for the drinks arrives. I have underestimated what I owe by D6. Just as I am scratching my head wondering if the Ali Baba management will accept a dish-washing assignment, the waiter comes back with a bottle of Jordanian Mount Nebo Rosé de Pinot Noir 2011, gives me D10 and apologises profusely that he has overestimated the price.
For his honesty, I tip him the D4 (about K12) I now retain in my possession. He is overjoyed and regales Ingrid and me with gifts of nuts, postcards, placemats - and a cork screw.
With some humility, I realise that D4 is considered a substantial windfall in Aqaba. But, of course, he could have trousered the overestimated D10 and I would have been none the wiser.
Let it not be said that poverty drives dishonesty.
It is another example, among many I’ve encountered in 68 good years on earth, where some of the most reliable, trustworthy, hospitable and honourable people are those who are also most needy.
So it isn’t the most exciting day in the port of Aqaba, carved out of the desert rock, but it is a day that is good for the spirits.
Tomorrow on to the Gulf of Suez and the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes.