Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Friday, August 1, 2014

I found a train slower than Amtrak!!!

This post is all about the very exciting business of taking a train through the deserts of Jordan!

There is actually a train station here in Amman. When I found out about the train station, it was my dream to go.

I read Murder on the Oriente Express by Agatha Christie once. I think that book begins either in the Baghdad or the Damascus train station. Well, the train station in Amman is connected to the same railway system as those two stations. I think it's been a long time since any train went between Baghdad and Amman, but the Damascus-Amman train was running up until three years ago, when it was derailed by the war.

But a train station is a train station, so we went to check it out. Just tell the taxi driver you want to go to the 'Mahata'. I went on the last day of Ramadan. I stepped out of the taxi, and thought: wow, this is so beautiful. We walked up to the front gates, which were closed and locked. We pressed the buzzer, and a man came out. He spoke Arabic in I don't know what kind of accent, so it was a little hard, but we tried our best.

He showed us around the station - the steam engines, the diesel engines, the carriages, the water tower, and all the related mechanical equipment. I was wild to go for a ride! And I was in luck, because the trains are still running! They might not go to Syria any more, but they run inside of Jordan. The man at the station said the trains go everywhere: Mafraq to the north, Aqaba to the south - though he didn't recommend that. Aqaba is a port city. It is about four hours away by car, but ten to twelve hours by train. And then he listed a bunch of other stations: Qasr, Jiza, Lubban, and on and on.

Then he said that the train travel only cost 4 dinars (!) and that although the trains were not running during Ramadan, they would be running on every single day of the holiday of Eid - except for the first day. And that during the rest of the year, the trains run every Friday and Saturday (that is the weekend in Jordan.) He was all sorts of persuasive, explaining all the sandwiches, juice, coffee, tea, biscuits, and soft drinks the train offers. And the carriages have bathrooms. And they take you to see beautiful sights!

So I left the station that day with every intention of coming back for the real thing.

I found this website: http://www.english.jh-railway.com/page/Information/1/. It seems to be the official one. It lists the stations and has a history of the Hejaz railway. It also has a number to call. We called the number, and the number works! However, I think the people answering only speak in Arabic. The person on the other end of the line had a whole different version of events, however. No, the trains are not running every day of Eid. No, the trains do not run on Friday and Saturday. And apparently, the trains also don't stop at every station.

The new story was that the train this week were running Thursday and Friday, and going solely to the station of Jiza. You call the day before to reserve tickets. You show up at 8 am the day of to wait and to pay. The train leaves at 9 am. It takes 2.5 hours to get to Jiza. Then you hang out in Jiza for about 2 hours, then you take the train back and you're back in Amman by 4 pm!! To be sure, according to Google Maps, Jiza is less than 25 miles from Amman, so if it takes 2.5 hours to get there, then this train system is indeed slower than Amrak! But who can resist traveling in these ancient carriages over the ancient desert??? Not I!

Everything was planned and reserved, and then the afternoon before our trip I fell sick, and stayed sick, and it was too much to attempt a train journey in such conditions. I am so disappointed. I am leaving Jordan very soon and I think this was my last chance to ride the rails.

But if you come to Jordan, you should definitely try to take a train ride.

On the subject of non-car transportation, there is a town called Madaba approximately a 40 minute drive from Amman. The way is nice and straight and non-hilly. People bike between the two of them. And sometimes, but not during Ramadan and I guess less during the summer, they have group bike trips between the two of them. I heard of them through word of mouth, I don't know if maybe you could find a Facebook group organizing one and join in. And there's women who bike along!

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