Saturday, 3 March 2012

Driving in Jordan

Water flicked through the car’s open window, lashing my eyes. I raced through the city streets, the engine screaming and tyres hissing on the wet tarmac. I broke out into open country and a vista of cypress-dotted hills and rock outcrops before the road looped back into the suburbs.
   I sped around a tight corner in a hilly residential area. The tyres hit a bad road repair and I slid out of control across the smooth, treacherous bitumen. The car spun a full circle before bumping against the kerb, not a damaging impact, but heavy enough to jolt me into awareness of my surroundings.
Olives, Page 191

Paul’s driving has obviously not been improved by his time in the Middle East. This is hardly a surprise, driving across the region is generally appalling and rarely less than bonkers. There are some regional hotspots – Cairo really takes the biscuit, it’s the one place in the Middle East where I’ve always managed to avoid driving, but that hasn’t really helped, as being driven around by a maniac with a clear death-wish is only barely preferable to taking matters into your own hands and trying to carve your own path through the impossible, choking traffic.

The GCC is a tad more gentlemanly these days, the UAE, Dubai in particular, has calmed down following a somewhat draconian crackdown by Dubai' radar-toting police (the Emirate features a fixed rader every 2km on most roads and mobile 'sneaks' on top of that). I do recall in Saudi Arabia during the 1980s, if you waited too long at a roundabout, the guy behind you would just shove you in with his bumper. Lebanon, too, has calmed down as drivers have become used to the fact you don’t need to avoid snipers anymore. It’s taken the best part of 20 years for that to sink in, mind you. And Beirut's traffic lights are still occasionally regarded as a pretty display to brighten up the roadside rather than an actual instruction to behave in a certain way.

I’ve never had the slightest hesitation in driving in Jordan, though. Amman’s rush hour can get pretty hectic these days and roundabouts are still an invitation to play chicken and ignore any such facile concept as right of way. The roads are still, in the main, pretty badly maintained, too. But muddling your way through the snarling lanes of traffic, the usual pile of people, choking fumes and honking horns, somehow doesn’t seem as, well, potentially fatal as Cairo does. And once you’re out in the country, windows open and cypress-dotted hillsides speeding past, you’re in heaven...

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