For those people who haven't been fortunate enough to turn their back on the Israeli border and take road number 40 from the Dead Sea back to Jordan's capital Amman, let me tell you about it. It's steep. And then it's a bit steeper and finally a bit steeper still. Such is the necessity to return to the black numbers on the altitude scale after spending the thick end of a week 400-metres south of the height the tide normally comes in.
So, steep road; wide road, two lanes with a decent enough hard shoulder. But steep.
Now, let me tell you about hire cars in Jordan. Generally speaking, they're not the best. Or, at least, the Mitsubishi with my name on it at Queen Alia Airport wasn't the best. It was a Lancer, so it did came with some degree of cachet for a rally reporter. But the snotter of an auto which I'd been hit with bore little resemblance to Tommi's rocket beyond the three diamonds which decorated the steering wheel. It was shocking and comfortably the second worst hire car I've had while in this job (the worst being a Nissan in Nairobi, let's not go there...).
The engine light stayed on when I fired it up, but the enthusiastic fellow from the hire car firm assured me this was because of a faulty bulb. Nothing, he laughed, to do with the shoddy motor up front.
He flipped the boot open to show me the spare tyre, but baulked when I reached in to give it a prod, slamming it shut with a smile.
Not reassured in the slightest, but faced with little alternative to make my trip, I reached for the seatbelt. Admittedly, I need more belt than most to tie myself into what was the world's softest seat, but I was a little disconcerted when, having over-extended it, instead of seeing it reel back in, it fell loosely in my lap.
Seeing this, hire car man knew the game was up. Momentarily considering his options, he shut the door, gave me an encouraging wave and legged it.
The journey down the hill was fine. The brakes worked.
Coming back up days later, I was genuinely considering my options. What had started out as a bit of a misfire when you went back on the throttle had developed into something significantly more concerning. It sounded horribly like the fourth cylinder was about to do its own thing and I was only halfway up.
The remarkable thing is the number of 'retired' cars I was passing on the hard shoulder, bonnets up going nowhere. I was determined not to join them. And, for the moment, though, I had momentum. I was making progress. Until, that is, an idiot of a lorry driver pulled out to pass a bus lumbering up the hill in bottom gear. I had no option, off the gas and on the brakes to walking speed.
That was it. The car wouldn't pull enough for the auto box to shift from first to second.
What to do? I took the scientific approach and buried my right foot. If we were going down, we were going down fighting. It worked. Just. So I kept my foot in, which presented a new kind of problem when we reached the speed bumps on the outskirts of Amman. Reluctant to let the revs drop below 3,000, I figured the dampers would be tired enough not to notice a couple more bumps.
Oops. Head connected with roof, quite literally hammered home the flaw in this plan. But, I made it. With a cheer I passed under the airport sign. And even slowed down for the men and their guns at the checkpoint.
Confronted by a new bloke at the hire car desk, I was ready to rant at what him and his company had put me through. Until he offered me a lift to my hotel, and thanked me for coming to his country. I decided not to mention the misfire.
I might have gone on about the hire car thing a bit there. And it did taint my trip ever-so-slightly, but the ride to the hotel with the bloke made me think. He was telling me of Jordan's troubles and its tough financial plight compared with its wealthy neighbours. But he didn't stop smiling.
That's Jordan for you.
Abu Dhabi can and will come in with an open-wallet approach, building roads for stages and making sure everything is a vision of tidy loveliness. We'll probably be based at the Yas Marina hotel and with the blinds down in the air-conditioned press office, you probably won't even notice you're in the Middle East.
Abu Dhabi (and Oman and Dubai if the event goes there) will provide colour of a controlled nature. In Jordan, you get colour in the raw form. I woke up looking out over the West Bank, for goodness sake. And, when I drove back from rally HQ, I drove past the hordes of Jordanian families who had come down from Amman to make camps on the pavement alongside the Dead Sea. They lit fires, rode their camels, cooked, played music and smoked their sweet-smelling shisha pipes.
I understand the commercial realities of Abu Dhabi coming in, but at the same time I can't help but hope there remains a place for Jordan. The Jordanians have worked tirelessly to deliver for the WRC. This time around, their event was almost ruined by a broken down boat, but not once did you hear them complain.
A car not similar to that hired by our man Evans in Jordan © LAT
All they did was plan and plan and plan to make sure some sort of rally ran. And they could have complained. They could have complained about the £200,000 spent making the handful of miles manageable at the start of the Ma'in stage - only for that perfectly groomed gravel never to see a World Rally Car after day one was canned.
Talking to the Prince (as you do...) you can see he's still got the fever. He can't help himself, but here's a man frustrated by the lack of direction in the World Rally Championship. When Jordan first talked about a WRC entry, its rally ran through the desert and all over the place. It was a true adventure.
Adventure, it was told, was not on the agenda for 2008. The buzzword was centralisation. So it centralised and sanitised it became. And now it's being told to go back to the desert, go back to the long stages, go back to what it was.
Understandably, the Prince is unwilling to commit his people's millions to investing in the instability of the current WRC. Let's hope - as he does - rotation remains an option for Jordan.
Now we've reached the Promised Land, it would be a shame to turn our back on it.
Providing I get a decent hire car next time...
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