The next morning I load up on an enormous breakfast in Le Royale before Carlton comes to meet me with N, my guide. He’s a friendly old man with a decent grasp of English, who looks like a cross between Droopy and George Foulkes. He too will accompany me for the rest of my stay in Bible country. Droopy has a knowledge of Jordan’s history that is both broad and deep, which is fine, but clearly no one has told him the purpose of my visit: geocaching.
Given I’ve never done it before, it’s hard enough to explain to fellow English speakers, but getting the message across to Carlton and Droopy is hard work indeed. The basics are this: you go online, get coordinates, stick them in your GPS device, decode a cryptic clue and try and find a “treasure”. Typically this will be a bottle or container with a logbook, pencil, sharpener and nominal prize inside. You find it, leave your mark, take the prize (so long as you replace it with one of your own) and tick it off your list. Unbelievably there are over a million of these trinkets around the globe; ten of which are allegedly in Jordan.
My first major problem is simple: I don’t have a GPS device. (Fortunately, the Jordanian caches are all hidden at major historic locations, all of which are on my itinerary.) My second is that I don’t really know what I’m looking for. And my third is that I’m a bit of a wimp.
Our first stop is the hilltop citadel area in the centre of Amman, Jordan’s capital. Here monuments, mosques and palaces have been built by a number of rulers, cultures and religions. Where normally you’d have to travel to several sites for a collection of history like this, here they are collected together; the view must have been a popular one.
My first cache is Uriah’s Last Stand which, according to the directions, is between the Umayyad Mosque and Palace Complex. This area isn’t too big, but I can’t find any hint of it.
The sheet also says, “Svaq n fvta bs gur bprna, gur bar uvture hc, tb gb vg?f onpxfvqr, fgrc hc, naw ybbx hc naq gb gur evtug.” How to translate this is too boring to put into words, but suffice to say I use a key to work out it says: “Find a sign of the ocean, the one higher up, go to it’s backside, step up and look to the right.” My inner-nerd throbs like an angry dick at an orgy when I work this out and begin to clamber around an ancient gate bearing a symbol for waves. Droopy looks on at me, the foolish European who has quite possibly lost his mind.
Fifteen minutes pass and I have nothing to show but I’m excited and not disheartened – there are nine more caches and this early failure will make writing the final piece much easier. We sacrifice going to Um Qais to visit the Roman Amphitheatre instead, which according to the instructions is where the next cache is. But five of the last six people to try and find it failed. I do too. I console myself with some vaguely interesting photographs, including one of the most intersting tramp I’ve seen for ages.
Next we head into the country to Ajloun Castle, a 1000 year old fortress that sits atop a large hill, surveying the valley below. Droopy is old and clearly has bad knees, which fills me with uncomfortable foreboding and stops him from following me inside. I have 40 minutes to find this cache, somewhere within the castle’s labyrinthine corridors. “Elevation of the cache is 3,343 feet. It is placed around 6.2 feet off the ‘ground,’” says the clue. Balls, I wish I had a GPS now – I have no idea what my elevation is; and what the hell does it mean “ground”? Why quote it like that? I prick about, letting my imagination run wild as I leap around the castle; getting unreasonably nervous about spiders, snakes or scorpions lurking in nooks and crannies in which I stick my hands. I take a brief break to consider a precarious pair of lovers, then continue.
In the time it takes to crack a bull whip my time is up – I imagine reaching back through a closing door to snatch my (enormous) hat – and I have nothing to show. Damnit. Three attempts, three failures and trudging back to the car, Carlton and Droopy know I’ve failed before I’ve opened my mouth.
We stop for a Lebanese feast before going to the final site of the day: the 2000-year-old Roman city of Jerash. The place is incredible and, had I not been bumbling around Actual Rome only a month earlier, I’m sure I would be blown away completely. In its pomp this place had over 35,000 inhabitants, a working sewage system, a high street shopping district and even a sort of traffic lights (which were actually watering holes for horses just before major intersections, to slow chariots). An astonishing amount of pillars still stand as does the bold Temple of Artemis which oversees the town from a hillside like an inspecting centurion.
The directions say this is where I will find a cache, the last one I will be able to seek today. “Check the wall about two feet off the ground and about two feet from the wooden door,” instructs the gobbledygook. Droopy even joins in this time – though my shambolic display has given him absolutely no reason to, he now seems to believe in my quest too. “Wonderful visit. Saw parts of Jerash I hadn’t visited before,” said Gcmcgraw online, having found the cache in December. Finding nothing, I build up a small hatred for this smug bastard – perhaps he removed it after his discovery. Asshole. Droopy leaves me to walk back through Jerash alone, kicking pebbles along the Roman road as I go. Having taken nearly 160 shots, my camera promptly runs out of battery too. I sigh: a treasure hunter I may be; Indiana Jones I am not.