The Rose-Red City

We set the alarm for 2am so we could be ready for our 3am pickup here at our hotel. The bus driver met us outside and we were ushered into a minivan with about ten others, to a location about 20 minutes out of the city. There we transferred to a very large bus and we were driven to Eilat, approximately four hours or so. At Eilat, we were met by a Go Israel guide named Lioni who helped us navigate the border crossing into Jordan. He told us we had to pay $60 and $65 each extra for the special Visa to Jordan and exiting Israel. We used American dollars for part of the cost and we used shekels for the rest, as they only accepted cash. Once we crossed into Jordan we had several stops, at each we were required to show our passport, and then wait til the next area. It was confusing, poorly-organized and it took about an hour and a half to finish all the bureaucracy to get into a new country. Finally, our Jordanian guide Nazir met us and took us to another bus and we began the drive to Petra. He was delightful, his English was excellent and we learned a lot about the history of Jordan.

We started first in Aqaba where the government of Jordan is investing (and requesting foreigners also to invest, including investors for Dubai and China) in making a large, world-class city with modern infrastructure and amenities such as big hotels and conference centers. It took about two hours to get to Petra and we drove first through the Wadi Rum (Valley Rum), which sadly was socked in by heavy fog so we couldn’t see anything. On to Petra where we debarked the bus, were told what to expect inside Petra in terms of tourists and groups and how to handle the Bedouins who are the only ones inside Petra allowed to sell trinkets, and donkey, camel and horse rides ( all for exorbitant prices). Apparently, the Bedouins negotiated this deal with the Jordanian government and they are making hundreds of thousands of dollars, none of which makes its way to the local economy or banks, as all the money is kept in mattresses and under tiles in the houses. By the way, Bedouin children do not attend school and the Jordanians are working hard to change that. So far, no luck.

There is a beautiful visitor center and many big hotels on the outside of the “rose-red city”, and we shortly passed the entrance gates and began our tour. It was amazing! The big rocks and canyons formed by major earthquakes thousands of years ago, formed the outer edge and funneled us down into the canyon. We saw some carvings made by the Nabataeans (who predated the Romans and Christians) and mostly used the caves for burial sites. We took lots of amazing pictures as we walked downward. We were told the area was famous for flash floods and it was easy to see why. Scott and I were reminded of the slot canyons of Arizona as we walked through with our guide Nizar. Shortly we came across the famous Treasury, gorgeous carvings in the red sandstone. It was never used as anything but a burial site, but at some point, someone shot a gun at an amphora up top, hoping to dislodge gold coins, hence its new name.

From that point on, each site was more amazing than the last. We walked a couple of kilometers down into the canyon, ending at the great temple. We couldn’t go further as we didn’t have more time! Our guide left us at the bottom, giving us two hours to explore more or to go back up to meet him at the plaza at 4:15. We explored more on our own getting as far as seeing the colonnaded streets and soon began the 2 mile trek back up to the main level. The path is mostly sand and lots of rocks, so not easy walking, especially for Scott. We walked about 15 minutes before it began to rain in earnest, and soon the entire trail was filled with rushing water and waterfalls began cascading off the big rocks. Even though we had umbrellas and rain coats, we quickly were drenched and our shoes covered with muddy water as we climbed. It took us almost an hour to get back up, exhausted and soaked, and we were able to get a quick bite to eat and then get ready to leave. Our simple lunch of a bowl of soup, a Kebab of chicken and French fries and a lemonade cost more than $60 – very surprising to us!

We were the last ones on the bus and we rode two hours back to Eilat where we went through the border again. Although by comparison, returning to Israel was more organized, we still had to pass metal detectors and body screenings, questions from agents and passport control. It took about an hour for all of us to get through and back to our Israeli bus. By this time, it was 7pm and Lioni (the same one who met us earlier in the day at 7am) greeted us and got us on the bus back to Jerusalem. It took five hours to get back to Jerusalem and finally arrived around midnight at our hotel. We had been touring for 23 hours!

Pulled off wet clothes and quickly went to sleep. The trip was absolutely, 100% worth all the expense and time. All told, it cost us about $800, not including food. By the way, the lunch bag that was included on the trip was a dry bagel, an apple, an orange and a brownish banana, a fruit drink in a box and a bottle of water. Pretty much inedible…

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