It Was Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times
Trip Start Dec 18, 2010
20Trip End Jan 04, 2011
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Where I stayed
Movinpick Hotel - Petra, Jordan
But before I tell you of today, in the fog of being up for almost 20 hours in a row, I forgot to tell you a great anecdote from Christmas Eve. (As Ron White would say, "If I had known the difference between anecdote and antidote, my best friend Skippy would be alive today!") He'll be here all week folks! Don't forget to tip your waiters and waitresses and try the veal!
Remember back to Christmas Even when we were smashed into St. Catherine's Church on Manger Square with 3000 (I learned today the place holds 1800 people) of our closest friends? Well, a lady, her husband, and three kids were standing next to and around us when suddenly the lady, looks at my ISU Band jacket and asks me, "Are you from Bloomington, Illinois?" I said, "Why, yes, where are you from?" She said, "We live in Rantoul, Illinois!!!" Are you kidding me? We're at a mass on Christmas Eve in Manger Square and standing next to us are people who live less than 60 miles from us! Everybody sing now, "It's a small world after all..."
Anyway, back to today. We set the alarm for 6:45 since we had to check out, eat breakfast and meet our driver who would drive us to the Israeli - Jordanian border in the lobby at 8:00 am. And then it began! The alarm didn't go off for the first time during the trip...Laura woke us up at 7:15. You know how that is...you are rushing around trying to do 20 things at once and none of them very well. We made it down to the lobby at 7:50. Sandy and Laura ran to try to get some breakfast while I checked out and watched the luggage. And wouldn't you know it, our driver showed up EARLY! Are you kidding me?
Nice guy...name was Josse and he told me to go with the girls and get some breakfast, we were not in any hurry. Boy did that statement become truth as the morning progressed.
By the time Sandy, Laura and I wolfed down a quick but delicious breakfast, he had the van loaded and was ready to go. The van was a 20 passenger van...for us three people. Strange, but true.
We hit the road to Allenby Bridge border crossing (named for British General Edmund Allenby). During the hour-long ride, Josse pointed out several sites, along with appropriate pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian comments. Our previous guide (Uri) was kind in comparison to some of Josse's comments. Of course what did we expect from a retired Israeli Army Officer who still helped them test drive tanks!!!
We reached Allenby Bridge, thinking this was the only checkpoint along the way...boy were we wrong. First, we got in a short 3-car line to have the Israeli guard in charge wave us to the checkpoint. Not so fast. It seemed like 20 cars (15 of which were there AFTER we were) got motioned to the gate. Finally Josse got out and asked the guard what was going on? Two or three cars later, he let us through. We later learned the guard gave preference to drivers with tourists and he didn't see us three in the 20 passenger bus. Anyway, to the checkpoint and check all our passports...everything in order and we move on.
I said to Josse, "Well that was easy." He said, we still have two more checkpoints to go in Israel. Are you kidding me?
We got to the next checkpoint about a mile down the road and it was a mess. One taxi had a passenger with no visa. He had to back out from the gate. We, along with 10 other cars had to back out as well. Finally, we moved to the front of the line and to the checkpoint. Fortunately, they only checked Josse's papers at that point.
Then it was on to the actual border checkpoint. I thought this was Jordan...nope, still Israel. We got out, got our luggage taken away by some guy we didn't know and headed into the building where he pointed. There were three lines that said Passport Control. We got in the shortest. Then another started moving faster, so we moved lines...bad mistake. 45 minutes later, we get to the head of the line and the lady asks for our receipt. I asked, "What receipt?" She said for the Value Added Tax. She pointed to a window with a line on the other side of the room. Didn't know you had to pay 165 Shekels ($15) each to GET OUT OF THE COUNTRY! Are you kidding me? Fifteen minutes later, we had the tax paid and the nice lady stamped our passports and let us through.
Now, I'm looking for our Jordanian guide (don't know his name, but I'm looking for him). This guys comes up and says, "You enter Jordan? You come with me." He loaded our baggage on his van, but I'm still skeptical. I'm expecting some driver or tour guide and I get Abdul who wants to throw our luggage on board and take off with or without us. So, we rip our luggage off the van and try to call the tour agency contact in Lebanon. Did I mention that our phone doesn't work in Lebanon? This was what we thought our low point of the day was. It would get worse before it got better.
With some encouragement of some Americans working in Israel, we warily boarded the bus with Abdul, not saying a word during the trip. About 5 miles later, the bus stops and a Jordanian Army officer opened our door and asked (politely) for all 20 of our passports. We complied. He checked them and gave them all to our driver (remember that fact!). We then moved about 3 miles further to the actual Jordanian border, where we were charged $18 for Abdul to haul us 8 miles...maybe.
We went in and finally met our guide (are you ready for his name?) Jihad. I knew what it meant immediately, but didn't have the guts to say anything to him...yet. You must know that the Jordanian Passport services was truly and honestly a cluster (I'll leave the rest to you!) Of the 20 or so people on the bus, I got mine about 5th. Sandy got hers about 15th. In between, Arab men kept butting up to the front of the line to get 20 or so passports of people on large tour busses stamped. Finally, about 45 minutes later, and still no Passport for Laura, we asked (and had our guide ask) what the holdup was. It appears they had lost Laura's and another lady's Passport. This precipitated some calls and 15-20 minutes later, our driver Abdul shows up with both Passports saying they had slipped down between the seats in is van. Are you kidding me???
We got her passport and we were on our way...none of us, frankly in a very good mood. Welcome to Jordan Mr. and Mrs. Griswold!
Got in the van with Jihad and the day started to improve. He took us on a 40-minute ride to Medeba. A very cool Greek Orthodox church where they found the oldest map of the Holy Land dated to 2500 years ago...all done in beautiful mosiac tile! Fantastic church...since then, people have donated to the church beautiful mosaics to be displayed on all the walls of Jesus' life. A very good stop. I have great pictures...trust me!!!
Went to a great little sandwich shop which Jihad knew and finally got some food about 2:00 pm.
Then he took us to Mt. Nebo, the place where Moses saw the Promise Land, but was told by God that this his people could enter, but he could not. According to Deuteronomy, Moses died shortly thereafter at the age of 120 and was buried in the area (but no one knows where). Very cool.
Then a 3 hour ride to Petra. Fun ride. Turns out Jihad is a great guy who likes to laugh and have fun. Sometimes at our expense. Sandy asked what time we were going to meet him tomorrow to ride the horses into Petra (a la Harrison Ford in The Search for the Holy Grail). Jihad, looked at me and winked and said, "All the horse rides start at 5:30 AM." Sandy at first looked stunned, but Jihad quickly let her off the hook, laughed and told her 8:30.
Turns out Jihad is part Syrian (Father) and part Palistinian (Mother). They moved out of Palestine when the Israelis took over in 1948. Jihad doesn't seem bitter. He's 30, married, and got two kids. Wife is 22. He married his wife site unseen as a traditional Jordainian arranged marriage. Unbelieveable. He told us his wife's name and what it meant, and that gave me my chance. "And what does your name mean, I asked," already knowing the answer. He said, "What do you think it means?" I said, I have heard it means "Holy War." He said, that's what most people think, but it's actually "Warrior." Strangely later, we found out this warrior has never served in the Army.
It was a fun ride with a thousand questions about Jordan, Jihad and anything else dumb tourists might ask! We arrived at the Movinpic Hotel shortly after dark. I had told Jihad that in the US in basketball terms, a "moving pick" was a foul...he laughed! What a fabulous hotel. Best we've stayed in so far. Checked out dinner in the hotel dining room...buffet only...28 Jordanian Dinars each (about $40)...no thanks. How about the sit down dinner at the other restaurant? Sorry no reservations until 9:00 PM. It was 6:45 and we were getting hungry.
Went to the bar/lounge on the 4th floor and had a drink. Very nice...$30! Then we ended up in the fourth small dining room in the hotel on the first floor. Great idea! Laura had some pasta and Sandy and I shared a great traditional Jordanian dinner called mansaf...rice, lamb and thin yogurt...probably the best meal we've had.
Getting ready for tomorrow's view of Petra...looking forward to it. And the horse ride of course. Sorry this is so long, but I wanted to let you know what a crummy day this started out to be and what a tremendous day it ended up being.