Trip Start Sep 27, 2008
Trip End Oct 18, 2008

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Flag of Jordan  ,
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We left Jerusalem early in a shared taxi. 68 NIS total and we were on the bus waiting for the final passengers. I had gotten a bit spooked at breakfast on the roof this morning--we were feeding the cats, enjoying the sunshine, the olives and the view. And I noticed a playing card laying face down on the ground between our chairs. I reached for it and turned it over as I picked it up...uh oh...Ace of Spades. Travel days already are nerve-racking enough without the death card showing up at breakfast! But then, the last 2 passengers joining our bus were nuns from Mother Teresa's order! They were accompanied to the station by several other nuns--and they blessed each other by gently holding and touching each other's bowed heads. As the last one boarded the bus, she shouted "goodbye sisters" with a beautiful accent and smile. She squeezed into the seat next to me. I noted their soft white cotton robes with the distinctive blue stripes. They both wore finger rosaries.

And then I noticed Bryan smiling at me. Yep, he'd read my mind...I was delighted to be accompanied on this journey by nuns! The mini-van ride was quick...we were practically flying around the curvy roads. I noticed the nuns' finger rosaries going round and round, just as I caught the last glimpse of the golden Dome of the Rock in the morning sun. Goodbye Jerusalem. But today, I was going to Petra! A place I've wanted to see for so long. The plan was to get to Wadi Musa / Petra today and enter the Rose Red City for the first time on my birthday. With the sun, the breeze, the nuns, the memory of Jerusalem and the promise of Petra...well, I was a happy, thankful girl.

The exit from Israel cost 150.50 NIS each! And the entry into Jordan was a chaotic mess. You get separated from your luggage and your passport and there are no lines for anything. It took well over an hour to go through. We found a cash station for Jordanian dinars and stumbled across 2 German girls negotiating for a taxi ride to Petra. We approached them as they turned to us to ask if we were going to Petra. And we offered them a ride in our rental car that we still had to pick up. Bryan said it's a good gesture and will surely come back to us. Travelers karma. :) Manuela and Kerstin agreed to pay for the gas to Petra. We picked up the car at 11 year old black economy car reserved about 24 hours ago. A bit of miming about this and that with the attendant, and some pointing to the Petra road, and we were off.

We headed out towards Road 65...the Dead Sea Highway. The deep blue Dead Sea was rimmed in white. No boats out there--just an incredible blue expanse with Israel on the other side. When the sea ended, we turned left onto highway 50...that went up up up. And then turned right onto the Kings Highway 15. This was like Nolensville Road in Nashville--a major thoroughfare that passes through little towns periodically. Along the way, we stopped to get directions--roll down the window, smile and ask "Petra?" They'd smile back and begin pointing. There was a road closure and a detour that took us into the back roads of a small town. Kids ran alongside the car smiling. We joked about what they must think of Bryan and his 3 rebellious wives--all without head scarves! We stopped for a bathroom break and Bryan bought those middle eastern sweets with the pistachios and flaky pastry from a small shop. All in all, the journey took 5 hours. Much longer than we'd expected. We pulled into town as the sun was sinking, dropping Manuela and Kerstin at their hotel and driving on to find ours.

The Petra Moon Hotel is very close to the entrance to Petra. They were offering a Petra by Moonlight tour that night for JD12. We signed up, showered, ate a nice pizza at Mystic Pizza, and joined about 400 other people for a 3 1/2 hour walk. That sounds like a lot of people, but it is nothing compared to the crowds during the mid-days. And the guides request walking 2-by-2 in silence to appreciate the moment. Most people abided by that...and it was a stunning experience.

The Siq--the mile long entry down into Petra--was lit by candles in bags spaced about 10 feet apart. I was giddy--about to see Petra!--and by candlelight no less. It was a clear night with a crescent moon and thousands of stars. I loved the sound of gravel and sand underfoot, the feeling of the walls rising up around us as we went deeper into the canyon, and the view of the stars narrowed to a sliver above. The anticipation was building. On and on we walked. It was so quiet as the Siq narrowed and we continued down, the walls rising above us. Careful over the larger stone path. 45 minutes passed. Finally, we heard murmuring ahead of us, heard gasps, and then we too turned a curve and saw the flickers of thousands of candles right up and revealing a glimpse of the massive Treasury. Finally, you step out right in front of this huge 6 columned facade ornately carved into the side of a cliff. What a way to see it for the first time! The size of it, the rosy color of the columns accented by the dancing flames of a thousand candles. The silence. The stars above. Stunning.

Rows of carpets had been laid out for us to sit. We were brought mint tea on large copper serving trays. The Bedouin guide told us the story of Petra as we sat quietly in front of one of the great wonders of the world. He told us the story of the Nabataeans who carved all of this grand place over 2,000 years ago, of the Bedouins who lived in tents around here, of how the city was "lost" to outsiders and then found again in the 1800s. I couldn't help but think about Indiana Jones--and wonder about the Holy Grail. We got to hear Bedouin music that night--an oud and a flute, echoing in the Treasury. Incredible.

We slept well that night after the long walk, the long ride from the border to Petra, and after 7 long, sleepless nights in Jerusalem. On my birthday, we took time over breakfast--better coffee, more hard-boiled eggs and hummus, but no olives :( We got the 3 day Petra pass and began the walk through the Siq at 8 am.

The Siq is a stunning walk--so many colors and shapes in the walls. We stopped a hundred times to climb this, photograph that. We finally reached the Treasury--and were even more stunned to see this magnificent thing in the sunlight. There is only a small room actually carved into the Treasury...but the detail in the columns, in the statues on the side...amazing. We stopped for tea and a Fanta and contemplated the day ahead of us. We'd packed a lunch of some cheese/crackers, almonds and oranges.

Petra during the day is crowded...and hot. During the day, it's louder and you have to avoid the horse carriages coming and going through the Siq, then the camels and donkeys in Petra...not to mention the vendors trying to sell necklaces. There can be an intense smell of urine around the Treasury. And I couldn't stand seeing the donkeys whipped or tied to stakes in the sun all day. We walked miles and miles every day--aching by the time we returned to the Treasury--only to face the 1 mile walk up the Siq to the village. All this to say--it is a physically and mentally challenging place to spend a few days. I wished I was in better shape, that I'd come when it was cooler (or when I was younger!), that I hadn't worn shoes with sand collecting mesh, that I'd brought more sunscreen and water. I wished the people would be nicer to the animals, I wished I'd seen even one person giving their horse/donkey/camel a drink of water.

Regardless, the place is stunning. It is a testament to human ingenuity. There are thousands of patterns and sparkling colors in the sandstone and so many stages of erosion. We walked for 3 days there and feel like we didn't see half of it. And they say only 5% of it is excavated!

Day 1, we took our time. I took about 500 pictures along the way through the Street of Facades, the theater, the Royal Tombs. We ate lunch at the Urn Tomb--overlooking the collonaded street of Petra below.

On day 2, we went in around 6:30 am. There were only a few people (maybe 5) at the Treasury. We all took turns taking and getting our photos in front of an empty Treasury. And then we began the walk to the Monastery with a guy named Tony. About 10 miles round trip. Past all the stuff we'd seen yesterday and then a turn onto the trail that has 800 steps and winds up, up, up. The trail isn't hard to find, but not exactly well marked either. We walked up ancient warped steps, around narrow cliff paths looking down into canyons, up, up, up. We thought we'd never get there. Along the way, a Bedouin family passed us...we exchanged "Merhahbah" with the dad who was walking, then another "merhahbah" with the ~10 year old son, and then the little ~6 year old girl passed and said "good morning" to us before we could speak. Big smiles. They waved us in the right direction as they took a different path into the canyon. We stopped in a cool crack between the cliffs to catch a great breeze in the little wind tunnel...and the Monastery was just to our right.

WOW. Another MASSIVE facade carved into the side of a mountain. Eight columns wide--not as ornate, but huge and every bit as impressive as the treasury. Only 4 of us there...not counting the Bedouins who must live out there to run a little cafe. We saw a man dressed in a suit/bedouin head scarf, talking on a cell phone and walking a donkey. We saw donkeys bringing in crates of plastic bottles of water, and firewood. We stayed a bit. Resting in the shade, taking pictures, wondering if we could get up top on the urn like the National Geographic photograph (a tourist fell to his death a few years ago, so the path is closed--"no climbing"). This was a good day. It was early, cooler. I enjoyed the smell of the Bedouin's fires, they were waking up and making tea in several of the little booths along the way. We encouraged those we met on the path as we went back--"not far now!", "about 15 more minutes!" or to those close to the start "it's worth it!"

On the way back, I noticed a little boy very carefully arranging colorful pieces of sandstone on a small table near the collonaded street. He couldn't have been older than 7. But he was so cute, a proud little business man, meticulously setting up a beautiful display of rocks to sell. He even looked at the sun's direction, and moved a stone just slightly to catch the sun in the right spot. I went back. His dad came up slowly behind him on a donkey. I asked the little boy if he was selling the rocks--he replied "3 for 1 dinar, your choice lady". I chose carefully, and asked him what he thought. He again said "your choice, any". I gave him my dinar, said "showkrawn", he said "thank you" and turned beaming to his dad. I heard his dad say "Bravo" as we walked away...and the little boy laughing and talking excitedly after his first sale.

We spent this night at Petra Kitchen with 7 other guests cooking an authentic Jordanian meal...lentil soup, baba ganuj, tabbouleh, galaya bandura, araias lahmah (I worked on this crispy meat quesadilla thing) and Magloubet ("upside down"). We were all having a little wine and chopping, stirring--while 3 chefs oversaw and did the heavy work. Excellent meal...and lots of it.

We spent the third day walking around the Royal Tombs and sitting quietly for our final moments in front of the Treasury. And of course, a slow passage through the beautiful Siq. Bryan joked with the boys selling postcards, trying to sell his back. Good fun, they were laughing when they understood him.

On the final night, we ate at Oriental Restaurant. I had mansafe with rice with almonds/pine nuts. Yum. And then we borrowed Indiana Jones from the hotel staff and watched Harrison Ford ride a horse in the Siq :) A nice ending to our Petra experience.
So many places we didn't see in Petra. Such nice people in Wadi Musa. I'd like to go back someday.
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