In Petra

Bright and early, we boarded our minivan for the trip to Petra. The distance to the Eilat/Petra crossing was covered in 7 min. We went through customs, walked across no-man’s land, and entered the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This was my first time in an Arab country. The first things I noticed, were a small number of women, a large number of flies, bad teeth, heavy smoking, and ubiquitous portraits of King Abdullah II. Even back in the days when the Soviet Union was still in existence, and Lenin’s, Marx’s, and Brezhnev’s faces adorned many a wall, their number was negligible next to the number of Abdullah’s portraits.

A curious detail that did not go unnoticed by the petrified Jewish group was a couple of target boards leaning against an outside bathroom wall. Each board had an outline of a man divided into sections and punctuated with bullet holes.

We had to wait a bit to obtain our Jordanian visas, then boarded a minivan and set out on a two-hour ride to Petra. We were accompanied by a uniformed “tourist” policeman. The ride took us through the most arid land I had ever seen. The landscape was lunar with meticulously sculptured mountains in the distance. We passed through primitive villages and small towns with minimal vegetation. We saw sheep, goats, and camels. Twice, our bus pulled into roadside shops so that we could inject some funds into the local economy. It was much colder here than in Eilat, and we had to buy ponchos to keep us warm.

Finally in Petra, we started out by walking on an an ancient road lined with ancient tombs. Our guide’s English was so broken and so accented that we were not getting much of what he was telling us, but one thing was made very clear: he had been an engineer, and he held two Master’s degrees. I eavesdropped on a Russian tour guide nearby and learned that those were the graves for the poor, whose spirits were protecting the city. We then walked through the Siq, an amazing narrow canyon zigzagging through the mountains of rainbow colors. The mountains formed whimsical creatures and elaborate structures. “God’s Gaudi”, said Kenny.

Some people were riding donkeys, horses, or wobbly carriages, but I thought that walking was easy and enjoyable. At one point, the guide called our attention to the top of a mountain behind us. We all stretched our necks trying to discern whatever it was that he was pointing out. The guide led us across the road to the opposite wall still pointing back, and we kept trying to discern whatever it was, but then he turned us around. And in the opening between the mountains, at the end of the Siq, we caught a glimpse of the regal and best preserved structure in Petra. It was quite spectacular!

Once we walked out of the Siq, we could behold all that was left of this 2000-year old city. And what remained gave us an inkling of how magnificent it had been. I could just imagine how the travelers admitted into Petra rode their camels through the Siq and into the open plateau surrounded by palatial temples and tombs built into the mountains!

Sadly, we didn’t have much time to explore the ruins and climb every mountain. The walk through the Siq takes almost an hour there and an hour back. It would be better to start exploring Petra early in the morning and finish up with a night tour conducted several times a week by candlelight.

After this short visit we were taken to a restaurant called Alqantarah. Even though this restaurant fed several groups at once, the food was outstanding. An honorable mention goes to the hummus, taboulli, and baba ganoosh.

Then back into the van, riding through the arid steppe, stopping to shop. The last stop was Aqaba, a relatively new town on the Red Sea whose lights we saw from Eilat sparkling over the mountains on the Jordanian side of the Red Sea.
We got a short tour of the town and stopped for obligatory shopping.
I was rather impressed with Aqaba. The town sprouted out of nowhere in the last several years. But I was getting tired of looking at Abdullahs though, and at the women covered from head to toe.

Aqaba is practically on the border with Israel. We walked the no-man land back to Israel fearing that Jordanian guards might want to apply the skills they acquired with the aforementioned target boards, but reached Israel uneventfully. We were greeted by women, girls in miniskirts, palm trees and clean air. Eilat, all of a sudden, was a sight for the sore eye. It was homecoming! And there were no more Abdullahs….

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