Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jordan and Petra, the Rose City

The last stop of our overland trip to Israel was Jordan. Throughout this part of the journey, we have made good time, and apart from the small glitch in Hurghada, things have gone smoothly and on time. It has been amazing to follow the story of the Exodus, at the right time of the year, just after Passover. We started in Cairo as the Israelites did, when they were slaving to build the great pyramids of Giza. Then we went south to Thebes (Luxor) and crossed the desert to the Red Sea. We split the Sea of Reeds with a high-speed ferry rather than an act of god. We climbed Gabel Musa (Mount Sinai) and received the sunrise over the Sinai desert. Later we toured the Monastery guarding the burning bush. Finally it was time to make our way to the Moabite mountains, to Petra, and to Gabel Haroun (Aaron's mountain) the resting place of Moses' brother and mouthpiece, the land which the Israelites wandered for 40 years, waiting for a new generation to rise, and the mountains from which Moses looked onto the land of Israel, never to enter. We would eventually cross into Israel on foot, through the Arava gate, from Aqaba in Jordan to the resort town of Eilat in southern Israel....But first we had to get to Jordan.

We bused from Dahab north to Nuweiba, another Egyptian vacation town that used to be an Israeli vacation spot but has been quiet and desolate since the arab Intifada. We got tickets to another fast ferry, but the trip didn't end up being as fast as advertised. We first had to wait in a huge hall with thousands of migrant Egyptian workers who take a slow ferry to Jordan to work. Once it started, the ferry ride was beautiful and as foreigners we were forced to buy first class tickets so we received wonderful treatment on the boat with a deck from which you could see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. We arrived in Jordan about 4 hours late, as usual, found a taxi, some good falafel and humus and drove north to Wadi Musa, the gateway to Petra.

Petra is a Nabataean City that started around 600 BC, and came into prominence around 200 BC due to the spice trade passing right through its streets. The Nabataeans were polytheistic nomadic people who lived in the Moab mountains. They built Petra, an amazing city built into the surrounding rock of the mountains, into which they carved huge monuments and mausoleums. Petra had an estimated population of one million people at its height and was later taken over and continued by the Romans, who improved on the structures and also turned some of them into Christian structures. The city declined around 300 CE and was lost to history for milennia, and inhabited by Bedouins. It was rediscovered in the late 1800s and refurbished, and is now considered one of the wonders of the world.

The entrance to Petra is dramatic: you walk along a narrow 1.2 km natural water and wind carved canyon called the Siq, and emerge to marvel at the first and most well-known monument of Petra, the Treasury, a massive structure carved into the stone which is as dramatic for the approach as for the architecture itself. From there the city continues, and we soon realized, covers a massive area. Being the go-getters that we are, and only having one day, we spent almost 12 hours walking all over Petra, up hills, mountains, petrified dunes, we walked to beautiful viewpoints where we could see the Dead Sea. We saw the Monastery, the Royal Tombs and the Great Temple, all carved into the rock. Petra’s beauty does not only come from the awe-striking grandeur of the man-made structures, but also from its location, in a magnificent gorge of colored sandstone and clumpy mountains with views of the the plains separating Israel and Jordan. Since I have always looked onto these mountains from Israel, it was amazing to sea the perspective from the opposite side, east to west. We walked back to the modern world, through the Siq, as the sun was descending, turning the rock from rust to rose, and playing long shadows on the canyon walls.After spending the night in Wadi Musa, we caught an early bus to Aqaba and from there a taxi to the Arava border crossing to Israel, and easily walked our way through the border to Eilat.
Spending a few days in Jordan was wonderful. It was a different country all together from Egypt and while still retaining its arab character, Jordanians were calmer and less pushy, the country was cleaner and appeared more developed and more progressive than Egypt. There was more of a Bedouin presence, especially in Petra, where old ladies smoking marijuana joints sold souvenirs and men hawked camels dressed in traditional bedouin clothes for the tourists. It was exciting to be in arab countries for a few weeks, experiencing their culture.

Click here to link to the Picasaweb album of our trip to Jordan.

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