Day 8: The Big Day – Our Visit to Petra

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but this trip was not for the weak. Every day we had to be down in the dining room by 6:30 a.m. in order to be on the bus no later than 7:30-7:45 a.m. to begin our day of touring. And then we’d be on the go all day and wouldn’t get back to the hotel until 4:30-5 p.m. It was non-stop every day.

So imagine our horror during dinner the evening before, when Ezer stood up and said, “For Petra we need to be on the bus by 7:10.”

Ugh. Seriously?

Yes, seriously.

The Jordanian border in Aqaba was only a few minutes from our hotel in Eilat, but we were told that the border crossing would take a long time. Jordan and Israel currently has a peace treaty in place, but the borders are still tightly managed and heavily guarded. At the border, Ezer recommended we be respectful and keep our voices low, and let the Jordanian officials go through all the passports in bulk, comparing them against a list of our names that had been provided in advance. Then we were told to quietly make our way through the various gates at the border and get on one of three buses that were being provided by a Jordanian tour group. As we stood nearby waiting for the passports to be reviewed (we were all more than a little uneasy at the idea of handing over our passports to a couple border guards and being ushered about 30-40 feet away to wait), I realized that since were told not to bring purses or bags (so as not to delay our border crossing), we had neglected to include AJ’s sunglasses in the batch of items we stuffed into our pockets for the trip.

There was a small trinket shop in the area where we stood, and I saw a rack of sunglasses. I went in to investigate, and one of the Jordanian shopkeepers came up as I took down a pair to look at, and said, “You want sunglasses? Only $20!”

I couldn’t help myself. I laughed out loud and put the sunglasses back on the rack. “Twenty dollars?” I chortled. “No way. I’d pay $3 for these in the United States!”

I began to walk out of the store.

“But they are Raybans!” he cried. “Come back – let’s talk price. What price did you say?”

“Three bucks. I’d never pay more than that in America.” I continued to leave the store.

“Let me follow you and talk with my other worker to see what kind of deal I can make.”

He briefly spoke to a man that stood inside some sort of token booth outside the shop. Then he turned to me and said, “How about $7?”

I looked over at AJ, who was squinting in the sun. “Okay, $7.”

Smiling broadly, he walked me over to his co-worker and they quickly made change for me. I had only brought $30 with me for the day since lunch was covered as part of the tour, so I was left with $23. No problem.

I handed AJ the glasses, which she gratefully put on. They looked good on her.

20161101_070057Finally, the passports were reviewed and checked off, and we got in line to begin the second part of the process: another review and getting the passports stamped. This took another hour or so, but finally AJ and I made it through and began to make our way to the final gate. As we began to pass, a young militant guard in uniform began confronting us, asking where we were going.

“To those buses right there,” I said politely, pointing in their direction. “We are visiting Petra today.”

He grabbed our passports from my hands and began looking through them. He spoke to his fellow soldier before turning to me and saying, “You aren’t passing. You stay here.”

UH….WHAT? THINK AGAIN, FRIENDO.

But rather than argue, I stood quietly by as he stepped away to talk into his walkie-talkie. As he did so, another few people from our tour group came along behind us, wanting to go through the gate. One of the women held up her phone and began snapping pictures of the militant soldier, who became even more heated when he saw her. “NO PICTURES!” he yelled, coming toward her. “NO PICTURES!”

Oh great, I thought. This lady is going to cause an international incident and AJ won’t get to see Petra.

Just then another Jordanian man – one from the shop where I bought the sunglasses – came up and began speaking to the soldier. Then he turned to me and said, “You will get through fine – you just need to be patient.” He turned to the photo-happy lady and said, “No pictures, please. Even though Jordan and Israel enjoy a peace treaty, it is important not to take photos along the border crossing for security purposes.” She did not seem happy as she deleted the pictures from her phone. Ugh.

Finally, our Jordanian tour guide for the day, walked up and spoke briefly to the angry soldier, calming him down. After a few minutes, the soldier reluctantly let us pass the gate and get on the bus.

Crisis averted. But it was very touch and go there for a minute.

On the new bus, our tour guide Mo began filling us in on some Jordanian history on our drive to Petra. AJ loved the landscape, which was particularly impressive and all my pictures in the world could not do it justice. Believe me, I tried. This was the best picture I got:

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I love how we seem to be so high up that we can almost touch the clouds, as well as how the clouds make distinct shade patterns on the ground below.

Finally, after about an hour or so, we made it to Petra. Once we made it past the gate, we were told that we had a couple options to make it to the site of the treasury building (made famous by “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”). We could walk down The Siq, which is the long path down a gorge. Or we could take a horse ride a portion of the way. Or we could take a small carriage ride. The horse ride was free, but the carriage was $40 round trip.

If you recall, I had $23 on me after buying the sunglasses. Very loudly and pointedly, I said, “Well, AJ, I guess we’re walking because I only have $23 on me.”

I waited a beat, hoping for someone in our group to step up and say, “I can loan you the $17 you need for the carriage ride.” Silence. NO ONE said a word.

Now, everyone on this trip knows full well that AJ has limited stamina, and most likely would NOT be able to make the 1.5 mile journey from the front entrance down to the Treasury. But not a single person said a word or volunteered to help.

So we began to walk. Fortunately, it was all downhill heading into Petra, which made it easier. But I already dreaded the walk back up. I told AJ that we would not be able to stay long once we got to the Treasury building because we needed to allow for plenty of time to make it back up to the front gate to meet the bus.

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AJ marveled at the rock formations we saw all along the Siq – and they truly were majestic. Our tour guide stopped us all along the trail to speak about various formations, or dams that had been constructed, or history of the Nabateans that built Petra around 312 BC. We were also stopped all along the way by kids who insisted we buy postcards, or coins, or bracelets. More than a couple gentlemen spent $1 on postcards just so when another kid approached them they could hold up the postcards and say, “I already bought something,” and be left alone the rest of the walk down. Smart men.

Finally, after over an hour walking down The Siq, it began to come into our view:

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And there it was…PETRA.
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AJ stood and stared at it for a while, before tearfully saying, “I finally made it!”

And that’s the apex of the trip right there. The moment where I was so grateful that my sister asked me to take this trip with her mother-in-law, because I was there to witness someone complete a mission they had waited their whole life to undertake and accomplish. AJ finally visited Petra. We both basked in it’s beauty, snapping pictures and marveling at the intricate stonework (and a couple camels ready to take folks on rides in front of the treasury building).

Then, reluctantly, I turned to AJ and said, “We need to begin going back up the Siq, AJ.”

She took a deep breath, looked once more at the treasury building and said, “Okay, let’s go.”

With that, we began heading up the Siq. We took lots of breaks, during which I’d make her drink water, and she’d blow her nose (she had a cold during most of the trip up to this point). About 30 minutes into the walk, one of the men in our tour group passed us and said to me, “Don’t you think you should have her ride a carriage?”

WHERE WERE YOU TWO HOURS AGO, DUDE? I thought in frustration.

“I’m willing to pay for one if you want it,” he said.

I turned to AJ. “This man said he’d pay for us to get a carriage up to the top.”

AJ thought about it for a moment, then said, “No, I think I’m feeling okay right now – I can continue walking.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “I feel good.”

I turned to the man. “Thank you – but it looks like we’re still walking for now.”

A few minutes later we sat again so AJ could drink some water. Across the way there was a huge boulder (easily the size of a U-Haul truck) resting against the wall of the Siq. AJ said, “Just imagine – that rock fell and landed there probably about 2000 years ago. And there it still sits. It wasn’t there the last time I was here.”

People, I missed the joke. I missed the joke because all I really heard was “the last time I was here.” Oh, I heard the rest, but I hadn’t processed it in my brain yet. All I had processed as “the last time I was here.”

I turned on her. “WHAT?” I screeched. “What do you mean you’ve been here before – I thought the whole reason for this trip was because you had NEVER been here before.”

She looked at me like I was crazy and laughed. “That’s not what I said,” she began.

At that point my brain caught up and realized the entirety of her comment. “Ohhhhhhhh…I see what you are saying. You are saying you are OLD.”

AJ lost it. She snorted and began laughing until she cried. Then I began laughing hysterically at her reaction. People passing us had to wonder what we were doing, sitting in the middle of the Siq, crying and laughing at the same time.

But the walk must carry on, so once we gathered our senses about us again, we began to walk. We had made it about 1/3rd of the way and had only an hour to get back to the hotel where lunch awaited.

And that’s when Josef showed up in a horse-drawn carriage.

“You need help?” he called out as he rode past us.

“I don’t have enough money – I only have $20.”

“Don’t worry – anything you have is fine. I am here to help you.”

With that, he turned his carriage around and helped AJ get in next to him. I settled into my seat, and away we went, bouncing over the ancient road as Josef and his horse (named Michael Jackson) took us up to the first of two entrances. AJ giggled the whole time during the ride, while Josef flirted with her. “You like younger men?” he asked her. “I like older women.”

Once at the gate at the halfway point, where he should have technically dropped us off, he said, “Do you want me to take you all the way to the top?”

“Would you?” I asked. “That would be amazing.”

“For my girlfriend, I would do anything!”

A few minutes later we arrived just outside the very first gate right at the entrance to Petra. I gladly handed over my $23, thanking him profusely for taking us all the way to the top. He helped AJ out of the cart and said, “When I come to America, I’ll find you, my girlfriend!”

(We found out later he flirts like this with all the ladies – a woman in our group told me he said many of the same things to her on her own carriage ride with him (I didn’t tell AJ this though)).

We made our way into the hotel where lunch awaited. Ezer told us that the only thing he cared about with this meal was the dessert, which was called Umm Ali. He told everyone that came in that they needed to save room for this dessert, which is his favorite of all time. Folks, he was not wrong. It was delicious. It is an Arabic type of bread pudding and it was so good I got a second helping. For all the worrying I did ahead of the trip about what food I’d eat, I can tell you that all three hotels served amazing buffets for breakfast and dinner, and that every restaurant we visited for lunch was outstanding. True to form, despite all the walking we did I managed to gain a couple pounds on this vacation!

We boarded our buses and headed back to the Jordan-Israel border, where re-entry into Israel was a breeze compared to our entry into Jordan. At the hotel we napped and hung out in the room until dinner, then during dinner made the executive decision to skip the activities the following day. The next day was a trip over the Egyptian border to visit Mount Sinai, but we heard that the Egypt-Israel border was even tougher than the Jordan border, and that the drive to Mount Sinai was almost 3 hours. We decided five hours of border crossing and bus riding was not enough to induce us to spend 60 minutes on Mount Sinai before returning back to the hotel. We’d leave that to other folks.

Once back in the room, I called the hotel hair salon to make an appointment for AJ to get her hair done, and we made plans to sleep in, enjoy a leisurely late breakfast, a walk on the boardwalk along the Red Sea, and not much else. It was going to be a glorious day of relaxation!

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