Our guide and driver Atallah meets us at the airport and whisks us to the Arwad Hotel in his shiny Mercedes. After the King Hotel in Cairo, we lap up the life of luxury in this 4-star hotel. Could this be an indication that the hours of tinkering with the Jordanian portion of our itinerary with our Egyptian tour guide has paid off?
After sitting in the Cairo airport since 4:30 that afternoon, we are starving for some decent food so we dump our bags and head directly to the hotel restaurant.
Our waiter approaches the table and I order a Caesar salad. He stares off into the distance. I try again. Nothing. It becomes apparent that he doesn’t “hear” grrlz and only comes out of his comatose state when my husband’s deep voice pipes in. I get it. I am nothing. My husband will speak for me. Welcome to progressive Jordan.
Happily this is the only time I encounter any overt chauvinism. I’m sure the wine we order comes with a label which reads “Blanc d’Slut.” But at this point who cares what this guy thinks. I’m tired and I’m partaking of legal things offered in an international hotel.
The rest of the meal goes without incident. Moments later we happily settle into our nice clean room and quickly fall asleep.
Ready to roll early the next morning. We have a jam-packed day. First destination is about twenty miles (32 km) north of Amman towards Syria to see the Greek and Roman city of Jerash. Once again, my mother the pathfinder did not lead us astray with her memories and recommendation. The ruins are spectacular and are a highlight of the trip.
This UNESCO site covers 11.5 square miles (20 sq km). Excavation started in the 1950s and parts were reconstructed before UNESCO rules banning reconstruction kicked in. Still, we get the feeling of what it was like a couple of centuries ago when this place was hopping with 35,000 residents.
We walk past the Hippodrome and enter at the south gate, walking through the oval Roman forum and its surrounding colonnade. Our guide is excellent. He’s a wealth of information and we lap it up.
Being the performers that we are, we must check out the south amphitheater. Seat numbers are still visible and the acoustics are phenomenal. Our crappy camera is causing problems and I am swearing like a sailor under my breath as it devours batteries like an RV sucking up gas.
Meanwhile, Mike is monitoring my curses way on the other side of the theater. The acoustics are megaphonic. I must be one hundred yards away and yet every whispered @#$%! is heard clear as a bell. Good thing there aren’t many people and no kids are around. It’s February so it’s winter for the locals.
At the Church of St. Genesius, the mosaic floor remains mostly intact with some loose tiles strewn about. We resist the temptation to pick up a stray tile and hope the rest of the planet does too.
The residents are obsessed with the number seven, so at first glance, what looks like a staircase that descends with just seven steps is an optical illusion. Upon closer inspection, each of the seven steps is made of a cluster of seven steps. The architectural details in this city are quite impressive.
The ancient stores of the souk are located nearby and the chariot tracks worn into the stone roads are visible to this day. We can almost hear the hustle and bustle of the busy marketplace.
A tedious-looking archeological dig is going on and I desperately want to join in. I imagine painstakingly sifting pieces of this ancient civilization from the well-trodden dirt. But, it’s time to hit the road. There are still plenty of stops planned before we check in for the night.
A quick diversion to a roadside fruit stand/souvenir shop. It might have the same goal (vacuuming wallets) but this ain’t no orange stand off I-95 in Florida. Here we buy bags of spices, Dead Sea bath salts and tins of hibiscus flower tea thinking we’ll replicate the drink we had in Egypt.
Making our way back towards Amman, we pass a Palestinian refugee camp. It seems that the Arabs aren’t treating their brethren much better than the Israelis. They live in a slum with no means of escape. These people can’t move forward or back because they have no identity, meaning no passports or means to travel or move on with their lives. The situation is complicated and sad.
By contrast, Amman in the daylight looks shiny and new. The buildings are made from the same gleaming white stones. Everything looks sparkling clean, modern and inviting. We don’t have time to explore because we have several stops to make before we arrive at our hotel near Petra tonight. We check out of the Arwad Hotel and set off on the rest of our Jordanian adventure.
The first stop is the church at Madaba. Among its many incredible mosaics, is a map of Jerusalem and 6th-century Palestine. After marveling at the workmanship, we tuck into a good 21st century lunch buffet at a nearby tourist trap. After being forced by fear to be picky eaters for the week in Egypt, it is a certifiable pleasure to be able to eat most food again.
Mount Nebo is where Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land. Many believe that God buried Moses on this mountain. This site at the summit offers an impressive spot for a funeral, with some pretty awesome views of the Dead Sea and Israel.
Next on the agenda is the Karak Archaeological Museum. It’s housed inside of the remnants of a formidable Crusader castle with artifacts that date back to 6000 BCE. There’s not much to see in the dark castle but we roam around the grounds for a while taking pictures.
As the King’s Highway winds south, it plunges into Jordan’s version of the Grand Canyon, Wadi Mujib.
A climb back up and a little later we pull in to Wadi Musa and check into the Grand View Hotel. It’s dark so we can’t really see much of the view. Dinner is in the nearly empty restaurant in this nearly empty hotel.
In our never-ending battle with hotel bathrooms, (For those keeping score at home, this is the third problem potty so far this trip.) we break the sink. This hotel provides good service and it’s fixed while we have dinner.
It turns out that our aptly named Grand View Hotel does indeed have a grand view of the area and it’s easy to see why the city was hidden for so many centuries. Westerners didn’t rediscover it until 1812 when a Swiss explorer exposed it.
Atallah hands us off to our Petra guide, Harbe, whose cousin tags along for a while.
We are told that in an effort to root the nomadic Bedouins so their children will go to school, they have been given the concession to rent inexpensive horses that we ride to the beginning of the Siq.
It’s not a bad idea to hop on a horse to save leg power for when it’s really needed. At the Siq entrance, we dismount and walk the rest of the way.
The canyon-like Siq is unlike anything we have ever experienced. Some portions of the surrounding rock walls narrow our passageway to a mere 9 feet while soaring up as tall as a 20-story skyscraper.
Along the way we note the ingenuity of these ancient people in the form of remnants of their water system. Portions of the clay piping have survived to this day.
After about a mile’s stroll through this gorge, we are treated to a tiny peek, just a sliver of a glimpse of the magnificent Treasury building. From a quick Google search of images, it appears that just about everyone who stands on this spot takes a picture from this vantage point.
A few steps further and the whole magnificent facade of this work of art that’s carved into a sheer rock wall looms into view. It’s breathtaking.
Modern day moviegoers will recognize the exterior of the Treasury Building as the backdrop of the final scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We stand with mouths agape, admiring the original scaffolding marks and imagine what it took to carve this without the help of modern tools.
The inside, with its flat rose-colored stone walls, looks nothing like what the magicians of Hollywood made it look like for the challis scene in the climactic end of the movie.
My favorite picture from this location is the one looking back at the Siq from inside the doorway of the Treasury. I have yet to see a shot like it anywhere. I marvel at that narrow crack in the wall of rock and wonder how many stories the rock soars to overhead every time I look at that picture. I love the scale of it. That’s me peeking around the doorway holding my hat.
We tear ourselves away from this stupendous architectural creation and walk a short distance to what we are told is called the Dining Room. This 2nd floor walk-up could have been a tomb, a temple, or a dining room. No one knows for sure.
There are many sealed tombs along the main drag. Our guide says that they know this because of the stairways carved on the outside, presumably like the classic Led Zeppelin song, they were buying a stairway to heaven.
Our imaginations run wild in the souk where merchants would have been selling their wares. We can almost smell the spices and the food. Oh wait, it’s not our imagination. There’s a snack bar where we can grab something to quench our desert thirsts and relax in plastic chairs, gazing at the wall of tombs.
Rehydrated and on the move again, we’re so absorbed with the souk and tombs that at first, we don’t even notice the giant amphitheater on our left. This place looks like it has ancient skyboxes but those are more likely the remains of a long worn away ornate façade that once served as an elaborate backdrop.
Royalty row is up on the right. Former palaces, grand homes and the courthouse are wrapped around the corner of the mountains carved into its stone face. Everywhere we look there are remnants of this once bustling city.
Yet another jewel is called the Monastery. Oh how I want to see this but it is in the most remote part of Petra. My knees nearly buckle when our guide tells us it is 850 steps up. Meaning it is also another 850 well-worn steps down. Just thinking about how many feet have climbed to the top and back over a couple thousand years makes my head spin.
After spending almost a week-and-a-half traipsing up and down steps of tombs and treasures in Egypt and northern Jordan, I just don’t think I can do 1700 steps, so we decline. It’s also a timing thing. If we stay here, we miss our stop in Wadi Rum. It’s almost nice to have a practical excuse for not doing something people will later tell us was their favorite part of the site.
And yes, I am sorry that we didn’t make the trek, but we are running out of time and daylight. Our final destination this day is Aqaba. But, before we get there, we want to see where Lawrence of Arabia hung out and our guide has arranged for us to go on a Bedouin jeep tour.
We are reminded, but no less surprised, that it is winter here when we see a couple of small patches of snow on the desert sand along side of the road.
This is one special jeep. It is decked out with blue fringe around the windshield, fake blue and red fur covering some of the rust and a beaded cover for a tissue box. Wow! Mike and I are stuffed into the back seat while Atallah sits up front with our Bedouin desert driver/guide.
We suspect Atallah’s hair is turning white as we fly (as in leave the ground) over sand dunes that are more like cliffs than rolling hills. I’m happy I haven’t slipped a disc in my back during this bone-jarring tour.
Before we turn back, we take a breather by a cave and cool off in the shade. It may be winter but it is still late afternoon in the desert.
Much to Atallah’s delight, the tour comes to an end and we are back on pavement pointing south towards Aqaba. It’s dusk by the time we get there and check into the Radisson Hotel on the Red Sea.
The first thing we do is walk out and dip our toes in the Red Sea. On our left a few miles (kilometers) down the coast, lies Saudi Arabia. To the right and across the water are Israel and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt.
Dinner at the hotel is the easiest choice. The food just keeps getting better and better every day.
The next morning in our room, more WC fun with another broken toilet. This one won’t flush! If you are counting, that’s the FOURTH bathroom problem this trip. We’re checking out anyway so no big deal.
We don’t have time to explore the city because we are crossing into Israel this morning. It’s a short taxi ride to the Wadi Araba Border Crossing. We are required to walk through the no man’s land on our way to the (now called) Yitzhak Rabin Border Terminal on the Israeli side. The only vehicle we are allowed to take is a bright yellow luggage trolley. It takes us about 45 minutes to get from one side to the other.
It’s another leap into the unknown. Because we arranged this portion of the trip on our own, we can only hope our Israeli guide is waiting on the other side.