Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Something that had always been on my to-do list since I had come to Israel, was to visit the Ancient City of Petra. However, due to the fact that it is Jordan and thus not in Israel, I had never really expected to be able to do it. Even though Israel and Jordan are on friendly terms and it is with ease that one may cross the border between the two crossings, I thought that for someone who was on an organised program in Israel there would be several difficulties. I never envisaged the relative ease of signing off the program, and thus being allowed to leave the country for a day. All that was needed was for my parents to fax written permission saying I was allowed to be signed off the program for today, and that was it. A surprisingly total lack of annoying beauracracy. All that was left was for us to book a tour with a reputable tour company and we were out of the country.

And so on Saturday 5th May I went down to the entrance of the kibbutz at 7am where I waited for the taxi that had been ordered the previous day, and I waited and waited and waited. Waiting with me were Annabel, Richard and Rachel a fellow volunteer from the Kibbutz. The taxi finally arrived at 7:30, given that we were meant to be at the border at 7:45 and the border was about half an hour away we were all rather peeved. Our driver spent the journey telling us in all the years he had been collecting people from the Kibbutz he had never once been late. I wasn't sure if this was boasting or an attempt to annoy us even further.

We arrived at the border at eight, where we were much to my relief greeted by our tour guirde, who told us that that the rest of the group was waiting for us having completed their stint at passport control. One long line and cancelled visa later, we joined the group but not before one woman on our group came to find us and tell us just how long she had been waiting for. And so to the border crossing. As we walked the no-mans land, with the Thankyou for Visiting Israel sign behind us and the Welcome to Jordan sign ahead of us, Richard and Annabel discussed what the insurance company would say if something happened to us there, whilst I tried to guess how many sniper rifles were trained on me at that precise moment in time.

The Jordanian guards welcomed us with big smiley grins and couldnt have seemed happier to have us visit their country, and it was such a pleasant contrast us from the sour faced Israeli guard who saw us off at the other side. On the Jordanian side we met with the tour compay representative on that side, who spent a considerable time sorting out visas. Once that was done it was onto the tour bus and off we went. We found ourselves in a group of fifteen, the others were from Russia, America and Israel. The tour was however conducted in English as the Jordanian Tour Guide spoke fluent English but probably not much of anything else. His name was Abdul and he told us on the journey to Petra, about Jordanian life, politics. etc.

After a two hour journey we arrived at the entrance to Petra. Petra was a city built by the Nabattians in the 2nd-1st centrury BC, the exact origins of the city are unclear, although it is known that it was first built as a city of tombs, and was thus a holy place. The Nabattians who were pagans, would bring their dead to rest there. It was later captured by the Romans who saw it as one of the most beautiful places in their empire and they continued the expansion and building of the city there. Following the fall of the Roman Empire the city was essentially lost, known about only by the local Bedouin population. It was rediscovered and revealled to the rest of the world by a Swiss explorer called Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. In more recent history it was used as the hiding place for the holy grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

At the entrance to the site there is a visitiors center where tickets can be purchased and many stalls selling odds and ends. These included the Indiana Jones which quite clearly was trying to cash in on the film, and the tottally out of place Titanic Coffee Shop. Finally we made our way towards the city, which remains hidden from view for a long time as it is hidden between two huge cliffs. We started our journey walking down towards the Siq (shaft), the Siq is a narrow passage between the two mountains and it is the road that leads into Petra. Towards the end of the Siq our guide told us to look back the way we had come to see if we could see an animal in the rock, he told us that if we stepped back we could see it clearer, and as the group was getting more and confused as no-one could see anything he told us to turn around, and lo and behold through a crack in the Siq we could see the large red collonades of the Khazneh.

We walked towards it in awe, and as we emerged out of the Siq the huge red building carved out into the rock towered above us, taking our collective breath away. When you see pictures of Petra that is the building you see. Khazneh means treasury, but this is the name given to it by the local Bedouins who believed that that was where the treasure was kept. Historically however, this building was never the treasury but a temple. After we had spent tiime wondering around and taking photos our guide told us all about it, and then we moved on towards the rest of the city.

The city is littered with tombs, and there are many other interesting structures some built by the Nabbatians and others by the Romans. At one stage took us off the beaten track and after a short climb he revealed to us the ampitheatre from above, a wondeful way of viewing it. At one stage our guide asked if anyone needed the toilet, and that if we did to take our cameras with us as it is the most beautiful toilet in the world. Fearing the recreation of a moment from Trainspotting I held my breath as I went in search for it. Luckily our guide was being deadly serious as the toilet was carved into the rock, and I spent five minutes trying to take a photo of a cubicle and the rock at the sametime.

The tour lasted two hours during which we were taken through the main city of Petra. This was only the main attraction and unfortuneatly our tour was only a day and we would not be able to visit any of the other sites, usually only reachable after long arduous hikes. The tour ended at the other end of the city where we had lunch and we were given a couple of hours to wander back in our own time.

The way was littered with stalls with people selling bric-a-brac usually in an English accent not too far removed from cockney. There were also people offering donkey and camel rides up and and down the track. We were all very amused by one man who upon a small horse was offering a 'taxi, ferrari, air-conditioning' although ot wasnt as funny the second and third time. What wasnt so nice to see was parents hiding in the bushes as they sent their children to sell rocks taken from the city. Also on the way back I went into the Khazeh again where I listened to the the Indiana Jones theme music, sad I know but still utterly neccessary.

I think I slept through most of the drive back, at the end of the drive we had a detour into Aquaba which in my opinion is a far nicer city than Eilat. We experienced no problems leaving Jordan but on the way into Israel I was held up twice once at security and once at passport control, and despite reassuring remarks but Israel customs officials I was wandering what the hell was so suspicious about me. Unfortuneatly we missed our groups bus back into Jerusalem, and so the man from the tour company gave us a lift back to Eilat in his open air jeep. All in all it was an amazing experience and I was delighted I did it.


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