Archive for the ‘Jordan’ Category

Magnificent Petra

November 5, 2009 - 11:54 pm No Comments

Woke up to find my Dad and Marion feeling good and ready to go. Had a quick breakfast and walked down to the Petra visitor’s center. From there, my Dad arranged a donkey and buggy ride for himself and Marion, while I walked with Mahmoud, our tour guide for the day.

Walking the Siq

Rocks of the Siq

Mahmoud was really good, discussing everything I was seeing in articulate, easy-to-understand English. He answered all of my questions and stopped with me whenever I wanted to take a photo. He even taught me some Arabic:

zakee jeh-den : very delicious

A Glimpse of the Treasury

We all met up again at the Treasury, a sight as impressive during the day as it was last night.

Kids at the Treasury

Mahmoud Explains Stuff

Hardly anything to explore inside, though.

Inside the Treasury

Camel Face

Need a Ride?

We walked further into Petra, exploring the buildings and tombs and mountains around us. Walking around Petra is like being in Manhattan. You really have to stretch your neck looking up and all around to see everything. Mahmoud led us around, stopping every few minutes to give us some history and answer all of our questions.

Sand in the Bottle Guy

Sand in the Bottle

Petra is made of sandstone, which is easily eroded. All the structures are decomposing right before our eyes. Worse, people can walk all over them everything, breaking them down further. Tourists collect rocks and put sand into water bottles to take home. I’m really surprised preservationists and archaeologists don’t have a problem with any of this.

Faded Archway

Petra Residences

Arched Gate

The Lonely Donkey

Marion’s knees and my Dad’s back were aching, but we got through it. At the end of the day, my Dad arranged for camels to take us back. Marion can’t stop talking about how much she loved the camel ride.

On the Camels

The Treasury by Day

Me in the Siq

After a quick meal of hummus and cole slaw (for a change), Mohammed #2 picked us up and took us back to Aqaba, telling us a bit more about his personal life as he drove. He described his wife, who religiously covers herself from head to toe, as a “walking tent.” He also thinks that, at age 33, I should be married with kids.

On the way back, the back right tire went flat. We pulled over at the top of a hill and watched the sun set over Jordan. What a great place to stop!

Flat Tire Sunset Over Jordan

We crossed the border back into Eilat, took a taxi to the airport, flew back to Tel Aviv, picked up our rental car, and drove back to Jerusalem.

A very long day, but Petra is definitely worth the trip.

Airport Security and the Drive to Wadi Rum

November 5, 2009 - 12:49 pm 6 Comments

Made damn sure I woke up on time this morning. We made our way to Tel Aviv and to Sde Dov Airport, apparently and confusingly also known as Dov Hoz Airport. Parked the car, went through security.

In Israel, airport security seems to be run almost exclusively by young girls. Whether it’s the girl checking your passport, leading you through the metal detector, or staring at the x-ray machine screen, the girls in charge are in the early twenties at the most. Are these girls assigned these airport jobs through army service? And, um, is there any occupation more masculine than airport security? I can’t imagine young girls working airport security at home.

Israeli airport security relies on careful passport scrutiny and interrogation rather than hypersensitive metal detectors and shoe removal. When the girl at the door examined our passports, she really looked at them, verifying our names and studying our faces for a moment. Not like the cursory glance you get at home. The metal detectors must be cranked way down since I was able to walk through with my metal belt buckle, my watch, and a handful of change in my pocket. They didn’t even make me take off my sweatshirt or shoes.

We approached the counter, where a young girl was waiting to examine our passports once again. She then proceeded to interrogate my father, asking him where he’s been, whom he’s been visiting. She wanted specific names and places. She asked him about his personal life and how active he is in the community back home. Three different times, she asked him if he speaks Hebrew. She was trying to keep it casual and conversational, but he questions were all asked quickly and repetitively, and every tangent was explored.

I was getting a little antsy listening to this. It was getting awfully repetitive and I was starting to get annoyed. But I kept reminding myself that she was just doing her job, waiting for us to get impatient or slip up. So I kept my cool.

While waiting to board, my Dad thought it would be funny to take pictures of the security officials at work. Given how strict they are about security, I knew it was a bad idea. A few seconds later, a young guy rushed over to look at my Dad’s camera and see what pictures he had taken, demanding that he delete the one he took of the security officers.

Israeli passengers are pushy getting onto a plane. Everyone just has to get on first. What’s the rush?

Our flight took us to Eilat, a city on the southern tip of Israel and a convenient spot to cross the border into Jordan. Flying over the massive Negev desert, all you see is brown mountains and brown sand. No vegetation at all.

There was a shuttle just outside the plane waiting to take everyone back to the terminal together, but that didn’t matter. Israeli passengers are just as pushy getting off the plane as they are getting on.

We were met at the airport by a tour guide holding up a sign with our name and it and driven to the Jordan border. Our guide managed the whole process for us, which consisted of a bit of paperwork and a quick look at our passports on both sides.

This Way to Jordan

We were met by another driver on the Jordan side, who gave us a quick tour of the town of Aqaba. Nicer architecture than Israel, with new hotels and resorts under construction all over the place. You can tell that tourism is what brings the money in. With lots of palm trees and mountains all around, Aqaba is a spitting image of Palm Springs. Chants from nearby Muslim mosques and an enormous flag of Jordan over looking the city, probably the biggest flag I’ve ever seen. And it was from Aqaba that I caught my first glimpse of the Red Sea, which is not red but very, very blue. Turns out that Jordan is NOT named for Michael Jordan like I always thought, but from a Hebrew word that means “down-flowing,” presumably an ancient description of the river that runs between Israel and Jordan.

Mohammed, our huge and scary-looking driver, turned out to be quite personable and informative. We asked him a bit about Jordan, his personal life, and his attitudes. When we asked how he feels about king Abdullah, he hesitated for a moment before telling us what a good man he is. I got the impression it’s unacceptable, and perhaps punishable, to speak badly about the king, similar to how it is in Thailand.

The drive took us through the red and mottled granite mountains of southern Jordan, which look quite different from the brown sandstone mountains of Israel. A few minutes later, we arrived at Wadi Rum, a nature preserve in the desert and site of our first tour. It was there where we were handed off to another guy named Mohammed, who had a 4×4 waiting for us.

Mohammed #2 quickly established himself as a crappy tour leader. From the beginning, it was obvious that there was a language barrier. Instead of acknowledging my Dad’s request for some water or telling us exactly what we were seeing or giving us some history or answering our questions, he’d put a big smile on his face and say “yes, very nice” over and over and then laugh loudly. And that was when he wasn’t jabbering on his cell phone in Arabic. Shame, because I feel like we could have learned a lot more from another guide.

This “organized” tour feels a bit unorganized. We’d been with them barely a couple of hours, and we’ve already dealt with a girl at the airport, a guy to process our passports at the border, a driver to Wadi Rum, and now this new guy. And each person isn’t completely clear about what the others are doing or what is coming up next for us. They haven’t put in too much effort into making things easy and seamless.

The Road to Wadi Rum

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

When we stopped for lunch, Mohammed #2 asked us to pick a table and then grabbed his food from the buffet and started eating before we even sat down. After joining him at the table, he jabbered on his cell phone again. Rude. I was a tour leader myself once, and the little mistakes I see other tour leaders make really bug me.

Mountains in the Windows

All that aside, the scenery around Wadi Rum really was fantastic. Multicolored, sculptured mountains set in a desert of immaculate brown sand. It was the location for movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, Red Planet, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Mohammed #1 picked us up from Wadi Rum and took us for the two-hour ride up to Wadi Musa, the gateway town for Petra high in the mountains and the location of our hotel, the Petra Palace. Marion chatted with Mohammed #1 the whole way while my Dad and I passed out in the back seat.

Donkeys on the Move

Had dinner at the hotel. In contrast to Israel, the tourists here seemed to be almost entirely older people. Wonder why that is.

After seeing some sweet photos of Petra at night, we booked a night tour of Petra. The walk took us to the visitor’s center for orientation and then down a very long, narrow, candlelit path with huge canyon walls on either side. Walking with my tripod, I was approached by a Turkish guy named Aybars (EYE-bars). He had a furniture business back home and was in the area for one of his projects, but he was also a photographer, with a bag full of flashes and radio transmitters over his shoulder. He seemed like a really good guy, and we were both excited about seeing Petra at night. It’s funny how photographers always find each other in a crowd. Instant friends.

Petra at Night

The walk ended at the Treasury, the most famous structure in Petra. Even at night, it was impressive. A full moon shone overhead while a warm glow from the candles lit the structure in front of us. Warm tea, music from traditional instruments, and a whining stray cat set the mood. A very cool experience.

The Treasury by Candlelight

After the little show, Aybars and I hopped around and started taking photos. Although the guide had said there would be plenty of time after the show for photos, they started extinguishing candles and cleaning up right away. We asked them what the deal was, and they said that they had to make sure the place was empty in ten minutes. “Take your time, but be quick!” they told us retardedly. Aybars and I were pissed.

The Treasury at Night

The Treasury by Candlelight

Tree in the Siq

The Walk Back to Wadi Musa

Before saying goodbye, Aybars invited me to Turkey and offered to show me around if I come. Another place to add to my list. 🙂

The walk down to the Treasury and back nearly broke Marion, and she’s in pretty serious pain right now. I feel kinda bad. It’s been a very physical trip, and I think they are both reaching their limits.

Tomorrow, we are supposed to spend the day exploring Petra. It’s a complex of multiple buildings at different elevations. Rides on donkeys and camels can reduce some of the walking, but I’m a little worried that my Dad and Marion might have had enough.

Tonight, I get to share a room with my Dad and Marion. Sweet!