On March 11 we departed with Dick & Andrew for our adventure to Petra. We cabbed to Sde Dov, which is a small domestic airport only 3 Km. from our apartment, and boarded a flight on Arkia Airways for the one hour flight to Eilat.
Eilat is a resort city and Israels only access to the Red Sea. We stayed at The Royal Beach Hotel, a beautiful huge resort which is not our style at all but we did have a gorgeous room adjacent to Dick and Andrew with a large balcony overlooking the Red Sea. From our balcony we could see Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Israel.
After checking into the hotel we then strolled around the town before stopping for a great Middle Eastern lunch at an outdoor cafe.
The next morning we were picked up by a guide and taken to the border crossing into Jordan. He explained the whole procedure in detail as we would have to show our passports and Israeli Stay Certificates numerous times on both sides of the border as well as going through security on both sides. He also explained that we were to take no pictures of the area. The Israeli guide did not cross the border with us as you need a Jordanian Arab guide on the other side. After going through the exit process in Israel we then walked the 2-300 meters across no-mans-land to the Jordanian side where we went through their entry process.
Our Arab guide, Achmed, met us and helped us through passport control & security. We were now in Aqaba Jordan and still had a two hour drive to Petra. Achmed is a British educated engineer who speaks moderately good English and gives us an education in the history, politics and geography of Jordan during the drive.
We made a pit stop at the halfway point at an isolated desert bazaar where Sandy made some purchases to help her blend in with the locals.
It is not known precisely when Petra was built but the city began to prosper as the Nabataean Empire from the 1st century BC. A large earthquake in 363 AD destroyed much of the city and led to its downfall. By the mid 7th century Petra was largely deserted and lost to all except the local Bedouins. In 1812 a Swiss explorer dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city. After this re-discovery Petra became increasingly known in the west as a fascinating and beautiful ancient city. It is also known as The Rose Red City because of the wonderful color of the rock which many of the city structures were carved from. The Nabataeans buried their dead in intricate tombs cut out of the mountainsides. The city also had temples, a theater, churches and a colonnaded street. We started our tour on the main trail which leads downhill to the siq, a narrow 1.2 km. long gorge that resulted from a natural splitting of the mountain.
The local Arabs were selling their arts, crafts and treasures along the route as well as pushing “free” horseback rides down the long trail through the canyon to the old city. According to our guide the ride is free but it then costs $10 to get off of the horse.
There were also horse drawn carts for hire which careened at top speed down the narrow trail in the siq terrorizing both the passengers and the walkers on the trail.
The siq presents a dramatic arch-like entryway into Petra as it opens up onto the Treasury which is a magnificent, grand 40 meter high sandstone temple facade intricately decorated with corinthian capitals, friezes and figures. The treasury, constructed in the 1st century BC, is crowned by a funerary urn which according to local legend contains a Pharaoh’s treasure. For you cinema buffs this was where they filmed “The Last Crusade” when Indiana Jones is after the Holy Grail.
We quickly moved out of the touristy plaza in front of the treasury declining offers of rides on camels and donkeys, We followed the street of facades admiring the remains of royal tombs, places of sacrifice and an amphitheater. At the end of our route we stopped for Turkish coffee and enjoyed getting to know our very humorous Arab guide on a more personal note. We really enjoyed the leisurely conversation with him. After the long, hot, steep hike out of the old city we stopped for a late buffet lunch at a local Arab restaurant which apparently caters to tour groups.
We then retraced our two hour drive back to Aqaba and went through the border crossing in reverse where our initial Israeli guide again met us and returned us to our hotel.
The following morning Jim picked up a rental car for our four hour drive through the Negev back to Tel Aviv.
We broke up the trip by stopping half way at the Mitzpe Ramon visitor center which is set on the northern rim of the Ramon crater.
The visitor center offers interactive exhibits explaining the natural process that led to the creation of the crater. There is also a museum and memorial there for Ilan Ramon, an Israeli fighter pilot and their first and only astronaut who died in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry. At 48 years old he was the oldest member of the crew and is the only foreign recipient of the US Congressional Space Medal of Honor which he was awarded posthumously. We enjoyed the short inspiring film about his life story.
Our tour group was almost entirely made up of young Israeli Defense Force members. We are still amazed at all these teenagers going almost everywhere with their assault rifles, especially the girls who wear them slung over their shoulders like Louis Vuitton bags.
After the tour we headed home stopping in Holon which is a southern suburb of Tel Aviv so that Dick & Andrew could get Harley Davidson shirts from Israel.