In Eilat, Israel we walked along the beach toward Jordan. Since taxis only hold four passengers, we needed to take two taxis inland to the border crossing. We found one taxi driver that would risk losing his license for three months by taking all five of us. On the short drive there he decided that 50 shekels would cover his risk, even though we could have taken two taxi’s for 20 shekels each. I guess luggage was extra and we had three backpacks. You’ll never guess what happened next.
During the smooth border crossing we exchanged 150 shekels for Jordanian dinars. Once across, the only option for transportation to Petra was a taxi ride for 50 dinar (roughly $90). We could have gone into the beach front city of Aqaba and taken a bus but the buses to Petra don’t run there in the afternoons. Although we had to take two taxis, because we are such a large family, we found a married couple who shared one of the taxis with us. On the way dad rode with them and found out during the trip that Jason was the drummer on the worship team at Calvary Chapel L.A.
Mom and the kids followed in the other taxi. On the Kings highway, the drivers played leap frog (passing each other often with a honk and a wave). They stopped for Bedouin coffee in a shack beside the rode. The drinks and snacks were free with the phrase, “Welcome to Jordan!” The drivers took us straight to the town, Wadi Mousa, which is the town at the entrance of Petra, and dropped us off at the Valentine Inn expecting a kick back if we stayed there. We left our luggage with our new friends and found a different hotel for half the price (only 25 dinar a night).
The kid’s room had a squat toilet (a hole in the ground with a places for feet.) The shower was right above this and guests would hope the sewer didn’t back up. That night we watched Indiana Jones and the last Crusade to get a sense of how they used Petra in their film. Our young proprietors brought us tea, peanuts and candy. He told us when Spielberg had filmed the movie that they needed to rent their horses and he met Harrison Ford. Meanwhile, Dad went exploring the small town and hung out at the smoky pool hall with the local Arab men.
We learned from another tourist that he got into Petra yesterday for free by arriving at the gate before the ticket office opened. We decided that would be a good idea so the next morning Nathan woke up everyone and we arrived at the gate at 5 AM. However, when we arrived well before sunrise, a tourist policeman told us we could not go in that early and so we waited in the fancy lobby of a nearby hotel for roughly 45 minutes. The entrance fee was roughly $32 per person over 15 years old, so Renae and Justin got to go free. The narrow canyon leading to Petra is an amazing walkover a thousand meters long of colorful sand rock cliffs stretching up about 50 meters. We had a clear view of the treasury, since we were virtually the first people inside. Justin worked his diablo between the massive pillars in anticipation of a movie plot we were developing. Dad played his harmonica inside the enormous echo chamber carved inside the stone cliff. Next we hiked to the monastery and could tell of our acceptance for tea with a Bedouin lady but the reader can view the short video of us making tea with her over the fire. We found out she had 8 children ranging from 8 months to 23 years.
The monestary was even more impressive. Also carved out from sand stone, it might have been used as a Byzatine Church after it had served as a temple to the fertility gods. We sat high on a cliff opposite the monastery and an eight year old Bedouin girl came and tried diligently but unsuccessfully to sell us her bead necklaces. We ate our oranges but saved the peels for the donkeys.
We hiked up to the viewpoint looking out toward Israel. Apparently before Byzantine Christianity replaced the Nabateans (who originally built Petra) there was human sacrifice made by taking advantage of the hundreds of feet drop shear cliffs.
At the top we played the stringed fretless ute with a Bedouin underneath the Jordanian flag. On the way back down Nathan fed the orange peels to the Bedouin woman’s donkey and dad bought a small gift for his mother. After the long hot hike down, a stand was selling a litter of of bottled water for $4. We passed by the enormous Roman amphitheater (which was not excavated until the 1990′s). There were dozens of offers for donkey rides and camel rides which Mom and Dad easily dismissed even after Justin bargained them down by over 500%. Finally, we returned to the main area in front of the treasury, where Indiana Jones escapes from the earth quake which had swallowed the Holly Grail. We were amazed to see hundreds of visitors filling the area which had been all together vacant when we first arrived that morning. On the exhausting hike out from the canyon Mom and Dad agreed that Petra was more impressive than the pyramids of Egypt. However the recency of their experienced may have biased their opinion. This may be clarified if they take us to see the pyramids at Giza outside of Cairo.
Six liters of water, one large pizza, and five falafels later, we were beginning our recovery from the day’s events. It was an amazing experience but we will be glad to be back on the bus tomorrow morning toward the Red Sea, crossing back into Eliat, and catching the afternoon bus to our apartment in Jerusalem.