And so our road trip through Jordan continued, uninterrupted, after our oh so appropriate Easter Sunday celebration, complete with Easter Egg Hunt and Crusader Castle visit. We stopped at the first hotel available near Petra and checked in. We’d be staying there for three or four nights, enough time to absorb the World Heritage Site called Petra. Oddly enough, the hotel was called the Rocky Mountain Lodge. We felt quite at home.
Petra is known to most people by one famous monument, the Treasury. However, Petra is comprised of hundreds of structures, tombs, a monastery, sacrificial rocks, homes, boulevards, and even a city centre. The oldest of monuments dates back to the second millenium Before Christ.
Many people visit for only one day, but we purchased the three day pass. Since we had plenty of time and the food is so good, we might as well take it all in. We began iour first day very early in the morning.
One of the difficult parts of travelling is getting used to saying “No” politely. There are constantly people who want to sell something to you or have you ride their camel, horse drawn carriage, or donkey. We had to practice saying “No” on this particular day. We walked along what is known as “El Siq” which is a trail through Wadi Musa (Moses’ Canyon).
This was a very cool walk because it involves walking through a narrow slot canyon speckled with ruins of homes, an ancient aquaduct, carvings of camels, and ultimately opening up to a view of the famous Treasury. The ancient peoples who settled Petra were gatekeepers for water, for they had an elaborate dam and drainage scheme which allowed them to control water in this desert passage.
We decided to exit Petra via a secret slot canyon. The canyon started out fairly wide and got smaller and smaller… We had to scramble over some boulders at one point, which made the whole endeavor that much more fun. At one point, the canyon opened up again and we came across a woman making some tea.
That night we set up a picnic for dinner near some of the ruins. We watched the sun set and the effect the sun’s rays had on the stone.
All of the tourists had left. There were a few bedouin people who were wandering about, closing their gift shops, or just hanging out. It felt as if we had the place, the desert, to ourselves. It was a great moment.
We decided to get a bit more creative the next day. Although we did not start out as early as before and were subjected to a greater level of heat than the previous day, we had a great time. Our goal was to hike up so to a spot called the high point of sacrifice. From that spot we could see Mount Aaron, the burial site of Moses’ brother. While this was extremely cool in itself, especially after having read about it in the Old Testament verses cited by Gabe (Bryan’s brother), what was even more fun was the walk down from the high point of sacrifice. Why was this fun? Well, there were very interesting tombs all of the way down, some of which had been only discovered in the past five years. It seems that every year new tombs and ruins are discovered in Petra. We decided that it would be fun to make some family movies on location, our own versions of Indiana Jones I suppose.
The hike finally ended at a Roman City Center that was built during the Roman occupation of this area. That afternoon, Molly and I (Bryan) had a Turkish Bath. We felt quite clean afterwards, but we didn’t get the beating that Turkish Baths are infamous for and were a little disappointed.
Later that evening, we set out as a family for a course in Jordanian cooking at the Petra Kitchen.
Now, if you’ve been following our blog for the last year, or if you’ve known us for long, you will know that always the envelope gets pushed further. For example, every year for our anniversary Molly and I do something more adventurous than the last year. Well, entering Wadi Rum through the standard tourist entrance via the Siq Trail just wouldn’t cut it any more since we had done it twice. And there was this Monastery that was supposed to outshine even the famous Petra Treasury which we had to visit. We said many a “No” to vendors offering horseback and camel rides to the Monastery because, through a guidebook that Molly found back in Amman, we knew of a very special trail.
To find this trail involved driving our rental car in a direction that appeared to be AWAY from Petra, even though the Monastery is to be found by going in to Petra. So the next morning we drove the car through a nearby Bedouin village. The Bedouin are nomadic people who have inhabited the Arabian deserts for thousands of years. Well, we drove our rental car into one of these Bedouin villages where many have settled into since the major growth of the Petra as a tourist site. We turned left off the main road into, well, the desert and parked in front of, well, a Bedouin tent.
The decision had been made that we would hike a lesser frequented trail from outside Petra to the Monastery. We were greeted by a Bedouin man who insisted that we take tea with him on the sand floor of his tent. This was nice, but he and his wife ended up trying to sell us a bunch of stuff that we didn’t want. When we didn’t buy his stuff, he invited us for dinner that evening. We knew there would be strings attached, there usually are. Then he tried to sell us the guiding services of his ten year old son, to take us through the desert. Again, we politely declined. The man was nice though and didn’t push it too far.
Interestingly, the Bedouin used to live in the caves inside of Petra until fairly recently. When the Jordanian government wanted to promote Petra as an international tourist destination, the government built a group of attached houses just outside of Petra and required that those living in Petra relocate to the new town. Most people did relocate and now work in tourism (bringing camels, donkeys and souvenirs to the sites to sell). Those who didn’t want to relocate to the town live in wool tents that are set up around the border of Petra. From our encounter with the Bedouin man above, it appears to be a lonely existence as those who decided to continue living in this manner were left without a community like they had before.
We set out on our hike through the desert and tried to take all of the right turns and follow the trail appropriately. It turned out to be a gorgeous desert hike, we were very isolated and we were without much human contact until we finally arrived at the Monastery in Petra.
It was very impressive and we had a picnic there for lunch. This took most of the day, and we were quite tired afterwards, but the trip did further solidify in my mind a certain respect for desert landscapes.
They have a beauty that, provided you have food, water, and a hat, can be very peaceful and satisfying.
and a tv.
And it’s a good thing that we had built up such a respect for desert landscapes, because in the coming weeks there would be more where that came from.
But first, it was off to Aqaba, a beach resort on the Gulf of Aqaba which is in the Red Sea.
And for all of you out there who love borders as much as I, from the rooftop of our hotel I could see fires burning at oil refineries in Saudi Arabia to the south, hotels in Israel to the Northwest, and the coastline of the Egyptian Sinai peninsula across the gulf to the West. I was in border heaven. Lots of fun. As I stood on the roof pondering these borders, I also thought about the cultural differences one would find by simply crossing those lines.
We decided to take a break for a couple days and just swim in the pool and do some snorkeling. That day we rented some snorkels and headed to the beach. What we found was quite a party with very interesting company. This beach scene hosted western tourists like myself, and when I say western this means Americans, Europeans, Australians and the like. But the beach was mostly covered with locals and Saudis who come to Jordan so they can drink beer and hang out in mixed company.
Some people told us that we could snorkel around a submerged army tank. We had a great time swimming around it, taking pictures, and diving down far to try to touch it. We exited the water in a different part of the beach, and I (Bryan) did feel pretty conspicuous exiting the water in my bathing suit, shirtless, and walking back to our beach towels. Why? Because all of the women were swimming in full burqas and most of the men were in long robes smoking their water pipes on the beach and in the water. It was actually pretty hilarious. I felt all eyes staring at me, but I just took it all in, smiled, waved and said Salamalakem.
That evening as we ate dinner back at our hotel, we took a double take because we saw this other family that seemed to be a carbon copy of us. The mother was sitting at the dinner table reading her Amazon Kindle, had an iPod Touch in the charger, an Acer Laptop, and some travel books on the table. Her husband was reviewing photos on his Mac Air laptop and they appeared to be making travel plans. To top it off, there were two other western children playing in the pool. We came to make friends with them, the Lipsens from Marin County, California, who were also on an around the world trip with their children Adam (12) and Kira (9). We had a great time sharing our experiences and the kids had a blast playing. It was comforting to meet another family who, like us, was wandering throughout the world. We would later get together with them in Jerusalem and Luxor, Egypt.
After an epic three week road trip in Jordan, it was time for us to return our rental car, so we contacted the rental car company who was apparently looking for us for over a day, and met them to return the car.
There were a few dents and scratches, but $20 cash did the job and we were on our way to Wadi Rum. What is Wadi Rum? It’s the desert. It is the vast and beautiful desert that tourists usually visit for one or two nights, stay in a bedouin tent with other tourists, and take Land Rover tours of the various sites that Lawrence of Arabia visited in the early 1900s. Again, we push the envelope.
After presenting the options and taking a family vote, we decide that we will hire a bedouin guide, hike through the desert and camp for five days with a bedouin guide, a camel, and a Land Rover that carries all of our tents and food.
This was quite a beautiful and amazing experience because for long portions of time we just walked through the desert landscape with no other people in sight, just us, our guide, and our camel. They cooked our food over a fire. We slept outside on mattreses next to a fire. We drank Bedouin tea. We watched the sun set in the desert. We saw the stars come up and shine bright in the night.
The kids wore their Gallabayas. We called my dad on the satellite phone and he told us that Bin Laden was killed. We had a Bin Laden discussion with our guide. He said that what Bin Laden did to the World Trade Center was “not very nice.” We appreciated his candor. He asked if he could make a call on the Satellite Phone. We said yes. Shortly thereafter, the owner of the trekking company showed up with his wife and a fresh chicken for dinner. We were happy that the Satellite Phone came in handy.
We saw some interesting things in the desert. Probably one of the funniest things we saw was a tent that is inhabited by a Saudi man, his wives and kids who have lived in this desert for ten years. He has a small fuel tanker and crosses the border to Saudi Arabia each day to purchase gas. He comes back over the border and sells it to other people in Jordan for a handsome profit. It is interesting to imagine the border in the desert when it is simply a line in the sand.
We saw some various watering holes. The people who dwell the desert have to be creative by building cisterns which are fed by natural aqua ducts in the rocks and sand. They bring their camels there to drink. We also saw two different springs, one of which was named Lawrence Springs. It is interesting to be in the sandy desert and come upon grass and trees. We hiked over to one of the springs, ducked down into a small cave, felt the cool moist air, and saw a pool of water. Desert springs are cool.
We enjoyed having a camel companion. Camels have a lot of character. Our camel carried Dorian and Julian across the desert on a rotating basis. Molly and I walked for most of the time. It was always a trip to watch the camel load and unload riders. When it was time for a mount or dismount, our bedouin guide would stop, make some verbal commands in an authoritative tone, and the camel would moan in an annoyed fashion and drop down to its front knees. The passenger would dismount, the other would mount, and a similar scene would ensue. The camel would make all of its noises and the new passenger would be on its back. Later, when we reached camp for lunch, the camel would be free to roam about. One time, the camel tried to run away back to the town, so our bedouin guide had to restrict its freedom by attaching a rope to its two front feet. For the rest of our trek, during free time, the camel could roam but not far.
One of the most enjoyable periods of our desert trek was after lunch. We would spend a large part of the morning walking through the desert until we found an appropriate place for lunch. What makes a place appropriate for lunch in the desert? A wall that provides shade and a rain fed water cistern for the camel. Our guides would set up all of our pillows and mats, and we would eat hummus, pita, stewed tomatoes, maybe some meat, some other vegetables, and drink bedouin tea. Bedouin tea is black tea brewed with lots of sugar in the water, plus special spices.
After lunch, we would lay down, read, and sleep for the hottest period of the day.
This would last for several hours. Laying down in the shade we would watch the colors change in the desert as the sun moved. We felt the breeze, drank tea, and listened to nothing. The camel walked around and ate leaves.
When hiking through the desert I was happy that I had learned a few things. You don’t wear hiking boots in the desert, you wear sandals or flip flops. I had a minor flip flop blow out along the way, but my right flop though handicapped remained useful.
I took a photograph which I could provide to the retail merchant back in Evergreen, Colorado when I go back to redeem the benefits of the warrantee. I was happy to be wearing loose fitting clothes and a wide brimmed hat. I was glad that we had lots of bottled water.
The last day of our desert trek, we climbed Burdah Arch. We started early in the morning and scrambled up and up and up until we finally came to the base of the arch high above the desert below. We climbed to the top of the arch and, oh my, what a view!
It was also a good idea to bring warm clothes for the evening.
Sleeping under the stars was amazing, we were especially happy to be somewhere where there was no worry of rain.
After our five day trek, we found our way back to Aqaba for another day of swimming and a good night’s sleep in comfortable beds. The next day we packed our stuff and caught a taxi to the Israeli border with Jordan at Eliat. The Isareli border was a long and involved process that involved taking a number and traversing through multiple stations, searches, and x-ray machines. It was unfortunate that our children had picked up bullet shells in the desert and packed them in their bags. Fortunately the kids are cute, this was a minor infraction, and the border guards let us pass without much hassle. We made it through and took a taxi to the bus station. Funny that by just crossing the border there were now outlet malls and women wearing jeans. I felt like I suddenly appeared in Boca Raton, Florida.