Some years ago I travelled to Eilat, Israel with my friend for a vacation. Eilat is very close to the border of Jordan, and one day trip offered by our travel agency was a visit to a Unesco World Heritage Site, the ruins of Petra in Jordan. My friend didn't feel like going, but I decided to go with a bus load of other travellers.
GETTING TO PETRA
We started our journey in the morning towards to the ancient city of Petra, and people seemed to be both excited and a little nervous about the trip. It is clear that Jordan is in every aspect a completely different kind of country than Israel where we were coming from. The drive from Eilat to Petra is about 140 kilometres, but to get to the border it only takes half an hour. Everything went well at the border. Our guide took our passports and got us visas while we waited. We got a little stamp looking sticker on our passports. Then we went thru the passport control and walked over the border. And back to the road it was.
There is not very much to see on this drive. The road goes thru a desert, and every once in a while you will see some mountains. In the middle of no where, I saw a lady in her burka herding sheep. "Wow, she must be so hot in the sun." I remember thinking. We stopped at a small gas station for a restroom break. The bathroom was very modest, only a hole in the floor. I had not changed any currency for this day trip, so I wasn't able to buy anything from the gas station. But that was fine, since I brought my own snacks, and we were scheduled to have a lunch at a local restaurant closer to Petra. We stopped in a city called Wadi Musa to enjoy some salads, tahini, fried potatoes, rice, grilled chicken and meat. It was very tasty!
the Amazing city of petra
If you visit Petra, you should wear comfortable shoes. Right at the beginning, you will have to walk thru one kilometer long gorge called the Siq. Some of the path may be quite rocky and at it's narrowest, it is only three meters wide. You can also choose to do it by horseback ride. The funny thing was, that the horses were sent back to the beginning of the road by themselves. Since the walls of the gorge are pretty tall, the sun is not able to warm up the path and you might need a warm shirt. In winter time, there might even be a little bit of snow. On the walk you will see some carvings by the Nabataeans, and along the path there is a furrow which was used as an aqueduct. Since there was plenty of water in Petra, people living there were able to grow vegetables and fruits, and farm food.
Suddenly while walking on the Siq, you will see an amazing site! Something red is at the end of the gorge. It is the Al Khazneh treasury which looks beautiful in the sun. You will hear some "Oohs" and "Aahs", and everyone wants to capture a perfect picture of it. And the truth is, that this is what I remember the best from Petra too. Based on the rumours, Al Khazneh used to be where some of the treasures were hidden in the old days, but now it is just an empty room. Not so impressive from inside as it is from outside.
From there you can walk even further. The rock walls are full of tombs, and most them you will be able to walk into. In the 1980's there were still beduins living in them, but the government built them a village near Petra so they could preserve the area. The first known inhabitants in Petra were the Nabataeans, who most likely lived there in 500 BC. However, there are signs of residents already from 7000 BC. In AD 106 the Romans took over the area and at it's best, there were 20 000-30 000 inhabitants. People living there became Christian in 423. If you think about it, Petra must have been a perfect hiding place, since when you look down from the mountain, you can't see Petra at all. After earthquakes damaged the city, it's glory days were over. It finally got fully abandoned in year 600, until it was discovered by the Swiss explorer Johan Ludvig Burchardt.
Some believe that there are references to Petra in the Bible. Also some of the details in the Quran seem to be very accurate concerning the city of Petra.
In 1985 Petra became a Unesco Heritage Site. Only a small portion of the caves and tombs have been researched, so the archeological work is still on going. They also filmed some TV shows and movie scenes here; for example the last Indiana Jones.
Stuck at the border
Our way back to the Israeli border goes quickly. First there is a passport check at the border of Jordan and then at the Israeli border. When it is my turn to show my passport, the officer looked at it and then looked at me, and told me to follow him to a little room. I sit down and wait and wait and wait. Then a lady with a scarf covering her head walks in and starts asking me some questions. With bad English she asks why am I in Jordan, why am I going to Israel, and where am I from. The interview lasts quite long, and it sure doesn't seem to help that I have stamps from Egypt and Dubai on my passport. Then she asks my fathers whole name, and my mothers' fathers name. I am surprised that it seems like this lady knows how to type those Finnish names just like that, by hearing them just once. Well, maybe she just does, just like she types my fathers address in Finland. My passport has been browsed so many times and so hard, that I am worried it might break. Then I am left alone and I wait some more.
It has been at least half an hour since I was walked into the back room. I know, that a full bus load of people are waiting for me outside, so I feel a little bit guilty that I had to go through this inspection. I am not sure what to think about the whole thing. Are they serious about the background check or are they just having me sit here for a show. Panicking in this situation doesn't help. The whole thing feels so absurd, and some of the questions were so funny that I really feel like laughing. But that is something I absolutely should not do. Finally they let me go. When I walk to the bus, everyone in it is applauding. Someone tells me, that I am the least dangerous looking person in the whole group. But our guide says that it is not very common for women to travel without a companion in this culture. And since I wasn't travelling either with my husband or with my dad, they decided to ask more questions. And of course I have known about that, but I didn't think they would pick out someone from a big tourist group. Oh well, I got to tell my dad that his information is now at the Jordanian border. This time I was happy that I was travelling with a group and not alone. I'm glad that this adventure had a happy ending!