We were provided a free shuttle service to Petra by our hostel. And by shuttle I mean a man in a white ford pick-up from the 1980s. The driving in Jordan is unlike anything I have ever seen before. In the towns the streets are narrow and they are all one-ways. I probably saw more almost-collisions during those two days than I have seen in my lifetime. Yet the drivers never beep at one another, in fact they don’t even flinch. One simply drives forward and the other stays on the brake until it is his turn to go. The only time I did notice them beeping is when people are walking in the street. Even if they are quickly crossing, the drivers still beep. This may not be true but I think this may be the case because since you are driving a car your status in that moment is higher than someone who is walking on the street. Therefore the pedestrian must yield to the driver, instead of the reverse that is commonly found elsewhere.
About eight minutes later our driver dropped us off to the gates of the dead city of Petra. It is also one of the new 7 wonders of the world, and it only took me about two minutes to walk inside to see why this is so. Petra is one of the most beautiful (if not the most beautiful) places I have ever seen. Soaring mountains and canyons, intricate and detailed carvings, signs of typical Roman influence at its finest – all filled inside with wandering Bedouins, tourists from all over the world, donkeys, camels, and horses galore.
With our entrance fee we were provided with a “free” guided tour. Our tour guide was very nice and explained things I am sure we wouldn’t have picked up on if we had decided to walk the city ourselves. In our group there were four Israelis, and one woman from Austria and one from England who were currently living in Israel. It was nice because I felt in many ways more connected to them than I did when I was giving a Texan dad advice on what type of Bedouin jewelry he should buy for his daughter.
At the end of the tour there was a short museum to walk through. At the end there was a small gift shop and inside I saw a book entitled, “Married to a Bedouin.” It was about an Australian woman who decided to travel seeking an adventure. While in Petra a Bedouin man approached her and asked if she’d like to sleep in his cave with him that night. She decided to take the risk and said yes. It resulted in her falling in love with this man, marrying him, and she herself living the Bedouin lifestyle. End result, I found this storyline fascinating. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough JD’s (Jordanian money) on me at the time to purchase it, but Ariel wrote it down on our “wanted books” list and I am looking forward to eventually getting it and reading it in Israel. I was told that the Bedouin man has since passed, but the woman still does tours of Petra, though I am sure at a hefty cost.
After we cooled down a bit we decided to get even sweatier and embarked on a 30-minute, 800 stair climb to the top of one of the canyons. About 45 minutes later we made it. We stopped a few times a lot along the way; there were too many good sights to see that we couldn’t pass up. At the top we saw a gorgeous monastery, canyons, Palestinian mountains, and a man from New York City who was excited to meet other Americans.
Having another one of those “you have to force me to leave this view” moments, the three of us decided to go to the café/souvenir shop below and cool off a bit. Ariel and I got freshly squeezed orange-lemon juice that was both tasty and refreshing. While up there I saw some British tourists, one of them was wearing a Wagamama t-shirt. Wagamama was a restaurant near our dorm in London that we would eat at – Always love those London throwback moments!
Eventually we trekked back down and slowly made our way out of the dead city. We looked at some things closer on the way back and also walked into some of the caves. I tried on about 50 gorgeous and unique rings at the souvenir shop only to be told I was getting entirely ripped off. I decided way back when that I would like to collect mugs everywhere I travel so when I am older all of my mugs are from those places. Unfortunately I decided this after my cross-country trip, study abroad adventure, and other vacations in between. But I did get one when I was in Mexico and now I can add my Jordanian camel-themed mug to the collection.
Exhausted, Ariel, Eli and I came back to the hotel and read for a while. We then made our way to dinner and decided to try another restaurant in Wadi Mussa that night. The food was fantastic and we were fortunate to receive a lot of “compliments of the chef” dishes. I decided I like the pita here better than in Israel. I also decided that I love the fact that this restaurant made us move from our table to the couch so we could eat a free dessert. We were almost done with our Jordanian adventure but we had just one more thing to check off our list. To try the banana milk! We went into a convenience store, bought one juice box, and all shared sips. It tasted a lot like banana runts and we were quite excited about that.
I am now sitting in my hostel room typing out this entry on Ariel’s computer. I must say that this vacation was exactly what I needed. The hike may not have gone exactly as planned, but it was a great adventure none-the-less. I was also able to get closer to Amir and Eli, and it is nice to feel like these people are becoming my temporary family. Eilat was so relaxing, and filled with great friends and a lot of fun. (Plus Topshop!)
Jordan is unlike any place I have ever been and I am so happy to have been able to experience Arab culture firsthand and know what it is really like here – not what the American media wants us to think it’s like. Our hostel manager was an amazing guy, going out of his way to help us with cabs and recommend places to go. He told us last night about how he lived in Pennsylvania for five years. I have a gut feeling that a lot of people in Pennsylvania probably saw him and brushed him away or got afraid. But he is human just like the rest of us and wanted to experience American culture. I can only hope that in America people were as friendly to him as he was to us in his home country.
Most importantly, this vacation made me realize that Israel really does feel like home to me. Though I am sad Sukkot break has come to a close, I am looking forward to returning to Israel and to an environment I have grown comfortable to and hold dearly to my heart. Entering Jordan was an adventure, but there was a bit of un-comfortableness added to it simply because the culture is unlike anywhere I have ever been. It did make me realize however, how comfortable the Israeli culture has become to me and for that I am eternally grateful given I still have nine more months to go.