Welcome to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. After a few days in Tel Aviv, it was off for more exploration. Despite the fact that there aren't many places most people feel safe traveling in the Middle East, Jordan is notorious for welcoming travelers, and for long time peace with Israel. Also, Lucy is joining us for the next few days. She's like a sister I never knew I had, or wanted. She grew up about an hour south of me, spent some time in the south, then moved west... but recently quit her unfulfilling job and moved home. Sound familiar?
Anywho, the three of us left Tel Aviv early on a Wednesday morning. We were all tired, and coming down with a cold, and after an Israeli cab driver desperately tried to get us to hire him by yelling at us that he was going to give us a good deal (for those of you who don't know, Israelis don't know what personal space is and tend to be pretty push), we loaded a bus. The drive was about two hours to Beit Shean, in the northern part of the country. Then, we hopped bus number two which was short and timed perfectly. One more bus brought us to a kibbutz where we met up with Chava. Lucy had some distant connection to her and being 92, we felt if not now, when? She rode around on a pretty sweet scooter and gave us a tour of the place. She told us her story of escaping the Nazi's with her family and about how things have changed in the last 70 years since she joined the kibbutz. Pretty amazing lady.
There are three ways to get into Jordan from Israel. South, central and northern crossing stations. The central station is in the West Bank and doesn't issue visas. The southern and norther borders are both accessible, but we chose to go north. From the kibbutz, we road walked for about 25 minutes to the border. Very strange to walk up to a border (with the exception of that one time I walked into Canada).
The three of us passed through security, exchanged money, and got our passports examined (at this point I realized that the front page of my passport was totally ripped at the binding - resulting in the page hanging on by a thread - oh well?), then boarded a bus. The bus takes you across the Jordan river - not much to see, then unloads you into Jordan. More passport stuff, visas issued (no stamps in my passport - everything is done on separate paper as to not be sketchy) then you walk out a gate. We got in a cab with a random Russian girl who didn't say a word the entire 2 hour ride into the city. The drive took us from the poor towns in the lush valley up some very narrow mountain roads up to much more arid climates, as well as a massive city. Also, cheers to our cab driver for bumping the tunes and being an amazing driver despite the madness - he passed several buses on narrow roads without killing us and got us through traffic from an accident without any hesitation. Once we were in our air bnb it was close to 6, aka a very long day of traveling. We relaxed and settled into things, tried to find a grocery store but only found convenience stores which sufficed. While we were out hunting for food, it was very apparent that there were no women out. The men stared at us like we were meat, and most of the were smoking and gambling in groups as we walked passed restaurants. Thank god we had Russ with us. After picking up some snacks and a bottle of terrible wine, we headed home. We played cards and passed out early because we were all exhausted.
The next day was filled mostly with attempting to navigate the city that spanned seemingly forever in all directions, while simultaneously going steep uphill all the time. We saw the few tourist attractions, made a friend of the afternoon ( a fellow American girl who was alone and didn't feel super comfortable so she palled around with us). We ate all the goodies, took in the views and hit up a grocery store before walking home. We arrived home before dark, cooked soup for dinner, and as I laid on the couch I started to get some ear pain.
When I was little, I had ear infections and apparently I have narrow ear canals... which when combined with a cold, and traveling and what not, result in severe pain. I spent most of the night curled up in ball of pain, and eventually (thank god Russ is a saint and talked me into dealing with it) after a while he made me a hot pack, got some tea made and got me meds. I think I finally fell asleep close to two, but the next morning we were back at it. I visited my first mosque ever, and it was beautiful. The three of us wandered and explored, but were the only tourists there and didn't really know what we were doing. We took it in then walked up to the highest point in the city. It's amazing. We took a cab over to a small shawarma place for lunch where we all stuffed our faces with cheap eats then wandered the maze some more (again all uphill). Right as we were about to catch a cab home we spotted some stairs on an opposing hill that we kept getting a glimpse of. Rainbow stairs. We attempted to b-line it over there, which wasn't an easy task, but somehow after lots of wandering we found them on our way back down to the main road, then headed home for some bad movies and bed.
The next morning was an early one were we headed to the bus station and squeezed our way onto a full bus headed south. The bus was fine, we stopped once in the four hours at a rest area full of all the tchotchkies you could ever dream of. When we arrived in Petra, we got off the bus and took a cab up to the hotel (which was straight up hill). Luckily our room was ready so we dropped our bags, chatted with the hotel owner then grabbed snacks and headed back down the hill to the visitor center.
Petra is a strange place. If you've never heard of it I recommend a quick google search. The tourism industry in Jordan is dead (or very very close to dead), and so the people who rely on it for income have become very desperate. As Lucy, Russ and I walked into the historic sight and wonder of the world, we were basically harassed all afternoon by children and adults trying to get us to buy something. A polite no was not effective. We attempted to ignore this but it was overwhelming at times. That being said, Petra is pretty cool. The entry way takes you through a massive canyon, similar to something you'd see in Utah with red walls glowing at the right times of day. About one km in, the walls open up to the treasury (which never was a treasury, it's a tomb and burial place). The scene of a massive building carved in relief into the red sandstone beams down over your while camels horses and donkeys all wander nearby. Also, the peddlers to tourist ratio is terrible. We wandered the big sights and spend a good amount of time up at the "high place of sacrifice" which was a decent hike up lots of stairs to a 360 view. I kept thinking about people sacrificing cows and goats as we basked in the sun and lazily napped. We wandered the grounds a bit more but called it a night pretty early and walked back to the hotel.
Lucy was headed out the next morning, so we crashed pretty early. Russ and I slept in, because somehow I'm still battling a cold. Anyways, the next morning Russ and I packed lunch and headed back to Petra. We tried to go in a different entrance but we're yelled at pretty quickly by the police. Tourism seems to have dropped off here so much that most of the places that were once accessible are no longer - you must have a guide - was the response we continuously got. Oh well. We wandered through the steep walls of the siq, past the treasury, all the way as far back as we could get. From there we went up. 900 something steps up to the monastery, which is another massive relief and a very lovely pretty hassle free hike. At the top we found a nice view up on some rocks and ate lunch and relaxed in the sun. We watched the scattered tourist wander then did some more wandering of our own before heading back down the 900 steps. We strolled until the sun set, and were seemingly the last ones out of the park. We walked home and stocked up on groceries then had a traditional Bedouin style dinner at the hotel which was fantastic (especially since the food in Petra is all over priced, touristy and mediocre).
We woke up before the sun the next morning to take a bus to wadi rum. I had a slight melt down a bit before leaving Petra in regards to the plan for the desert. Things had changed dramatically since the time our guidebook had been published, and I was very apprehensive about staying in a "Rest House". Lucy also mentioned that the whole place was run down and pretty dead. That being said, we boarded the 6 am bus (along with what seemed to be a bunch of guys the driver was friends with), and were the only tourists. The ride took about 2 1/2 hours with lots of stops, but when we finally arrived, it was as run down as everyone had said. We were the last people on the bus and got dropped at Ali's house. Ali is a friend of a friend of a friend of mine... distant connections in distant lands. He showed us the guest house and left us alone. We dropped our packs, decided not pitch the tent (fear of cutting the bottom on broken glass) and scoped out the place. It seemed better than the closed rest house but wasn't much (no hot water, pit toilet and one light bulb - that seemed to go on and off as it pleased). Fortunately, Russ and I are low maintenance. From there we told Ali our plan for the day and wandered off into the desert.
The trash. It was everywhere, I felt like I was in some post apocalyptic movie. Water bottles and strange articles of clothing in the sand, with an assortment of camel bones to match. Nothing seemed to thrive here, yet we powered through the sand with packs full of climbing gear until we found Musa's Slab - and made friends with a pup on the way who hung out with us for a bit. A quick scramble up the back side allowed easy access to learning how to rappel. I watched as Russ set everything up and patiently waited at the bottom. I learned he basics on the ground then we took a lunch break. Shortly after that I was floating down the wall with ease - although my stomach turned a bit on the first run down. Yay for new skills!
As the sun started to set we relaxed, took in the view, then headed back to our weird hut. We went to Ali's house for some wifi but Russ wasn't feeling great so he was in bed and asleep by 7pm. I stayed up and read, cooked some ramen and passed out early as well. Fortunately for me, he was a whole new person the next morning, and we had seemingly big plans for the day. The guide book had a route through some canyons to the infamous red dunes, so with limited maps and direction, we headed out. we were searching for goats gully, but our first gully was wrong. After a few hours of scouting, climbing reading the description again, scouting some more and debating options we took a lunch break. After lunch we headed up a second gully, with more luck but still not full success. I'm no climber and as we went up, it was clear I was getting in over my head. We called it quits early and walked across the desert floor to the other side of the valley, where we hiked up some steps to a beautiful spring and watched moon rise over the orange peaks.
We chatted with Ali over tea and arranged for a Jeep tour the next morning, since our own explorations were slow. Lucy, along with every other tourist saw Wadi Rum by Jeep tour - so I figured it was worth a try. My family had warned me against going to Jordan and I had ignored it, but I was surprised by how uncomfortable I felt. This was my first time in an Arab state and while I don't think I have Islamophobia, the lack of women, and furthermore lack of tourists had made me feel less than comforted. We were very welcomed by every individual we met, yet the haunting sounds of a call to prayer in the distance didn't sit right with me. I found myself wondering what the line between being adventurous and unsafe was. Was I actually in any harm? It didn't feel like I was - there wasn't really anyone around - yet I felt uncomfortable. Also, what is the difference between being outside of your comfort zone and being uncomfortable? Is there a difference? I don't know - these are just thoughts I had while feeling like I had let Russ down. He seemed to have had a vision of us out in the desert playing around and I simply couldn't do it. Anyways, Ali told us about his music and about how things have changed in the past years for the Bedouin people. After finalizing plans for the following day, we headed back to our place via moonlight and after a few rounds of cards and dinner headed to bed.
The next morning we loaded into Ali's land cruiser and bombed out into the abyss. He drove us to all the sights and let us stroll through a few canyons on our own, nothing extreme but it was honestly a great way to get a feel for truly how big the place really is, and how easily you can get disoriented. We saw camels and made sand angels, but after a few hours of jeeping, we headed back to town and eventually we got in a cab and headed back to the border. Crossing was easy (with the exception of Israeli security very clearly telling me my passport was basically unacceptable and I needed to have it addressed as soon as possible if I planned on traveling more), and it felt good to be back in Israel. It's hard to describe the discomfort I felt being in Jordan but it seemed to quickly dissipate upon crossing the border. We spent the night in Eilat and cooked after getting some fresh stuff from a nearby grocery store (so good to have good produce again). The next morning was early, and we got on a bus to Jerusalem (which is a very long bus ride but has some pretty solid views along the way) and met up with Judith.
More to come on Judith and Jerusalem next time. Also - none of these photos have been cleaned up at all due to lack of computer and other technology so my apologies!