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Sunday, June 26, 2011

JORDAN AND PETRA - PART I

Jordanian Kings Hussein & Abudullah II
The late King Hussein and his son, the present King Abdullah II
Our hotel in Eilat is magnificent, but we haven’t time to enjoy it; we’re taking the optional trip across the border to Petra in Jordan. 

Petra is arguably one of the most remarkable places on earth.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the undisputed chief tourist attraction in Jordan.  Reading about it did not begin to prepare me for its unbelievable wonders or the total amazement I felt viewing the work of a long-vanished people, the Nabataeans who built the city and turned it into an important part of the trade routes followed by silk and spice merchants of the world.  There is no way we could be in this part of the world and hang around a hotel instead of coming here!

Jordan Border CrossingWe leave Eilat at and by we’ve passed through the Yitzhak Rabin Israeli checkpoint at the border.  This checkpoint was first opened in 1994.  We leave the Israeli tour bus on their side and walk on road leading to the Jordanian border where we surrender our passports to Jordanian security.  It is a bit movie-land eerie.


The Jordanians direct us across the street to sit or stand around a little store that sells souvenirs and drinks.  The benches and tables seem coca cola covered and are thick with flies.  It’s desert hot and uncomfortable.  

Jordan Border Rest House
We do not get through the Jordanian checkpoint until .  An Israeli accompanies us.  He has collected $10.00 from each of us to give to the Jordanian tour bus guide.  In addition to the Jordanian guide on our bus is a member of the Jordanian Tourist Police.  He said nothing to us during the trip, but he was with us, and his presence was felt.  The distance from Aqaba, the southernmost city in Jordan and right across the border from Eilat, Israel, to Petra is approximately 98 miles.  For us it will be a two-hour drive.

King Abdullah IIFrom the border station onward there are pictures, banners, and signs of both King Hussein who died in 1999, and his son, the present King Abdullah II.

Construction is going on everywhere in Aqaba.  Both Aqaba and its neighboring Israeli city, Eilat, border on the Red Sea.  Eilat is about 3,000 years old and was once a major port.  Today its main business is tourist business. The new city of Eilat was established in 1950.  Aqaba, too, is an ancient city, the only seaport city in Jordan.  It is even mentioned in the Bible.  Today, Aqaba is undergoing major construction to enhance its port potential to develop itself as a manufacturing hub and to build its tourist industry particularly as sites like Petra and Wadi Rum become more appealing to tourists.  What we see today is the birth of a modern city.

Aqaba, Jordan

P1150116

Aqaba, Jordan

Aqaba, Jordan

Aqaba, Jordan

As our bus begins the ascent into the mountains, we are once again treated to the harsh nature of the desert environment, the same environment that exists on the other side of the border.  The mountains have a stark beauty.  The rocks are colorful and striated.  It is a haunting landscape devoid of roads other than our main one.  Some of the rock formations remind me of Sedona, Arizona.

We pass a second check point further into the country, but this is just a brief stop.

As we drive, our excellent Jordanian guide tells us about his country.  Jordan is ruled by the Hashemite family, direct descendants of Mohammed.  Most of the population lives in the north (we are in the south), and the majority of the population are of Bedouin ancestry.   Despite the Jordanian government’s attempt to settle them in cities (as the Israel government does) in order to provide them with educational, medical and other social services, some still resist and as in Israel, we passed Bedouin encampments that seemed communities of squalor. 

Bedouin camp

The towns, too, seem very poor.  Of course we are seeing only a tiny part of Jordan, but it is a sad contrast to the towns we passed in Israel.

In some research I did, I learned that Bedouin encampments last for months at a time and that Bedouins have shunned most modern developments.  Some have added trucks which they use to transport their animals to the next encampment, and some use plastic water containers for convenience.  Certainly no visitor passing through this area can do so without thinking of this people and how modernity might impact the very core of their lives. 

It is quite a while before we come into towns.  The tallest building is the recognizable mosque, and in the towns some homes surrounded by silver leafed olive trees.  We are told these are the prosperous residents. The houses are sometimes the sand color but sometimes brightly painted in pinks and teals. 

The town of Petra is built into the mountainside, and the roads steeply wrap around.  Our guide tells us about the building going on in town to expand the number of resorts and hotels for tourists.  We’re able to take pictures through the window as we pass through town, but we are really anxious to get to the wonder of the ancient world.


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