From Israel to Jordan: Journey to Another World
We went to Petra so we could see a bona fide world wonder – it’s currently number two on the official list. My husband and I live in Israel this year, and when we told our friends of our Jordan-bound plans, we were mostly met with one of two responses: A) “Wow, that’s so cool! I’ve always wanted to go there!” or B) “Why would you want to do that? Why leave Israel?” Having now crossed the border in both directions, I can understand both sentiments.
Leaving Israel was not the simplest of endeavors. You can’t take an Israeli vehicle into Jordan without a special permit, so there went any hopes of doing the trip alone in our rental car. We had to pay a pretty penny (splendid shekel?) to join a tour group that would take care of the travel arrangements and guidance through the ancient city. Due to the rainy weather, our “group” ended up consisting only of myself and my husband, and a Canadian student with his mom. With us in the car were our Jordanian guide, Ali, and Jordanian driver, Ahmed.
You can’t take an Israeli vehicle into Jordan without a special permit, so there went any hopes of doing the trip alone in our rental car.
Four Jews, two Arabs, one minivan. They picked us up at our Eilat hotel, and off we went to the border crossing. You have to walk about 200 feet from Israel to Jordan, through a no-man’s land that presumably doesn’t belong to either side. I wonder what would happen if I committed a crime there….hm. Once we reached Jordan, our passports were taken away into a room for quite some time, which made me nervous. I guess that’s how they do things in the Middle East. I tried to go to the bathroom before getting back in the car, but was met with one of those holes in the ground with two foot imprints on either side of it. Welcome to Jordan!
The trip up the Jordanian side was like looking at the world while standing on your head – at least for someone like me, who has only ever seen the Jordanian valley from the vantage of route 90 on Israel’s eastern border. The mountain ranges did look vaguely familiar. Backwards, but familiar nonetheless. It was much colder than we anticipated – January is a great time to avoid tourists, but not so great for avoiding low temperatures.
My hoodie/Northface windbreaker combo was just enough to keep me protected from the elements, with help from my snazzy headscarf (worn for my own religious reasons, though I did look like somewhat of a tourist-poser all day long), that doubled as earmuffs that day. On the way up, we stopped at a roadside shop to have some tea and get sweet-talked by the trinket sellers. I asked them if they sold gloves, accidentally holding up my diamond engagement ring as I motioned a universal “gloves” sign. They didn’t stop staring at my hand after that, hidden as it was in my Northface pocket. Rule #1 for silly American tourists in the Jordanian countryside: don’t flash valuables in people’s faces.
Once we reached Jordan, our passports were taken away into a room for quite some time, which made me nervous. I guess that’s how they do things in the Middle East.
I was pleasantly impressed by the facilities at this road-stop: a clean bright pink bathroom, covered in posters for some sort of women’s cosmetics company. All the women in the ads were wearing full head and neck scarves, which made their gorgeous and perfectly made-up complexions that much more striking. I pulled my own head scarf on a bit tighter and headed back upstairs to join the group of men gathered around a flat-screen TV held up by plastic cartons on the dirt floor.
They were watching the latest news on the protests in Cairo. I realized suddenly that they were watching with a sense of solidarity and commiseration rather than mere worldly interest. Being a Jewish girl from New York, I had never watched an Arabic news channel with a group of Arab men feeling a sincere connection to the events going on in the Arab world. I felt like any second they would realize I live in Israel and that I am only using them for their tea and clean pink bathroom. But they didn’t seem to mind.
We continued the drive up to Petra and eventually made it to the Necropolis itself. Petra was created by a combination of natural rock erosion/formation and the ingenuity of the Nabateans, who carved out massive detailed tombs from the stone face for their wealthiest and most prominent citizens. A 15 minute walk through a narrow passageway between the cliffs called the siq culminates in a revelation of beauty and human ingenuity on the other side. Be mindful of the horse-carts racing by along the way – they’ll run you over if you don’t move fast.
While the geological and archeological wonders of Petra astound, there are certain precautions to be taken as a tourist. First off, watch your money. My husband claims he had twenty shekels stolen from him as he negotiated the price of a shot glass with one of the store owners of the “Indiana Jones” souvenir shop. He then began to argue with the owner, who happened to be good friends with Ali, and at some point they started quibbling in Arabic.
We did a one-day trip, opting out of staying overnight. I’m glad we made that choice since by the end I was exhausted and craving to get back home.
The owner turned to me at one point and emptied his pockets to show me he didn’t have the money. He then turned to my husband, smiled, and said, “guess this isn’t your lucky day.” Tensions rose until my husband graciously (finally) said he must have lost it, and we slunk off so as not to cause more of a hubbub. So, watch your money, and if you lose it, cut your losses. You won’t get it back.
Secondly, try to go with some sort of male accompaniment who can easily ward off the hundreds of pushy offers for camel/donkey/horse rides, sand-jars, and post-cards. For some reason they seemed to prey more on me than on my husband, and at one point while he was off in the bathroom, I was literally followed around by one of the donkey-ride guys until he returned to save the day. I’m also a softie for the children they have selling things – literally, kids of about 6 or 7 years of age are walking around selling postcards all day long. If you have any kind of a heart, you’ll end up giving in. We bought some in the end from a sweet little girl with some dirt on her cheek. It took all my power to suppress the motherly instinct to lick my thumb and rub it off.
If you’re going in the winter, bundle up. In the summer, don’t dress too revealingly. It felt like the type of place where that would either be frowned upon or preyed upon – either way, it wouldn’t be too enjoyable. Wear very comfortable shoes, and expect to walk around for hours. Oh, and this is a big one: bring your own toilet paper.
We did a one-day trip, opting out of staying overnight. I’m glad we made that choice since by the end I was exhausted and craving to get back home. On the way back, our co-tourists decided to stay the night, so it was just us, Ali, Ahmed, and a third Jordanian man named Mohammed who joined us somewhere before the border. Say what you will about Middle Eastern peace relations – I felt uncomfortable in that car. In the end, we were both very glad to be back on Israeli soil. The familiar language and culture were a breath of fresh air, and while I enjoy seeing wonders of the world, I’m still much happier coming home at the end of the day.
From Israel to Jordan: Journey to Another World photos by Shira B and Unsplash.