Welcome back to Chasing Davis! We’ve been up to quite a bit lately and took last week off of writing….. so if you’re lucky, you might get TWO posts this week so we don’t get toooo far behind!
I will lead off with our biggest trip so far and fill in with some of the smaller trips later this week….although the sun is OUT and its about 80 degrees…..so the beach is calling!
…….but lets start here….with our trip to Jordan!
As with all our trips, quite a bit of preparation and research are involved to make sure all our ducks are in a row. Since this trip involved crossing the border to Jordan, we had to make sure we knew when, where, and how to get that done. As you may imagine with the state of the world over here, crossing borders isn’t always a walk in the park and they don’t have any problem saying NO. So we read A LOT about the different border crossings between Israel and Jordan and settled on the Southern crossing between two tourist towns, Eilat (Israel) and Aqaba (Jordan). As we researched, we discovered that the Visa rules for crossing into Jordan changed on January 1, 2016! You see, this is especially confusing because it’s only written on one government tourism web page BUT about a million other webpages and travel books haven’t caught up yet and all have the OLD information….so the information about what we needed was VERY limited and VERY unclear. So I called the Jordanian Embassy in Israel for more information – they explained you apply for the Visa IN PERSON at the Embassy…..easy enough for me….but NOT super practical for Matt and Josh who work all day!….So we toiled with this new information and tried to figure out how we could make this happen! By the grace of God, I decided to go on a free walking tour of Jaffa during the week and met some other folks trying to figure the same thing out! We exchanged and pieced together the beta (info) on what we each knew about the fees, visas, taxis, etc and thankfully one guy mentioned the “Jordan Pass“! PRAISE THE LORD! In response to the new Visa requirements, the Jordanian government created a pass for tourists that basically packages the Visa fees/requirements and ALL the major attractions into one easy pass you can buy online! Aside from the hours of research already spent on the trip, it saved us a lot of time and money in the long-run. The only catch of the pass is that you have to stay for three nights in Jordan (or pay for the Visa fee upon exit, which is more expensive than staying another night in a hotel)…so our quick weekend trip quickly became a LONG weekend adventure! So we bought our passes, booked our hotels, and set off to make our way to Jordan!
We estimated the drive down to Eilat, border crossing, and then taxi up to Petra would take about 6-7 hours, so we needed to start EARLY! If you know me, I LOVE MORNINGS! (not) and our roommate Josh joined us (who is equally as enthusiastic about morning starts!) [Matt – Did I mention that I love mornings?]. Luckily, Matt is a machine and drove while we spaced out/slept. Getting to the border was uneventful. We parked in the free lot (you cannot drive a rental car into Jordan), crossed our fingers, and set off on foot for the crossing…good thing we pack light!
When we arrived on the Israeli side, we had the place to ourselves, apparently not a lot of people are flocking over to Jordan these days. We answered their questions, paid our exit fees, and made our way to the Jordan side. You can see above that you literally walk across a no-man’s land between the two border buildings. [Matt – There were some fine gentlemen with large machine guns though.]
We were greeted by Jordanian officials and proceeded to the Visa processing windows. Despite being the only ones there and having all the correct paperwork, it took us about an hour to get through the Jordan side. [Matt – The reason it took so long was because they could only process one visa per cigarette smoked… very efficient!]
At the exit of the border buildings, we were greeted by the awaiting taxis eager to take us anywhere and less than interested in negotiating the price (in short, we overpaid…oh well). From the border, we had about a 2 hour drive North to Petra.
Much like crossing from San Diego to Tijuana, the crossing from Israel to Jordan is night and day! While Jordan lacks the infrastructure of Israel, it boasts beautiful mountains! I could see Matt drooling over them from the moment he laid eyes on them. For the folks back home, imagine the San Gabriel Mountains (LA) breeding with Zion/Canyon Lands (Utah) – very unique!
Our taxi driver was very pleasant and we arrived in the town of Petra without any fuss around 2pm [Matt – We first had to stop for a “coffee” break at his friends souvenir shop]. We checked into our hotel….as the ONLY guests for the weekend….and quickly re-packed for a quick trip down to the park. Since Petra “closes” at 4:00 and we had “free” passes, we decided to head in for a quick look around. Since Josh visited Petra once before, he assumed the role of unofficial tour guide and guided us down THE HILL to the park. I say THE HILL because we got to know THE HILL very well over the weekend. Most of the hotels, restaurants, and stores sit at the top of a long hill above the actual park – MOST people take a taxi up and down THE HILL each day to reach their hotels. But, of course, Davis’s aren’t MOST PEOPLE – so we walked up and down THE HILL everyday….ignoring the eager offers of dozens of taxi drivers to give us a ride in either direction. “ONE DINAR” (basically equivalent to $1) was the going price for a ride….but we’re stubborn…..so we walked.
OH but that only shows the walk from the ENTRANCE to Petra…its still another 20-30 minutes down into the Park….more like this….
Getting around the city and park was very interesting. It is VERY difficult to blend in with two 6’+ white guys…so we were the targets of endless badgering for taxi rides, souvenirs, donkey rides, camel rides, and ONE DINAR packets of postcards sold by very cute children (again, a lot like being in Tijuana – which isn’t bad, it is simply the way of life).
For anyone who watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a kid, you might have the iconic scene of Indi and his crew entering the Lost City of Petra forever engrained in your mind. Well, I didn’t because I don’t think I ever watched it as a kid…..but Matt brought me up to speed with a movie night before we left! (how did I only manage to watch ET and The Goonies as a kid…I have some making up to do….) Needless to say, once we were both caught up on our Indi history, our excitement level was HIGH as we prepared to see the Lost City in real life!
To get to the main “attractions” of Petra, you first walk down a long and narrow canyon called the Siq. Before entering the canyon, you walk along a dirt road lined with a few rock carvings that tease you for what awaits. Walking down the Siq feels ceremonious as you wind through the canyon used thousands of years ago by traders moving along the Spice Road en-route to their rest stop in Petra. Along the walls, you can see the water channels carved into the rock to route water to the city from the surrounding desert. I highly recommend watching this documentary by The History Channel for more history on Petra and how the people of Petra were able to thrive for hundreds of years in the middle of the desert!
After winding down the Siq through several twists and turns, we came around the final bend and were greeted by The Treasury! WOW! It looked even more amazing then we imagined, we stopped in our tracks and did one of those cartoonistic double takes….simply amazing!
From The Treasury, Petra winds down a canyon to the right. The elaborate carvings are tombs; very little exists within the walls except large rooms and holes where people were buried….creepy….[Matt: Despite my best efforts we did not find the holy grail in the Treasury] Nonetheless, Petra was a thriving trading post and there are many other out-coves and structures where business took place. Along with shops, Petra also had a large amphitheater for shows and gatherings. I am VERY impressed by their ability to carve out enough room for 8500 people to sit! The city as a whole had upwards of 20,000 people!
This quick intro concluded our first day in the park and we headed back up THE HILL to our hotel for the night. As the only guests in the hotel, we had the place to ourselves and were all alone in a large hotel with our “inn keeper” staying next door at his OTHER hotel, very comforting….. but for ~$35/night, you generally get what you pay for….a flooded bathroom, no shower curtain, and poor wifi. The upside, the bed was clean enough (according to dr. google, I think the bites on my leg were from a spider…not bed bugs…) and the breakfast was sufficient to #feedmattdavis and Josh!
The following two days, we got much further into the park. Thankful for our strong legs, we headed up the hills and away from the bulk of the tourists to explore some of the more difficult to reach places. This gave us a magnificent view of Petra from above! The variety and number of tombs left us speechless! [Matt: The tombs were amazing but what was more astonishing was how it was all woven together into a thriving city. One book we read likened it to the Las Vegas of the ancient world because of its extravagance, especially in the use of water, in such a desolate place.]
This was a lion fountain….if you squint you can see the legs and body and groove above Matt’s head where water poured out from a spring.
We hiked up to the High Place of Sacrifice, complete with sacrificial table and blood drainage system. [Matt: For animal sacrifices]
On our way down, we came across a mama goat who JUST delivered two babies MOMENTS earlier….she kindly let us watch her clean them and get them up on their feet. They were SO CUTE – (little know fact about me…I LOVE BABIES….of all kinds….yeah, ok, that’s not a secret….so I was just tickled by this surprise!).
We also came across some rock layers that really blew my mind! Sorry if you’re squeemish, but they reminded me of inside the human body! Flesh, muscles, blood….so cool!
Next, we hiked up to the Monastery – which is atop a very high mountain with a view of the Jordanian desert in the background. This tomb is even larger than the Treasury and quite a magnificent sight at sunset!
Finally, we did an early morning hike up to a peak opposite the Treasury to see the morning sun peak up and over the mountain. We came across some fun critters on the way too.
Josh proved his LACK of fear of heights….while I stayed firmly planted AWAY from the edge….
That concluded our journey through Petra! On our way back to Aqaba, we arranged for the taxi driver to make a quick stop at Wadi Rum, a beautiful desert area with tall mountains and deep canyons. Being a weekday, in the off-season, we were the ONLY people there….they were eager to offer us a Jeep ride or camel ride or ANYTHING….but we chose to traverse the desert on foot to admire one of the large rock formations and make some notes for a possible return trip to camp or head deeper into the park.
To fulfill our 3-night requirement, we spent the night next to the border in the touristy beach city of Aqaba. It was alive with shops and restaurants and the Red Sea. We took an evening walk along the water, enjoyed some pizza, and finished the night with banana splits! In the morning, we made the journey back across the border to Israel – which took a fraction of the time! We made our way home….and the boys were back at work for lunch!