Covering a fair amount of ground in Israel during my previous break, in the time period of three days I happened upon both the most northern point and southern tip of Israel. Traversing from the Lebanese to the Jordanian border, I crossed the latter to comb through the “rose red city half as old as time.”
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World and the most majestic and prodigious treasures still standing from ancient time, exploring Petra, walking through the Siq, and visiting the Treasury as well as the Royal Tombs have always been on my bucket list. This year in Israel has helped me meet the most interesting items on my quota, as my bucket grows heavier with completed endeavors.
And as I promised in my previous post last month to cover my three-day excursion in Jordan from over break, no amount of elapsed time could expunge the memory and the spectacle that revealed itself to me. Petra plays hard to get, it’s grandiose sights surrounded by the extreme modesty that is an almost impenetrable barrier of mountains and a never-ending desert.
Taking the red eye bus from Be’er Sheva, some traveling OTZMAnikim and I exchanged our Shekels at the Arava border in Eilat as the sun rose (1 USD = 3.8 NIS) and began our bargaining with the Jordanian Dinar (1 USD = .71 JOD or JD).
A three hour taxi ride into Petra from the border of Jordan cost us 50 JD, which is approximately 70 USD, split four ways. Petra itself is not a municipality that anyone can actually reside within; rather the name for this area is less commonly known as Wadi Musa. For any readers looking to embrace their inner wanderlust, I would recommend our hotel experience over others I’ve researched prior to visiting. The Saba’a (pronounced ‘Sebuh’) hostel offered us a deal of 15JD per person, which is about 20$ for both nights. Travelers staying at the hostel flocked from all corners of the world and bled eccentricity and warmth. The engaging nature of travelers sans destination is characteristic of the culture that hostel life subsequently breeds, and it’s unlike any other. The exchange of stories and paths were inspiring and the staff was extremely hospitable, driving the four of us to the entrance of Petra and getting us tickets for the infamous “Petra by Night.”
Our two-day entrance pass into the ruins was 55 JD, which is a bit less than 80$. Since the site itself, is, to be completely and bluntly honest, is the one of the only reasons if not the only reason why tourists come to Jordan, this was our most expensive outing—which makes sense. Food for two days came to be about 5JD, for obviously after living in the Middle East for over four months, we didn’t exactly come here for the cuisine.
We spent two full days hiking the mountains hidden in the lengthiness of the desert, exploring ancient tombs, climbing past the point of our cracked and raw heels up the 800 carved stone steps to reach the Monastery, and embracing our inner tourist the entire trek.
“Petra by Night” was an event we were blessed to have stumbled upon, for the special occasion only occurs three evenings a week. Indubitably, visiting Petra in the daylight is intimidating, and to experience it after sundown by the light of over 1000 candles is….well, you’d have to see it for yourself.
The light from the flames of the candles leaped eerily along the lofty walls of the Siq, the narrow kilometer passageway that greets the entrance to the ruins. Reaching the Treasury (El-Khazneh), hundreds of candles reflected the gritty faces of mysterious Bedouin men, their eyes lined with smoky kohl and their lips raw, permanently chapped by the wind and sand they’ve encountered daily since childhood, their home the desert.
We carefully sat on the woven straw mats the men laid down for us and sipped a strange concoction of sweet tea without asking any questions, reveling in the vastness of the land, the stars, and the surprisingly stark silence shared by what must have been over 200 people.
Digging my hands into the deep rose-colored sand that populated the space around the Treasury, I sat in awe and utter, ineffable disbelief of the history and craftsmanship of this ancient city. White paper bags holding the candles were artfully manipulated at their brim to illuminate the scene in front of them—A Bedouin man standing below the steps of the Treasury off in the far corner, his breath crying deeply into a wooden flute. The flames were dancing in unison, and the man performed having no music prepared for his audience—the artful improvisation spoke boundless solidarity.
Sauntering back to our hostel in our own worlds of disbelief, we happened upon a bar in the outskirts of Petra, set in the location of a 2000-year old tomb. My heart hurt as I watching jaded tourists guzzle cans of Amstel Light in the setting of such an ancient and hand crafted mastery, but smiled nonetheless and snapped some pictures.
A condensed three-day excursion into Jordan offered me the out of body experience I was looking for to complete my tiyul before moving to Haifa, where I reside now. And to think—I only got asked for my hand in marriage twice!