When I heard that friends who have lived in Israel for three years hadn’t been to Petra, just across in Jordan, I was keen to have them visit before returning to the US in July, so agreed that during my visit before they left we would do a short trip.
We left Even Yehuda where they live near Netanya before 3am and drove south to Tel Aviv where even at that time there were many room lights on in the Hilton where paid public parking is available. We parked easily and made our way the few hundred yards to the pick up point and waited with about twelve others. The bus arrived and we were away: still not really having a clear view of what lay ahead in the sense of times and opportunities.
It was still dark when the bus left Tel Aviv at 4a.m and most passengers managed to catch a few additional hours sleep as we sped south through the Negev desert to Eilat and the Yitzhak Rabin border crossing into Jordan.Instructions were clear, bags were unloaded and we walked towards the border where we were led through the formalities on the Israeli side and set on our way into Jordan – a walk of maybe 100 metres – where the Jordan tour rep was ready to see us through the Jordanian formalities.
The information about what cash is needed at the border is confusing: initially it looks as though you need $60 for a crossing fee. You do. But you also need $65 for the Jordanian visa fee if you are staying overnight as we were. Some of the group showed quite a high level of distrust when the Israeli accompanying us asked for their money, which was both unnecessary and unfair as it was clear in the literature that money was needed. However, they may have been sold their tickets by an agency and not looked at the online information. Traveller’s tip: Aways ask about border costs!
Although the bus was crowded the journey south had been smooth and painless. The hardest part of the day was waiting on the Jordanian border while our passports were taken away and checked and before we could get moving towards our destination. Time passes so quickly when you are waiting to get somewhere!
Finally, the formalities were complete and we were walking (bags ‘n’ all) to the bus which would transport us to Petra.
Our first and only stop was at a view point overlooking the African Rift Valley – looking less fertile here than in Kenya where we had seen it earlier in the year.
Forget geology: there are puppies!
It was almost midday when we arrived in Petra and we had to wait for Nizar to pick up the tickets – three different groups comprising 54 people. We thought it would have been good to separate the two day visitors so that they could enjoy a rather more leisurely experience, but as it was everyone was together until we were dropped at Wadi Rum at about 7p.m. – just in time for the sunset!
Petra’s smart new visitors’ centre
From the new visitors’ centre and ticket office there’s a (mainly) paved path to the Siq: the famously narrow entrance to the ancient city deeper in Wadi Musa. The fact that workers sought the shade indicates the ferocity of the heat – over 40C at the stage!
Nabatean tombs at the start of the walk down
Small entrances carved into the rock
At the beginning of the Siq
Trees grow anywhere!
Tourists in large and small groups – even individually – oohed and aahed at the towering rock formations and, indeed, at the work of those ancient craftsmen responsible for the carvings.
First glimpse of the famous Treasury
And then there was that first, fleeting, sight of the Treasury in the bright midday sun before the gradual reveal of its grandeur.
It’s really difficult to get close to see the detail of the work when the open area is full of tourists, guides shouting to be heard over the chatter or gather their group together, children screaming and animals making whatever noise is appropriate to them! It’s essential (for many!) to take a selfie with this famed backdrop of course – even better if you’re on the back of a camel.
Walking past more ancient tombs and the colonnaded street we came to the sandman creating images of the desert in bottles using different coloured sands. He showed us how to make the camel shape and get its legs the right length. I thought of how many things I say I must get rid of at home and didn’t buy anything!
Two more stretches of caves and we reached the amphitheatre, roughly hewn from the rock and largely unrestored but still impressive and, for me, somewhat reminiscent of Caesarea forty years ago.
Our short visit was nearly over. There was no time to discover the church and the town square so we made our way back to the Treasury where we had decided we’d take a carriage ride back to the Visitors’ Centre rather than walking two kilometres uphill in the heat on the uneven surfaces. By the end of the journey at least one of my companions was wondering if that had been the right decision: it was a bumpy ride!
The picture on the right above gives a pretty good feeling of what that ride was like. Our Tanzanian drive across the Serengeti to find the honey badger had nothing on this!!!
And so we were back at the entrance. The workers were still finding shade.
Sitting in the shade avoiding the afternoon sun
And we had been ‘on tour’ for twelve hours, in the heat, and had still not eaten lunch. That came next before the drive south to Wadi Rum.