Once upon the middle eastern stars as the felucca floats along the river Nile, Olivia invited me to travel the Middle east with her and Kris. Originally, they plan on flying back from Cairo to Istanbul and make their way back to Cairo. After few nights of pursuading them to just go the route I am going, we all decided to head from Egypt to Iran overland, not the other way around. Fast forward 2-weeks, plans changed. Olivia took a job at the dive shop in Dahab, and Kris and I took off for Jordan.
We left Taba, Egypt in the morning of October 25th. We took a fast ferry from Taba to Aqaba, Jordan. The ride took approximately an hour through the Red Sea. At one point, we could see four countries – Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia – and our destination Jordan. It’s pretty cool I thought. Once we arrived in Taba, Greg directed us to the central square. We then said our farewell to each other since he was heading to the office where he need to pick up the overland car that he will be leading. Kris and I decided to have an early lunch in the center. For 3.50JD we had beef kebab and rice.. to top that, the restaurant gave us free bread and hammus, and other kinds of dipping sauces, as well as free turkish coffee for hospitality. Wow, where are we? For sure not Egypt. Welcome to Jordan!
Once we were energized, we headed to the bus station to go to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is made famous by the Arab Revolt and the film called Lawrence of Arabia. In the bus, I sat next to a group of truck drivers heading to Amman. They asked me if I know Sadam Hussein, and if I know if the US killed him. How do you react to that? Thankfully one of the other guys said something in arabic and he stopped. I had great fun seating next to them even though I didn’t understand half the things they were telling me. One of the driver asked where I will be staying in Wadi Rum, and how I will eat. I told him I will be staying in one of the Bedouin Villages and they will provide food for us. He offered to give me his camping stove he has in his truck. I thought that was kind of him to offer.
A few hours of driving later, my jaw was about to fall off my face. The scenery was just magnificent. The driver told us we have to change busses. Off we go. When we finally found the next bus that we will take and we noticed bags tied on the roof of the bus. We waited and waited for someone to do it for us. Apperently, it’s tie your own bags on the rack kind of bus. When we were passing the gate in Wadi Rum, we were told to duck or hide our faces or pay 2JD to enter the Wadi Rum Protected Area. Within seconds, we had our faces covered in curtains. In the bus, we met an elder lady from the states who writes for an alternative magazine. She has been living in Jordan for 10-years. Let me tell you, some of the stuff she was telling us was just weird. This is another thing about traveling that I love. You meet so many people with different views – some are twisted, some are sound – yet you just take their word for it.. you don’t question you it… just listen. Since we didn’t have any reservations where to stay in Wadi Rum, the lady told us to get off the village. There, the bus driver called his guy and gave me his mobile to strike a deal. On the phone, I haggled for 10minutes about the price for an overnight camping and trekking on a 4×4. We agreed and were picked up from his office. From the village to the dessert, we were dropped off to join a French couple in their 4×4. This couple is alot nicer than the couple who didn’t want to take me to the desert back in Morocco. The dessert is majestic. No wonder they made Lawrence of Arabia there. On the way to our campsite, we stopped and walked Umm Fruth Rock Bridge, Wadak Rock Bridge, and sand dunes. At the campsite, Kris and I set up our bed to sleep outside next to two Koreans and a guy from Ireland, and a guy from the UK name Paul. A few hours later, the sun started setting. What a sight… sand, mountains and the sun setting, as well as a full moon to light our night.. couldn’t be any more dramatic. Just before dinner, a group of Dutch tourist joined our camp. We all had our little full moon party in the desert of Jordan. A very low key one.
The following day, we woke up after the sun had already risen. What a shame, it would have been nice if we were able to see the sunrise. Had breakfast and was driven to the bus stop. Paul, Kris and I were all heading to Wadi Musa to visit one of the new Seven New Wonders of the World – Petra. An hour later, the bus arrived. The bus dropped us off at the center of town, and was advised to get on a truck that will take us directly to our hotel. Service in Jordan is phenomenal. Just before we had lunch, the three of us enjoyed a bottle of beer overlooking the spectacular rose-stone city of Petra. After our beer, we wanted to check out what Wadi Musa is all about. We then headed down the hill and walked around for a bit. We then found a swarma stand where we had lunch. After our stomachs were full, we run into the owner (Mohamed) of the bus we took from Wadi Rum to Wadi Musa. He called us to hang out which we did. For hospitality, he bought us drinks. As we were hanging out having a good time, hoards of military cars, and twenty black SUV’s passed us by. Mohamed told us that our first lady Laura Bush visited Petra that day. Hey, Laura probably saw me just hanging out in Jordan. Great way to make America proud. After an hour of hanging out, and Paul passing out sitting on the street, Mohamed’s brother came in his new pick up truck. We all got in and drove to Little Petra. Their family run a tour company which offers an overnight camping in Little Petra. We helped them load all the tourist’s lougages onto the back of the truck. After we got back into town, Mohamed invited us for some tea at his house, or shall I say his family compound. Their house is very nice.. tiled floor with really nice furnitures, and overlooking Petra. I was very impressed. Once we got back at the hotel, I picked up a book and hung out on the roof as the sun sets. For dinner, the hotel served a buffet which was a delight. They served chicken with rice, pasta, tahini, vegetables, soup..and more more more… it was a huge table full of food. It was heaven! There we met three canadians traveling together, and two americans who run a pubcrawl business in Prague. They were a riot.
The 545AM, Kris, Paul and I left our hotel to explore the old city of Petra. On the way, we picked up some bread and cheese for lunch. Kris and I purchased our tickets, and Paul trying to get in using his old ticket with a stab still attached. Right at the entrance Paul was being questioned regarding his ticket. He said some lies that he bought from another backpacker at the hotel. That didn’t quite work, he was ordered to buy a new ticket. Petra… what an beautiful city. The Nabateans did a fantastic job! We were introduced to Petra via an incredibly arrow 1.2km-long defile known as a Siq. At the end of the Siq, we were delighted by the marvelously carved Al-Khazneh (the Treasury). It was a joy being there so early. We were able to admire the Treasury without the other tourists. As we walked along, we passed by the theater, Great Temple, Temple of the Winged Lions and other ruins. We hiked one of the caves to see the whole vacinity from the top. What a sight. After, we decided to hike up to the highest point of the old city which led us to Al-Deir (the Monestary). We got to the monestary at 11AM… we have six hours to kill before the sunset. What to do.. hang out and talk smack. As we waited for the sunset, the three canadians and the two americans came into our cave. A little boy named Mohamed who was selling bracelets kept us entertained. Also, a guy started to climb the monestary.. I boo-ed him since he couldn’t get down using one of the pillars. Right before sunset, we walked towards the other side of the mountains where we could see Israel and the desert from a distance. Right after sunset, we walked back to our hotel. Twelve hours in Petra is worth every minute. What a place! After dinner, a bunch of other travelers hung out at the hotel’s common area to watch “Indiana Jones – The Last Crusade” which includes Petra (mainly the Treasury) in the most crucial moment of the film.
The day after, we woke up quite early again on my standards. We got on the 7AM bus heading to Amman, the biggest city in Jordan. There’s nothing worth mentioning about Amman, except for the US Embassy. I needed to get a Letter of Introduction from the US Embassy in order for me to apply for my Indian Visa. Let me tell you, the US Embassy in Amman is like a fortress. There were two tanks ready to shoot if provoked, guards that are just waiting for someone to make a mistake, and a gate that no enemy could enter. It was an intimidating sight. I wish I could take photos! But then again, I didn’t want to get killed. I got in with my Canadian friend with me. Waited and spoke to one of the personel. I was advised that they no longer issued a Letter of Introduction. But, I have to write it myself and have it notorized for $30 each. What a rip off! Oh well, what can I do, it cost what it cost, I desperately need one.
Our last day in Amman was very busy. We started early to go to the Dead Sea. We took a bus from Amman, and transferred on to another bus to the Dead Sea. We wanted to see and experience floating in the saltiest and lowest point on earth. It didn’t dissapoint. The blister on my foot and my skin full of mosquito bites were burning, I decided to only float for a short while. Hey, I can still say I floated on the Dead Sea. From the Jordan side, we can almost feel being in Israel.. it was so close but yet so far. Heading back to the city was a bit of a challenge. There were no busses or taxis passing the highway. So, we decided to hitch a ride. A truck driver stopped and offered us a lift. A very kind man. The truck moved like a toad. Every other cars on the highway were able to pass us. But, he kept supplying us with cigarettes, bought us sodas, and conversed to us in Arabic knowing the fact we do not understand the words that were coming out of his mouth. He dropped us off at the intersection heading to downtown. From there we hopped on to another bus. Thank goodness there was someone that speaks english to let us know when to get off. Sometimes, taking a bus in an unfamiliar place becomes a game of guessing when to get off. Good thing we are in Jordan and people are kind.
After we washed off the salt all over our bodies and clothes, we had lunch and took a taxi to another taxi stand to go to the King Hussein Bridge heading to Israel. After an hour of just waiting, we decided to pay for the empty seats on the taxi. Whatever, we just wanted to get there already. At the border, we were able to ask the Jordan border personel not to stamped our passport. We told them our deal that we’re just going to Jerusalem and will be back after a couple days. They told us however that we have to get a new visa for Jordan in Tel-Aviv. Why!?! He said the visa we got when we entered Aqaba was a single entry visa. He even knew from the visa that we have that we came with a tour group (that we are not part of). WTF, if we have known that, we could have exited Egypt from a different dock and forsure we would have gotten a multiple entry visas. But what can we do, at least there is Syria three hours away.
We left the border looking for a taxi that would either take us to the Syrian border or to another taxi stand heading to Syria. The taxi drivers kept on fighting for our money. We decided to hopped on a taxi that would take us to a taxi company that would take us all the way to Damascus. We paid the fees, and another waiting for other people heading towards our direction. Again, we were asked if we wanted to pay for the empty seats. What is the deal how only foreigners are asked to pay for the empty seats. That seems to be the theme in Jordan. Again, oh well, we just want to get there already. Off we go… after a few hours, we got to the border. Got our exit stamps for Jordan and entered the no-mans land between Jordan and Syria. At the Syrian border, the border personel asked where our visas were. We don’t have one. Kris, being Canadian was given a visa within a minute. Me, having a US passport was told that they have to wait for a fax granting my visa from Damascus. It would take one hour, two, four, or all night. Off we waited some more. Our taxi driver said he has to leave us at the border. But we paid for a ride all the way to Damascus! We struck a deal – if the fax from Damascus is not received after an hour, he can leave us… fair enough. An hour passed, and no fax, two hours, three hours passed, and still no fax. On the third hour, we struck a conversation with this clean freak American from Florida. She wouldn’t even touch our awful middle eastern travel book. When she was handing her papers to the border personel, she was using a plastic bag. What a freak. Plus she was really rude. Apperently she waited for six hours to get her visa. Then the fourth hour arrived, and the border personel called me. Yay! Damascuss approved my visa application. Traveling is a great way to master the art of patience. There is no need to be rude or pissed off just because you have been waiting for hours that seems like eternity. You just have to take it as it is… that is just how it works in this part of the world! What a day – a full on 17 hours of – a day floating on the Dead See, a failed attempt to cross to Israel, and a successfull one crossing to Syria.
Jordan.. oh how I heart Jordan. İt’s an amazing place where people are kind. Maybe we were coming from Egypt where people seems to just want our money. It’s nice to finally have a decent conversation with locals without having to think – does he just want money from me. And the sights, Wadi Rum, Petra, Dead Sea.. just glorious. Petra is a place where your inner childhood fantasy is alive… you can be your own Indiana Jones. Wadi Rum is a place where you can forget your name.. and how cool is it to float on the Dead Sea. Jordan is what I was looking for.. a needed change after Egypt.