We enter back into Israel between Aqaba and Eilat, right on this corner of the Red Sea that brings together Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Our car is not allowed to cross and thus we do it by foot. After several passport checks, a couple more security scans, and a lot of questioning, we are allowed to reenter Israel and make our way to Eilat beach front resort.
Along with being a busy port, Eilat happens to be a very popular resort town on the Gulf of Aqaba. With its attractions, giant IMAX pyramid, and enormous hotels, the only thing the city lacks to make it Israel’s Vegas is gambling. The view from our hotel room is incredible as we look over several countries just by looking across the Gulf.
While in Eilat, my Dad and I have a fun dinner at Eddie’s Hideaway, and then continue on to check out some of the night life at Paddy’s and later at the Three Monkeys. Eilat is a city that attracts lots of tourists, but mainly Israeli tourists; thus, although there was a tourist vibe as we walked around the city, the tourist vibe did not detract at all from the Israeli vibe. The following day, we visit the Aquarium, one of the better-known attractions, before having one last snack and heading to the airport to take us to Tel Aviv and eventually back to Los Angeles.
On Christmas day, we visit Wadi Rum, the Wadi made famous by the T. E. Lawrence of Arabia. In a country only 5% Christian, Christmas is not exactly a major holiday but it is nonetheless declared a national holiday. In addition, the hotel buffet for Christmas Eve was definitely a step up from the night before, and our Guide Audi wishes us a Merry Christmas all the while knowing that we are very Jewish.
While touring Wadi Rum on the back of a Toyota pickup, my dad and I try on our Jordanian scarves and explore this very picturesque dessert. We climb sand dunes, share tea with Bedouins, and feast on a traditional lunch before continuing onto Aqaba for a quick tour.
After seeing Petra yesterday, Little Petra, also known as Al Beidha, seems whelming (as my sister says, “if it is neither overwhelming nor underwhelming, it’s just whelming”). Had we seen it first, Little Petra would seem much more dramatic, but after seeing the masterpiece that is Petra, it is hard for much to compare to that. That all said, Little Petra was an important suburb of Petra and a stop for camel caravans passing through. Similar to Petra, Little Petra is also full of sandstone buildings.
As we stand in one of the second story homes carved directly into the sandstone, I imagine a bustling civilization below. I pretend there are people filling up buckets of water from the complicated water collection systems. I see people coming and going with their camels and their tradable goods. I imagine that the camels are overly decorated as a way for the traders to display their importance and wealth. I know that it’s probably inaccurate, but I picture the TV series “Rome” with its costumes, colors, and dialogue and I superimpose that on this ancient ghost town.
What exactly life would have been like if I had been living a couple millennia ago and arrived at Petra, I will never know. Archeology is all about trying to come up with our best guess of what happened, but I feel that using my imagination is more fun.
There is something about Petra that seems simultaneously both ancient and more advanced than today. This Nabataean settlement’s stunning rock-cut architecture is unimaginable and would be hard to create with today’s technology let alone over two thousand years ago. As we pass through the narrow Siq, we eventually arrive at the famous Treasury façade leading to soaring temples and elaborate royal tombs, a theater, and more burial chambers. After a quick lunch, we go to the Monastery, which is located atop 850 steps built into the sandstone.
Although the tourist economy has turned Petra into something more Disneyland-like with its camel and horseback rides, carriage trips, souvenir stands, and snack shops, the magic of this historic place remains untouched. This day is full of highlights, and these pictures only begin to tell the story.
It is always nice to travel when there are fewer tourists and shorter lines; however, the circumstances that lead to this trip’s smaller crowds are not happy ones for Israel and the Middle East. In the second half of last month, well over 1000 Palestinian rockets were fired at Israel. Specifically, both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were targeted for the first time since the first Gulf War. In addition, there was a bus bombing near the end of November in Tel Aviv injuring 28 Israeli civilians.
In Jordan, many tourists were probably dissuaded because of the recent clashes over the rise in fuel prices. Also just last month, people in Amman were calling out for an end to the regime. Confrontations between protestors and police had led to at least two deaths.
Because of this turmoil, this trip was a game time decision, but because things seemed to have settled down enough in the last month, my Dad and I decided that we would continue forward with our travel plans, and so far, we couldn’t have been happier that we did. Also, both countries have felt incredibly safe even though we’ve seen our fair share of semi-automatic weapons strapped to the back of soldiers walking the streets.
Hopefully one day, peace in the Middle East will be a reality. These are beautiful countries filled with lots of stories and so much to see and learn.
After we meet our new guide, Audi, we immediately head towards Jerash stopping along the way for a feast of a lunch. There are spreads and dips and different meats and pita and more of every dish than we could possibly consume. I feel like I could survive purely on their twice-baked pita and fresh hummus.
After lunch we are just minutes away from Jerash, one of the best-preserved Greco-Roman cities in the world. The size of this Roman city combined with the amount that has already been excavated rivals sites that I saw in Rome. We walk through the Temple of Artemis and Zeus, the Roman Forum, Hadrian’s Arch, a very well-preserved theatre and the mile-long Street of Columns (also known as the Cardo). I feel that if I go through all the pictures that my dad and I took, there wouldn’t be an ancient column missing.
After a complete tour of Jerash and a tour that felt like it was a private tour because of the lack of other tourists, we continue on to Amman to spend the night. We venture out of the hotel for a walk, which we don’t realize is completely downhill until we turn around, and because of the pollution of the city, some jetlag, and our heavy lunch earlier, upon our return to the hotel, we skip dinner and head to bed rather early.
It takes three cars, six gates, a couple bag searches, a pair of new visas, and a little patience, but we eventually make it through the Allenby Bridge – King Hussein Border crossing and enter into Jordan. This border, which connects the West Bank and Jordan is the only designated entry and exit point for Palestinians. Also, Israeli citizens are not allowed to use this terminal, but tourists in possession of an advance visa can enter. My dad and I fall into this last category, and because we all may have some obsessive compulsive tendencies, I have a copy of both of our visas, my dad has a copy of both of our visas, and the driver that picked us up in the morning even has a third copy of both of our visas. I think we were pretty well covered.