Sunday, February 16, 2014

Final Day of Touring (Petra, Jordan), Trip Home

Wow!  It's the middle of February and it's been over a week since I posted anything about our Holy Land trip!  I wish I could blame it on laziness or busyness, but instead I get to blame it on illness.  For the last week I've been dealing with strep throat.  I was basically in bed last Friday and Saturday and have been trying to get back to "normal" (whatever that is) ever since.  There are several bits of good news I want to share with you before I wrap up with a description of our last day of touring and our travel home.  First, I'm almost finished re-editing all of the pictures from the trip!  That means I'm almost ready to begin work on the book about the trip that you'll be able to purchase.  It will include many of the pictures and descriptions from this blog as well as quite a bit of other stuff I've held back (yes, believe it or not, there are MORE pictures).  Also, I will be giving a presentation on this trip at Trinity Lutheran Church in Brooten, MN on Sunday, February 23 at 10:30 a.m.  We will have a shortened worship service, followed by the presentation, followed by a potluck lunch in the basement (free will donation).  Everyone is welcome and I'm excited to share this experience with folks in my congregation and anyone else who wants to come and hear about it.

With that out of the way, let's wrap this blog up with a good long post about our last day of touring, shall we?

 Our 9th and final day of touring found us waking up bright and early one last time at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem.  Our guide wanted us to get an early start so we would be one of the first tour buses in line at the border crossing when it opened.  We enjoyed another wonderful breakfast, made sure our luggage was on the bus, double checked that we all had our passports, and a few of us took the opportunity to exchange some Israeli shekels back into US dollars.  Before long it was time to board the bus and be on our way out of Jerusalem. One last view of the hotel:

And I took the opportunity  to get a picture with our great bus driver, Isa.  We were all amazed at how smoothly and expertly he navigated some very tight spaces, especially in Jerusalem.  I can't imagine any group having a better driver/guide combination than we had with Isa and Gila. 

After my experience with Israeli security crossing from Jordan to Israel, I expected the border crossing going the other way to be just as difficult and prepared for a long process.  It turned out the longest part was just waiting on the bus for the border to open.  As our guide predicted, we were the first tour bus in line, sitting with several other buses full of Palestinian travelers as well as commercial semi trucks.  The crossing itself was simple.  We left our bus, identified our luggage to the porters so we made sure we had all of our things, then walked into the security checkpoint.  Our passports were checked and stamped, then we were on our way out the other side of the building to find our Jordanian bus.  A kind of surreal moment for me was walking out of the checkpoint and looking to the left to see Isa and our Israeli bus sitting less than 100 yards away, then to the right and seeing our Jordanian bus and driver (Sam, the same one we had before) waiting for us.  I was free to go to one bus, but not back to the other, even though there was no fence or barricade or anything to stop me from trying.  It made me think a little about how silly our man-made borders are sometimes, but I guess they're necessary at some level, too.  At the very least, there are a lot of people in a lot of places who are employed in some capacity to maintain and defend all of these borders. 

After crossing the Jordan River one last time, we made our way into the checkpoint on the Jordanian side where we picked up our Jordanian guide, Fadi.  Our destination for the day was Petra, in southern Jordan, so we had a few hours' bus ride ahead of us.  First, we had to climb out of the Jordan valley.  What looked barren and desolate a week ago actually did kind of look like fertile farmland this time around, at least to my eyes, with groves of olive trees and other kinds of agriculture dotting the hillsides:

 We came into the outskirts of Amman and got on the main highway that would take us south into the desert toward Petra.  We had traveled this highway on our first night going from the airport to the hotel.  It was a different experience to see it in the daytime.  All of this was feeling a lot less foreign to me.  If not for the Arabic on the trucks, this could easily pass for a freeway in the American southwest:

Traveling south, the terrain got very desolate.   The skies cleared, but the wind was still blowing pretty strong.  We didn't encounter any major sandstorms, though.  This is basically what the view was like for a good long while:

 One of the main products of export for Jordan is potash, which is mined in the desert.  Here's a distant view of one of the potash mines, along with a narrow gauge rail line that comes up from the port of Aqaba on the Red Sea.  

We passed through several towns along the way.  Here were some children playing soccer in an open area next to the highway:

After a bathroom and refreshment stop, it wasn't long before we turned back east off of the desert highway and started down a two lane highway toward Petra.  The view didn't change much at first, though:

 Another town we passed through, showing some of the shops and some of the typical Middle Eastern parking prowess:

 The landscape became hillier and we began descending down through the rolling terrain.  After a while we came to the city of Petra:

Our first stop in Petra was for lunch at another buffet that featured some specifically Jordanian cuisine.  Some of it was very similar to what we had in Israel, but a few different spices and flavors.  Here we are leaving the restaurant to head for the ancient ruins of Petra that are the main attraction here:

Petra is most famous for the ancient Nabatean city that is literally carved out of cliffs.  It looks like it comes right out of the rocks.  It's been made famous through movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is on many lists of great places to visit including Smithsonian Magazine's "28 Places to See Before You Die".  Entering from the east side of the city, we walked down a gravel path, descending through ruins that are actually ancient tombs.  There were of course many vendors as well as people selling carriage rides down the path and back up again to save all the walking we did.  Here was one of the first carved formations we came across:

About halfway down the first path we walked, looking back up the hill:

Another example of the way they carved these things right out of the rocks:

After a half mile or so walk, you come to the entrance of the Siq (pronounced "seek") that leads down to the main portion of the city.  The Siq is a naturally crack in the earth, probably produced by an earthquake.  This is part of what made this site ideal for a well-protected city.  Here is the entrance to the Siq, showing the path we'll continue down as well as one of the carriages carrying some folks back up the hill.

I don't know exactly how to describe how amazing it was to walk through this natural wonder and see not only the beauty of the rocks themselves, but also the interesting man-made accomplishment of building a city here.   Here's a picture showing the rock walls, a tree growing along the wall, and you can sort of make out the water channel that was carved into the wall to bring fresh water down to the city.  This channel runs the entire length of the Siq.

Looking up at one of the narrower places we walked through as we descend lower toward the city:

A place showing one of the natural faults in the rocks we saw.  The rocks also began to change color to this beautiful red.  This is why Petra is sometimes called the Rose City. 

Another niche carving along the way:

The bench in the distance gives you a little sense of scale for how massive these rock walls are:

Our group walking along:

I could have spent the entire day just exploring the various features of the rocks with my camera.  It's amazing what wind and sand and water can do over time to create some truly beautiful formations like this:

We stopped along the way at several places where our guide Fadi explained different aspects of the city to us.  This shot also shows the water channels carved into the walls:

Another shot of our group, and again you can see the water channel.

There were also several dams built to hold back rainwater so that the Siq wouldn't be flooded.

Some more interesting engineering with steps that were carved right into the wall to reach a tomb above. 

After another mile or so, we came to what Fadi called our "Indiana Jones moment" where you walk through a narrow part of the Siq and catch your first glimpse of the most famous part of Petra, a carved facade called the Treasury:

It's incredible to step out of that narrow passage into an expansive area and see this immense carving in front of you.  This is a picture I took a bit later when Fadi came up to me and said, "Get a picture.  You almost never see it without people in front of it!"  The entire thing was carved out of the canyon wall, including the columns.  You can also see a small opening just above the door.  Fadi said this is where they started carving the inside room, first creating the ceiling, then chiseling away at the floor until they reached the bottom.  Pretty ingenious if you ask me!  This would have been another tomb, but it's called the Treasury because local legend held that many of the decorative figures and containers on the outside held treasure.  Unfortunately, this meant some of them have been destroyed, only to find of course that there was nothing inside. 

One of the reasons I'm sure you almost never see this without anyone in front of it is because everyone wants their picture in front of it, of course, but also because this is a place where there were people offering camel and donkey rides for a few dollars.  A few members of our group decided it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, and we all enjoyed watching them have their rides. 

The process of getting on and off the camels was really the most entertaining part:

After we had our time at the Treasury with Fadi, we had time to explore a little farther before making our way back up the Siq and to the bus.  Not far down the path from the Treasury were more impressive tombs:

An overall view of the area, showing you some of the vendor stalls that were also set up here. 

Another collection of tombs:

We just made it far enough to see some of the city itself, including this amphitheater:

The big tomb in the middle of this picture has been restored to show how most of these places would have originally looked before thousands of years of erosion took their toll:

I really wish we would have had more time to explore because we just barely scratched the surface of what there is to see at Petra.  I'm sure you could spend days and days exploring all of the ruins and seeing it all and I'm sure it all looks completely different at various times of the day.  Before long it was time to start on the mile and a half hike back up the hill.  Because I still had my Vibram running shoes on, I decided it was a rare opportunity to run through some ancient ruins, so I left my camera with some other members of the group and took off toward the top.  It was really fun to run back up through the Siq.  What I didn't expect was that there were a few Arabic guys I passed about halfway up who I think were a little macho and wouldn't stand for this American to just run past them.  A few of them started to run with me a little ways.  It was all in good fun, though, and it wasn't long before we were all smiling and laughing.  They were trying to get me to run faster and showing off a little.  I've been running long enough to know not to worry about how anyone else is running and just go the pace I set for myself.   So I let them run on ahead and tire themselves out.  It wasn't long before I caught up to them and ran right on by.  I easily beat them all to the top and exchanged a few high fives and handshakes in the end.  It was a good time, but the most thrilling thing about it was just getting the chance to run in a place like that.  I still like the gravel roads and parks around here, but the scenery doesn't quite compare to Petra.

At the top, a strange sight met us.  One member of our group is allergic to horses, so as we went farther down the Siq in a more confined space where horses were going by fairly frequently, he began to have a reaction and decided to head back up to the top.  They passed the time by purchasing a couple of Arab headdresses.  A few more of our group bought some more, so we suddenly had a few Norwegian sheiks on the bus.  Here are Dan and Sharon with their headdresses on:

After a good supper and a brief but comfortable stay at our hotel in Petra, we woke up before 4 AM so we could be on the road back to the airport in Amman.  It was the start of our long travel day that would bring me from Jordan back to Chicago, on to Minneapolis, and eventually, to my bed at home in Brooten.  Here is the Royal Jordanian airplane that would take us on our 14 hour flight from Amman to Chicago:

I'll spare you the details of that flight, but it included me watching 3 movies only to find that the flight was barely half over, as well as a member of our group (a registered nurse) coming to the aid of another passenger who had some kind of medical emergency as we flew over Canada.  We were all very thankful that the passenger was fine for the rest of the flight and we weren't forced to land somewhere other than Chicago. 

After marveling at what ancient civilizations were able to accomplish, it was really remarkable to travel nearly 7000 miles in only about 30 hours.  To think that our day began with this sunrise over the Jordanian desert and ended with driving through near whiteout conditions in central Minnesota! 

So that's about it for the trip.  I'm glad so many of you have enjoyed following along.  I'm extremely grateful for the people who made this possible for me and I'm thankful that they appreciated my presence on this journey.  Above all, I have to thank my wife Lindy who bravely stayed home with our three children, as well as my mother in-law Laurie and our favorite babysitter Michelle who pitched in to help, too.  I thought this would be a once in a lifetime kind of a trip, but now that I've been, I want to go back and take my family along next time.  The trip has forever changed the way I read the Bible as well as the way I think about the Middle East.  I hope you've learned a little something, too.  Thanks again for tagging along!


1 comment:

  1. Beautiful snap! Yes, you are absolutely right, petra and Jordan is best holy places of Israel. I had also visited these two places, its really fantastic places. and also Diving Cruise to the Coral Island was very enjoyable. Thanks for sharing enjoyable moment with us .