Today is a HUGE tour day. By that, I mean a huge number of people signed up for the tour and a very long day given that the archeological site is over 2 hours from the port, and we will be off the ship for 12 hours or so. This and Luxor have been the most popular tours I have organized. The ship is offering similar tours for close to $300 per person and they are only going to Petra OR Wadi Rum; we are going to both for only $140 per person (lunch included). I can certainly understand why people would choose my tour! Quite a few people that have not been part of Cruise Critic have found out about my tours and have canceled their tours with NCL to join mine. I really hope all goes smoothly given how many people will be affected if it doesn’t.
We have free wi-fi on the bus and it actually is pretty fast! I have brought my laptop along in the hope that I can get the pictures uploaded onto my website so I can post my last few port reports. It looks like I will finally be able to get caught up! Our tour guide has a fairly unpronounceable name so tells us to call him Eddie. Eddie, it is! He is an amiable guy; we are glad we ended up on his bus (there are 3 or 4 buses for this tour). I did not write as much information today for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that I am using the wi-fi on the bus to work on my blog; the another reason is that I am tired of writing after the massive amounts I wrote while on the Haifa tours. I just want to listen and enjoy the day rather than trying to capture everything the tour guide tells us. Our guide told us that we would only go to Petra today and would skip Wadi Rum because there wouldn’t be enough time. People were not happy and we ended up being told that we could go to Wadi Rum after all.
We have a long drive into Petra; the roads are very, very winding. The scenery here is very dry; lots of limestone hills can be seen along the road. Eddie pointed out that in the valley to the left where the port of Aqaba is located (where our ship is docked), there is a large green area visible. This used to be a no man’s land until 1967. Most of the landmines were removed, but 20,000 could not be found. The theory is that they washed out to sea. Would you want to build here? Neither did they, which is why it is still green; everything around it is built up.
During the time of the Ottoman Empire, prisoners were exiled here. Then came the British Mandate from 1921 to 1946. At that time the Hashemite (the royal family name) Kingdom of Jordan was established. King Abdullah II of Jordan is the current ruler. He is only 55 years old and is the son of King Hussein. He has 4 children; the oldest, his heir, is Hussein and he will take over as ruler when his father dies. Jordan is located in a valley between the African plateau and the Arabian plateau. The port of Aqaba tends to be 8⁰C warmer than elsewhere in Jordan and so is a popular weekend destination for the locals. Also, Aqaba is a duty-free zone, so is quite popular for shopping. There is a checkpoint that we must pass through which is mainly for locals to check to see what goods they are bringing out of Aqaba; we are waved right through.
There are hills that are streaked with green on either side of the road. The green is copper which used to be mined by Christian prisoners. They died from breathing copper fumes. Of course, there were always more prisoners to take their place. There is a narrow-gauge railroad that parallels the road as well. This is still used to transport minerals but is also used to transport Muslims pilgrims that are going on their Hajj. It used to be a 7-month round trip before the train: 3 months on camel to arrive; 1 month for the Hajj; 3 months back on camel. Bedouins would rob people on their way home from their pilgrimage. The pilgrims would purchase gifts for their families; the Bedouins would then take the gifts. To help with the problem, the leader of the country was paid graft money to keep the Bedouins away. During the Arab revolt, the leader was promised all of the money in Aqaba if he would be willing to part with his graft money. The revolt was successful, but since gold was the currency that Bedouins preferred, the paper money that he received was essentially worthless. Bummer, dude!
The local sheep that we saw (and smelled) grazing in the fields are actually imported from New Zealand. Jordan used to produce their own oil but it is cheaper for them to import it from Saudi Arabia (who gives them a $5/gallon discount), so they buy it from their neighbors. Even so, gas is more expensive in Jordan than it is in the US (about $3.60/gallon). Jordan also exports their white sand, which is then used to create glass, silicon, fiberglass, etc. It is a hub for storing wheat which is grown in other countries, stored in Jordan, and then exported through the port of Aqaba. On a side note, did you know that couscous were broken noodles? Camel caravans would crush the noodles to make them easier to eat (since they used their hands to eat). Who knew?
We were given a brief toilet break at a souvenir shop. Some of the toilets are what one of the passengers called a “squatty potty”; basically, a hole in the ground. I found a regular toilet but as is true of most of the places we have used, there was no toilet paper. The water pressure in the toilets is pretty poor so they do not want you to flush toilet paper; there is a wastebasket next to the toilet to deposit paper. There is also an attached hose to “rinse off”. I bring a packet of kleenex along just in case; it has proven to be very useful! The shop upstairs carried a huge variety of trinkets. Something you see in the shops in the Middle East that you would never see in the US is the shopkeepers smoking while waiting on customers. We didn’t buy anything here; the prices seemed very high and they didn’t want to bargain with us.
Continuing on, we reached the modern city of Petra, which is located in the Wadi Musa area(Wadi means Valley; Musa means Moses). Petra is a Greek name meaning, “The Rock”. Virtually everyone in the modern city works in the tourism industry, supporting the ancient city of Petra which was built by the Nabateans (nab – uh – tea – uns). Petra is the same age as the Roman Empire. It was created in 176 BC; the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 636 AD so people moved away. It is a UNESCO Heritage Site now. We enjoyed seeing the variety of dress by the locals. Some dressed in very traditional clothes. Almost all of the women wore headscarves, but some wore long dresses; some wore western-style clothes. Many of the men wore jeans and t-shirts, but some wore the long robes and a headscarf.
The bus was parked in a large lot; we were earlier than most of the other tour buses which was a great thing. Eddie explained that we would need to take all of our belongings with us off the bus; we could not leave them because he could not guarantee that they would not be stolen. This was really odd; it is the first time in all of our touring that we have been told that we could not safely leave our things on the bus. Eddie claimed that it was not the local Jordanians that would steal from us; it was other tourists. Doubtful. Unfortunately, I had my laptop along so Clayton got stuck carrying it all day (I had my purse and DSLR camera to haul). Oh, well. Eddie also told us that there were several options for getting to the main site. Included in the price of admission (around $70 US) is a horseback ride to the entry. Of course, a tip would be expected. They would ask for $20 each way, but we should only give them $5. Or, you could hire a horse-drawn carriage (very bumpy) ride for $40; a reasonable tip would be $20. Or, you could walk down and back for free. Obviously, we chose to walk. We figured if it was too grueling that we could always get a horseback ride up the hill back to the entrance. It was very hot (shocking, right? Who would think it would be hot in the middle of the desert?) which made the walk more difficult.
As we entered the site we were hounded by the men hoping to entice us with horseback rides or carriage rides. We firmly told them no and kept walking. If we had opted for either, we would have missed the explanations of what we were seeing, so it did not seem to be a great option. The first part of the walk was all in full sun so we were glad we had used sunscreen and were wearing sunhats to protect us.
Many people bought scarves before entering the site. There was a shop right before the area where the horses were kept that sold the scarves and wound them around your head in the Arab style. It seemed to be a pretty popular option since we passed many people wearing them. I wondered if any of them would ever figure out how to wrap them in the same style on their own (or, if they would ever want to!).
The entire site of Petra is essentially a huge necropolis. The pictures below are of caves where bodies were buried standing up. Locals thought that they were houses of genies, but not the genie-in-a-bottle that we think of. Genies were apparently a parallel race to humans. People lived in these caves until 1986 when they were asked to move out. A village was built for them to live in when they were ousted from their homes.
We were now entering the area known as The Siq which is a huge gorge. The best part of this walk is that is all in the shade! The rock walls protect you from the sun beating down. The 40,000 people that used to live here 2000 years ago collected every drop of rain that fell and used it. Fish skeletons have been found here so there was water. There tend to be floods in April; flash flooding can occur that is 3 meters (9 feet) deep. During the excavation of the site, the archaeologists had to dig through 7 meters of mud. The walkway that we were on was kind of like cement, but made up of sand, ashes, and water.
As we were stopped we were passed by a group of Jordanian youth that were chanting, “Long Live the King” (in Jordanian, of course!). All along the path, we were hounded by children selling postcards for $1 per pack. I figured that was a good deal so purchased one from a particularly young boy (he looked to be around 7 or 8; most of the others were teens). He then asked me, “tip”? Um, no. Another man then started pestering me to buy a bracelet from him. All you hear from these hawkers is “One dollar, one dollar, one dollar!”. I figured I could part with a dollar for a silver bracelet, so stopped to chat with him. You will be terribly surprised to know that the cost was not $1; it was $1/gram, so $7. I told him I was not willing to pay that price and kept walking. He followed along next to me and offered me 2 bracelets for $10. I told him not interested, but he was nothing if not persistent. He would give me 4 for $20. I told him no way! 5 for 20? 7 for 20? Who needs 7 bracelets? I will spare you the details of further negotiations but we finally settled on 4 bracelets for $20. I highly doubt that they are sterling silver. I asked him and he told me that they were Bedouin silver. I probably paid too much but did enjoy dickering with the guy.
Next up was an elephant shaped rock (naturally formed by the flooding that shaped the Siq area). Across from that is the remnants of a carving in the sandstone that is a camel caravan. You can see the sandals on the man and the hooves of the camels. Above the hooves is the shape of a camel. As we walked along we were constantly told to get out of the way by the horse carriages. If you didn’t move you would have been run over; they had no intention of slowing down! I kept expecting to see people on horseback as well but assumed that it was not as popular an option.
We had by now reached the Treasury, the most famous façade in Petra. In the façade, you can see a pot. Bedouins thought there was gold in the pot and that if they shot at it they would get the gold. No gold, but plenty of bullet holes. The Treasury is the tomb of a Nabatean King. He was a lover of Hellenists (Greeks) so the façade is in the Greek style. One of the columns has been restored; the rest are original. The king and his two wives are buried here (one wife on each side of the king).
We were given some time to explore the area. We took a few pics of the Treasury and then found a table to sit and people-watch. There were plenty of camels around for people to pay for camel rides. Clayton went up to one of the camels; the camel got angry and started hissing and making nasty noises at him. The guide told Clayton to move away; the camels get a bit testy when there are lots of people and noise around them. You do not want to anger a camel. They are nasty creatures when roused. There were some very small cats milling around. They were not very friendly until someone offered them some food. Then they crowded around! We were offered a “mule taxi” to the next set of sites, but declined.
Around the corner from the Treasury was a set of 3 tombs. There was a police vehicle parked there; one of the officers was praying to Mecca on his prayer mat. A pottery pipe was visible on the wall opposite the tombs. Next up was the public cemetery. The tombs were re-used; they were not “private”. The custom was to bury people immediately after death, even at night. This has been proven by finding oil lamps in the tombs. This custom continues in the Wadi Musa area today. The tombstones are put over the doors of the tombs. We were now given some free time to wander around the rest of the site and take pictures.
We were ready to head back and so looked around for the horses. No horses! I guess that explains why we didn’t pass any on the way down (the walk to the site is all downhill; it is about 5-miles roundtrip). There were a few camels for hire but they would only take you back to the treasury, which was at most a 5-minute walk. Same with the donkeys. We wanted to buy some pomegranate juice but our cheap natures caused us to pass on that; they wanted $5 for a small cup. We had no intention of paying $10 for 2 cups of juice! Back up the hill we went, sweating all the way. We passed the NCL tour people who were just arriving. Some of the people looked like they were a few steps away from a heart attack – pale and sweaty – and they were on the way DOWN hill! I don’t know how they ever made it round-trip. The walk back from the Siq wasn’t too horrible since it was shady most of the way. We finally found the horses at the entrance to the Siq but by then, figured we could make it the rest of the way on our own. We passed through the gauntlet of those offering horseback rides and continued through the last mile, which was steeper and in full sun. Finally, we reached the entrance to the site where we were able to buy some $1 cokes and free toilets (with TP!). I ended up buying a top for $10. The shopkeeper offered it to me for $15 but I was too tired to do much haggling, so paid for than I probably should have. Still, $10 is a pretty good price for a top so I don’t feel too bad about it.
We were supposed to be back to the bus by 1 pm; the last stragglers showed up at 1:15. On to a fun spot – Wadi Rum! Eddie filled us in on some more information along the way. Jordan exports potash, phosphate and vegetables. They use the narrow-gauge railroad to transport them. There is pure water in Wadi Rum but it is non-renewable and they will run out in the next 100 years. Bedouins still roam the area which is made up of sand dunes and small colorful hills. If you every come to Jordan you can rent a tent in the area for anywhere from $30/night to $700/night. Does the $700 one come with a harem or something? Wadi Rum is located about 25-30 km (15-18 miles) from the Saudi Arabian border.
The sand in the area is red; the red color comes from iron. If you have seen the movie, “Lawrence of Arabia,” you have seen the Wadi Rum area. It was also used to film: The Martian, The Red Planet and Mission to Mars. You get the idea; it looks much like Mars! There are 34 springs of water here which is why many Bedouin caravans would stop here. If you see white ground, it is hard ground because it is the bottom of a dried up lake. The white ground is so hard that it can be used as a landing strip.
We loaded up in the back of ramshackle Toyota 4×4 trucks that had bench seats in the truck bed (3 to a side) and drove into the desert. The scenery was amazing and it really was the perfect end to our day. The temperature was starting the cool down, the breeze was blowing gently through our hair, and the scenery was spectacular. We stopped so that people could climb in the dunes and take pictures of the rock formations.
At our next stop, we saw this lovely place to rest. You’ve heard of Motel 6? Clayton decided this was a Jordanian Motel 1! The rock formation pictured is called, shockingly enough, the mushroom. By now the sun was starting to set and so we took our last beautiful photos and loaded back into the pickups. Back to port to rest up for another long day of touring tomorrow. My laptop battery died before I finished my blog posts, so will have to post another day.
Our tour today was through Jordan Horizon Tours; I think they did an excellent job.