Monday, April 5, 2010


When Matt sat down to plan our trip to Israel, he created a very reasonable itinerary that would have minimized time out of work and maximized time with the pre-planned tours to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. When he unveiled these plans, rather than gushing with thanks for all his tireless work (which, in hindsight is what I probably should have done), the first thing I said was, "Any chance we can go to Petra? I'd really like to see Petra."

Petra is in Jordan. Jordan is a Muslim country. Many Muslim countries will refuse to allow you entrance simply if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. I had just really complicated things.

But, being the incredibly patient and loving man that he is, Matt made it happen (with the help of his friend Gilon, who lives in Israel)

The crusade begins
Having encountered the hordes of Russian tourists destined for Petra the previous day, we were eager to get an early start and try to beat the crowds. Even I was more than happy for a 7:00am start to the day if it meant we were well into site-seeing by the time the tour buses rolled up.

Now why was I so eager to see Petra? The answer is simple - Indiana Jones and the last Crusade. Petra is, in the film, the final resting place of the Holy Grail. I remember seeing the movie for the first time and the scene where Indy, Brody, Indy's dad, and Sallah first see the building where the Grail is kept. It seemed simply unreal, like something that could only exist on a movie set. When I found out that it was a real place, I promised myself I would one day see it.

So off we went to Petra. Even though the only entrance to the city (or at least the main entrance) is through a siq, there is a very long and relatively open trail to the siq (about 0.5km). Early in the morning it was a pleasant stroll but the magic really began when we came to the entrance of the siq. Like Wadi Rum, the rocks were captivating. The siq was actually created by a natural split in the sandstone and their colors and shapes are amazing. Petra is known as a rose-colored city for the color the buildings take on in the color of the setting sun, but in broad daylight they have stripes and swirls of red, yellow, and blue. As if the colors and shapes of the rock weren't enough, the Nabateans (who created Petra between 1550-1292BC) dug troughs into the rock and the laid down ceramic pipe to carry water from the natural lake in the plains into the city.

Our Destination Reached
After another 0.5km of walking through the siq, we finally caught our first glance of the Treasury or, as I refer to it, Where the Holy Grail Was. It was even more awesome and awe-inspiring in person than it is in the movie. I will simply have to let the photos speak for themselves:

And now for extra credit
Our Israeli guide is quite the enthusiastic hiker and everyone in our group was in fairly good shape, so, when after walking halfway through the city (which is much MUCH bigger than I expected with so many different types and styles of buildings), he asked if we want to hike the 800 stairs up to the High Altar where sacrifices occurred, everyone was quite eager. Now, I love a good climb as much as the next person and I've never been one to turn down a climb (see: Machu Picchu and climbing to the highest point in basically any city I visits) BUT I am a slow climber in the best of situations and I haven't seen the inside of a gym since August 20.

But up I went.

I have to admit, the climb was not horrible (though I'm pretty sure I slowed everyone done to about half their preferred pace) and the views from the High Altar were well worth the effort.

As a special treat, at the top of the mountain, Amit performed "The Ancient Israeli Coffee Ceremony" which basically involves making coffee with a butane stove. I am not really a coffee drinker, in fact I had my first cup of coffee ever the night before we left for Israel because at 10 pm I still hadn't started packing and was dead tired, so Matt made me a cappuccino (which was quite good). But back to the mountain. The coffee was served in a super small cup which made me a bit nervous that it would be too strong, but it was actually incredibly good and flavorful and created an amazing memory.

My make-up is a security threat
We continued our hike down the mountain, back through Petra, up the now insufferable hot path through the plains, and to the hotel to meet up with our bus and Jordanian guide (he abandoned us in Petra because he was unhappy that our Israeli guide was speaking to us. Wish I could just stop working and still get paid whenever I get a little annoyed...). We had lunch at yet another buffet (Every. Single. Restaurant we ate at in Eilat and Jordan was a buffet. With no labels on the food. It is very disorienting to think you're biting into curry chicken only to find out it's fish). and then drive back to the border.

We walked through no man's land (again) and were extremely happy to be back on Israeli soil until the border guards decided to train the newbie on my luggage. They emptied my backpack. Opened every container. Emptied every container. Filled 4 baskets with the contents of my backpack/containers and sent them all through the x-ray. Then they rearranged the baskets and sent everything through again. Then again. All the while stopping as each basked went through x-ray to point at something, ask the newbie what she saw, why it was different, etc. And, of course, they're doing this all in Hebrew. Finally, Gilon (who could understand them and was giving us the play-by-play) said enough was enough and they gave me back my stuff. But not my passport. Seems we had to play 20 questions again just to get my passport back. I think I was the victim of profiling - specifically "harmless American woman" profiling.

We also got some extra questions at airport security because we're married but don't have the same last name. I decided to spare everyone the lecture on women's lib and the power of naming in literature/history/religion and just let Matt do the talking. Seemed smarter that way.

And, being the patient, loving and smart man he is, he did a fine job of answering their question. Just like he did a fine job of making my dream of going to Petra come true.