Wanting to see how the other half lives, we grabbed a cab from our hotel in Eilat and headed to the border. As is wont to be Yitzhak Rabin Crossing
Is about a minute and a half’s from the circular driveway of the Hilton. Our plan was to stay the night in the friendly confines of Jordan and head back following a visit to Petra and a 4 wheeled drive through Wadi Rum. Strange name for a place in a nation that eschews alcohol. Repeatedly warned by Nomi, our intrepid tour guide, that the weather in Jordan looked less than beachy, we opted to continue our trek. In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, driving down the King’s Highway, a verdant Israel to our immediate left, standing in contrapuntal indifference to the beiges of unirrigated Jordan, it took not much time to realize we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Closer to the point, we were in Kansas, circa dust bowl era. Temperatures dropped in reverse proportion to the elevations we were ascending to. Our group in the minibus consisted of two Columbians, a Uruguayan, a pair of Brazilians and an American. The North Americans were badly outnumbered, but by now I was used to being in the minority. Snow in Jordan; not what we expected.
Given Lori’s and my historical bent toward record cold and rains in countries diverse as Vietnam, Chile, Peru, etc., we are considering next year’s trip. It is our intent to hire ourselves out to drought stricken areas, parched and in need of precipitation.
The vistas were spectacular; at least the two feet in front of us not shrouded in mist and blowing snow.
There apparently is no adequate translation for “Is this vehicle equipped with snow tires?” in Arabic. Our guide was Adnan, the Bedouin.
Lori seemed to take a liking to those swarthy, sun-of the-desert-types. I thought I filled the bill but apparently was missing the requisite headware. A keffiyeh goes a long way toward her heart. I had to endure about two hours of goo goo eyes between them. Not that I’m the jealous sort. If you want to know the extent of my love for my honey, I turned down an offer from him of three camels and a small flock of goats. I tried to up the deal to five camels and a guaranteed lifetime ceasefire between Jordan and Israel, but to no avail.
Because of endless bureaucracy, crossing customs out of Israel and into Jordan required about an hour; giving the descending cumulo-nimbus clouds sufficient time to marshall their forces. Numerous tour groups arrived at the border, intent on visiting the fabled city. Apparently, our microbus was the last to leave the border and actually arrive in Petra. All who followed were turned back. Our group was split in half. Some were due to head back following their visit to the lost city, the rest of us had booked an overnight.
The weather kept deteriorating but Adnan the Arab pressed on, repeatedly ignoring the recommendation from HQ to turn back. We slipped and slid our way into Petra and began the tour, aware of potential flooding that could cascade down the paths with almost no warning.
We were a hearty group intent on visiting one of the world’s seven modern wonders. Modern if you consider 800 year old construction as modern.
Walking down the trail through narrow crevasses,
learning about the relative values of the encircling tombs
was an interesting opening gambit. Many of the locals offered up horseback services to those not interested in walking the mile or so toward the main displays.
The more ingeniuos hawkers were offering tombs, given the impending storms and floods.
Adnan received phone calls about once a minute suggesting he abandon the tour in the interest of safety. As stated, we were a hearty bunch, urging him onward. My sense was that there was nobody I’d rather have making the call when it comes to this part of the world than a Bedouin; even if his ultimate goal was to have me wash away in a flood as he plucks Lori from the onrushing tsunami. Worst case – a great photo op.
As the temperature dropped the wind increased. Adding to the meteorological cacaphony, ice pellets joined the symphony. Sun glasses, hoods and bandanas were called into play to diminish the stinging effect of the weather.
As we edged through the final crevice, the structure known as the Treasury (or the Temple of Doom, for you Indiana Jones fans) laid itself in front of us in all its medieval splendor.
Prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, this entire vacated city had been lost for four hundred years. There the sandstone carving stood before us. Thirty meters high, bas relief figures and Grecian columns cut from solid rock, tombs of the royals, a breathtaking event on par with the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower and Wilensky’s stood before us. A magic moment. Fortunately we were able to witness the main event, have a cup of hot coffee and haggle with the local souvenir hawkers. Moments later, word came down from above that tourists had to get the hell out of the area because of potential flash flooding. My surfboard was left at our hotel in Eilat so there was no real reason to tempt fate. We sat around in a tent as the group gathered. Lori had the opportunity to hang out with a couple of Adnan’s lansmen,
discussing and comparing brands of mascara they each used. I was hitting on the blond Uruguayan and Lori was so enwrapt with her new Arabian stallions that she didn’t even notice. Took all the fun out of it.
Touring was done for the day. We headed down the road to the Movenpick Hotel (high end in this part of the world)
and were treated to delightful Arab hospitality. Truly. If not for the Jewish/Israel thing, it’s not a bad place to hang out. The locals are gracious, warm and friendly. For example, our waiter, Hassan, was charming and delightful and a pleasure to spend time with. Lori and I both thought so, especially Lori. Seems that there is some type of affinity between my betrothed and the Children of Ishmael. Food was great, service better and watching the horror of the Supermarket Casher unfold on TV from one of the Arab nations certainly gave one pause.
Wadi Rum, the former playground of Lawrence of Arabia (another great friend of the Jews), was to be our destination for day two. Those who intended to return to Eilat at the end of day one had another thing coming. Snow, ice and rain combined to make the roads both impassible and impossible.
Nobody was getting into or out of Petra tonight. As the day broke, it was evident that Wadi Rum would not be on our tour. Ali, our new Bedouin,
had alternative plans. Further south and at a lower altitude stood Wadi Araba. Ali assured us that the bad weather had been a blessing since Araba had more beauty and splendor to its terrain than Rum. While somewhat sceptical, given no alternative, the five travellers including the two of us bought into the deal.
Descending hairpin, snow encrusted
roads was not in the tour description but Ali, in constant conversation with Allah, managed to deliver us, his flock, to lower altitude and through the desert, turning at an army base positioned in front of the wadi.
Ten minutes drive and we were in Wonderland. The sand dunes,
the eroded rocks,
were mythic in size, grandeur
and stillness. There was not another tourist, not even a Jeep track to be seen.
We climbed, we gawked, amazed at what wind, helped by abrasive sand