The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan - Petra & the Wadi Rum, Jordan

Greetings again and we hope this email finds everyone safe and sound. We want to first send our prayers to Turkey in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. Our friend in Istanbul, Attila, emailed us to let us know that he was fine from the first major quake, but one of the larger aftershocks brought the second story of his shop crashing down, destroying much of it and breaking his cousin's arm. So much work now has to be done to rebuild their shattered lives.

When we last left off, we were in Jerusalem. From Israel, we traveled to Jordan, a desert kingdom established in the 1920's after the land was given as a gift from the British to King Abdullah in return for Arab support. After his assassination, the young King Hussein came to power and has ruled for the last fifty years til his death last year from cancer. Some may also know of his wife, Queen Noor, the former Lisa Hallaby of New York. Now Jordan is ruled by his son King Abdullah II. What we saw greatly surprised us.

We didn't really now what to expect, but Jordan is a modern kingdom trying to move into the future. The country is mostly desert, and unfortunately has no oil, making it relatively poor nation. However, their cities have almost first world infrastructure and the people are incredibly hospitable and friendly. When we first arrived in Amman, as we were struggling across the intensely hot cityscape, a local Bottled Water Supplier saw us through his window and invited us in for ice cold water. Then he offered us valuable info about the city and was generally a really nice guy.

Our main destination in Jordan was Petra, the famous hidden city. Made famous by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - remember the scene near the end, as they travel to find the Holy Grail, and after riding through an incredibly narrow valley come upon a fantastic rock building that they then enter to find the grail. Well, that is one small part of Petra. Built in the 6th century BC by the Nabateans, their buildings were carved directly from the rock walls themselves. Hidden for almost two thousand years, its location was not known to anyone except the Beduoin, desert people who lived in the area. In 1870, a British explorer tricked them into showing him the famous lost city and now, it is truly one of the modern wonders of the world and much visited by travelers everywhere.  

To get to Petra, we first rode in the converted trunk of a beat-up station wagon. They had put seats into the trunk, but we were about 8 inches higher than everyone else, and had to sit hunched over for a five hour ride through the desert. Oh and the spare engine behind our head didn't help the comfort level. On the trip, we saw almost no other cars, and besides one reststop, no other buildings. Just rolling sand dunes and desert scapes and a hot breeze blowing through the window to stay somewhat cool. But once there, it was worth it. We stayed in a hotel, a ways away from the ruins. They have an interesting all-you-can-eat dinner , even if there are only a few guests in the hotel, as it was with us. Seems, this is de rigour for all the hotels in the area.

The entry to the valley is near the end of the town. From there, it is two mile hike through a narrow gorge to get to the hidden city. Donkeys tied to posts outside the ticket office beckon the lazy the unfit. Come and ride to the hidden city, but we chose our own to feet and set off. The gorge walls climb high on either side and the smooth stone reveal layers upon layers of history.




The Treasury Building as it suddenly appears

There it is, around a tight bend. The sunlight penetrating the gorge painted the stone a marvelous pink. The famous Treasury building stood tall and proud. But it is not the only one. Similar structures are dotted throughout the entire valley,  incredibly intricate carved facades with sculpture and decoration to rival the Romans. 


We started out at six in the morning to avoid the heat and try to see as much as possible. It is in the outlaying areas where some of the more spectacular buildings are. But ever present in the main square are donkeys ready to ferry people up to the remoter locations. Some locations are an hour's hike straight up stone staircases, but the sites are well worth the effort. But a note of caution, you have to dodge donkey doo all the way up...

Some of the hikes were pretty difficult, climbing old rock hewn stairs, some steps, the height of three normal stairs at home. One place, known as the High Place of Sacrifice, was an hour and a half climb to the top, but once there, we looked over the entire valley next to a huge alter with a drain carved in the rock for the blood to run down the mountain.  


During one of our more solitary hikes, we came upon a Beduoin man, who lived there. He spoke some English and we sat and talked for awhile. He took us to the top of a mountain peak and pointed out the whole valley. Afterwards, a very great honor, he made tea for us. 

The Pied Piper of Petra

As we sat drinking it, his friend joined us and played delightful Beduoin music on a tin pipe with some holes punched in it. Talking with him for awhile, his life is so facinating. He was born in the valley and has lived their all his life. He has four wives, part of the culture, and ten children (so far.) He asked Doug how many wives he had and if he would like some more. And as a parting gift, he gave us an ancient Nabatean coin that the Beduoin find all over the valley. It is almost 2500 years old. What a gift. All we gave him was a sketch that Ann made of him sitting in the valley. All said, it is not to be missed in the Middle East.

Our other destination was the Wadi Rum, a fantastic desert valley filled with unbelievable mountains. The Wadi Rum was made famous by T.E. Lawrence of the British Army, who so fell in love with the area and the Beduoin, he left 'civilization' to live in the desert and help them create their own country, which directly led to the establishment of Jordan. The Wadi Rum itself, was made famous as the actual setting and film location of Lawrence of Arabia. The Wadi Rum is an area of about 150 miles within a must larger desert, but the area is so famous for the rock formations found nowhere else in the world.  

To actually visit the Wadi Rum, we, along with two crazy Israelis hired a Beduoin man and his Toyota Land Cruiser. The vehicle, similar to a pick-up, with seats in the back, was like our guide, Ibrihim. Rough around the edges, but very dependable. Our group dynamics were hilarious. Ibrihim, our guide spoke Arabic and almost no English. Mustafa, our Arab Israeli friend spoke Arabic and Hebrew. Benny our other Israeli friend spoke Hebrew and English, and of course, us only English. So to actually ask Ibrihim a question it had to go through four people and back to get an answer. And it frustrated us to no end, when a simple question went through the ranks, through various incarnations, much hand waving, lots of words, and then finally the answer would reach us as a simple yes or a no!

Mustafa, Benny, Ibrihim, Doug and Ann

After morning tea, we set off with provisions (canned goods for lunch and a big container of water-can never have too much in the desert!) The Land Cruiser just flew over the sand, we thought for sure, some of the dunes, it would get stuck, but Ibrihim managed to get us over every time. We sat in the back on the seats, and just hung on for dear life. First he showed us rock carvings that date back to prehistoric man. Exposed to the elements and receiving almost no attention, the figures danced over the rocks much as the Beduoin people still do today.

We then visited the remains of Lawrence's house and his precious spring of fresh water. The formations are also home to a number of precarious rock bridges, formed over thousands of years of geological activity. We visited one such bridge, a thin slab of rock 30 feet in the air that spanned a large crevasse. We shimmied and climbed our way up to sit and dangle our feet over the edge. 


Flying over the desert, we saw nothing but sand and red rock for miles. Then it appeared like a mirage. That one green tree, the only bit of green we had seen all day. Ibrihim stopped nearby to take shade among the rocks, but we thought the tree looked so much more inviting. I walked quickly toward, when the buzzing began. It started softly and grew louder til it became a roar in my ear. I realized that the tree was harboring a vast colony of hornets attracted to its leafy cool wonders. I figured they got there first and I wasn't gonna barge in.

When we stopped for lunch, we realized we had no can opener for our hummos. No problem, Ibrihim, ever the resourceful Beduoin, pulled out his trusty dagger and sliced open the cans easy peasy. Then he took out a small teapot, built a fire and made tea for us all. Its a hundred degrees, and he has to have his tea. Well, to finish the day, we climbed another rock formation and watched the sunset, painting the desert in shades of orange and fiery red. Breathtakingly sublime.

So, for our short time in Jordan, we saw and did so much and were so impressed by small country that has done so much with so little.

Ten four good buddies

ann and doug

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