Jordan: Talk with a Local

For more information check out part 1, Jordan: The Lost City of Petra

and part 2, Jordan: Getting There

 

Talk with an Expert.

Hamz Majid got his official guiding license in 1995 and gave guided tours as a full-time job in 1999. He was the private guide who led my tour into Petra. It was $500 for the three of us.

He said Americans need to know some general information about the country before visiting. It helps to know. “Jordan customs of Jordanian people, especially marriage and Bedouins…and some about religion and Islam.” He suggests researching this information before booking your trip to Jordan. He said recommends a guide and making sure, “the guide knows both languages and can explain about what is coming next with every single step. And can answer any question may (sic) appear on the way.” It is very important that the guide understand the process of entering Jordan from Israel. “It depends on which border you are arriving—we have three borders with Israel, north, middle and south.” Each one has a different process according to Majid. He said it is easy for Americans to cross the borders with no obstacles, especially when there is someone waiting for them at the Jordanian side.”  He went on to say, “Jordan is a modern country and visitors can wear whatever they want, except at some religious places and the crowded places like Amman downtown.”

It is important to note, laws in Jordan are “changeable.” So, it is best to be with a guide who is up-to-date. Majid wanted to impress that Petra is not the only tourist destination in Jordan. He also suggests Wadi Rum (noting its amazing desert), Aqaba (very special, especially for diving), Jerash (the best preserved ancient city in the middle east), Umm Rassas ( a world heritage site) and Salt (“simple, quiet, special, beautiful old house and my hometown”)

I asked Majid to elaborate on why Petra is such a popular tourist destination. He could only respond with, “It is very special. It cannot even be described with words or pictures until you see it.”

Jordan: Getting to Petra from Israel

For more information check out Part 1, Jordan: The Lost City of Petra

Getting There:

Anything worth having is worth working for, such is Petra. My trip to Israel and Jordan was a whirlwind. My friend, Stanford, told me that he had a business trip to Israel and wanted to take his 15-year-old daughter Bee. He asked me to join so his daughter would have someone to take her out while he was doing—whatever it is he does for work. I happily said, “yes.” Bee suggested we take a day trip and tour the lost city of Petra. I can spare you the intricacies of why this involved more research than most other day trips and get to the point. We flew into Tel-Aviv. We spent a few days in Tel-Aviv and Stanford rented a car to drive to Eilat.  The drive was about 4 to 5 hours. I suggest driving during the day, though it is a simple drive and a straight shot, driving at night can be risky —-because of the camels. They are not always easy to spot, and they just stand in the middle of the road (similar to driving in a region with deer).

Eilat is the home of the Red Sea. And going to the Red Sea and not pretending to part it is like standing on the end of a boat and not yelling, “I’m the king of the world.” No matter how cheesy and overdone, you just can’t help yourself. The Red Sea is stunning. In Eilat, there are many options for scuba diving and snorkeling. Though when we went in July, the water was too cold to enjoy such endeavors. Eilat itself is a tourist town with little to offer the adventurous traveler beyond a port to Jordan. It reminded me of Vegas without the gambling.

We stayed at The Dan in Eilat. It is an impressive hotel with a beautiful pool and remarkable breakfast buffet (the breakfast buffet is not included in every room package). In the evening we ate at a restaurant called Pastory. It boasted homemade pasta and thoughtful dishes.

We were picked up at the hotel by a driver from the agency. The border crossing experience from Israel to Jordan is a strange mix of intricate in that you are crossing from Israel into Jordan with the fact this is a common touristy location and border security is used to the traffic of the everyday traveler. The handler from the agency talked us through the process of taking us through the border patrol.

As a frequent traveler, I do a lot of research on local customs and what I need to do to fit in. The trip to Jordan is one trip in which my research failed me. I read in the guidebook that though Jordan is a country that expects a more conservative manner of dress, Petra is touristy and therefore sundresses and shorts are welcome. Stanford confirmed this with our private guide who informed us that tourists frequently wear sundresses and light attire, and it is a non-issue. And that is true, light, casual attire is totally fine while in Petra, but in my extensive planning, I forgot to take into account getting to Petra. If you are a woman of any age crossing the border, DRESS CONSERVATIVE. COVER UP! It is one of the few places I felt genuinely uncomfortable. You can see in the pictures I wore a tank top and khaki shorts (I brought two large scarfs just in case I needed to cover myself for religious sites). As the guard checked my passport he purposefully stared at my cleavage, he then looked me dead in the eyes and smirked at me. It was a power move meant to send a message. I instantly took out one of my scarfs and covered my shoulders for the rest of my ride until arriving at Petra (which was full of tourists in light, casual wear). On the way back, there was a family behind us, also from California. We chatted with them a bit.  They had brought their teenage daughter. She was dressed casually. The guard was intentionally flirtatious with her and even made sexually suggestive comments to the girl, right in front of her father. The father was helpless to respond and quickly rushed his family through to the Israel side of the border. Learn from my mistake, bring a few items to cover yourself when you are not in areas that are known for tourism.

Crossing the border requires a fee as well as getting your passport stamped and going through customs. This was relatively painless but note our guide met us on the other side. We had a ‘handler’ walk us through the process on the Israel side then hand us off to our guide once we crossed the borderline into Jordan. It was the same process on the way back.

One anecdote from my exodus of Jordan was when coming back through to Israel; I put my backpack through the x-ray machine. I expected this to go without incident. I noticed that there was a scurry of activity that appeared to be surrounding my pack. A young woman with a large gun (they all have large firearms, just assume everyone has a large weapon), began asking me what was in my bag. I told her I bought some souvenirs but couldn’t think of anything that would interest them. She then pulled out a scroll tube I had purchased at the gift shop in Jordan. “Where did you get this,” she pressed. Standford, Bee and I couldn’t fight out amusement. I pointed out the window and said, that gift shop about 50 feet away. You can see it through the window. I was shocked, Stanford asked, “What you have never seen one of those before?”

The woman looked at us unamused and firmly stated, “No.”

She held it at arm’s length from her and slowly opened the tube (*said with sarcasm: because as you know holding a bomb at arm’s length will protect you from detonation). She peered inside the empty tube and felt satisfied it was non-threatening. I gave it to my young daughter to put papers in and pretend to deliver messages, but every time she hands the tube and says, “mail” I smile at the chaos her toy caused a world away.

Check out Part 3, Jordan: Talk with a Local

 

Jordan: The Lost City of Petra

The Lost City of Petra:

Of all the places I have been, I rank Petra as ‘The Coolest.’ Those of you who know me, know my main curiosity lies in learning the details of archeologically significant ruins and ancient historical sites. I like to turn everything into a learning experience. Petra was stunningly beautiful and radiant with heritage and culture.

I went to Petra in July of 2017. The weather was quite hot but not unbearable. I traveled with Stanford and his 15-year-old daughter Bee. While in the confines of Petra, we felt safe and we were comfortable in casual attire. We brought scarfs just in case we needed to cover up (out of respect for religious sites) but found them unnecessary. We did need the scarfs along the crossing of the border into Jordan (I explain in detail in the Getting There section of this blog).

Petra is an ancient city carved from the beautiful, reddish tinted cliffs in the country of Jordan.  UNESCO called Petra “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage.” When you are within the walls of the carved cliffside, you feel like you are somewhere special. Petra came to form around the 4th century BCE, and it was a thriving region until around 363 when earthquakes caused an exodus of this culturally advanced city. Most people forgot it existed except for the Bedouins who inhabited the carved-out caves until 1812 when the explorer JL Burckhardt exposed this secret city.

Most surprising about Petra is its size. The conventional picture of the treasury leads one to believe you will go to Petra, see a few facades and leave. This is inaccurate.Bring your walking shoes because the main trail is an easy 2 miles, whereas some of the side hikes can be about 7-8 hours and more strenuous. There is a lot to see in Petra. The guide noted that one of the comments he most received was, “I didn’t realize it was so big” and “ I didn’t realize there was so much to see.” Every corner has new facades, and each façade has a story. Petra can be seen in a day but prepare yourself for lots of steps. We didn’t do the more intense hikes, but we did hike up to the Royal Tombs. From there you will be rewarded with stunning views and the experience of going inside the tombs. At the end of the hike, there was a traditional buffet that was included in the price of our tour. The food was homemade and very good.

After the lunch you have a few options to get back, one is to walk back the same way you came; another is to take a donkey ride uphill and circle back. I wanted to do the walk uphill but was quickly shot down by Stanford and Bee. The donkey ride is pretty inexpensive, but you will want to have cash on hand if you choose this option.

At the time of the trip, Stanford and I were ‘just friends.’ The man who was leading the donkey rides was a Bedouin from the area. He politely helped me on the donkey and smiled at me. During the uphill trip, he smiled at me again and pointed to Stanford and asked, “Is that your husband?”

I shook my head no.

He then asked, “Is that your boyfriend?”

I responded with a simple, “No.”

He then smiled at me again and said slyly, “ I have five wives. I am a lucky man.”

I laughed, and Stanford quickly yelled back, “If you pick him over me, I have some life choices to evaluate.”

Thus ended my thoughtful consideration of being a 6th wife.

We took the donkeys to the van and departed back to Israel. Petra is a city of breathtaking sites. I suggest it for anyone as a day trip from Israel.

For more information check out part 2, Jordan: Getting to Petra

and part 3, Jordan: Talk with a Local