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