Sunday, December 11, 2011

Petra, Jordan - Pt. 1

We got up at 6:00 in the morning to catch a cab to the Jordanian border because we had heard that it could take a while to get a visa and get through and that lines could be particularly long on Sundays. On the way there we asked the cab driver if he had ever been to Petra and he said no, that he was scared to go to either Egypt or Jordan. The maps in Jordan don't even list Israel, they simply state “The Holy Land” so I suppose I can see why. But we weren't scared – just excited to get to Petra. While we were waiting at the boarder for our visas to be processed, LaVonne bought Vaughn a souvenir sand painting in a bottle that had his name written on the inside in sand. Vaughn got to watch it being made and even help make the birds in the sky.

The cab ride from the border to Petra took about an hour and 45 minutes and it was a bit harrowing at times since our cab driver thought nothing of using both lanes and doing sketchy, last-minute passing. For the most part, the landscape was a vast expanse of brown desert and hills with the occasional outcropping of cinder block and tarp shacks. Sometimes we might pass a person on the road selling oranges or look out to see a donkey or a camel but mostly it was just road and desert. We stopped about half way along the trip to use the bathroom and Vaughn and I delighted in a couple of stray dogs with their litter of five fluffy puppies.

Our room is in a hostel and it is pretty spartan but functional. The pictures are faded posters glued to cardboard and at dinner they were only able to come up with two glasses for us but my only real complaint is that the building doesn't turn on the heat until 8pm so it is pretty cold.

After checking in we went and got lunch down the street. Despite being a major tourist destination, there is no escaping the extreme poverty of the region. The menus at our restaurant were old and frayed and the napkins were a box of Kleenex on the table (but maybe this is standard since the same Kleenex/napkins were there at dinner too) but the food was fresh and delicious. Everyone here is warm and friendly and we've been told “Welcome to Jordan” no less than five times. This doesn't mean that you don't have to clarify pricing up front but both merchants and people on the street have been kind and courteous. During lunch, some unseen loudspeakers began playing a loud recording of singing calling people to prayer (the same song/call to prayer started playing at quarter to five and was accompanied by honking on the street). The restaurant didn't have a bathroom but an employee offered to walk Vaughn and Jacob across the street to where one could be found.

We were anxious to get to the actual archeological site so we made our way down the hill to the entrance to buy tickets to the park. While we were waiting to get tickets some poor guy got dragged into a shop and struck by another man a couple of times. I'm not sure what he did to deserve it and it was a little startling to witness. He seemed almost resigned to his fate – like a relative that had messed up somehow.

After you pass through the entrance to Petra there are two dozen men offering horse rides at the entrance down the path through the canyon. The rides are for free (included in the price of your ticket!) and they are working for tips. It's the slow season and so they are quite aggressive but we continued on foot. Nothing tops the aggressive sales tactics of the children, most about Vaughn's age, selling books of postcards. They have their racket down: America is the best!; Make my day!; Is that your brother? He cannot be your son- you are too small! (that last one almost made me adopt her). One little boy actually tried to stick me with a packet as a “free gift” that I knew he (or a relative) would come to collect on later. I had to tell him I was leaving it on a rock and only then did he come back in a huff to snatch it off the rock.

I will save descriptions of the archeological site of Petra for my next entry since I want to be able to post as many pictures of the site as possible but I want to also include these pictures from the city.

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