2005 -- Jordan
Petra -- Bedouin -- Red Sea Coast

June 5-6 -- Petra -- Bedouin

Jordan is the tomahawk-shaped country in the center of the Middle East, surrounded by Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  Petra is an ancient city in the mountains of southwestern Jordan.  Built by the Nabataeans, Arab traders who once dominated the caravan trade throughout the Middle East, their influence culminated between 200 BC to 200 AD, although they lived in the area over a much longer period.

The area around Petra is filled with beautiful sandstone rock formations, more amazing in color than any rock we have seen in the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Zion, or anywhere in the southwestern US.  Not just shades of yellow, orange and red, but white, silver, gold and even blue and lavendar, all swirled together in unbelievable patterns.  In this rugged landscape of towering mountains and narrow slot canyons, the Nabataeans carved out an enormous city--huge temples with giant columns, statues and ornate facades, elaborate tombs, banquet halls with giant rooms, and hillsides honeycombed with living quarters, all chisled by hand out of solid rock.  The city has a magical feel, like a fairyland of stone, and no defensive walls anywhere or monuments to battles and conquests.  I think Petra is one of the most beautiful and intruiging ancient cities we have ever visited.

Petra is also jam packed with Bedouin vendors selling drinks, jewelry, and camel and donkey rides up and down the steep trails.  Many of them are kids, boys and girls, some only ten years old, already shrewd business people, all able to speak English, plus some speak French, German or Italian, or all three.  Many have catchy phrases they call out as we pass "Come and look!  Make my day! Hey Mister, Blue Light Special! Madam, over here it is Happy Hour!"  They all want to know where we are from.  One girl, about 16, gets a kick out of our midwestern accent, and does a perfect mime of our speech.  She tries to convince us to ride her donkey.  We tell her we prefer to walk.  It hardly slows down her sales pitch.  She agrees that excercise is very good.  "But this is an opportunity to take a donkey ride--something you can never do in the US.  If you don't ride the donkey you will miss a cultural experience that you will always remember fondly."  As we hike she rides the donkey at a fast pace up and down the steep steps, whacking it smartly whevever it slows down.  She jokes and laughs with everyone we pass, tryng to sell them a ride if they are a foreigner, or bantering in Arabic if they are Bedouin.  She wears a scarf over her head, which wraps tightly under her chin and around her face, and has modern and very trendy high heeled sandles.  She seems so independent and free spirited.  I wonder what her life will be like once she grows older and is married.

They say trouble comes in threes, and Tass proves this by getting her third illness of the trip.  She wakes up on the second night in town with severe stomach cramps and terrible diarrhea (is there ever good diarrhea?).  The third night she has a fever and chills so bad I have to cuddle up with her in her small, single bed, to help warm her back up.  Yet this doesn't stop her from hiking 12 hours each day exploring the ruins.

June 7 Red Sea Coast

With Tass getting little sleep the last two nights, and weak from her illness, we decide riding back out of Petra is unrealistic.  Plus the weather has changed.  The wind is gusting ferociously, visibility is terrible as the air is filled with dust from the Dead Sea valley .  Plus most of the road to Aqaba is a four-lane freeway filled with large transport trucks spewing black noxious smoke, not exactly great cycling.  So we catch a ride to Aqaba and then cycle along the coast to a little hotel just north of the Saudi Arabian border.  In the afternoon Tass naps while I go snorkeling.  By evening Tass is feeling better and we eat a huge meal of fresh fish. Tass even gets some quality Jordanian white wine, which helps greatly in speeding her recovery. 

June 8

We would like to stay longer on the coast but everything in Jordan is very expensive.  Plus, the Jordanian Dinar is much stronger that the US dollar, so we have to further increase the price on everything by almost one third.  Rather than cycling back through Israel, which is a big time commitment with the extra border crossings, we bicycle along the Jordan coast and catch the ferry back across the Red Sea to Nuweiba, Egypt.  From there we get a lift west to St. Katherine's Monastery high in the mountains of south-central Sinai.

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