Because I booked the tour through the hotel, they had breakfast waiting, even though it wasn't breakfast time yet. I joined another hotel guest who was going on the tour, and we had a pleasant meal until the tour company came to get us. It took 2 hours from when they picked us up to when we were able to get on the bus in Jordan. This was mostly due to disorganization (although not entirely on the part of the tour company). First, our pickup van made stops at other hotels, not all of which had people waiting for us. At one hotel, the folks took quite some time to get out to the pick up van. The van dropped us off at the border crossing, where we paid cash to the tour company so that they could pay for our visas and processing. I don't really understand why they don't just include that in the price in the first place, but it seems that most of the companies do it that way. Then, they gave us stickers to wear so that the Jordanian guide on the other side would be able to identify us as members of the "Fun Time" tour. The Israeli tour operator sent us through the border. The border crossing is pretty hilarious, if you really think about it. We got our passports stamped out of Israel, and then just strolled on down the road through a no-man's land for a bit to the Jordanian side. When we got there, our Jordanian guide met us and gave us instructions to hang out for a bit until the whole group was present. The area we were waiting in had restrooms, an exchange place, and a souvenir shop. The souvenir shop had magnets of the royal family and cartoonish ladies in burkas, as if burkas are some sort of cute tourist attraction. More interesting was the guy out front of the souvenir shop. He was making sand bottles right as we watched. These weren't like the ones we made at summer camp though. He was mixing over a dozen different colored sands, using all sorts of straws, twirling things, and spoons, and making scenes containing sunsets, camels, and landscapes. It was pretty amazing to watch him. We got to watch him for quite some time though, as it seemed that we were missing 2 people from our group and our tour guide, Tarek, wouldn't "make the procedure with the passports" until everybody was present. Ultimately, we got on the Jordanian tour bus, but it did take a ridiculous amount of time.
The ride to Petra was maybe about 2 hours, but there was some stuff to see on the way. First, we went through the city of Aqaba. Aqaba is a relatively new city, but it looks pretty old to me. Tarek explained to us that Aquaba is a new city (although the buildings look worn and old to me). Aqaba is Jordan's port, and lots of other nations use it to ship stuff. This is important because Jordan doesn't have the kind of oil some of the nearby nations have. “We are poor, but we are rich in freedom and stability,” he said, referring to Jordan as a democracy. In addition to freedom, the king makes sure that they all get good educations, including in English, which is why their English is so good, he went on to explain. It certainly isn't for tourism. He said that their phosphate exports are a big industry, and tourism is the 5th biggest part of the Jordanian income. He explained a bit about the minerals as we could see some areas in the desert that weren't tan. Each other color is a patch of mineral. I don't really get how it would be efficient to mine all of those small areas though. In addition to current Jordanian politics, he told us about ancient occurrences. He claimed that the King's highway we were taking was taken by Moses in biblical times, and that Aaron's tomb was atop one of the nearby mountains out to the left. Because this was part of the spice road, many ancient people used it, so at least the road is is ancient enough to be possible, I think. The left side definitely had the better view. From the left, they could look out over the valley and see mountains and gorgeous scenery. From my side, I could look up the mountains, which was nice, but not quite as breathtaking. However, I was hoping that I'd get the other view on the way back if I just stayed on the right side of the bus.
Our stop on the way was at a souvenir shop. There was a ton of handmade art for sale, although most of it waaay too expensive. Also, much of it looked like it was pretty old and not brand-new. However, it was gorgeous. It was being guarded by the tourist police, but I'm not sure how much help they would have been as they were mostly just sitting around smoking hookah. I'm pretty sure that on-duty police smoking hookah inside a store would not go over well in most places, but apparently it's ok in Jordan.
FInally, we arrived at Petra. We took a quick restroom break (glad I carry my own toilet paper) and got some snacks (even bad ice cream tastes great in the dry heat). We entered the site. The only problem was, we couldn't see it. As we walked into the main canyon, we just saw rock. It was pretty rock, some in exciting colors and patterns, but it was rock. Until Tarek pointed out to us that there were Nabtean and Roman aqueducts. And Roman cobblestones. And some Nabtean carvings in the walls. Even so, I most certainly would not have recognized this as a city, even while standing in it. I can understand how it went undiscovered for so long. At the back of the canyon was a Nabtean necropolis, where they buried people under these carved "stairways to heaven." At the very back, we passed a line of Spansh-speaking tourists who all had their eyes closed and were being led the last few feet by their guide, who kept telling them that it was so worth it. Then, we exited into the treasury. Wow. Most people recognize the treasury from Indiana Jones . It's even cooler in person. It's called the treasury because it looks like a huge bank and originally some people thought that it contained money. That's not the case, and it wasn't used for that ever, but it's still amazing. It has the huge pillars out front and intricate carvings all over. If a regular sculptor messes up, he can get a new piece of stone. If somebody screwed this up, they couldn't really just get another one as the whole building is carved out of one piece of stone. It's just mind boggling that people could carve a building like this with primitive tools. It's even more mind boggling that they built a whole city like that, not just one building.
Tarek gave us a few minutes to explore the treasury and nearby area. The treasury was filled with tourists, and where there are tourists, there are touts. Many of them were trying to sell rides on their camels or horses. They kept shouting that they would give us a ride in the "air conditioned taxi" (donkey that was moving). Others wanted to sell us ugly plastic bead necklaces that looked like a kindergarten class had gone wild (one dollar! no dollars? one dinar!- which happens to be more than a dollar). A few were kids with post cards to sell. I don't generally buy from kids because I'd rather have them be in school than selling stuff to strangers and the only way to do that is to make it not profitable for them to sell stuff. On the way out though, we got talking with one of them who insisted that she had been in school earlier. When she had the time to go to school, I didn't know, but her English was pretty good. Some of the sellers had set up on blankets in other areas as well. After the treasury, we hiked around ancient peoples' homes. The whole way up the steps to the top, there were touts shouting "Happy hour! Buy two get one!" and other such marketing ploys. It was cute, but we were more interested in seeing what we came to see. The homes were very cool. You could totally imagine a family living there. (Oh, that's where the kids would have slept. That's where they would have had dinner. etc) Plus, the view from the top was great. You could see quite a distance, including all the way to the monastery. The monastery is the building that most people go see with their free time. It was filled with tourists. The area we were in was less intricately carved, but we pretty much had it all to ourselves. I think part of the reason there weren't so many people there is that many of the groups had already left by the time we were finishing up. Fortunately for us, that also meant better deals on souvenirs. Some of the prettier necklaces were made of turquoise (or at least a turquoise stone, they held up lighters to prove that the stones weren't plastic). Originally, I was told that I could get one for 25 dinars. Hah! Ultimately I got 4 for 15 dinars. After negotiating the deal, we were short on time. We walked out pretty quickly, but not before I ran into two of the people who had been in my Sar-El group- what a coincidence!
By the time we got back to the bus, I was very dry and thirsty. I had long since finished off my water. Fortunately, our next stop was a hotel for lunch and I got two drinks. The hotel had quite the buffet of middle eastern food, so I was very pleased with the food as well. I tried to stay away from the raw veggies due to water issues, but I also didn't completely abstain as I figured that since this was a major tourist spot they would have clean water or the companies would stop bringing tour groups. I really liked the bread pudding thing they had for dessert. It was cinnamon-y and delicious!
With our bellies full, we got back on the bus for the ride home, most of which most people seemed to sleep. I tried to stay awake as much as possible so that I could get pictures of the gorgeous views. However, our bus took a different way back. Even though I was on the same side of the bus, I didn't get the views of the valley that the folks on the way to Petra got. So, my recommendation is to sit on the left side of the bus if your group is taking the King's highway.
Upon arrival back at the border, we sent our passports through another procedure, and then just walked back through the border crossing. In general, there weren't issues. One lady had gone to Gaza as well, and so they were holding on to her longer, but the rest of us basically walked right through to the vans that would take us back to the hotels. We were so gross at this point. One girl had chosen to wear all white on the trip. She was wearing tan on the way back. I probably should have showered and gotten clean, but instead I called my grandma for a while. After, I went downstairs to meet the other hotel guest who I had spent the day with for "dinner." We had decided that we were going to have ice cream, and that totally hit the spot. I had a headache and was gross, but there is something about ice cream that makes me not care. When we were done with our dinner, we headed back to the hotel. I probably should have had twice as much water today as I actually did, and so I was feeling bad, despite the improvement the ice cream made. I passed out pretty quickly once we got back.