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ESRA Trip to Petra

The canyon approach to Petra (Photos: Mike Altman, Baruch and Mimi Tanaman)
The Treasury, Petra’s most famous facade

There are some countries that as soon as you enter, you feel as though you've gone back in time, and certain sites that deliver you to the very threshold of earliest history. Our visit to Jordan, Petra, and the Wadi Rum desert, did all of that.

As soon as the bus crossed the Beit Shean border into Jordan, it felt as if we'd been time warped into the 1950s, or perhaps pre-1948. There was no sign of the existence of the State of Israel, not a word in Hebrew, and in fact, even the globes in the souvenir shops bore no evidence of our country. That said, the people themselves were friendly enough.

This was a 3-day tour organized by the ESRA Netanya branch, lucky enough to have among its members professional tour guide, Stephen Kliner, who acted as volunteer guide for our trip. His efforts were augmented by branch chair, Barbara Kliner (and yes, they are related by marriage J), and by the trip committee - Phil Margolis, Mike Altman and Michael Tucker, as well as by Tourist Israel, the company that liaised with our Jordanian tour guide.

The whole happy ESRA group in Jordan's Wadi Rum desert

After driving north through Israel to the Beit Shean border crossing, we proceeded south through Jordan. Israel's landscapes were manicured, clean and green. In contrast, driving through Jordan, we were struck by the amount of rubble and particularly the rubbish, as if every plastic bag and bottle ever used was discarded to blow across fields and into roadside ditches. Definite signs of a third-world country.

Happily, the rest of the first day had far more pleasant sights in store for us.

Ancient mosaic church-floor map detailing the columns along Jerusalem's Cardo

Our first stop was the city of Madaba, famed for the ancient mosaic church-floor map of the Middle East, including a detailed illustration of Jerusalem that even showed the columns along the Cardo, the Roman street in the Jewish Quarter. A copy of this map is in the Cardo itself in the Old City of Jerusalem.

From there we drove to Mt. Nebo, or as it's called in Israel, Har Nevo, where it is said that God gave Moses a glimpse of the Promised Land before he died. Moses is said to be buried there, but the exact site is unknown. Once again, you would never know this had anything to do with Judaism. A plaque declares it a Christian site. In addition to the panoramic view it provides, there is a museum containing the most beautiful and intricate floor mosaics.

After a 5am start to the day, we were happy with a long bus ride now to bring us south to the city of Petra – the modern one… well, perhaps modern by Jordanian standards. We checked into our hotel, which was lovely, had dinner, and got back into the bus for a short drive to where one begins the trek on foot into ancient Petra.

An oasis of souvenirs in the Wadi Rum desert

It was 8pm, dark, our tour guide presented our tickets, and we became part of a huge flow of tourists anxious to experience Petra by Night.

Those of us who anticipated a multi-media extravaganza sound & light show, had to readjust our expectations. It was something very different. Emerging from the narrow canyon into the moonlit open space opposite the most famed of the city's ancient facades, we were guided to sit on the ground, between rows of covered candles. The MC, whose voice needed no microphone within the mountain-walled space, called for absolute silence, which was maintained throughout the crowd of hundreds, or perhaps thousands. A shepherd's flute filled the dark night air, later joined by song, followed by the MC telling a story of the city's legendary gods, and trays of tea were offered around. The evening culminated in the illumination of the façade in colored lights. Emerging from the hypnotic mood, we once again became part of the huge flow of people trekking through the dark back to our starting point.

Sights of Petra, from simple homes to palatial tombs, all carved into the mountainsides

Day 2 was for exploring Petra in the daylight. The city itself is huge, and to wander through all of it requires several days. The mountain faces are carved in a variety of shapes, from openings into cave-like dwellings and small homes, to an amphitheater, and amazingly elaborate palatial royal tombs. The capital of the Nabatean civilization, Petra was once a rich and thriving city.

Quite challenged by the heat and the 8 or so kilometers we had walked, in addition to the previous night's 5 kilometers, an air-conditioned look at the Petra museum, lunch, and a long bus ride to our next venue were just what we needed.

Echoes of ancient desert caravans

Seen from the distance, Bait Ali Camp, Wadi Rum, is a walled green spot in the middle of desert desolation. Inside the walls is a lovely resort with accommodation from small white tents to row bungalows, and deluxe suites. We were all quite comfortable in our en suite, air-conditioned bungalows and enjoyed a barbeque dinner, and a jeep tour the following morning. With six to a jeep, our caravan of vehicles set out across the desert giving me my first experience of leaving footprints on an actual sand dune, views of jagged mountains and distant camel caravans, and a rest stop cut into the side of a mountain offering a range of souvenirs and tea. It was a splendid final adventure to the trip.

Coming home through Aqaba and into Eilat, stopping at – where else – Yotvata, and a tour of the Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Center, put the final touches on our very full and enjoyable 3-day adventure. A hearty thanks to our organizers.



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Sunday, 04 June 2023

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