Petra and King Hussein Bridge

The Middle East decided our first day in Jordan was too easy. We drove to Petra, Jordan Saturday night without event. On Sunday morning we woke up early-ish to a prepared breakfast at the hotel and were dropped off at the entrance to the ruins of Petra. The ancient city of Petra has been abandoned since about 550 AD, but much of the city structure remains carved into the walls of a sandstone valley. If you have seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, remember the “valley of the crescent moon” and the “city carved into the stone” where the grail was hidden? The valley in the movie is the Siq, or narrow (defensible) entrance to the city, and the temple that Harrison Ford enters is the Treasury, which is actually a kind of mausoleum at the entrance to the city of Petra.

We decided to explore Petra on our own, without a guide. Josh got pictures of everything with his awesome new camera. We climbed many stone stairs to a high sacrificial alter on a bluff over-looking the city. Gorgeous, but about this time we realized that we really were in the desert, and we hadn’t used sunscreen. Harb got to snicker at we pale three as we became red and crispy.  The day in Petra ended with a well-bartered camel ride for Harb and Mike, and we ran the 5 km out of the ruins to try and catch our ride to the bridge crossings into the West Bank. And here is where our day got interesting.

Outside the Petra ruins, the street was lined with flag waving Jordanians and soldiers. Specialized black  trucks with 50-caliber machine gun turrets mounted on the back patrolled the street at intervals. Suddenly, the crowd bursts into cheering as a convoy of government vehicles passes by. The cheering crescendos as a smiling, waving man passes in a reinforced luxury sedan. Turns out King Abdullah of Jordan thought it would be a nice weekend to visit Petra, too. And I doubt anything causes more havoc in traffic flow than a royal motorcade. Needless to say, it was hours before our driver could navigate the gridlock to pick us up.

Which brings us to our trip to the King Hussein Bridge over the Jordan river. Because of the traffic on the main road, we took the “scenic route” over the mountains and past the Dead Sea to the bridge. Local driving habits plus winding, near-gravel mountain roads made for a roller-coaster ride that put Six Flags to shame. I would say we exceeded the speed limit, except I didn’t see it posted anywhere. Poor Harb was in the front seat with a death grip on the “Oh Jesus!” handle.

Fast forward past lots of waiting and at the Jordanian side of the bridge and in line at Israeli customs. We were still in the back of a line of people waiting at the “Foreign Visitors” area when we were called up by a customs agent. At first, we thought this was the fast lane for those with American passports. But after several minutes of questioning, we were sent to a waiting area. It was hard to say what made we three sunburnt Iowans seem suspicious, but we got special consideration by a polite Israeli officer regardless. No separation into interrogation rooms or bright lights or that nonsense. If anything, I was happy to see someone in authority in uniform. The most unnerving sight was a young guard wearing jeans and a flannel shirt while wielding an automatic rifle.

So after a few minutes of extra questioning and many, many minutes of waiting, we got our Israeli/Palestinian visas and luggage. Had to pay a bunch for our cab ride to Ramullah. We got to Harb’s family’s gorgeous flat to find everything prepared and a home-cooked meal prepared by Harb’s aunt (bless you, Wafa) waiting for us. Our long day was about to end, at last.

Then a light fixture exploded, showering Harb and the kitchen with glass fragments and plunging the whole house into darkness.

Welcome to the West Bank, boys!

2 Responses to “Petra and King Hussein Bridge”
  1. wintersamar says:

    I just learned about your trip this past weekend through someone in Iowa City and I want to say good luck! I hope it’s a good experience!

    Best of Luck and you must try the famous ice cream place in Ramallah…I forget the name, but it’s a must!

  2. Dave E says:

    What an opportunity you guys have. Keep the updates coming.

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