Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Middle East Recap: Days 13 and 14

[Catch up: Days 1 & 2, Day 3, Days 4 & 5, Day 6, Days 7 & 8, Days 9 & 10]

March 19, 2011

We woke up early this morning and my awesome friend Abby drove me and Becky to Petra.  We checked into our hotel in the adjoining town of Wadi Mussa (cleverly named "The Cleopetra"---get it?).  After drinking our welcome tea, we had a shwarma and then went to an AWESOME local bakery named Sanibel.


At Sanibel.  Pitas fell from the SKY!

We got to Petra around 11am and spent the day exploring the ancient city and snapping photos of the buildings carved into the sides of the mountains.  We rode horses into the Siq (the long entryway into the city) (horses are included in your entry fee!) and marveled at the treasury and tombs.


Along the Siq.

Emerging from the Siq to face the Treasury.

The Treasury.

Without knowing where we would end up, we walked up a seemingly endless series of stairs leading up to an area called "The High Place of Sacrifice."  We actually stopped about twenty feet from the place of sacrifice, disheartened after reaching the top of the mountain without seeing the site.  Then a Bedouin woman showed us a hidden path between a few large rocks and suddenly we were standing in the middle of the sacrificial space, feeling very thankful that she'd been there to show us where to go.  The path down was interesting and dotted with random tombs.

Steps to the High Place of Sacrifice.

The High Place of Sacrifice.

The High Place of Sacrifice.

The path down from the High Place of Sacrifice.

On the path down from the High Place of Sacrifice.

On the path down from the High Place of Sacrifice.

On the path down from the High Place of Sacrifice.

Trying to leave things nicer than I found them.


You want me to walk across WHAT?!

We watched the sunset (frankly, underwhelming) and then rode donkeys back to the entrance at the end of the night with a duo of young Bedouins, one of whom rode with me and inched up a bit too close for comfort.  That'll be the last time I share a donkey with a stranger!


At sunset.



The Siq is one big fault line; you can see at certain points where the earth on each side of the path would have fit together.

The day of walking and climbing in the hot sun left me totally wiped out, and the knowledge that we're going back tomorrow to climb the 800 steps up to the Monastary is currently drawing at my eyelids.  Somehow, I stayed awake long enough to make a return trip to the bakery (snacks for tomorrow!) and to walk around Wadi Mussa for a bit before my sister picked a great place for dinner (Jordanian buffet!  So delicious!).

The appetizers!

We fended off a VERY persistant Bedouin guy who followed us from the pastry shop around town to our restaurant.  He wanted us to have a drink with him and wouldn't take "no" for an answer.  Every corner we turned, his car was there.  He even waited for us outside the restaurant while we ate and then came inside once our check was paid to plead with us again to have a drink with him when we were done.  Hilariously, just as we'd gotten him to realize that we were NOT going out for a drink with him, he asked us---as we were halfway down the street---whether we'd have a drink with him tomorrow.  My sister, trying to be nice, called back, "Maybe!"  This of course prompted him to get in his car and follow us for several more blocks before we convinced him that she didn't actually mean "maybe."  (I had a similarly "doh" moment when a guy stopped his car next to us to ask whether we spoke English.  He looked lost, so I said "yes."  My sister immediately shouted to me, "NO!  IT'S A TRICK!" at the same time as the guy in the car perked up that he'd found some American girls and started trying to cajole us into getting into his car.)

Neither of these guys were threatening, but it was annoying and a bit intimidating to keep saying "not interested."


March 21, 2011

Our second day in Petra was exhausting.  We ate cheap breakfast in our hostel (scrambled egg, some pita, and coffee for 2 JD (about $3.50).  We got to Petra around 9am with one mission:  walk up the 800 stairs to the Monastary.  The trek was tough cardio.  As with our walk to the High Place of Sacrifice the day before, the steps often leaped in height, narrowed in width, or utterly smoothed to a slope in depth, so walking required great attention.


We were indeed wowed by the sight of the magnificent monastary.  The structure is beautiful and eerily, abondoned-ly ancient.  We hiked up the mountain a bit more to enjoy a beautiful view of the mountains, then made our way down with only mild harassment from a begging/whining Bedouin child who wanted some of our Sanibel pastries.

The monastary.

Becky looking down on the monastary.

A Bedouin advertisement.  I chuckled because "letail petra" is supposed to be "little Petra," but "letail" is almost an exact phonetic spelling of the way the Bedouins pronounce the word "little" ("LEE-tail").  (PS: kind of sad that the word "Israel" has seemingly been defaced)

After a quick stop for lunch---day-old pastries whose relative staleness since yesterday matched our moods---we walked up to a few more sights (the Blue Church and Byzantine Church) and then made our way back to the hotel.  A horseback ride to and from the entrance to the Siq (the long road into Petra) is included in the ticket price, so Becky and I rested our tired legs on horseback after merging from the Siq.





The Blue Church is so named because of these blue marble columns.


Tile work on the floor of the Byzantine Church.

At the Byzantine church.

This camel was just as tired as we were.

Amazingly, we ran into one of our Birthright companions and her sister both days in Petra.  After Becky and I retrieved our bags from the hotel and relaxed outside with a cold drink, we met up with our Birthright friend (Jess) and her sister (Sarah) and headed for the bus to Amman.  Jess parted ways with us there to go snorkeling in Aqaba.  The bus ride was uneventful---although I discovered "Tomato Ketchup" flavored Lay's chips at a rest stop.  Didn't try them, though.

Once in Amman, Becky and I met up with my awesome friend Abby, who coordinated almost all of our Jordan trip and THEN let us stay with her overnight.  We went to a nice restaurant called Cantaloupe, where we enjoyed fun cocktails and girl talk.  After dinner, Abby took us for a quick sugar rush at Habiba, a hole-in-the-wall specializing in an utterly mindblowingly delicious dessert pastry called Kanafeh, which is basically like a cross between a mozzarella stick and a cheese blinz, wrapped in filo dough, deep fried, then soaked in honey.  It is HEAVENLY.  Becky and I devoured an ungodly amount of them sloppily in the alley in front of Habiba.  Then we picked up a few bootleg DVDs ($1.40/1 JD per disc) and made our way back to Abby's apartment to rest for the night before crossing back into Israel in the morning.

KANAFEH IS SO EFFING GOOD.

The Jordan-->Israel crossing took place at a more complicated border, apparently, since it took us almost two hours to get from one side to the other.  Add an hour transportation on each end (Amman-->King Hussein Bridge/Border; Bridge/Border-->Jerusalem) and we were both road weary upon arrival.

Still, we were determined to buy a few last treats from the Jerusalem market at Mahane Yehuda, one of our favorite "shopportunities" on Birthright (blogged here).  We ate falafel for lunch and then bee-lined to our favorite vendors for Halvah, bageles, pita with zaatar, delicious and melty-doughed rugelach (best I've ever had in my life).  After the market, we took a public bus to the central bus station (which was bombed two days later) and then took a shared cab (like a minibus---13 passengers) to Tel Aviv.  The trip from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv is about an hour; although both are on opposite sides of the country, Israel is quite narrow and so the distance is relatively short.

Ongoing Purim celebrations in the market as people in costumes dance in the middle of the street.

More halvah than you could imagine.

Bageles.

Returning to Tel Aviv felt like breathing a relaxing sigh.  The city reminds me of Miami Beach, close to where I grew up in the suburbs, and after being surrounded by totally unfamiliar Arabic for four days, the Hebrew signage was almost comforting.  While neither my sister nor I can understand much Hebrew, we can read some of it.

Before our flight, we returned to our Birthright leader's apartment to pick up our bags and reunite with a few other Birthright friends who also extended their trip until the 21st.  We had a delicious sushi dinner at a restaurant called Japoniko and then hightailed to the airport.  We didn't leave much time to spare (the security lady suggested we may even miss our flight, despite the 25-odd people waiting to check in for the same flight.  Of course, we made it on the plane, but only after spending an hour at security and then racing through an improbably long series of gates and terminals.

My sister and I settled into our airplane seats in ecstacy.  Far from our pre-flight nerves, we were both thrilled to be boarding a comfortable flight that promised a chance to sleep.  We've had enough travel; we are both ready to go home and lay in our own beds.

Becky wasted no time cracking open the rugelach, and I'm currently eying my bag of Bamba (a snack that's similar in texture to cheese poofs, but coated in peanut butter powder instead of cheese powder).

Image of Bamba courtesy of My Jewish Learning.

I'm sure I'll be processing this trip for a while to come, but for now I feel happy and grateful to have had such an exciting adventure, but also equally excited and relieved to return home!

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