Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Trip of a Lifetime! (Day 3)

Sunday, May 1st

WE LOVED THIS TRIP!  "Fun For Less" fit in so many amazing sights.  We got to see so much every single day.  In order to do this, and in order to beat the crowds, we got up extra early each day.  Most days breakfast was around 6am and we were boarding the bus by 7am - some days a little earlier, some a little later.  So that meant we were usually up at 5am.  By the end of the day we were really ready for our bed, but we wouldn't have changed anything.  To do it any other way would have meant missing out on something spectacular.  "We can sleep when we're dead" was the general consensus from everyone.

Every night and morning during our trip was spent eating these amazing buffet feasts at the beautiful hotels we were staying at.

The food was really great.  They make the best pita bread and hummus!  The downside was that in both Jordan and Egypt there were some rules to keep us from getting sick - only drink bottled water (we were told to not even sing in the shower or rinse our toothbrush in the tap), and don't eat any fruit or vegetables unless they were cooked or peeled.  That meant we couldn't touch any of the amazing salads laid out before us.  Oh well, lucky for us there were plenty of other yummy things to choose from.

One thing I noticed during our whole trip was the lack of any other types of food other than Middle Eastern.  By the end of the trip pretty much everyone was craving a good pizza, hamburger, Italian, or Mexican restaurant.  We are very lucky to have such a wide range of ethnicities, cultures, and food here in the states.  I loved the food there, but was excited to get back home and have more choices.

There were many fig trees here.  I think they are so beautiful!

 Some more pictures of the resort...

The view from the resort...

The next morning on our way to Petra we stopped to look at this mountain - Mount Hor.  Can you see the little white building at the top?  That is the tomb of Aaron, the brother of Moses of the Old Testament.

One of the things that struck me over and over on this trip was the sheer age of some of things we got to see.  In the United States the oldest buildings still standing are around 500 years old, and those are extremely rare.  We saw buildings on this trip that were from 1,000 to 2,000 years B.C.!  That's amazing to me!  To be able to see and touch things that, until now, I had only read about in the scriptures or a history book was so neat!

From our vantage point above we could see the mountains where we were heading - into the ancient city of Petra.

To get there we drove through the town of Wadi Musa.  On a side note, can I just say that the driving in Jordan is both incredible and very scary?  Our bus came within about a quarter inch of other buses as we were passing them - and that was pretty much the norm with all the drivers on the road.  At one point later this same day as we were driving down a highway, our bus side-swiped a truck that pulled out in front of us.  It wasn't our drivers fault, but it took off the mirror of the truck and really scraped up that truck pretty bad.  Scary!

When we got off the bus we began our walk into Petra.  

Petra is hidden deep in the mountainous canyons of Jordan, sixty miles north of the Gulf of Aqaba. This city is unique in the world and is also known as the Rose-red city of the Nabatean's.  Their entire capital was hewn out of soft, pink sandstone rock: temples, amphitheater, tombs and homes.

The Nabataeans were an ancient people whose original homeland lay in northeastern Arabia. They migrated westward in the 6th century BC, settling eventually in the mountain fortress of Petra.  The Nabataeans drove the Edomites out of Jordan at the time when the Persians had taken the lead as a world power, and Petra probably became the capital of their kingdom in the 4th century BC. 

Situated in the center of the region the Bible calls Edom, Petra can only be reached down the long, narrow and winding ravine called the Siq.  With perhaps the best natural defense in the world, Petra grew to command the trade routes crossing Arabia, and was able to hold out against the envious armies of the most successful empires of her day.

As is evident from their wonderful carved tombs, the Nabataeans buried their dead and worshipped their gods in half-excavated caves, a custom they may have derived from the habits of the original natives of Petra (such as the Edomites). 

At first it was pretty open around us - kind of hilly.  We saw tombs and markings carved into the rock - a hint at what was to come.

After walking about a mile, we came to the entrance of the Siq - the long, narrow, winding ravine leading through Petra.  The Siq is another two-thirds of a mile.  While walking through here you can see (about 1/3 of the way up on the left side of the picture below) how the Nabataen's got water to their city through a water channel carved into the rock.

Along the path through the Siq there are idols carved into the rock on either side. The chief god of Petra was Dhu-shara ("Lord of Shara"). He was worshipped in the form of a black rectangular stone. Associated with Dhu-shara was Allat, the chief goddess of the ancient Arabs.

Along the way there were many locals selling cart, horse, camel, and donkey rides to tired tourists...most of them were from the nearby Bedouin village.

As we neared the end of the Siq we began to get a glimpse of the most recognizable sight of Petra - you may remember it from the end of the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".  It is called "The Treasury".

Wow.  We couldn't believe we were standing in front of something we had only seen in photos over the years.  We were actually here!

The treasury is spectacular, considering it was carved from pure rock, and even more so that it has preserved its sharpness and clarity after so many years of weathering. Strangely though, the Nabataens must have run out of steam or money when building the Treasury, since the inside of the building is just one big empty ugly room - no carvings, no elegance. Just darkness. 

After enjoying the view of The Treasury we kept walking another 1 1/4 miles past numerous carved living spaces and tombs.

The triangles carved into the walls outside the tombs told how many people were buried inside...

Not all the tombs in Petra were elaborate.  Some were made for important merchants and soldiers.  Here, on the left, you can also see the theater carved into the mountain.

If we had wanted to take the time we could have climbed (or rode a donkey) up the 800 steps to The Monastery.  It was about an hour up.  We chose to explore all of the other sites in Petra.  There was a lot to see!

A closer look at the theater...

The Royal Tombs were magnificent!

We were told on our bus during the drive to Petra, about a book really worth reading - "Married to a Bedouin".  Everyone in our family purchased it and I am excited to read it.  It is "a well-told story of adventure, love, history and a lifestyle that many of us know nothing about, you will finish this book longing to go to Petra and experience this magical place and its friendly people for yourself." -Tinka Niven in the NZ Times

In the author's words, "The Bdoul Bedouin no longer live in Petra, that ancient city in the south of Jordan. They no longer set up their tents of woven hair on the long, wind-catching ridges and invite passing tourists to share the shade, a cup of tea, an evening meal, or even a place to sleep as they did when I met my husband there in the summer of 1978. I was from New Zealand; Mohammad had been born in one of the caves. Seven years later when the Bedouin were resettled to a brick village on a barren hillside I was a part of the tribe.

Married to a Bedouin is the story of how I fell in love with Mohammad and married him; how I settled into his cave, and slept with him on the ledge in front under a sheet of stars; how I fetched water by donkey, baked bread daily and ran the local clinic.

Besides that it describes the most recent history of Petra. Through our stories and the stories of the people we shared the valley with, comes a picture of the site when it was alive, and when I was married to a Bedouin."

I don't know if she was telling the truth, but the lady below claimed to be the sister of Mohammad from the book.  She was fun to talk to.  We met her as we were looking through her little stand of jewelry she was selling (there are hundreds of locals - many of them are the cutest children - selling all kinds of jewelry and souvenirs all through Petra).
We all went over to a little shop in front of the Royal Tombs and purchased the book.  The man who sold it to us said he was the son of the woman in the book.  He was there from Australia.

It was a short walk up to see The Royal Tombs...

I chatted with these two for awhile as I was picking out a necklace and bracelet for Morgan from their stand.  The little girl was fascinated with my camera.  We took a picture and showed it to her on the screen of the camera.  She was so excited!

Some of the architecture was so intricate.  It's amazing to me that things like this could survive for 3,000 years.  None of this was restored.  These carvings have been able to survive for a long time!

Once we got to the end of Petra it was time to walk all the way back the way we had come.  We decided we couldn't leave the Middle East without a camel ride, so we decided to have our ride here in Petra!  We were told it was dangerous to do it at the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt - so this was the place to do it.

This was the man who gave Mark and I our camel ride.  He led our camels back to The Treasury, and then we walked the rest of the way.

Mark on his was a bumpy ride.  There were no stirrups.  We just had to hold on to the saddle horn and hold on with our legs.  We had our guide slow down.  He started the camels out at a trot while he jogged along side them.  Once he started walking them the ride was much smoother.  I'm amazed with all the jostling I was having that this picture below didn't come out blurry.  But it was so fun!

A parting shot of The Treasury as we left it behind...

After leaving Petra we drove to Mount Nebo in Jordan.  It was here that Moses was granted his only view of the Promised Land. 

It was on this mountain on the eastern side of the Dead Sea that Moses was translated (being physically changed by God from a mortal human being to an immortal human being).  From the top, on a clear day (which it was not), you could see Jerusalem to the south, and Jericho on the far west side of the valley.  We were able to see the Dead Sea from here.

This beautiful mosaic floor below was constructed in the 4th century as part of a church built to commemorate the place where they believe Moses died.  In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we know he was actually translated.  This belief is unique to the LDS faith.

There were some beautiful architectural elements on this trip.  I thought this door on Mount Nebo was beautiful. 

This rock was also on Mount Nebo.  I wanted a picture of it because it was the size and shape of the rock that was rolled in front of Christ's tomb after his crucifixion.  When you go to the Garden Tomb where Christ was buried, the stone is no longer there.  So this gave us a better idea of how massive it was. 

After Mount Nebo we continued on to our hotel for the night in Amman, Jordan.  When we got to Amman the road we were on took us past a demonstration taking place across from an embassy.  The pictures being shown were pretty graphic.  It was just a reminder of the unrest that exists here.

Tonight we went out to a local restaurant for an authentic Jordanian dinner.  We were all so completely stuffed by the end of dinner.  They kept bringing course after course.  So delicious!

Our hotel in Amman was the five star "Le Meridien Amman".  I wish I could say we got to enjoy all the beautiful hotels we stayed at, but the truth of the matter was that we were so bushed by the end of the day I could barely find time to make a short journal entry, hopefully write or call my kids, and then fall asleep before my head hit the pillow.

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