Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Jerusalem day three

We left the hotel after breakfast. It was 9.40am and we headed along Mamilla Avenue, as we had done the day before, in the direction of the Jaffa Gate. We proceeded east along David Street with its souk until we got to its end, then turned north on Khan Az-Zeit Street until we got to Via Dolorosa at 10.05am. We then headed east toward the Muslim Quarter and passed a group of Indians some of whom had on caps with “Sar-El” embroidered on the front.

The stations of the cross are signposted on walls with Roman numerals in this part of the old town and at one point around this time we were surrounded by a group of pilgrims who were all singing in reply to statements from their group leader. The words they used repeatedly in chorus were “Have mercy on us and on the whole world.” There was also a group of white people some of whom had caps with the word “Ader” embroidered on them. Then a group of Koreans passed us en-masse. They were singing the hymn ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’ in their native language.

At the corner of Al Wad Street were about six uniformed police standing behind some metal barriers that had been set up on the pavement. The heavily-armed men and women appeared to be very alert and ready for any eventuality. We turned east into the second half of Via Dolorosa at 10.25am and soon after entered the grounds of the Sanctuaries of the Flagellation and the Condemnation. Inside were a number of buildings including what was labelled as the Terra Sancta Museum. There was also a chapel with pews and signs in English instructing visitors to be silent. To the other side was the Church of the Flagellation with, on the floor in a mosaic, the words “Custodia  Francescana terrasanta AD MCMXXIX”, indicating that the place he been at least partly constructed in 1929.

We exited the compound and again headed east, arriving at the corner of Herod’s Gate Street and Lion’s Gate Street at 10.40am. At some point in our journey along Lion’s Gate Street my phone gave a sound and I noticed that I had changed roaming service provider to one located in Palestine. We turned around when we came to some men cleaning out a garbage truck, and a little further west the phone announced that I had again picked up the Israeli service provider’s signal. At 10.50am we ventured into Notre Dame do Sion, a small church with a glassed-off nave and an altar at the end. Here, also, was a sign asking visitors to be silent, which was more evidence that these institutions are operating as they have done for a long time, some longer than others.

We turned south on Al Wad Street and after a while asked two uniformed police who were standing there how to get to the Western Wall. A female officer with very dark skin told me to continue south and so we did, arriving at a security installation with a metal detector and a conveyor belt for hand luggage. I had to empty my pockets to satisfy the scanner of my honesty but we were soon through this barrier and in a tunnel that led to an open plaza. At its eastern end was the famous wall with its big rocks and green growth sprouting out of the masonry.

The mall is separated into two sections, one for men and one for women. The former section takes up about two-thirds of the wall and the latter the final third. A flock of swallows was flying in circles around the square near the wall. Some men called out to us as we made our way down the slope, telling my travelling companion to go to the women’s section to see the wall. I waited by a water fountain where people came to wash their hands. It was very hot in the sun and I sat down on a step to rest and wait for my friend to return to our agreed rendezvous point.

We met up again and at 11.35am, deciding not to go and visit the Al Aqsa Mosque, left the compound, heading north up El Wad Street until we came to Al-Khalidiyya Street, where we turned west. We navigated our way through some predictably narrow streets in one of which a boy aged about 12 told us in a loud voice that the street we were heading along was blocked. Another boy, who had been skylarking with the first boy, revealed that what he said was a lie and we went on until we got back to David Street. Here we bought a sesame and nut bar (10ILS) and a cup of watermelon juice (20ILS) and sat down on a couple of stools in the juice shop to rest before heading off west again toward the Jaffa Gate, which had been our point of arrival. Outside the gate on the bridge that spans a major road below a busker was playing the famous tune from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ on an acoustic guitar.

On Mamilla Avenue at 12.30pm we entered a restaurant called Fresh Coffee and Kitchen and ordered some food. It was an Indian curry, which came with rice, in the Japanese style, in a mound separate from the cooked veges (potato, zucchini, whole garlic cloves, onion), and what was called a “Tricolor funghi mozzarella”, which was twisty-shaped pasta with a mushroom sauce and pieces of mozzarella cheese. In addition we ordered a Tuborg beer and a cappuccino.

Before the meals arrived I went down four flights of stairs to use the restroom. I saw a control panel with numbered buttons on it that had been installed next to the men’s room door and I didn’t know what to do until it opened and a man emerged into the hallway where I stood. I went inside the room and used the facilities, then washed and dried my hands, and when I got to the door nothing happened when I turned the handle. To the left of the door, at about eye level, was a flat panel with a button marked on it and I pressed that, and the door opened and allowed me to get back upstairs.

After eating and paying for the meal (186ILS) we headed back west along the pedestrian mall and near to where a security guard with a pistol at his hip stood I looked up bookshops in Jerusalem. I found one not far away and used Google Maps to navigate across Shlomo ha-Malaekh Street at the traffic lights. We then headed up Ben Shira Street and Queen Shlomziyon Street until we arrived at the International Bookshop Ludwig Mayer. Inside there was a woman aged in her 50s who had an American accent and who helped us to find books in English about Judaism. The same series of books she showed us to browse had been on sale in a tourist shop near the Jaffa Gate. Now, we were able to buy something that would explain the history of her people. The six books came to a total of 320ILS and I was able to pay by credit card. We got back to the hotel at 2.25pm and on the way inside I bought two Goldstar beers (44ILS).

At about 5.15pm I went to the ATM at the petrol station and got more cash. We would be moving to a new hotel the next day and I wasn’t sure where the most suitable machine would be once we shifted residence. On a narrow footpath on the way back to the hotel I came across an old man walking toward me who moved to my left, and I had to take his prompt to move to my right to make way for him on the pavement. It is hard to change old habits. As I was approaching the hotel’s front door I passed through a group of 20 or so girls aged about 16 years on the forecourt who were dancing using choreographed steps and gestures. I had heard the tune of George Harrison’s 1970 anthem ‘My Sweet Lord’ from my hotel room earlier and after I got back to my room again I heard it playing outside once again.

Later we went out to find some dinner and headed down the hill toward the old town. There was a sign for a restaurant I had seen on Google Maps called Te’enim and we headed through a park that had flowering trees in it until we reached a building set off to the side. Inside we took a table at 7pm and ordered labane (a type of yoghurt dip) with sundried tomatoes, which came with brown bread, cold zucchini and yoghurt soup, steamed greens that came with a date sauce called celane and pieces of goat’s cheese, and a mushroom stew that came with cracked wheat and pumpkin. I had two beers and the meal was way too big for two people. It came to 231ILS. After eating we went for a short stroll along Mamilla Avenue and into the old town and got back to the hotel by about 8.40pm.

Above: The Church of the Flagellation on Via Dolorosa.

Above: Inside the Church of the Flagellation.

Above: The Western Wall on the east side of the old town in Jerusalem.

Above: The old town seen from the west.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Jerusalem day two

Breakfast in the YMCA Three Arches Hotel was very good. They had a whole table with different dairy products including what was either camembert or brie, a nondescript cheese cut into small, bite-sized blocks that was labelled “yellow cheese”, cottage cheese, and other things the name of which I knew not. After this we went to the reception desk with some laundry in bags that we wanted to have washed and paid 50ILS for a bagful each.

It was fine and sunny, as they day before had been, as the past week had in fact been, although you want a jacket when you go out in the evening if you have a view to eating at a restaurant other than the one located off the hotel lobby.

We left the building at 10am and headed across the road to the petrol station where I got more shekels from the ATM. (This time I worked out how to display English instructions.) I also bought a bottle of water for 8ILS. Then we headed north down the hill where, at the corner where we wanted to cross the road, a taxi driver hailed us from the carriageway and offered to take us to the Mount of Olives.

The old town, he said, would be deserted today as it was Sunday. We politely refused his offer and headed on our way but he called out insistently from his seat, urging us to stay and talk even though we didn’t want to do so. This kind of conduct was very reminiscent of how locals treat tourists in Petra. In Amman they don’t do this. Later in the day, as we were on our way back to the hotel, we came across people in the Christian Quarter who asked exorbitant prices for goods they had for sale, or who, when they asked where you had come from (meaning, which country), displayed annoyance if you didn’t answer them truthfully. The Christian Quarter in the old town is particularly poor in this regard. There are countless shops selling various kinds of tat for tourists there and the crowds were ruinous all day.

After escaping from the pesky taxi driver we made our way to a paved pedestrian thoroughfare named Mamilla Avenue and headed east until we got to the Jaffa Gate. Near the entrance to the old town we ducked into a tourist information place to get maps, then headed east again on David Street. We then turned south toward the Jewish Quarter, much of which had been destroyed when it was under Jordanian control following the 1948 war, which saw part of Jerusalem lost to the enemy. We saw a group of about 50 Indians many of whom had red caps on their heads that had “Royal Omania” stitched on them with light-coloured thread.

A local man in his fifties who had an American accent and who introduced himself as Shlomo suggested that we go into the Hurva Synagogue located next door to his shop to see the view from its roof. He lured us into his shop with the promise of a view of some ancient ruins, visible through a glass wall at the back of the store, and tried to get us interested in an illustrated book of psalms priced at 450ILS. There was a smaller version too but it also didn’t appeal. But we ducked into the synagogue as suggested and paid 20ILS each to gain entry at the front door of the building. After visiting the main room inside as well as the viewing gallery, at 11.30am we also went to the basement where you can see some of the walls of the old town as it existed millennia before.

Most of the Jewish Quarter was damaged or destroyed by the Jordanians in the 19 years they controlled this part of Jerusalem after the 1948 war, but in the basements of some buildings remain intact ruins dating from at least as far back as the time of the Byzantine emperors. The tabernacle in Hurva Synagogue has some parts of its rear wall intact that had survived the destruction meted out by the Jordanians and which had been incorporated into the new build. From the building’s roof we took more photos, including one of the mosque next door.

We headed to a small room around the corner from the synagogue where you can see a movie with subtitles that describes the events of 1948 from the Jewish point of view. There was an oldish man with a yarmulke on his head sitting at the back of the room who seemed to have been stationed there to helps visitors. He was eating food from a Tupperware container held on his lap. The air-conditioning was on and it was very cold but we stayed in our seats for about 15 minutes in order to get the gist of the film. While we were there a group of students aged about 14 and wearing identical green T-shirts came in and sat down.

Outside, we bumped into Shlomo again as he was hanging around the entrance to his shop as usual and I asked him what had started the war but he said that it would be impossible to adequately communicate the reason in two minutes, which I thought a bit slack. He lost interest in us quickly and bid us goodbye but we stopped in at a kiosk where we bought a slice of pizza and a Coke (24ILS). Then we continued south until we got to a carpark, turned west, and at 12.30pm headed north on Habad Street. At its corner, an American or Canadian aged about 55 or 60 asked us if he could consult our map and I let him browse the thing as it lay on a wall while describing how we planned to proceed. He thanked us and went on his own way alone.

A bit further along an old man with red eyes gave us directions to get to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and then, turning back, at 12.50pm we entered a Korean restaurant we had spied and ordered some soup with rice and a bibimbap. With a Coke the tab came to 103ILS and after eating we headed north on Habad Street then west on St Mark Street. We had seen lots of young soldiers and police walking around in uniform, some of whom carried automatic weapons. It was evident that they were off duty and probably sightseeing, as we were.

After about five minutes’ walking we turned north on Christian Quarter Street but went too far, so turned around and headed back south until we came to a nondescript laneway at the end of which is the Mosque of Omar. Next door to this around the corner is the entrance to the church that was our destination and we went into a crowded courtyard past a sign that contained a number of instructions, including one not to use mobile phones inside (an exhortation no-one obeyed). People from all over the world visit this site, many of whom have black skin. We got to the front door of the church and proceeded inside.

Here, there is a flat, reddish slab of granite having the dimensions of a grave that is set in the floor and at which people were praying. The stone had glass lamps hanging above it, some of which were lit inside and all of which were decorated with crosses. Some people had left photos of loved ones on the stone. Others kissed the bare rock with their lips or placed their bare hands on it.

To the left of this installation ancient flagstones led to a round chamber with a high domed ceiling allowing light to stream down that had come in through openings in the roof. In the middle of the space was a square box-like structure with a door, and a stream of people snaked from its opening, around the curved back of the chamber, past the entrance and out the door into the courtyard. All of these people wanted to go inside the box, which had round viewing portals in its walls that attracted some people to come and pray. Nearby, a dish on a pedestal held candles that people lit from a handy flame. Others lit incense. To the east of the box was a nave with an altar at the end, all of which was richly decorated. Here and there, painted on icons or carved in stone were words in Aramaic (I guessed).

Priests walked around the place from time to time swinging censers heavy with incense smoke. To these devices were attached bells that sounded as the arms of the priests moved rhythmically. At 2.10pm one of these men came through the crowd asking people brusquely to move aside so that they would not impede the service. This is a working church and there are no signs on anything. The meaning of things is opaque unless you have prior knowledge and there is nothing posted anywhere to tell you what anything represents. In front of a wall with a mosaic representing the death and burial of Christ stood an aluminium ladder. Next to a wall in another part of the building stood a forklift truck.

At 2.25pm I sat down to rest opposite this machine on an ancient marble column that was lying on its side. There was an enormous crush of people at the front door to the church when we chose to leave the building with its numerous rooms, many altars, and thousands of devout followers of the old philosopher. The building was consecrated, Wikipedia tells me, in 335AD and legend has it that it contains both the site of Calvary as well as the place where Jesus’ body was buried after it was taken down from the cross. I had no evidence to convince me either way of the truth of this claim but the fact remains that the place is important for Christians all over the world. The range of accents and languages used by people in the building when we were there would defy the most assiduous attempt at making a catalogue.

We got outside and at 2.50pm I sat down for a few moments on a ledge in the courtyard. We then headed east out a different gate from the one we had used to enter the courtyard and after passing the front of a Lutheran church we bought a cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice (that was made using four oranges) and a bottle of water (23ILS for both). This was on the corner of Al Lahhamin Street. When we had drunk our fill we headed south on this street past fruit sellers, butchers, shops selling pancakes, and a shop selling olives and pickles that reminded me very much of a stall I had seen in the vege market in downtown Amman and of which I had taken a photo to put on the blog.

When we got to David Street we headed west through the crowd and a pair of police walked past us up the stairs. They were clearly on duty: the man had a baton sticking out of his rucksack and the woman had a pistol in a holster at her right hip. We went out of the old town through the Jaffa Gate and got back to the hotel by 4pm. On the way up the stairs from the lobby we passed a number of young parents leading small children by the hand down to the ground floor. There was evidently a kindergarten or childcare centre on the first floor. We had seen a crowded room full of children in the basement of a shopping centre we stopped at on Mamilla Avenue where we used the WCs. We didn’t see small children out in groups like this in Amman, although in that city children as young as 10 years can be seen on the street either alone or in pairs, or walking with a parent.

At about 5.10pm I headed downstairs and bought two bottles of Goldstar beer for 44ILS, which is a price comparable to what you find in Sydney for the same kind of thing. At about 7pm I went down to the lobby to collect the laundry we had left at the front desk in the morning, and also bought another bottle of Goldstar. I used the stairs each time in an effort to avoid the lift. Some of the clean clothes were still a bit damp so I lay items out on the furniture in my room and hung most of the shirts in my closet on coat hangers brought from Sydney.

Later we went out to have dinner and walked south along King David Street to George Washington Street where we turned west. The restaurant I had picked up from Google is named Angelica and it is located inside a limestone building on this street.

We sat down without a booking and I ordered a Shapiro beer, which had a sweet, rich taste and was a craft beer brewed locally in Jerusalem. I ordered a main of salmon and my friend ordered a bowl of zucchini and mushroom soup and an endive salad. Before this arrived we got some complimentary dips and fresh bread rolls. The dips were basil aioli, eggplant, and dried tomato and when we had finished the rolls the waitress brought us some more (at 9.05pm). We shared the salad and for dessert we ordered tapioca pearls with coconut cream and fresh fruit. With this came some dessert wine (two glasses for me) that was also on the house. It was called “Ice Wine” and was made at Hevon, a town located about 30 minutes’ drive south of the capital.

The stereo in the restaurant was playing mainly recent pop music although at one stage ‘Cecelia’ by Simon and Garfunkel came on. The meal came to 365ILS, which was about the same as we had paid to get from the border to the city. After eating we walked for three minutes to get back to the hotel.

Above: Looking south near the Jaffa Gate.

Above: A laneway near the Jaffa Gate.

Above: A tunnel in the Christian Quarter.

Above: The view from the roof of the Hurva Synagogue. The building shown in this picture is a mosque.

Above: Hurva Synagogue seen from Habad Street.

Above: Some local tourist tat in the Christian Quarter.

Above: The courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Above: The entrance to the church. 

Above: The shrine in the church.

Above: The domed ceiling in the church.

Above: The main nave and altar in the church. People cannot enter here.

Above: People taking photos of the shrine, where hundreds of people at a time queued to get in to pray.

Above: The installation next to the entrance where people prayed at the "grave" of Christ.

Above: Graffiti on the wall of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Above: An icon on the wal showing the three Marys meeting the Angel Gabriel in front of the tomb.

Above: Olives and pickles for sale on Al Lahhamin Street in the old city.

Above: A busker on Mamilla Avenue. I gave him a pocketful of coins and asked if I could take his photo using gestures. He sang in Hebrew.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Jerusalem day one

We had breakfast in the hotel in Amman and then at 7.50am set off with our driver Waleed in his Toyota Camry. The charge for the ride was 30JD and we drove through the city then over the mountains in the Al Adessia region, from where you can see the Israeli side of the Jordan River. Amman is at 2000m elevation and by the time you get to the bottom of the hills where the river is you are below sea level.

At 8.35am we turned north toward what was labelled on the road signs as the “Baptism Site” but I didn’t ask Waleed about this. The King Hussein Bridge is in the same direction and we drove through irrigated countryside where, Waleed told us, they grow bananas, oranges and lemons. “Lots of farms here,” Waleed said. He has a green card to work in the US and visits there regularly.

We arrived at the terminus where a solider carrying an automatic weapon stood guard. As soon as we got out of the car an old man with a very weathered, very tanned face came up to us with a strange-looking metal trolley and we put our bags on it. We then went through the open portal and left around the back of the building that stood next to it. We came to a door where there is an access point for luggage, and here put all our bags on a conveyor belt. On the other side no-one was watching the video display and I wondered if a scanner had even been installed.

We went into a room where many people were seated. We were directed to a counter where I gave my passport to an official. He told me to go to another counter, which was manned by a soldier in purple fatigues and tan boots. I gave him the requisite 10JD and then took the token he gave me to a third counter. They kept our passports and we sat down to wait.

After what seemed like a long time they told us to go to the bus that would take us across the border. The internal luggage storage area in the bus was full however and we couldn’t take our suitcases onto the bus where the passengers sit so they told the two of us to wait for another bus, which turned up promptly. I put our suitcases into the luggage bay in this new, smaller bus and we got on at 9.25am to wait some more. A man got on a bit later and asked for a fee for the luggage, which came to 17JD for both of us, which I paid using some of the remaining dinars I had in my wallet. After a while, at around 10.05am, a uniformed official came on-board. He gave us back our passports with the requisite document included, and we sat back again to wait.

We set off not long after this. In the bus with us was a large American from San Diego who had a perfectly bald skull. He was with his Philippino wife. There was also a black woman aged in her twenties who I guessed to be American.

The minivan went along a road after the terminus that took us through a barren landscape until we came to a boom gate and stopped. We waited awhile and when the gate swung up we set off again, crossing the Jordan River on a bridge before we arrived at the West Bank. We stopped at a building with a boom gate where a man in civilian clothes carrying an automatic weapon stood guard. We were told to get off the bus and leave our belongings onboard. We all went to a mirrored counter that had a pass-through installed in it. We put our passports in the chute so that they could be viewed. My passport came back as soon as I put it down and I stepped back to wait for the other passengers to have their documentation looked at by whoever was behind the opaque glass.

We got back on the bus and proceeded along a series of short stretches of road until we arrived at the arrivals building. After getting off the bus we took our luggage and put it on one of the trolleys that are provided to help tourists, and proceeded into the building.

The first counter I got to was staffed by a young blonde woman who took her time looking at my passport photo, and at my face, to make sure the document was really mine. Then the suitcases and hand luggage went onto a conveyor belt leading to a scanner, and bus passengers had to walk through a metal detector. When I walked through the alarm sounded so the man in front of me who was seated at the counter told me to take off my glasses, which I did. I put them down on a table next to the gate. After going through the gate a second time I was clear. I picked up my glasses and put them back on and walked forward.

You have to pick up your bags after this and go to the immigration counter. The man there asked me a number of questions, including what my profession was, where I would be staying in Israel, and how long I would be staying in the country. I went past him, faced up to another counter, where my passport was checked again, and then went to the currency exchange counter to change some US dollars and Jordanian dinars into shekels. US$110 converted to 364 shekels and 41JD converted to 170 shekels.

Once outside we asked for directions and went around the side of the building to where there is a counter for new arrivals to use to order a taxi. I told the clerk sitting there where we wanted to go and he said that it would cost 350ILS (new Israeli shekels). I gave him some bills and he filled out a form which was passed to another man. A driver was waiting there and he took the form and went off to get his car, which turned out to be a white Mercedes B200d that was quite new. By 10.40am we had loaded all the luggage into the car and had set off south on our 45km drive to Jerusalem.

At 10.53am we turned right to head west onto Route 1 to Jerusalem and at 11.10am we went through a checkpoint in a built-up area where there was a guard carrying an automatic weapon. The car radio was playing quietly as we drove but the first thing you notice in the country is that Israeli drivers stick to their lanes, a far cry from how drivers go about their business in Jordan. The roads are also better-maintained and -signposted. Don McLean’s ‘Starry, starry night’ was faintly audible on the car stereo as we entered the city. The traffic at this point was light because it was the Sabbath. We passed the Jaffa Gate in west Jerusalem at 11.16am and saw a group of orthodox Jews standing in front of a synagogue. Some young men crossing the road had the talit, a kind of cape, hanging from their shoulders and down their backs.

We arrived at the hotel after about 45 minutes’ driving. I never got the driver’s name and I suspect he speaks little English. He hadn’t said anything in reply when he had been asked to slow down, but this was perhaps because of the phraseology used; on the highway he was often going over 120km per hour. As we got into town he slowed down and spoke a few sentences. Overall he was businesslike and at least indicated when changing lanes at speed, which was a relief and was in stark contrast to how drivers behave in Jordan.

At 11.25am we left our luggage at the reception desk because it was too early to check in, and went to the restaurant in the hotel to have something to drink. I had a Taybeh beer and with a diet Coke the tab came to 41ILS (about A$17). The beer had a sweet, smoky taste. We sat in the lobby for a while after this and then went to eat some lunch in the same establishment we had just used. I had mediocre maklouba with chicken (a dish that mainly features a type of savoury rice) and my travelling companion had spaghetti all’olio. My meal was nowhere near as good as what you can get in Jordan for less money. With two more beers and a cafe mocha the tab came to 199ILS (about A$80) which is a more than what a comparable restaurant would charge for similar food in Sydney.

We later took some dirty laundry down to the front desk but the woman there said that the service available the following day would be cheaper because it would be charged per bag rather than per piece. So we kept our laundry bags with us for the moment and had a look at the gym and swimming pool under the hotel before  returning to our rooms in the tiny elevator (there is only one) with its miniscule rate of progress. The hotel was built in the early 20th century out of local limestone and has a spectacular vaulted ceiling in the lobby. When we arrived with our luggage I could only fit myself and my suitcase and rucksack in the lift. I dropped them off at our floor and went back down to collect my friend.  If only they would fix the floor access the place would be perfect.

Our rooms faced roughly east, and toward the old city centre. Outside the windows I could see cypress trees and white limestone buildings, both of which reminded me of Amman. This fact is unsurprising when you consider that you can see Jerusalem from the hills surrounding Amman. The two cities also lie just either side of the same river.

I plugged in my computer and phone, using the same plug adapter that worked in Jordan, and sat in my room alone watching the election results come in from Australia on the SMH website, as well as the reactions of people on Twitter and Facebook.

At about 5.15pm I went out to find some cash and asked for directions at the front desk. The woman there told me to go across the street to a petrol station where they have an ATM. I walked across the thoroughfare, which is not busy, and past an art gallery displaying some shiny, modern-looking works possibly inspired by Jeff Koons, and entered the shop that services the petrol pumps. I asked the sales clerk if I could use my credit card with the machine outside his shop and he said it would be fine. I also asked if it would be in English and he said, “Yes.” It wasn’t though, but the machine did function as planned and gave me what I had asked for, which was just in case we came across a restaurant that refuses credit cards. I had asked the guy at the YMCA restaurant if he accepted US dollars but he said he didn’t, so I guessed that most stores in the city would have similar policies regarding legal tender.

Back at the hotel I noticed a security guard sitting on a stool near the front door, just next to the lift. He hadn’t been there when we had checked in. He wore a black sports shirt and held a bottle of water cradled in his left arm. Later, at about 6.20pm, I heard a carillon sound nearby from my room where I was sitting at my desk. Outside the old-fashioned iron windows with their rectangular panes, each about a foot high and 10 inches wide, a decorative sandstone cloister had been constructed when the place was built, so you look out through arches and past columns to the cream-coloured buildings on the opposite side of the road.

Later we went out looking for restaurants in order to have dinner. We asked directions a couple of times to get to Hillel Street but not much was open and after wandering around for 15 minutes we went back to a place we had at first entered and had left. It was called Focaccia Bar and it was noisy with customers. We stood around for about 10 minutes before getting a table and then we ordered some seafood marinara, a salad with baby tomatoes, bocconcini and anchovies, and a plate of chicken with a mushroom sauce. The seafood came with bread. Even at 9pm people were still ordering food. What we ordered was too much for the two of us and with the two Leffe Blonde beers and a red grapefruit juice the tab came to 277ILS. Then we headed back to the hotel. On our way through a park we passed a group of about 30 14-year-olds who were walking on the pavement with some adults. Some of them were talking in English.

Above: Some graffiti in Amman.

Above: Jerusalem seen from across the river in Al Adessia.

Above: The marker showing sea level. To get to the border you have to go down below this level.

Above: Jordan seen from the West Bank.

Above: The YMCA Three Arches Hotel.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Petra day four

Actually it was half a day in Petra and the rest of the day journeying to Amman, or thereabouts. In the morning we had breakfast in the hotel as usual and then headed back to Petra to use the second day on the tickets we had bought. We got into a horse drawn buggy at 10am almost immediately after getting a price (30JD) from the guy sitting in the terminus. This price would cover both the inward and outward journeys and we established a time at the outset when we would be back at the Treasury to get in the buggy for the return leg.

We jolted down the trail as the driver urged other tourists to get out of the way with cries of “Open way!” With clicks made with his tongue he urged the horse, which was a male (I feared asking for its name, but it was very well-behaved considering the circumstances), to move ahead. The horse slowed down at the right times and sped up at other times. It evidently knew the route well. We arrived at the end of the ride at 10.15am.

We took photos at the Treasury then headed further into the complex and snapped away happily for the next 90 minutes. In the end we just made it back right on time. The driver when we got to the buggy was away at the kiosk and a colleague of his was manning the contraption in his stead. We had been hailed by our friend Raida while we were walking along the path but we told her that we didn’t have time to talk with her even though she wanted to introduce us to her sister. The ride back up the hill took about the same amount of time as the ride in and at the end the driver asked for a tip (“I work for tips”) and I gave him 5JD; I was so happy to get back to the hotel in time to get the taxi I had booked to come at 1pm. Then the terminus manager asked for a tip as well and I gave him the same amount. In all the ride cost more than half what it cost us to get from Petra back to Amman, which lies 250km away.

I had paid the hotel bill using a credit card earlier and the taxi was already at the kerb when we got back to the building. My travelling companion went up to her room to pack her stuff and I waited in the lobby. Our bags were in the taxi by 12.50pm and then we were off.  Our driver was named Maruan and he is Palestinian. His car is a 3-year-old Hyundai Sonata hybrid. Maruan has two sons and three daughters and was born in Jordan.

As we were driving along I remarked on the dust columns the wind would pick up from time to time. They are called “hausefe” in Arabic, Maruan told me. He also told me about a road accident that had happened the day before on the same road we had used to get to Aqaba, in which a camel had been hit by a car. The camel had ended up inside the car and had been killed. The driver had been taken to hospital. Maruan added, for colour, that camels are worth 2500JD. He then asked me about “football” and I had to clarify as we play four different types of game with that name in Australia. He meant, of course, soccer, and he told me about the win Jordan had just enjoyed (2-0) over Australia at a game held in Saudi Arabia. By 1.35pm we were on the highway heading north among the trucks bringing shipping containers from Aqaba. Maruan pointed out several that had Egyptian number plates.

By 2.40pm Amman was still 75km away and at 3.05pm we passed a truck that had come off the road and was lying on its side on the rough shoulder, its underside facing the highway. There were several cars assembled around the wreck, including a regular black-and-white police car. Maruan took us off the highway at 3.15pm and 15 minutes later we passed Amman’s Royal Tank Museum.

Before heading to the hotel in the “wastel belet” (city centre), Maruan stopped by his sister’s house to pick up some cash (100JD) that his sister’s son had promised him on account of Ramadan. This nephew is rich, Maruan told us, and it is customary with Muslims at this time of year for members of the family who have money to give away cash to family members who are not as well off as they are. The same man, Maruan went on, killed four or five sheep each year at the same time of year and distributed the meat among family. Maruan's sister also gave him on this day a bag of the savoury yoghurt sauce that Jordanians put on their cooked lamb to make mansaf. He told us that all his children had gone to university and that the youngest was just finishing.

Maruan told us a bit of the history of Jordan and Palestine which further research showed was a bit dodgy. But it struck me how many Palestinians there are living and working in Amman. Our driver to Petra had been a Palestinian. The guy at the front desk of our hotel on Hashemi Street, who wears glasses and has short hair, also turned out to be Palestinian.

After eating a meal (combined lunch and dinner) of mansaf lamb, kufteh with tomato sauce, and a Greek salad (33.6JD), which included two beers for me, we went for a last stroll along the main drag and stopped in at some shops, including a sweet shop that sells dried fruit (7JD for a kilo), nougat, and other confections.

Above: The crowds of tourists at the "Treasury" at Petra.

Above: One of the Captain Jack Sparrow lookalikes with a number of money making machines near the "Treasury".

Above: The amphitheatre has stage entrances for actors and singers to use to come on-stage.

Above: The amphitheatre's wall is made of rubble (interior) held together by concrete. The dressed stone is just for facing.

Above: The main temple at Petra has beautifully-made hexagonal flagstones, which attest to the level of craftsmanship used at the site.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Petra day three

Our last day in the south of Jordan turned out to be fraught for a variety of reasons but most of all due to the mercantilism of the country’s taxi drivers. Once you are in a cab you are fair game and they will try to get as much money out of you as they can without openly stealing your belongings and throwing you out of the car onto the road’s rocky shoulder.

The day started with breakfast, as usual, after which we went to the visitor’s centre to ask about buses for the following day. On the way in we stopped to talk with a taxi driver whose name, it turned out, was Khalid. We told him we wanted to go to Wadi Rum and he wanted us to get in the cab immediately but we told him to wait ten minutes so we could go inside and get some information. He agreed to meet up at the prescribed time and when we came out of the compound we talked with him about the price. The information board at the site entrance said 45JD but this was only for the journey to Wadi Rum. Khalid told us it would cost 70JD for the round trip and this would include his waiting at the visitor’s centre at Wadi Rum for two hours so that we could go on a tour. We agreed and got in his three-year-old Hyundai Elantra to start our journey. The wind was from the east at a gusty 10 to 15 knots.

Kahlid told us he lives with his sister and mother and he displayed a frightening propensity to get angry with other drivers. On one occasion this involved stopping the car, winding down the window, and having a heated verbal exchange with another driver. At 10am we stopped at a lookout to take photos. We were in the Sharah Mountains and as we went along I saw a big black bird flying near the car. I asked Khalid what kind of bird it was and he said it was a crow. Then he said something like “hang your chances” when you see a crow, which I translated as “make a wish”. This turned out to be apt in the circumstances.

After driving for 30 minutes or so we turned off south onto the High Desert Way and past a certain point drove near some irrigated crops which Khalid said were cucumbers, tomatoes, and potatoes. At 11.20am I saw a sign saying that Aqaba was 46km distant and at 11.25am we turned off toward Wadi Rum. Khalid drove along a road with a single carriageway until we reached a building with a parking area out front that was filled with cars. He had been pestering us to get him to call his associate so that he could organise a “jeep” tour for us, but we wanted to see the visitor’s centre first, so declined his offer. This made him agitated and he started asking if we trusted him.

When we arrived and parked he got out of the car and walked over to a man and spoke with him. He brought the man back to where we were standing beside Kahlid’s yellow car and Kahlid introduced us to the driver of the jeep (which turned out to be a Toyota Hilux diesel with a modified tray that had welded and riveted seats and a canopy on it). I gave the man, who wore a grey kameez and white shalmar, 50JD as instructed (35JD for the tour and 10JD for the entry fee for two people) and we went inside the compound where I asked for 5JD. I went into the store and bought a Coke and a bottle of water with the note he gave me.

We walked back to the Hilux and he got out a grey plastic step from the tray and put it behind the vehicle so that we could climb up onto the tray. After driving for a short distance my travelling companion said she wanted to sit inside the cab so I knocked on the glass partition in front of me and Mohammed stopped the car, got out the plastic step, and let her descend to the safety of the earth. Mohammed turned out to be a very good driver and we drove across a sandy wasteland that had tall rocky outcrops scattered here and there that made for a strange landscape. “Wadi” means “valley” and “rum” is a kind of horned herbivore that might be an oryx, I could not ascertain its identity for sure. Khalid had said it was a kind of deer, which was typical of the people of the area.

Online there is no trace however of this etymology anywhere but the same kind of logic had the magnificent monuments inside the ancient town of Petra labelled as the “Treasury” and the “Monastery”, even though the edifices in the case have never had anything to do with what the names used for them might suggest.

Stopping periodically we took scads of photos in a landscape made famous by the Hollywood movie ‘The Martian’. It wasn’t a valley but it was certainly strange. At the third site where we stopped there were some ancient Nabataean carvings on the face of a grey rock cliff that might have shown evidence of civilisation for tens of thousands of years. There is no information sign in the vicinity of the artwork although there was a garbage bin close by. At 12.45pm we set off from this site and at 12.55pm we arrived at the fourth site. Here I spoke briefly with a Polish man with (like me) traditional Jordanian headgear on, in an effort to find out where he had come from. At 1.05pm we left the spot and drove to the fifth site where, at 12.20pm, we drank a cup of tea made from cardamom, sage and cinnamon. There was a carving on the face of a rock near a Bedouin tent that was what Mohammed told us was a likeness of Lawrence of Arabia.

A group of about 30 Italians arrived in three “jeeps” and piled into the tent we occupied. The man in charge of the operation at this point went around the whole collection of tourists placing a dab of myrrh on each person’s hand. This was an invitation to browse the shop’s wares, which included such regular tat as scarves and necklaces. The country is saturated with this kind of stuff. The Italian guide translated the word of the scent for the benefit of his charges.

We left after about 20 minutes and in the Hilux meandered our way through the alienating landscape toward the visitor’s centre where, at 2pm, I bought more drinks for us. We got back into Khalid’s car to the sound of his grumbling at our lateness. It was 20 minutes past the time agreed for us to rejoin him and he wasn’t happy although we said we had had no control over the itinerary once we had got inside Wadi Rum. He brightened up when we agreed to go to Aqaba. At 2.40pm we arrived at the highway and turned west toward the coastal town. At 3.05pm we arrived there.

The town is situated in front of giant cream-coloured hills made of igneous rock and it is a sprawling settlement now, much changed from the 1960s when the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was made there. Khalid took us down to the shore of the Red Sea and we looked out on a rocky bay with, in the close distance, the Israeli settlement of Eilat and, further south and west, the coast of Egypt. We were told that you cannot cross in a boat to Israel as police patrol the waters but that there is a land border with a no-man’s-land in the middle separating Jordan and Israel.

Then we got back in the car and went in search of food. Khalid said he would give us some food and he proceeded to ask a series of people if there were any restaurants open that would agree to serve us at this time of day. He asked the people working in restaurants and even a man in a car that stopped in the road. The man had a beard and gave a long explanation that ended up coming to nothing. We eventually parked outside a KFC and Khalid got out of the car (it was still 38 degrees C outside) and went up between two buildings. He came back and said he had ordered a pizza for us and we waited about 10 minutes then Khalid got out of the car and wandered off again, then came back with a flat box with the food inside it. We drive to a park and ate standing up in the shade of a tree.

At 4.05pm we left the spot in the car and drove back north toward Wadi Musa, from where we had started out in the morning. At 5.15pm we turned off onto the Kings Way again and close to our destination I asked Khalid how much I still had to pay him. I had told him that I didn’t have enough cash with me and that I would have to go to hotel room to get more banknotes and he had agreed to take us on the strength of this promise. Now he told us that he wanted an extra 100JD in addition to the 50JD I had already given him. The trip to Aqaba had been promised in exchange for 60JD and there was still 20JD owing for the trip to Wadi Rum but now he said he wanted 20JD more for the food.

This caused a lot of problems for us and an argument ensued on the basis that he had said that he would give us the food. A shawarma had been the article in the initial offer but that had not eventuated due to the constraints of Ramadan. Now he wanted us to pay for what we had thought was a treat. We eventually got back to the hotel unscathed but it had been a very trying day with the combination of extreme heat in Wadi Rum and the long drive on a road teeming with slow trucks and speeding light vehicles. In the end I only gave him the agreed-on additional 80JD even though, after I had gone to my room and brought the cash back to his car as it stood by the kerb, Khalid tried at the last minute to get an extra 10JD out of me. I told him I didn’t have any more money and left him frowning at the bunch of banknotes in his hand. But he was immediately engaged in touting his services to a pair of tourist who were walking on the pavement toward uptown.

The two of us rested in our rooms for an hour or so then we had dinner later in the hotel restaurant, which offers a buffet. I also ordered a Petra beer. The tab came to 30JD for both of us. After eating we went out and got some more dinars to use during the rest of our stay in the country. We still had to get back to Amman and I wasn’t certain the regular passenger bus would eventuate.

Above: The view from the Kings Way, near Wadi Musa.

Above: On the road from Wadi Musa to Wadi Rum in Khalid's Hyundai Elantra.

Above: Mohammed in his Hilux.

Above: The strange landscape of Wadi Rum.

Above: Ancient Nabataean rock carvings.

Above: The rocky outcrops of Wadi Rum.

Above: A Bedouin tent.

Above: At Aqaba looking southwest to the Egyptian coast.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Petra day two

We had breakfast in the dining room of the hotel and then got ready to head out. I bought a large bottle of water (0.75JD) and then we went to the visitor’s centre but found that you need your passport (or some other form of photo ID) if you want to buy tickets to enter the site. So we headed back to the hotel to get the right documents. By the time we had organised ourselves correctly and paid (using a credit card, which was convenient) it was 10.30am when we entered the site and started walking. We would be walking still after eight hours and there would be no lunch just countless bottles of water and cans of soft drink. The wind blew steadily at about five knots from the west during the day.

We stopped for refreshments as soon as we got inside and bought an ice cream then got talking with Saad, who was staffing the kiosk. He told us that Chinese tourists don’t buy anything in Jordan but that they do buy things in Israel. This kind of story seems to be commonplace in Jordan. The main enemy is always in sight for them. A pair of fake soldiers turned up when we were sitting in the shade at the kiosk and we had pictures taken with them. I tipped them (at their request) 1JD each and we headed further into the sandstone valley.

When we got to the “Treasury” we stopped of course to take photos. This part of the site is called this because legend had it that the pharaoh had hidden treasure in the urn at the top of the carving. But the monument probably had other uses and there are tombs below it. Tombs are everywhere in the valley of Petra as well as ruined buildings and fabulous ancient carvings in the reddish stone.

The Treasury exhibits influences in its designs from Egypt, Rome and Greece as well as some carvings that originate with the Nabataean culture native to Jordan. So it is a hybrid. The Jordan Museum calls it “multicultural”, and based on the fact that the civilisation that created it become wealthy through its location on trade routes, that seems like a reasonable claim. A bit further on I bought a can of Coke for 2JD.

A shop in the complex at this point named Why Not Shop is indicative of the mercantile habits of the Bedouin who are the people you find throughout the site doing business, selling things, steering horse-drawn carriages, leading donkeys or camels, or asking people if they want to go on tours. They are usually young men but some children as young as eight or so are involved, as well as old women and women of a marriageable age. They all have this in common: if they can they will earn money from you. As a tourist you are an available resource. When we talked later on with a 12-year-old girl named Raida it was evident that the Bedouin who do business in Petra do not often even go to Wadi Musa, which services the site. Rarely they get as far as Amman.

Taking photos as we went, we passed some flowering aloes and stopped again for refreshments, this time a Lipton tea and some freshly-squeezed orange juice (5JD total). A group of women all of whom were aged in their fifties or sixties, and all of whom were either from Brazil or Portugal, were sitting in the shade as well. There were Germans, English people, Italians and French people around as well. Even Americans come this far to do the pilgrimage to the top of the mountain.

In the kiosk we found ourselves in at this point in the journey you pay when you leave. Outside, a young boy named Mohammed on a donkey offered us a ride on Shakira and Karolim, but we declined. Many people do go up to the “Monastery” on these poor animals regardless of the weight of the human involved. When we stopped to rest further up the mountain a young woman who might have been Italian said that she would never take a ride on one of these beasts because, she said, it would be cruel to do so.

At 1.25pm we arrived at the Crown Plaza Hotel which is just before the steps taking you up to the top of the site. We ducked into the restaurant hoping to get a feed but the man near the door said that the space inside was only for the use of tour groups. We would have to sit outside. But there were too many flies around so we left immediately.

At 2.05pm we stopped in a shelter where there were chairs to rest, and drank some water. I had carried the bottle with me for this purpose. A man on a donkey asked us if we wanted a ride but we politely declined. He was persistent though and said we might reconsider later. If we did, he went on, we should try to find him. “My name is Mohammed with the gold tooth,” he said with a wide smile, pointing with his finger at the relevant canine. Further up we had two Cokes in the shade and a man named Solomon who spoke fluent Italian introduced us to Raida who, he said, didn’t have an email address because she was too young. Solomon told a group of Italians who stopped by that during the high season 6000 or 7000 tourists come through the valley of Petra and up the mountain every day. We took photos with Raida and then carried on like pilgrims, determined to get to the top but suffering immoderately for the sake of our grand ambition.

At 3pm we arrived at the top and I bought a Coke and a chocolate-covered wafer (3JD for both) but the confection didn’t get eaten and ended up back in the hotel room, melted. I also bought some more water at the same kiosk at the top (2JD) and at 4.15pm after taking an inordinate number of photos, we started our descent; we would not get to the visitor’s centre until 6.10pm.

On the way down we met with Raida again. She was talking with a young woman who promptly tried to sell us some of the things that were hanging on the display frame she was seated next to. Raida offered to take us to see another carving but I was too tired and sat down, so my travelling companion went off with her to see it. While they were away the woman who remained managed to coerce me out of 20JD in exchange for a scarf. She said any money I gave her would go toward helping her people. She also gave me a bracelet that she asked me to choose from the items on the stand, for nothing. When my friend came back my friend took out some lipstick and applied it to Raida’s face; the two of them were getting along swimmingly.

With the ringing voice of Raida’s companion in our ears we managed to extricate ourselves from the pair and continue on down the mountain, step by painful step. But Raida was in pursuit and came up to us as we were negotiating the flatter part before the gorge swallows tourists up like a prop in an Indiana Jones movie (one film in the franchise was actually shot here in the 80s). The three of us walked along companionably for a while, talking, and Raida gave me a blue bracelet to give to my daughter. Raida was voluble, as her people tend to be, but would clam up depending on what was said to her, or even pretend not to understand if she was unhappy with the direction the conversation was taking. This kind of dealing was a welcome change however to the endless touting and the cheeky comments that usually come from the men.

Raida was a superb communicator and told us many things some of which were probably not true. If she went to school it would have been evident in the accomplished English she used during our conversations. But she also said she was helping her parents, who stayed at home and did not work. Her young brother, she went on, was at school and she was helping to pay for it. The king of Jordan moved the Bedouin out of the caves of Petra in 1985, we later learned, and put them in houses. But the lifestyle persists in the way that the people use the ruins to their advantage.

Raida eventually left us to meet with a friend, a young girl. And as we got closer to the exit the exhortations to take a ride of one type or another got more and more frequent. 30JD was suggested for a ride in one of the buggies (or carriages) that ply the route from the entrance to the Treasury. We kept on declining until we got back to the hotel, got our keys, and made our way to our rooms, where we collapsed.

For a few hours anyway. We later got our act together long enough to go out and get food; we had eaten nothing since about 9am. The Sandstone Restaurant seemed decent and sitting on the front balcony was the young woman who had told us her feelings earlier in the day about donkey rides in Petra. Her hair was down this time and I didn’t recognise her at first. She was sitting with a young man and we soon left them and ordered a mansaf (lamb with rice) and a vegetarian dish which also came with rice. With it we had fresh orange juice. In total it came to 26JD and the waiter brought us some sweets at the end so I tipped the staff 1JD after paying.

On the way back to the hotel we were waylaid by the operator of a store named Lawrence of Arabia, who told us many things about the Bedouin that we didn’t know before. His English was perfect and I thought he was Australian at first. But he was Bedouin and he said that when he was young his people would move to different places and live in tents during the harvest (wheat and barley). They also, as is more commonly known, run sheep and goats; there had been goats up at the top of the mountain when we were coming down, in our exhausted state. The store owner gave us some delicious tea and then (unsurprisingly) tried to get us interested in some tours he could organise for us if we wanted. We declined and after I bought a large bottle of water (1JD), the two of us headed back to the refuge of the hotel where we knew no-one would try to sell us anything.

Above: Some of the caves in the sandstone at Petra.

Above: A more ornate cave at Petra.

Above: A large group of German tourists.

Above: A horse and buggy. The man walking alongside the conveyance is the Bedouin who operates it.

Above: The gorge and the "Treasury".

Above: Me in front of the "Treasury".

Above: A group of tourists and some more caves.

Above: The "Monastery" at the top of the mountain.

Above: The descent. You go down the same way you go up. Clearly, going down is a lot easier than going up.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Petra day one

We woke up in Amman and had breakfast and packed our suitcases, then got some help to get them downstairs to the pavement on the street where our car awaited. The driver was a young man in his twenties or early thirties named Umar, a Palestinian who had been born in Jordan and who has a Jordanian passport. Umar has six married brothers and six married sisters and still lives at home with his parents. He said that his immediate family numbers over 200 persons which, he said with an amused inflection in his voice, means they can never assemble together in the one place.

We left the hotel at 8.30am on our 250km drive. Umar had the same propensity the cab driver the night before had shown of tailgating at speed, changing lanes without indication, and ignoring lanes altogether. Fortunately, his car is a six-month-old Hyundai Sonata hybrid and was in very good condition.

The trip was largely uneventful even though a little trying at times. Umar reassured us, saying that he had been ferrying tourists around for six years. Before that, he said, he had been a truck driver on the Aqba-Amman route. He drove the three of us like a falcon winging its way through a sandy waste where an occasional flock of sheep or of goats broke the pattern of dry, brown hills and tiny, poor-looking villages. At one village you might see a couple of camels. At another there would be a scattering of houses only. By 9.30 Petra was still 180km away, and at 9.55am it was still 140km away.

At 10.10am we stopped at a rest house to use the conveniences and have what turned out to be quite bitter cappuccinos, which were served in tiny paper cups (2JD for two). I bought a T-shirt for my son (15JD) there as well. Umar smoked a couple of Winstons and had a cup of coffee himself. He told us that the Bedouin who live in the southern part of Jordan are more religious than the people who live in Amman. To express this opinion he curled his fingers, his palm down, and then released them in a flicking motion, indicating the ease with which, he thought, most Jordanians treat their religious obligations. But he kind of spoiled the impression this story had made by saying that he doesn’t like the Bedouin.

The way he talked with his hands meant that he was occasionally driving momentarily with both hands off the wheel, which can be slightly alarming at 120km-per-hour. He also used his mobile phone while driving, but this seems to be standard practice for Jordanians.

At 11am we exited the highway and headed west along a road with a single carriageway that was far less crowded than the previous road had been, and a lot less enervating as a result. No fuel trucks to overtake, for a start. But Umar was still using the whole road at will. By 11.08am it was 40km to Petra and  at about 11.40am we arrived in the town of Wadi Musa, which services the ancient Nabataean capital city with its famous ruins.

We stopped and unloaded and after helping us with the suitcases Umar drove off. We went in toward the hotel’s front desk and spoke with the clerks who told us to come back at 2pm when they said the rooms we had booked would be ready to occupy. A porter took our luggage to hold and we left the building. We walked off looking for the visitor’s centre and eventually found it. There, we walked around getting our bearings and organising in our minds how we would handle the next couple of days.

In the building there are displays showing artefacts as well as printed signs (in Arabic and in English) that tell of the history of the Nabataean kingdom, how it was annexed by the Romans in the 1st century AD, and how the Treasury and the other ruins were discovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer named Burkhardt. People from all around the world, many of them coming direct from the Queen Alia International Airport, which is located south of Amman, come to Petra to see the ruins. In fact when you leave Amman to go to Petra you take the airport road up to a certain point.

We then stopped in at a restaurant to have lunch.  We ordered maglouba, a Greek salad, and sambusak (deep-fried cheese pockets). Maglouba is a chicken dish served with rice and yoghurt. The flies in the restaurant were extremely persistent but they left us alone for at least part of the time needed to eat and pay (the meal was less than 30JD all up, including drinks). We then checked in and went to the hotel rooms, which were still being cleaned when we arrived on floor seven of the building, which is located about 300m from the visitor’s centre. Umar had taken us straight to the hotel without any hesitation, a fact which reinforced in my mind his claim to have taken 1000 trips to Petra in his time. The wifi in the Petra Palace Hotel turned out to be much better than what was available in Amman at the hotel we had chosen to use in that city.

After resting for a while we went to the front desk and left some clothes to be washed and dried, then went and got into a cab to head up to the uptown area of Wadi Musa where the restaurants are. The driver as usual gave us his card (his name is Abd Alrahman Salameen) and asked us to get in touch in case we needed a lift anywhere. Once we arrived at our destination we walked around for a while because it is Ramadan and restaurants mostly don’t serve food before 7.30pm, but ducking into a sweet shop we bought some sweets. Then we headed down the hill away from the built-up area and went and sat down outside at Al Mehbash Restaurant (which also has a Whatsapp number on its business card) where they said they would serve us immediately.

I ordered a mushroom soup but it wasn’t nearly as good as one I had had in Amman. We also ordered lamb but they brought us some chicken instead. After using Google Translate to make our meaning clear, we were eventually served a plate of grilled lamb with Turkish bread that had been spread with a salsa made from tomatoes and chilli. This came with some surprisingly tough French fries. The manager also gave us a bowl of diced tomato and cucumber with a dressing on it, which was very nice. The lamb was delicious and the bread was excellent with its tangy flavour. The meal, including two bottles of water, came to a mere 12JD. It was much better than our lunch had been.

We headed off in the dark to find our hotel and eventually made it relatively unscathed (there was a slight stumble on a sloping section of driveway that was covered in some fine powder or dust). A group of British tourists was just arriving when we got to the hotel, where I headed up to the restaurant and bought two small bottles of water for 1.5JD.

Above: The road from Amman to Petra is dual-carriageway for part of the trip. Roadworks sometimes interrupt this configuration. The land is very flat and dry, with little in the way of vegetation for most of the journey.

Above: Overtaking a container truck. Trucks move to the right and let faster vehicles overtake. Usually just coming up close to the bumper of the vehicle in front is enough to get them to move over.

Above: Near Wadi Musa.

Above: Wadi Musa uptown is a small settlement focused on servicing tourists. 

Above: A wide array of non-alcoholic beverages are displayed in this refrigerated cabinet. Drinks from all over the world are sold here.

Above: Inside a sweet shop in Wadi Musa.

Above: A motorway under construction, it seems.

Above: A cemetary in Wadi Musa.

Above: All the local residents appear to turn on lights in the evening in Wadi Musa. The effect is one of celebration.