We departed Sharm El Sheikh early in the morning and headed to the Israeli border. After paying numerous fees and answering lots of questions about our travels we made it across Israel and into Jordan. Our tour guide / driver was waiting for us and we started the trek to Wadi Rum. At Wadi Rum we took a 2-hour jeep ride through the desert. Wadi Rum is essentially the Jordanian equivalent of the Grand Canyon. There are lots of awesome rock formations some even with ancient carvings in them and the Martian was filmed there.
After lunch we made our way to Petra. We were there in the afternoon and since it is low season there was almost no one there! We were both surprised by how vast Petra is. The walk to the famous Treasury was about a mile from the gate and on the way you pass tombs carved into the cliff sides with both Egyptian and Greek influence and even some carvings of camels.
Our tour guide said that the Treasury is actually misnamed and that all of the buildings carved into the cliff sides are actually tombs. He said that the treasury was not, in fact, used for daily living but funeral ceremonies and burial. I’m not sure I believe this because he also pointed out two different ancient water systems throughout Petra, an aqueduct and a clay pipe system, and why would tombs need water? Regardless of the use, Petra is unbelievable and you can clearly understand why it was named a World Wonder.
After viewing the Treasury we walked further into Petra and learned more about other tombs that were previously believed to be the courthouse and jail. We also saw a Greek-Roman temple and arches. At this point our tour guide left us to explore on our own and we decided to trek the 900+ stairs to the Monastery. On our way up we saw lots of Bedouin shops, camels, and goats. There was even a donkey that looked slightly suicidal on the cliff edge.
Once we reached the top we were rewarded with a great view of not only the Monastery but also all of Petra below. After getting a Gatorade and some great photos we headed back down for the 1.5 miles hike back to the Petra exit. Our tour guide told us it would take about 5 days to see all of Petra but we were satisfied with our experience.
The next morning we again got up early to head to the Jordan-Israeli border for a day trip into Israel. The drive was a couple of hours down beautiful mountains and along the Dead Sea, but the longest part of the ordeal was getting across the border. First on the Jordanian side they ‘apparently’ exponentially increased the Jordanian exit fee that day so we argued with them for a while and then just ended up paying it (over $100) – pretty sure someone besides the Jordanian government made some money there. Then we had to wait for a bus of other tourists because we weren’t allowed to go in a bus with locals across the border – don’t ask me why, I still don’t know. Finally when we got to Israel we had to go through about 5 different security, immigration, and customs checks before we finally met our driver and tour guide on the other side. The whole ordeal took about 3 hours – the longest border crossing I’ve ever done!
With most of our day eaten up by the border crossing we drove from the West Bank to Bethlehem. Our first stop was the Church of the Nativity where it is believed that Jesus was born. There is now an alter over the spot with a Star of Bethlehem over it. Around the corner is where they believe Jesus was laid in a manager. The church built over these two historical spots is actually Greek Orthodox however the Catholic Church that does the Christmas services on TV every year is next door and the tunnels underneath lead to the same spot. We also got a chance to go through these tunnels.
After lunch we headed to Jerusalem and our first stop was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where it is believed Jesus was crucified and buried. Our tour guide was Palestinian and it was definitely an interesting perspective. He told us how there are 6 different churches (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Catholic, etc.) that have churches and lay claim to this site and that they often fight with each other so they finally had to give the key of the church to a Muslim family to open it and close it every day.
We got to touch the rock on which Jesus was crucified and the slab on which is body was washed. The tomb in which Jesus was buried is not open to visitors but there is a giant shrine and alter on top that we were able to go in and we did see. It was slightly eerie and weird that we were taking photos in essentially a murder site and graveyard but we gave into peer pressure and did it too.
We did go into the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathea was finally buried. Joseph originally built the tomb in which Jesus was buried for himself but he gave it up when Jesus died and this gave us a picture of what Jesus’s tomb probably looked like back then.
After visiting several of the chapels inside the church we walked through Jerusalem and saw an Evangelical Lutheran Church which is the denomination we got married in. Then we headed toward the markets that are built on the old markets of Jerusalem. There are places where you can see the old walls and columns of the market and there are even some murals that help you picture what it looked like. Finally we made our way down to the Jewish quarter past the massive Synagogue where we got a view of the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock. After ensuring we were properly dressed we went into our separate mens and womens entrances and soaked in the experience of being at the Wailing Wall.
Our final stop of the day was just across the valley from Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives where even with the sun setting we had a spectacular view of all of Jerusalem.
The trip back to Jordan took about a third of the time but we did have to pay another massive exit tax to Israel. I’d say it was worth it but if I ever go to Israel again I’m definitely staying much longer!
We were incredibly exhausted by this point in the tour so the next day we decided to take advantage of a free day and not do any site seeing. Luckily our hotel was at the Dead Sea so it was the perfect place for relaxation. We went swimming, slid down the water slide, floated in the Dead Sea, and indulged in a mud mask. Drew even tasted a drop of the Dead Sea and his reaction was enough to make me not want to try it! It was a neat and odd sensation not being unable to sink in the water.
Our next stop on the tour was in the city of Amman and our first stop was in Jarash, a city of Roman ruins. At this point we’ve seen Roman cities from England to Jordan – it’s incredible to think how large their empire once was. If Jarash had frescos and mosaics still intact it would definitely rival Pompeii. The City Square and main street are almost as they once were. There is a hippodrome were people could still race chariots and a massive fountain that with a little imagination would remind you of sites in Rome today.
We climbed the steps to the Temple of Artemis, which is located in the highest point of the city and I stood in the same position the statue would have. The theatre is still in excellent condition to and they still hold professional concerts there though all we saw were some old Jordanians who use to be in the military playing the bagpipes.
Our next stop was the King Abdullah Mosque in Amman. Then men’s area is beautifully decorated inside and out. The women’s area isn’t as nice but they do have a T.V. (it’s to watch the sermons from the men’s side) but I like to think they also watch the View in there. Drew and I also got to borrow some sweet outfits to wear into the Mosque.
We went to a couple of other Roman ruins sites and a museum with historical Jordanian garb but Jarash was definitely the most interesting. Before heading back to the hotel for a couple of hours of sleep our tour guide/driver took us for a unique Jordanian dessert called Kanafeh which is kind of like a cheesecake but with a sugary syrup and pistachios on top. It was delicious but too rich for me to finish!