To cross the border into Jordan, we drive through the desert to the Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing, near Eilat. The sun rises in the sky and its rays slice through the clouds for a particularly dramatic effect. It's like the halos around the heads of saints in medieval paintings. It's a fitting goodbye to Jerusalem.
At the border, we're charged a couple hundreds shekels for the privilege of leaving Israel. There's no one crossing here at lunchtime on a Tuesday. In the no-mans land between the two gates, Rob tries to take a photo of the Israel side and out of nowhere, a man with a gun wearing, I kid you not, a mustard turtleneck pops out and yells across the swathe of concrete, "NO PICTURES!" Now that is a fitting goodbye to Israel.
The guy drives like clappers, weaving up from the desert and into the mountains. I'm glad I can't see the speedometer. He tries to upsell his services - call me if you want to go to Little Petra, call me if you want to go to Amman, etc etc - but no way. The guy is shady. He makes us stop at a store and disappears inside for about ten minutes. There are stray dogs outside, dog poo everywhere, and the stock in the store is gathering dust. We buy water and Pringles. Rob hurries him up and we Formula-One our way up to our hotel in upper Wadi Musa. It is a relief to be rid of the guy.
A couple of metres down from the hotel is a mosque. We're right near the loudspeakers. There's a call to prayer three times in the evening, and twice between 5 am - 6 am. The guy on the loudspeaker is warbling and tuneless. He's a hack compared to the ones you hear in Jerusalem.
In downtown Wadi Musa, I excite the many men standing aimlessly around their storefronts by wandering around in a knee-length skirt. My temper is very short for this kind of thing now but here, you have to keep your cool. I've never been good at that sort of thing. There are goats parked on the side of the road. No friendly shawarma shops in sight. Jordan isn't making the best first impression on us. We hide in the hotel for the rest of the night. The Rough Guides description of Wadi Musa is apt.
The next day, we're up early to get to Petra. I've always wanted to see it. It was discovered in the 1800s by a guy from Switzerland who unwittingly discovered it when it was still inhabited by Bedouins and untouched by the rest of the world. He played the long game, going back home, learning Arabic, reading the Qu'ran and disguising himself a local to get in, sketch the sights and uncover it to the rest of the world. The guy is a boss.
We spring for a guide. He's worth it. Knowledgeable, relaxed, friendly. Many, many people hawk the same things over and over - donkey rides, horse rides, carriage rides, camel rides, stalls filled with the same stock of silver bracelets, fridge magnets, and scarves. We cannot walk a step without someone asking if we want a donkey/horse/camel ride or if we want to buy something, look at the shop, or "1 dinar for this or that." It is very very exhausting. At the beginning, I was more patient. By 5 pm that night, I just ignored them.
Even the bathrooms are an opportunity to offload dinars from you. There are no toilet paper in the stalls. A piece of it is given to you by a woman at the door. At the start, I gave them a dinar. By the end, I don't. The fully veiled woman makes warbling sounds, holding out her hand. I say "I gave you a dinar this morning," and walk out. Honestly. It is ridiculous to pay NZD$1.80 each time you want to go the loo.
I observe a man offering donkey rides, hassling a woman, following close behind her on his donkey, trying to engage her in conversation, checking her out when she isn't looking. She's doing her best to ignore him. I want to chuck a stone at him and knock him off his stupid donkey. There's a worrying sign just inside the gate that asks you to report animal abuse to the the Visitors Centre.
You have to keep your cool and your sense of humour around here. Otherwise, you miss the spectacle of the city of Petra itself. The city is enormous. And only 30 percent of it has been uncovered. The rock formations are alien; swirly masses of sand, rock, iron, magnesium and sulfur. As the sun goes down, the city gets redder and redder and redder.
We wave away the choruses of men offering donkey rides up to the Monastery. We're going up the 800+ steps on our own two feet. In the early morning, we have it almost all to ourselves. In bits of shade, we rest, drink water, and look out at the gobsmacking valley below, spreading out at our feet. I'm climbing the highest mountain in Petra in Vans. We pass a donkey with its head in a bush and a woman sweeping sand. I think that's the equivalent of rolling a stone up a hill but I keep my mouth shut.
At the top, the Monastery is enormous and imposing. Simpler than the frou-frou decorations around the Treasury, more sombre and more compelling. We spend about three hours up there, drinking lemon and mint and Turkish coffee in the shade, playing with stray cats, and watching people clumsily climb up into the central chamber and just as clumsily clamber down. Sometimes, I don't know what compels us tourists to do the things we do. Up here, no one is asking us if we want to ride a donkey or if we want to have a look at their shop. You only have to climb up 800 steps to get away from that. Easy.
In the afternoon, we're back down in the valley and there are so many more people now than this morning. Still, it's not as busy as I'd originally expected. Our guide told us that tourism was down 60% due to the ongoing violence around the region. No doubt this has made making a living for everyone around here a lot harder. Maybe it also explains why they are so much pushier than I'd expected too. It mars the Petra experience somewhat but you can find humour in it too. A high-spirited guy from Spain in a stripy black and white singlet jumps into an abandoned Bedouin shack and shouts as people walking past, "1 dinar for water. 1 dinar for sombrero!" In the shade, I consider gathering rocks and trying to sell them. I offer Rob a piggyback ride to the Treasury for 15 dinars. He declines.