Taba, Egypt; the Border Crossing to Israel;
Eilat; the Border Crossing to Jordan;
Aqaba; the Drive to Petra; the Day at Wadi Musa
I dozed off again after the passport man incident, but soon after that Susanne was tugging on my shirt, trying to tell me that we had arrived in Taba. I looked outside and could see these incredible red rock formations to the left of our bus, and the Gulf of Aqaba and the northern tip of the Red Sea to our right. We were told by a group of South African backpackers on the bus that we had to walk about half a mile to reach the no-man's land between Egypt and Israel. It was a surreal experience - the cold, dead silence of the Sinai morning; men with machine guns atop enormous border towers, enshrined with razor wire and electrified fences; the crunch of stones beneath our feet. At the end of the walk, passport control was relatively painless, taking no more than 15 minutes to fill out some forms, get our luggage x-rayed, walk across the border, and get asked questions by Israeli security (which I am now convinced is run entirely by 19-year old girls).
Once into Israeli, we hopped a local Egged bus for the 10 minute ride to Eilat. As we hugged the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba, we could see Egypt behind us, Eilat straight ahead, Aqaba and Jordan a few kilometers down the shoreline, and the mountain coast of Saudi Arabia less than 10 miles beyond that point. It was a sobering sight, as I thought how this long, beautiful waterfront could be divided so politically among these four nations.
We jumped off the bus at Eilat's hotel strip and wondered around from hotel to hotel until we found one that would let us store our bags, buy some breakfast, and figure out what our plans for the day would be. For many months before this point, Susanne had insisted that we write off at least one day during the trip to allow us to rest and relax. Since we had originally planned to get to Taba, Egypt, late in the day, and not at the crack of dawn, we were a good 12 hours ahead of schedule. So after breakfast, we decided to run for the border to Jordan and catch the 11am minibus to Wadi Musa, the only city near the entrance of Petra.
Our plans were almost thrown off by an incompetent Israeli cabby who accepted our request to take us to the border, but after getting in the car and driving for two or three minutes, he said that the border was closed due to the Muslim Sabbath. Yet he still insisted that we pay for the ride, even though we could go nowhere. He demanded 20 shekels, I said he was crazy. He said he would call the police. In my mind, I said, please, go right ahead, but I really wanted to figure out what on earth was up with this apparently closed border, so I gave him a five shekel coin and told him to sod off. Schmuck.
We ran back to our hotel base camp and asked the concierge about the border. After a bit of checking she said it was definitely open, and she arranged to get us a cab that wouldn't try to screw us over. We then drove to the border, which was about 5 miles away. The new Wadi Arava border crossing was slick and polished, and processing was about as quick as it was back at Taba, if not faster. Our luggage wasn't even x-rayed, which really surprised us. The entire procedure took no more than 10 minutes, largely due to the fact that we got our Jordanian visas back in the US, possibly saving us two or three hour's wait at the border.
We were met at the crossing by a Jordanian taxi that took us to Ailah Square in Aqaba, the home of the local minibus pool. Even though it was only 10am, the 11am bus for Wadi Musa had already departed, so we decided to spend the $40 or so it would cost for the cabby to take us for the three hour drive to Petra, 140 miles north on the Jordanian Desert Highway.
The ride to Petra seemed to pass by rather quickly, probably because the landscape was so stunning. While Susanne slept, I enjoyed being surrounded by red and grey rock formations, jutting well over 1000 feet into the sky, many of which were peppered by black charcoal striations from some massive fire eons into the past. Every 15 minutes or so we would pass a camel caravan or a collective of traditional Bedouin tents on a hill, flanked by scores of sheep and the occasional donkey.
Just before noon, Susanne woke up as we descended toward Wadi Musa, a valley strewn with hills in which Moses once discovered the area's only water source (Hence the name, Wadi Musa, the riverbed of Moses). The driver tried to drop us at some hotel we hadn't heard of, but I insisted that we go to the Al-Rashid Hotel, which received much praise from Let's Go. As it turned out, the book was right on the money this time - Al-Rashid was new, very clean, and the staff was incredibly laid back compared to the intensity of some of the Egyptian hoteliers we encountered. Our room was a bit small, but nice, but Susanne quickly noticed an enormous spider in the bathroom, so we politely had ourselves moved to a room across the hall. Then, we discovered, the hot water wasn't working, but the hotel staff apologized and fixed it in no time.
Susanne slept most of the day away, still recovering from the complete lack of sleep she received the night before on the bus ride from Cairo to Taba. I worked on my journal, read Let's Go, and wandered the quiet streets of Wadi Musa for a bit. While on my stroll I stopped and got a Coke and some skin lotion for our cracked, desert-worn hands. I also began to conclude that I really liked the Jordanians, or at least, all of the Jordanians we had come in contact with. They were all very nice and sincere, not in-your-face or always trying to sell you something. And if they did had some service to offer or tourist item to sell and you said no, they would usually graciously respect it and thank you for your time.
When Susanne woke up later that afternoon, she turned to me and asked if I had just had a dream about a bomb going off in Jerusalem. Having been awake all day, I said no, slightly confused. She then proceeded to tell me about a rather disturbing, if not ominous, dream she had just had. Apparently, in the dream we were strolling along the tight, sandstone streets of Jerusalem, on a calm, sunny day. I turned to her and said, "We picked such a great time to come to the Middle East. It's been so safe. Not one incident of violence." As soon as I had completed these words, a pretty little girl turned around and looked at us with very bright green eyes and said, "Not yet." She ran away with her little sister, and just then, the sky exploded with lights. Bombs could be heard smashing in the distance. We hit the deck and covered our heads with our heads as rubble and debris crashed around us. Suddenly, it was all over, almost as quickly as it had begun. We stood up and dusted ourselves off.
To make this seem even stranger, Susanne said that as soon as the incident was over in her dream, she woke up and turned to me, also having just woke up, and said she had just had this dream. I then said I had the same dream, too, and that it must be an omen for something dreadful to come. We then went back to sleep, and then woke up later in the afternoon, which was when Susanne asked me if I had had this dream and I said I had not. So, it would seem that the period of time when we had woken up and talked about our same dreams was part of her dream as well. It was all very strange, and for the first time in our trip, it made us ponder the possibility of some tragedy or disaster happening while we were still there. But there was no point of us dwelling on any sense of foreboding - I mean, chances are that if anything happened like a bombing or a killing while we were in the Mideast, it would be so unlikely for it to impact us directly. Indirectly, maybe, but worrying about whether or not we'd be coming back to the States in a bodybag was silly. So, we did our best to forget about it.
The water was now piping hot, we showered and headed for dinner - a lovely meal of yummy vegetable soup, pita, hummus, three kinds of salad, chicken, tea, and desert for only four dinar (about six bucks). And now it's 8pm on Friday, November 3rd, and for the first time on our trip, I'm caught up with my journal. Tonight we'll crash early, get up around 5am, eat, and spend the entire day at Petra, the lost stone city of the Nabataean Kingdom.