A Maiden Journey From Israel To The Arab world

Michael Lipin
A Maiden Journey From Israel To The Arab world
August 20, 2010

It is July 2010. After years of flying long distances to Israel and exploring it from top to bottom, I feel a growing urge to satisfy my curiosity about what lies on the “other” side of the Jewish homeland. I decide it is time to make my first foray into an Arab country.

I know exactly where I want to go. On a visit to Israel, I catch a one-hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov airport to the Red Sea port of Eilat for a one-night stay at a motel. At 7:30am, a tour company representative picks me up for a short ride to a crossing on the Israeli-Jordanian border.

At the terminal, I meet a Mexican family of five that will join me for a one-day tour of an ancient city recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We clear an Israeli security checkpoint and begin the walk toward the Jordanian side of the terminal, a distance of about 100 meters.

I find myself on a stretch of road lined by fences that crosses a no-man’s land between the two countries. I look for a border line, but can’t see one.

Jordanian Border Crossing

At the other end of the road, two Jordanian soldiers greet us under a sign reading “Welcome to Jordan” with a portrait of King Abdullah alongside his late father, King Hussein. I feel a familiar buzz that comes with visiting a new country and a growing anticipation about where the tour will take us.

We enter the Jordanian border checkpoint and meet our Jordanian guide and his driver for the three-hour ride to the site. It is 9am.

Our route takes us north through the Arabah rift valley, a lowland situated in between gold-colored mountain ranges in Jordan and Israel. The road, known as the King’s Highway, lies on an ancient path leading from Jordan’s southern port of Aqaba all the way to Damascus, the Syrian capital.

We pass a few Bedouin communities en route and stop briefly at a roadside Bedouin market to get some fresh air. This is a sparsely populated region.

By around noon, we reach the central Jordanian town of Wadi Musa, where we pick up our tickets to a nearby archaeological park containing the ruins of an ancient civilization. Petra.

Temperatures are hot – around 35 degrees Celsius. With a big water bottle in hand and a camera around my neck, I enter the park.

Soon, we encounter structures in the rocks around us, remnants of the capital city established by the Nabataeans in Petra about 2,600 years ago.

The Nabataeans were prosperous traders who built an unconventional community of homes, temples and tombs carved into sandstone mountains. They also skillfully irrigated the dry land with a system of canals and reservoirs.

As we walk further along the path, we find ourselves deep within a gorge known as the Siq, which, at times, is only several meters wide.

After more twists and turns, we finally catch a glimpse of Petra’s most spectacular building, the Treasury, or Al Khazneh, which peeks at us through a small gap in the cliffs.

As a big fan of the 1989 film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” I recognize the Treasury’s façade immediately. The film portrays it as the resting place of the Holy Grail. My quest for the cup of eternal life is cut short, though, when I see the Treasury’s entrance is off limits to visitors and guarded by two Jordanian soldiers.

But the building looks spectacular in the bright sun and I waste no time in putting my camera to work. Our guide tells us the Treasury gets its name from a Bedouin legend that pirates hid their loot within its walls. We hear that the building’s real purpose is unclear, but that just adds to its mystique.

A short walk from the Treasury is another impressive structure known as the Urn Tomb, thought to be the resting place of a Nabataean king. It is situated some distance above the ground and requires a short hike to reach it. Entering the tomb’s chamber, I am struck by the rich natural colors of its stone walls.

After descending from the tomb, I retrace my steps through the Siq to return to the Wadi Musa visitors’ center. I join my five companions for one last photo in the park before we board our van for the ride to the south.

We say goodbye to our Jordanian hosts at the border terminal and walk back to the Israeli side. It is almost 6pm, and the end of a brief but memorable visit to Jordan that leaves me wanting to see much, much more.

Michael Lipin is a staff member of Gather The Jews.