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Israel/Jordan/Palestine: Win One For The Kippa

Part 1: Tel Aviv / Petra
Segments of the Tel Aviv / Petra section include:

Day 1-2: Tel Aviv

The Beaches of Tel Aviv
The Beaches of Tel Aviv

Israel! My first trip to the motherland - well, my mother's mother's land, anyway. A new part of the world, and one where I have some family heritage; I am definitely pretty jazzed for this trip.

We arrive into Tel Aviv from London, our taxi careening through narrow, dusty streets towards our hotel which, at $115/night, is cheap for Tel Aviv but still overpriced. The dank smell every time we re-enter the room is marginally suspicious. However, after around five weeks of horrid weather and rain between London and Victoria, the 35C+ heat of Tel Aviv is more than welcome. It'd be nicer if our air conditioning worked, but we'll take what we can get.

After checking in, we wander around, poking our noses into some nearby restaurants including one that curiously looks like it is from "Gone with the Wind". We eat massive plates of meatballs and lentils with rice before passing out. I already know I'm going to like it here.

We have a quick sleep, then wake up fresh and ready for Day 2. We spend the morning walking through a bustling market selling Manchester United kippas and Hebrew Bazooka Joe t-shirts, but then stop wasting time and head straight to the beachfront and the Mediterranean. We are so ready to jump in we barely bother to take off our shirts and shorts. The water is like a warm bath, the bodysurfing is great and the relaxed vibe on the beach is unbeatable. It's 24 hours into the trip and I'm already wondering about housing prices and immigration laws.

Tel Aviv Photos
Beaches of Tel Aviv Beaches of Tel Aviv Carmel Market, Tel Aviv Kids Game with Marlboro Surprises Good Eating Tel Aviv High-Rise Housing Protests, Tel Aviv

Day 3: Tel Aviv->Wadi Musa

Marlboros Aren't Just For Adults Anymore
Marlboros Aren't Just For Adults Anymore

Today is a travel day: We will bus from Tel Aviv to Eilat in the very south of the country, then on to Wadi Musa in Jordan. The bus station in Tel Aviv requires some security checks to enter, but so far we haven't noticed the massive security measures we'd been told to expect in Israel. While at the bus station we see the most amazing "dropping claw" vending machine where the only prizes kids could get were packs of Marlboro cigarettes and playing cards wrapped in cash. They grow up so fast these days!

The 5-hour ride goes smoothly, if white hotly. Temperatures soar to over 40C as we head south. We arrive in Eilat and it's sweltering - my best guess is around 42C, maybe a little hotter. I'd make a better guess but my brain is barely working. We quickly get some money changed to Jordanian Dinars and take a cab to the border. The border crossing is both surprisingly quick and unexpectedly eerie.

We are two of perhaps eight people crossing the border, all on foot. Though there is an area for cars to cross, there is not a single vehicle in sight. The de-militarized zone between the Israeli and Jordanian border guards is around 200m, which we traverse by walking down the middle of the road, completely alone, in scaldingly hot sunlight. We see not another soul while we cross the border and hear no sound save for our own heavy, sweaty footfalls. I feel like a hostage being handed over, in an old spy film.

Once on the Jordan side, we catch a cab to Wadi Musa, the city base from which people visit Petra. The driver is a pleasant young guy who drives like a homicidal maniac through Jordan's serpentine highways while speaking on his cell phone or, whenever the calls are dropped (which is frequently), he smashes his thumb hard into his temple multiple times, which I find somewhat disconcerting. I try to not watch him drive as the whole ride kind of freaks me out.

The scenery is staggeringly beautiful - not sure what I had expected, but it wasn't this. Massive mountains and mesas situated in a desert so vast there's no way to see the end of it. The sunset over the desert is a bright, burning orange as the sun sets into an impenetrable sea of dust that rises above it all.

We descend the precipitous hillsides through villages consisting of buildings all the colour of sandstone, the cities' windy, steep roads making the driving even more terrifying. We arrive at our hotel in Wadi Musa in the dark and I attempt to pay our driver. For some reason, he won't accept one of my 50 Dinar notes but will accept a different one. Because neither of us can speak a word of the other's language, I am not sure why. Is it counterfeit?

He points to the different pictures of the people on the two bills - on one there is a man in a suit while on the other the man wears a headscarf. "Bedouin", he says, pointing to the picture of the man in the headscarf, using one of the few words I will understand. This is the bill he will accept. I can't quite make out the image under the taxi's headlights, but I take his word for it and give it to him.

Once inside the hotel I show the other bill to the clerk and ask if it's counterfeit. "The driver said he'd only accept the one with the Bedouin guy on it," I tell the desk clerk. The clerk coolly explains that the picture of the "Bedouin guy" is their king, King Hussein of Jordan. (It turns out that the bill I still had was so old it was only accepted at banks)

The hotel is gorgeous, with an open air pool, a nice lobby and great outdoor dining. While things in Israel were more expensive than I'd imagined, this 4* hotel in Jordan costs $55/night. We want to move in. I have a shisha and we head to bed to get up early for Petra.

Jordan Photos
A girl holds her chocolate bar to the air conditioning to beat the 45C heat The Jordanian Desert The Jordanian Desert Our Hotel Swimming Pool, Wadi Musa, Jordan Enjoying a Shisha, Wadi Musa, Jordan Nighttime in Wadi Musa, Jordan Nighttime in Wadi Musa, Jordan

Day 4: Petra

The Monastery - Petra, Jordan
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We wake up at 6am, have breakfast at the hotel and take a cab to the gates of Petra for 7:30. The cab ride costs 2 Dinar but the driver can't break my 10 Dinar note so he just tells me not to pay him then; instead, whenever I get change, I can just staple some money to his business card and leave it from him at our hotel and he'll pick it up sometime that evening. An interesting - and very trusting - system.

Petra is already scorching hot by the time we enter and it's not yet 8am. The temperature is probably around 35C and we know it's going to go way up as the day progresses. I know this is the setting of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" but I feel like I'm going to melt like the guy at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark". We take shade wherever we can.

As we emerge from the Siq (the narrow, winding canyon that leads into the main area of Petra) and get our first glance of the Treasury through the rocks, it's simply unbelievable. I'm giddy. We are two of no more than a dozen people there and for a brief point, we are alone - one of the most famous sights on earth, and it feels like we have it to ourselves. I am sure I was giggling like a schoolgirl (I blame the heat). We just want to hang around it, it's so beautiful and somehow powerful.

Neither of us really had any idea of the scope of Petra before going in, but it's far bigger than I had guessed. Each bend in the hot, dusty road reveals another incredible sight. We visit the amphitheatre, the Byzantine Church, the main hall. We see a couple of runaway camels, sprinting past us at full gallop, no owner in sight. Each time we turn our head, we wonder, "How the hell did we miss that?" as it's another 80-foot high edifice carved into a mountain. We're absolutely blown away.

We're also really fucking hot. It's over 40C now and it's 9:30am, and there's nowhere to find shade. We decide to buckle down and do the steep 40-minute walk up a mountain to see the Monastery, another one of Petra's main sites. Numerous water breaks later, after passing and being passed by a few equally hyperventilating visitors, we make it to the top. The Monastery is as impressive as the Treasury - as tall, and virtually as beautiful. Again, we just hang out in its presence for a while, eating, reading, drinking gallons of water. I know it's a hard hike up the mountain in tourist low season, but I'm still shocked when it's just Steph and I and two other people at the site and that's it. A wide angle photo from the mountainside nearby contains literally nobody in it. It's magic.

On the way back down the mountain, I have to pee, but in the heat I swear I can feel my body unwilling to let me get rid of the liquid, fighting for whatever moisture it can get its hands on.

We hike back and slowly trudge our way out. The heat is getting to us more now. We see a 10-year old Jordanian boy working there, dressed in a sweater. I have heart palpitations just looking at him. There are also now considerably more tourists and also more workers offering horse & camel rides, etc. The Treasury is no less beautiful on the way out with many more people in front of it, but it makes me appreciate the morning's solitude even more.

Once out of Petra, we flag a cab to take us back to our hotel and are picked up by one in which the driver is clearly taking his wife and baby out to do some errands. No problem, he will take us back to the hotel with wife and baby in tow, natch. At one point, the driver's wife turns and asks us, "You speak Arabic?" When we say no, she smiles and disconcertingly starts talking at length with her husband. I assume they are discussing how wonderful we are.

We have dinner back at our hotel, I have another shisha and we pass out after a very long day.

Petra Photos
Entering Petra Entering the Siq, Petra The Siq, Petra View of the Treasury from the Siq, Petra The Treasury, Petra The Treasury, Petra The Treasury, Petra Necropolis, Petra Sextus Florentinus Tombs, Petra Sextus Florentinus Tombs, Petra Byzantine Church Mosaic, Petra Mountain Trail to the Monastery, Petra The Monastery, Petra The Monastery, Petra Petra Goats The Monastery, Petra Joe Camels, Petra Elephant Rock, Petra