When I left Microsoft in 2008, I was planning a major trip. It was my first trip to the middle east, I was to speak in Dubai and Istanbul. I reached out to my technical blog audience at the time and asked the question… Where should I go… Petra, Jerusalem, or the Pyramids? A Facebook friend of mine from Jordan named Mo, responded… come to Jordan and we’ll take you to Petra and setup a meeting with our user group… and more! I was crazy excited such a simple question could be answered so well. As well a blogger in Israel offered up a visit to Jerusalem and opportunity to speak at the User group in Tel Aviv. What a great opportunity to visit the middle east and really see it from a local perspective.
When I laid out my plans originally I would spend a week between Jordan and Israel. The first plan involved me flying between Amman and Tel Aviv, but my time in Jordan wasn’t enough to spend the time I wanted to at Petra, so I changed my plans to meet my Israeli friend Avi, at the border.
Amman is a fascinating city. It is a great modern city, but has a great mix of the old as well. The shops alone you get a mix of modern and ancient. There are places were you can easily find people doing trades such as selling clothes, handicrafts, but my favorite is the food. In Amman there is great humus, meats, and breads. Some say a lot of the food has it’s roots in Lebanese food. It’s common to start with finger foods and then work to the beef, and lamb. You can also find great chicken and turkey. No pork!
Very common to have big platters of food where you can decide what you want.
This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World
- Great Wall of China – Sacrifice of a Nation
- Christ the Redeemer Statue – Religious Icon of Rio Brazil
- Taj Mahal – Sacred Mausoleum of Agra India
- Petra Jordan – Nabataean Cave City of the Desert
- Machu Picchu – Lost Sacred City of the Incas
- Chichen Itza – Ancient Mayan Temple Pyramid
- Colosseum Amphitheatre of the Ancient Roman Empire
There are remnants of Rome, and old ruins throughout the city as well. This Roman Amphitheatre dates back to the before the time of Christ and has some amazing acoustics. I’m pictured here with my friend Mohammed Zayed from Microsoft, who helped setup a lot of my appointments in Amman, he kept me very busy, and personally made sure I was well taken care of and safe.
As well, there are lots of flavored smoke, Houka, hubbly bubbly, smoke shops for just hanging out and chatting.
For tourists I recommend the King’s car collection. One of the best exotic car collections around. Bugatti’s, Ferraris, Rolls Royce, and more…
Well, after spending a couple of days with the technical community with a little tour here and there, and some great food. I was ready to go see Petra. I couldn’t wait! My Jordanian friends suggested that I would really like to see the Dead Sea after all our meetings to relax… So I took their advice, and we headed for the Dead Sea. Once we got there I covered myself head to toe… literally in Dead Sea Mud.
It was all the rage. I did get some footage of a family getting all muddied up.
Being so close to the holy land it was fascinating to imagine that Moses, Jesus, Elijah, and so many of the ancient prophets use to walk these lands. My Muslim friends were so kind as to take me to the River Jordan where Christ was baptized, and the same river where Naaman was told to dip in the River Jordan 7 times in (2nd Kings) to be healed of Leaprosy. You can see the milky muddy river wouldn’t be that appealing. This little river is the border… right next to this platform is an armed guard, and right on the other side of those reeds is an Israeli fort with its flag waving. I’m sure both sides were watching my move. A catholic priest who was part of our tour group offered to baptize my Muslim friends. Poor timing?
After the Dead Sea, and Jordan River, we headed out toward the desert to go track down Petra. We wanted to get into Petra the city and spend the night there to see it at first light. That was a great recommendation… although the route was a bit challenging. On the road, my friend got a flat tire. We had a rough time getting the tire off, and while all of us, and the military that happened by couldn’t get it off, a couple of friendly neighborhood chicken farmers figured it out. This one guy got under the car, and was kicking it so hard I was sure we was going to knock the jack out. I thought he was going to get crushed. I tried to stop him, and warn him, but he didn’t understand me. It was through his efforts we got back on the road with a donut for a tire.
After a number of check stops it didn’t seem like we were getting any closer. Hours passed, and we started getting to know each other better. In this chatting, something came up about Palestinians. What? After being with these guys for the past few days I thought for sure they were Jordanians. They were, but their Parents were displaced. Their parents were refugees from Palestine and had built homes, and families and lives in Jordan. Wow. Amazing. At first I was a little shocked, and scared, but that was simply a media response. It wasn’t a year earlier I had been watching footage and hearing about what Palestinians teach their children about life. It was my first experience with Palestinians and since I felt like I knew these guys I really wanted to know what their perspectives were. It was extremely enlightening to hear how they both knew where their families homes were in Jerusalem. They both were from the same neighborhood even. They had different perspectives on the war and the post war effort of how things were dealt with. I think that’s something that is often overlooked is the literally dozens of collective perspectives of how things are currently being dealt with and how best to end the occupation (as it is explained by most in the West Bank and Gaza), and how to arrive at peace. While I didn’t have much of an opinion on this, I was eager to understand as much as I could. I was after peace, and felt like the better educated I was, I could share what I had learned. A few days later, I’d find out the perspective of my Jewish/Israeli friends, and again in Dubai with even more Jordanian and Palestinian friends, and a year or so later with friends in Egypt, and then even more in a visit to Ramallah.
There is still a lot of animosity. Most wars end with clear lines and boundaries, and some kind of plan to work toward. Instead there’s a lot of confusion, and neither side has found an arrangement that works for the other. It’s a bad situation and the leadership on both sides of the last few decades hasn’t allowed it to work out for either side. Those in the West Bank have tried very hard to make a better life for their families. More on that in my blog on Palestine… to be written.
I’ve made a lot of Palestinian friends… My second trip to Jordan I had a whole crew that made a special trip to see me. I was so touched by their sacrifice, I made a special effort to visit them. There are some very special people and when you get to know them individually, you start putting stories to faces, and see different perspectives… it’s all eye opening and touching.
After driving into the desert and realizing this wasn’t the best idea with a donut on, we drove back to Amman and found another more direct route and arrived in Petra at around 5am. We crashed on a couch at the Marriott, which was also the resort we used when we were putting on the mud. It was great to see Marriott was doing so well. (I collect Marriott points.) We washed up, and after some breakfast, we got entrance tickets and started down the canyon. The sun was coming up, and we were alone as we arrived at the Treasury. WOW!!! It was so amazing. What an incredible building carved right into the stone, a building cut out of a cliff.
Petra was as amazing as it looks and as Indiana Jones makes it look. It’s awesome. Totally worth the trip. Wish I could have spent more time exploring.
After seeing the Treasury, I really wanted to see the Monastery, but I knew it was a lot of hiking with steps involved. I had very little time, since I was going to need to rush off to the border. I was way behind, and I was fascinated by the Donkey ride idea so I talked my friends, one of them at least into riding Donkeys. To this day, he won’t ride the donkeys to Petra. It was a very scary dangerous ride up steps, on cliffs, with a saddle that looks like it could choke the poor little donkey.
Jordan Travel Tips:
1. You MUST see the Treasury. That one is required. The second best is the Monastery. Once you arrive at the Monastery you should go and look at it from various points of view. There are some great places to view it on the hills.
2. Early is best. 6am is the preferred time. Ideally you want the experience of walking through the canyons and it seems dark because of the canyon walls, and as you walk out the sun is shining brightly on the Treasury. Early light is best. The crowds will come as the tour buses arrive and people start coming in on carriages and the routes fill up fast. We didn’t see anyone when we first headed out, but on our way back the Treasury was packed with people and they had a hard time getting pictures without people in their pictures.
3. The Dead sea is worth it. The MUD is amazing! You should definitely try it. The Sea doesn’t stink. It is very relaxing and yes, you can float! Very cool feeling. Keep the water out of your ears and out of your eyes. It burns like crazy.
4. The Jordan River did feel more authentic in the Jordanian natural setting than the one on the Israeli side. In Israel they have a place where people line up to do baptisms, and groups gather to collect vials of water, and have spiritual experiences. The Jordan side was not crowded. There was an orthodox church, and you can ride in the back of a truck to see the ancient steps that show ancient proof that this could be where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
While this footage doesn’t look that bad. You can tell by my expressions that the cliffs and the steps are crazy on the back of a little donkey.
If you’ve got the time, you don’t need to ride the Donkeys. There were also camels… but it wasn’t my day for camels. After my amazing tour of Petra, I flew in a taxi to the King Husain Bridge crossing where I’d find that I was crossing not directly into Israel, but into the West Bank…
Read more about my adventures in the Palestinian Territories & West Bank…