Petra Jordan Prehistoric Nabataean Caravan-city and Wonder of the World (4 of 7)

Petra Jordan the Treasury

The Treasury at Petra in Jordan

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

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

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.

Dead Sea Mud
Dead Sea Mud

It was all the rage.  I did get some footage of a family getting all muddied up.

Having Fun with Dead Sea Mud

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?

Waters of the River Jordan

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.

Evil Camel in Petra Jordan
Evil Camel in Petra Jordan

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.

The Monastery at Petra Jordan
The Monastery at Petra Jordan

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.

Walking up through the high walled canyon to Petra… as it is revealed

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.

Insane Donkey Ride in Petra

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…

Skiing in the Desert of Dubai & Road Trip to Oman

Ski Dubai

I’ve been skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in Dubai.  It’s a surreal experience.  I do recommend it.  The novelty factor is very high given the extreme hot temperatures in desert sandy HOT HOT conditions that Dubai and the UAE is known for.

A quick tour of the Ski Hill in the Mall in Dubai

 

I’ve had some incredible adventures in Dubai speaking at TechEd Middle East and at the SharePoint Conference.  My friends L-R Michael Noel, me, and Zlatan Dznic, took our turn at Snowboarding and Skiing the great slopes of the Mall in Dubai.  It’s really a decent hill, likely better than many mountains in the East Coast.  While the snow conditions were a little icy for my taste, I really really enjoyed the experience.  While it was a bit pricey, it was a blast and a great memory.  We all were glad we did it.  By the way, don’t worry about bringing your equipment to Dubai, it’s not that much more to get the full package of the full blue suit, and the gear.

 

Todd Klindt a popular SharePoint speaker went with me tubing, he didn’t want his first experience skiing to be in mall.  For that I don’t blame him.

Todd goes for a ride

Dubai is an amazing Oasis that is so much more than that now.  The world’s tallest building definitely stands out as a must see.  It is.  I saw it going up, and saw it after it opened up, and I’ve been so impressed with the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Dubai, both magnificent buildings. 

It says so much for what is possible with passion and a little money.  Give it a few years, we’ll see if they can hold onto it or if Qatar or Bahrain or Kuwait take on the challenge to push the limits.  I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone of those rich Arab Oasis were to take on architectural feats.  They are all doing amazing things with land reclamation, and the Palms, the Pearl, the World… All these water projects with architectural marvels are so incredible.

 

Not only did I go snowboarding in the snow, I did get out on the sand slopes and had my turn at Sand Boarding as well.  Everything is great until the abrupt stop at the bottom of the slope.  Getting out into the sand and fitting in some camel rides, and having traditional

food around a fire with some possible belly dancing and dancing a bit yourself may sound like a tourist trap, and most of it is.  Which is why I encourage you to track down the real berber experiences.  The multi day trips into the Sahara from Morocco are much more authentic.  Much of what you get out of Dubai is akin to the dude ranch things they put together in the US where they let you ride a horse and show you a farm.  It’s not the same as getting on a horse for a real round up or branding session.  You’ll have to decide what kind of dose works for you on that.  It was reasonable enough and I had a day to kill so I decided to do the touristy thing and go on an organized tour that included the 4 x 4 in the sand, In fact I rode in a hummer which was that much more cool.  That was a great ride.  The camel ride I’ve done too much at this point, but they had that as well.  I always appreciate belly dancing, so that was a great bonus… sitting out under the stars listening to traditional music with the sand in my hair… it was a blast. I must admit. 

There were some campy moments walking around the tents and trying on the apparel, but it was still awesome. 

It’s quite possible to jump in a rental car and drive to Oman, which Michael and I did.  We went all the way to the coast, drove along the beach, and played around a little.  In all we crossed 4 or 5 of the Emirates, and while in Oman we saw the different facial gear the Muslim women wear in Oman.  I was fascinated.  It had more of a metallic face guard looking thing I mentioned in my Qatar post.

I really enjoyed my time in Dubai.  It’s a beautiful Oasis.  The buildings are truly magnificent.  If the Emirates were trying to send a message to the Western World that they should pay attention, I think many many more are really listening.  We are a much more global world.  The days of the Sears Tower and the New York Empire State Building had their moments.  They had their day in the sun, and I think it’s great to see more representation around the world.  America needed to make itself known and now it needs to share that stage.  The more I travel, the more I do recognize the need for self actualization for many other nations.  We need to recognize the amazing qualities of every country and feel their pains and celebrate their wins.  Dubai and all of the UAE for that matter is an incredible Oasis of the world.  They have risen out of the Sand and are a real gem.  Cheers and Congrats on the Burj’s.  Great scenes in Mission Impossible.  Was cool to see where I was.

Post Revolution Egypt – Am I Safe?


It seems like Egypt has for the most part fallen out of the news.  Is it safe?

tanks in egypt

A couple of quotes from an article on Egypt welcomes tourists and affirms safety.

Travel warning lifted

“Ambassador Scobey met with the heads of U.S.-based travel associations NTA, USTOA, ATTA and ASTA, along with tour operators and journalists, at the American embassy in Cairo.

The group was on a six-day, fact-finding trip to investigate travel safety in Egypt and Jordan. I traveled with the delegation as they met Egyptian officials and toured Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Museum and other cultural attractions.

“Our recent visit to Cairo confirmed that Egypt is safe and ready for tourists,” said Lisa Simon, president of the NTA, in an email. “The Egyptian people welcomed us with a renewed spirit and pride resulting from the revolution – they’re ready and anxious to show off the ‘new Egypt.’”

British tourists “never stopped” coming to the resort areas and were motivated by great deals, according to Egyptian tour guide Mina Mamdouh Edwar.

Before the revolution about 270,000 Americans visited Egypt each year, compared to nearly 3 million Russian and 1.5 million British visitors, said the Egypt Tourism Authority’s Samy Mahmoud.

“Foreigners have been coming back steadily [and] there have been very few problems,” noted Ambassador Scobey.”

While the elections press on, Egypt itself is definitely on sale.  Tourism is such a huge part of Egypt’s GDP.  Egypt has had to borrow money to sustain the governing that is going on.

I personally toured Tahrir square, Egyptian Museum, about a dozen Pyriamids, Kahili Market from the north into Alexandria to the far south in Abu Simbel.  The people are very welcoming, and they want to share their “New Egypt!”

I was there over a year ago, so it’s only gotten better in the last year. This picture was a rare one of a couple of tanks.  Life is back to normal.

As a traveller looking for the place without the crowds I think you’d find there are tons of reasons why you’d want to go while it’s still fresh in others minds, and would consider somewhere else.

If I told you there were no police or the police was the army, but you are in one of the safest places… you might not believe me.  I visited Egypt following the Jan 24 Arab spring.  In fact I visited in Spring 2011, in April.  The taxi driver we were working with was picking up people at the Libyan border and providing transport.  Now you’ve got resolution in Libya and Tunisia.  Syria is having issues, but that’s north of Israel.  Look at a map, it’s not that close.

If you are considering a trip, I’ve got a few twitter friends who live in Cairo that could give us the on the streets update.  You can ping me on twitter @joeloleson or just add it to the comments.

My kids got into the spirit of it.  In fact, Jared pictured on the right is wearing the shirt of the revolution.

Happy New Egypt

In Arabic #Jan24 and New Egypt.  You can see the guard here is pretty excited about his choice of clothes.  Another worker same day asked if it was ok to take a picture and post it to facebook!

Continue reading “Post Revolution Egypt – Am I Safe?”