Sunday, July 31, 2011

Twisted Vagabondage Tale From Petra Jordan

To get to Jordan from Israel, we took a taxi from Eilat, an Israeli beach town on the northern tip of the Red Sea, inhabited by a tribe of Zohans in bikini brief swim suits on X, who pretty much blew the yeshiva bocher Jewish-scholar stereotype right out of the mikvah baptism water.

At the Jordanian border, we presented our passports to customs officials. The one who attended us was friendly enough, even if we were coming from Israel, though he was suspicious of my posture pump, which I assured him was not a miniature WMD but a device I carry to decompress the discs in my sore writer's neck.

Passing the small customs outpost, we moved from a Jewish state that has been embroiled in political turmoil since its birth in 1948 to a pro-western Arab kingdom with a higher life expectancy than the US.

Jordan is a nice place. They're Muslims who make an excellent sun-drenched-grape wine. They have Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world, where the climactic scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was shot, back when Harrison Ford was still a fox.

Jordan's capital city Amman isn't so glamorous, but we stayed in a part of town that reminded me of Mexico City. I didn't feel pressured to wear a headscarf. Northwestern Jordan is home to a section of the famed fertile crescent. You know, the cradle of all civilization? Pretty cool.

From the Israeli/Jordanian border, we found a taxi to take us to Petra. Arabs are famous for their hospitality and our driver didn't disappoint, stopping to buy ice-cold orange sodas for us at a gas station which was also his brother's chachka stand, just in case we were in the market to purchase a Petra paper weight or key chain.

Along the route, we passed desert, desert and more desert. That's desert with one S not two. Flat desert, hilly desert, mountainous desert. I'm from California, so accustomed to desert. However, this wasn't the desert with cute little tufts of vegetation you see in California once you're three hours inland from the beach. This was rocky desert, dirt desert, dead desert, the kind of desert that makes you thirsty just looking at it. 

Every once in a while, we passed a small group of gray-clay, adobe-like huts. Or we passed a Bedouin tent pitched near the roadside. Under the baking sun, we'd sometimes see a car pulled over on the shoulder with a man kneeling towards Mecca on a dusty rug for one of five daily prayers.

Finally, we entered a mountainous basin that is located along the eastern flank of a region called Wadi Araba. The winding road ended at Petra, which is located on a slope of Mount Hor.

Petra is an ancient city, carved into rose-colored sandstone rock. Established in the 6th Century BC, Petra was the capital of the Nabataeans and their caravan trade, which brought the people great wealth and power as they were able to put check points in the narrow steep canyon for collecting tolls and taxes. By controlling the water supply with dams, they were also able to create an artificial oasis.

In these pre-Islamic times, the Nabataeans worshipped a variety of Arab gods and goddesses plus a few deified kings. One of the most famous structures carved out of the red rock is called The Treasury, deriving its name from a legend that bandits hid loot there. Petra also features a monastery, a theater, and some tombs.

Since we were spending the night in Amman, we had to leave Petra on the last departing bus. There is much to see in Petra, so we were running late. We were still way down in the canyon, a couple miles from the park exit, and the bus was leaving within the hour.

We weren't going to make it in time on foot. We needed a beast of burden. I'd been eyeing the camels all day, but my husband said he wanted something faster. He called out to a man leading two mules.

“A mule's faster than a camel?” I queried. After getting the evil-eye, I decided it's better sometimes to compromise with your mate. We mounted the mules, dragging our feet on the gritty canyon floor like a couple of jackasses on a couple of asses.

The mules were ambling along at a slower pace than the other tourists. I spotted a man with two horses. By now, we were really pressed for time. We intimated this to the stallions' caretaker, who excited the horses into such a lather that they galloped up the hill out of Petra.

Each time the horse handler yelled “Y'allah,” the animal would burst into a new frenetic sprint. The upside was that we made it to our bus in time. The downside was that the stallion nearly tore me a new pelvic floor.  

Yet, it was all worth it as we dined in Amman that night, sampling some delicious Jordanian wine infused with deep berry flavors. We only had a credit card at a restaurant that required cash, but the waiter told us we could pay the next day. Now, that would never happen in California. Arab hospitality is hard to beat.

Lara Sterling authors Twisted Vagabondage Tales for travelers who like it rough. She is prettier than Vagabonding author Rolf Potts (though Rolf is very pretty) and could kick his ass (though only if he'd like that). She has written for Playboy and Larry Flynt Publications but now hosts an online radio show and blogs at


  1. what a great story! my mouth was watering reading about the wine. nice photos as well. is that the author on the steps?

  2. @Michael. Yes, that is me. I really recommend Jordan -- and their wine. Petra is awesome! Thanks so much for reading the post.