(Sadly, RT was not on this trip. His presence always makes things more interesting and, of course, more enjoyable for me, but this story just had to be included in our traveling aventures. Hope you enjoy!)
Inside the Lost City
Being the leader of twenty people on a journey to Israel is no small task. By the end of the week, I was exhausted. Nevertheless, our days in Israel had been everything we had dreamed and more, and now, nine of us repacked our bags for a three-day jaunt over into Jordan to visit the ancient lost city of Petra, the rose-red city “half as old as time.” We could hardly wait. Touring Petra would be the icing on the cake.
Eight had signed up for the trip but the morning we were to take a shiroot (Israeli taxi) to the Allenby Bridge to cross over into Jordan, our phlegmatic little friend, Crystal, made a last minute decision to climb aboard. We were happy to have her along as she always makes any adventure more adventurous. The problem, however, was that Crystal had no visa which was required to enter the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, particularly from Israel. We soon discovered that one could not obtain a visa at the Allenby Bridge border crossing, only at the crossing up in the Galilee, a two-hour drive from Jerusalem and another two hours drive back down to Amman before we could even begin our journey down to Petra. I quickly did my math and found that before we even got in a vehicle, we were already four hours behind schedule. But we couldn’t leave dear Crystal in Jerusalem all by herself, so we called another shiroot and pulled our luggage out to the curb.
Because we loved Crystal and wanted her along, I thought nothing of the four-hour detour. It was only when the shiroot drove up that I sensed the first clue that the journey might not be a breeze. The driver introduced himself as “Jihad.” Can you imagine a mother naming her son, “Holy War?” Well, the information was a bit unnerving, but Jihad turned out to be a nice guy and so I put my worries to rest.
About two hours later, Jihad delivered us to a border crossing that was right out of the movies. Our panoramic view consisted of a wide, wide desert of sand with a tiny block building set in its midst. I could just see people running hither and thither while machine guns exploded all around. Nevertheless, we said goodbye to Jihad, pulled our luggage across the hot desert sands and entered the little building safely.
All I recall at this point is filling out papers standing in a little cubbyhole that looked something like a voting booth. I do remember, quite well, being taken into an office in which a very friendly man smiled at me and offered me a seat. And, I do remember that about an hour later, I suddenly realized that he was telling me we had a problem with our visa. Not Crystal’s visa; she was fine. Since I had obtained our visa back in the States from the Jordanian Embassy, I naturally assumed it was perfect and in order. Not so, but not for any reason one might expect. Strangely enough, our group was traveling with a diplomatic visa. One might also assume that a diplomatic visa would make traveling easier and possibly more comfortable. Not so again.
The smiling checkpoint guy had an issue with the reason we were carrying a diplomatic visa. He wanted to know exactly who we were and why we were in Jordan. One does not, he inferred, need a diplomatic visa to visit Petra. Considering the fact that I did not know I was carrying a diplomatic visa, I could supply our interrogator with no answers other than we were just eight American tourists who couldn’t wait to see the city that had been lost for a thousand years. However, since we were believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, amongst ourselves we agreed that our special visa was due to our royalty in the Kingdom of God. We kept that to ourselves, of course.
Throughout the afternoon, the little office began to fill up with various members of our group. Karen offered to telephone her friends in Aqaba who would certainly vouch for our good characters and lack of any manner of plans to harm the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. No spies among us, no terrorists, not even a politician.
In the meantime, my greatest concern was that the vehicle rental agency rep waiting on the Jordanian side of the sandy desert—who turned out to be none other than Mohammed—would leave us, thinking we had changed our minds. But Gene Brooks, the one very handy man in our group, somehow managed to send word to Mohammed that we were alive and well and would join him on the Jordanian side as soon as possible.
While Mohammed patiently waited, we spent another hour in the friendly but persistent border guard’s office and then, out of the clear blue, he said, “Welcome to Jordan! I hope you have a nice stay.” Before we could say, Salaam (peace), Mohammed opened the doors to the 9-passenger vehicle and we crammed ourselves inside. He made ten.
I’ll have to say that the two-hour ride back down to Amman where Gene and Beverlie eventually signed papers for the vehicle and left Mohammed, were quite enjoyable. We were in the ancient tribal territory of Gad who was one of Jacob’s twelve sons and rather coincidentally, the name my grandchildren call my husband. Gad to them is a shortened version of Granddaddy.
We soon discovered that Mohammed (like my friend, Peggy Guthrie) had multitudes of cousins, one of which offered the only lunch menu on the two hour journey down to Amman. With a huge smile, Mohammed explained the culinary delights of his cousins’ restaurant, and while our mouths watered, we nodded in agreement to whatever his plan was. Soon, we were ushered into a vividly colorful restaurant and seated around a table with a gorgeous view of the hills of Gad. Within minutes, our table was filled with all the odoriferous dishes Mohammed had described and we were oohing and ahhing over everything. Famished females must be an interesting sight in the Middle East. We were watched quite closely.
After filling our empty stomachs quite nicely, Mohammed came over to our table rolling a gigantic hookah, offering it to all of us with his friendliest smile. In case you don’t know what a hookah is, I’ll explain. It’s the thing that the caterpillar was smoking in Alice and Wonderland. Remember? I’ve never been quite sure what one might be smoking if one puffed on a hookah but evidently it wasn’t too strong because Mohammed continued to drive us to Amman with no upsets nor accidents.
However, just before we departed—after congratulating the staff on a wonderful meal—the eight women in our group waited turns for the restroom, the door to which was hidden behind a colorfully beaded curtain. I can’t recall which of us entered the restroom first, but from then on, we were eight silly women, laughing and giggling all the way out to the van. There was no commode, just a hole in the floor over which one must straddle or else get no relief. I came home having learned that going to the restroom is sometimes an art one has to learn and that short-legged people have a much harder time learning. On to Amman.
Leaving Mohammed on the street with lots of genuine smiles and thank yous, Gene crawled into the driver’s seat and I rode shotgun with the map in my hand. The plan—my long-studied plan—had been to drive down the King’s Highway to Petra, arriving there in the afternoon while still light. But that was before the four-hour detour plus our detainment at the border crossing. You know, I forgot to take pictures at the border. I will always regret that.
Gene had only driven a few minutes when we came to a decision-making fork in the road. We had three choices. We could take the King’s Highway down through the mountains of Esau to Petra—the idea of which Mohammed thought was rather stupid because darkness would fall early and we wouldn’t be able to see wild animals and such on the small, curvy, isolated mountain road. We could take the Desert Highway which ended up in the same place but traversed the desert rather than the dangerous mountains. There might be a few wild beasts but not to worry. Our third choice was to turn in at the sign that read “Mt. Nebo” and get Moses’s perspective of the Promised Land and then travel the Desert Highway down to Petra, arriving late but with better spiritual insight. Number three won. Experiencing Mt. Nebo was well worth the time.
The Desert Highway presented us with no particularly wild animals but we did cross paths with a few donkeys, dead and alive. And if the King’s Highway was any darker, we would have had to stop the van and wait until morning to travel.
We finally arrived in the lost city (we clearly understood how it got lost) around 10:00 p.m. Our first order of business was to check in the hotel and the second was to get in bed. The day seemed to have expanded like unto the day that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still so the battle could be won. Our battle, however, was not yet won.
The desk clerk greeted us cordially. My good friend, Michelle, who had been living in Israel for about a year and spoke five languages fluently, stood beside me to help with translation if needed. But language wasn’t the problem. The nice desk clerk handed me the keys to three rooms and off we went with our eyes half closed. We opened the doors to our rooms and bid one another good night. What happened next reminds me of that phrase from “The Night Before Christmas,” the one that goes, “When what to my wondering eyes should appear….” We had been given three rooms with one double bed in each room.
After trudging back down the long hallway and reminding the clerk that I had reserved three rooms with two double beds in each room and another single room for Gene, he informed me quite nicely that I had done no such thing. I had asked for three rooms with a double bed in each room. Much later, I came to the conclusion that the word “double” was the culprit. But at the time, the word wasn’t the issue. Sleep was the issue.
The very gracious argument went on quite a while with me continually explaining that our group consisted of eight women and one man and there was no way we could all sleep in three double beds. That particular problem didn’t seem to concern him at all. Over and over, I asked if the hotel had rollaway beds. No, they had no rollaways. Michelle was at a loss. Her five languages were not helping.
There is no telling how long this “discussion” went on with the members of our group left sitting on the floor in the hallway near the rooms. I don’t know if it was the length of the argument or the problem itself that caused quite a few hotel staff members to gather near the counter and listen. I really hadn’t noticed them until one of them, a rather elderly man, looked at me and said in very broken English, “I bild you bed.” He looked like one big smiley face. Michelle and I looked confused, I’m sure. We must have said something like, “Huh?”
It was obvious that all the staff (the desk clerk ignored this aside conversation) agreed with the smiling fellow. Their countenances were filled with happy affirmation and as he led us back down the long hallway, chattering away about “bild you bed,” Michelle and I nodded, agreeing with whatever the great idea was. Anything would have been great at that point.
Literally, within minutes, the guy and his cohorts built enough beds for all of us to sleep in. To this day, I am not sure, but I think “build a bed” takes the place of rollaways in Jordan, perhaps the entire Middle East. Anyway, if you end up over there with no place to sleep, ask someone to build you a bed.
More to come on our Petra adventure…..