Thursday, June 3, 2010

To Jordansalem and Back

I just spent 13 hours in Jordan. 13 hours of non-stop action. 13 hours in which I used many modes of transportation, spoke a great deal of Arabic, and allowed myself to be awed by ancient things. I will proceed, I think, in an orderly fashion. This blog post will flow chronologically based on the mode of transportation required at each time period. Let us begin now:

9: 30pm -- Intra-city bus
I had to get from South Jerusalem to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. Not a big deal. Fine. Done.

10:30pm -- Inter-city buses
480 to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem.

11:15pm -- Taxi
I got off at the wrong station. Well actually I took the wrong bus. Should have taken the 405 and not the 480. My own fault. Stupid me. As usual. And my bus was at 11:59. In a quarter of an hour. So I sucked it up and took a taxi. My driver thought I was crazy for going to Jordan after the whole Turkey business, but whatever. I am sort of crazy.

Inter-City Bus

So my last long, all-night bus ride was from Cairo to Taba. This bus ride wasn't as bad. But it was pretty bad. In terms of the terrain, it similar; also a windy desert/dead-sea roads. In terms of the noise, it was different; there was a Chabad couple and their very unhappy baby on board (right in front of us). And in terms of drama, well, it was intense. There was a guy who didn't make it back on the bus before we left the second rest stop (he was in the bathroom or something) and had to catch up with us because his bag was on the bus and then when he finally got back on the bus it turned out that some 6,000 shekels had been stolen from his bag, and he had no money on his phone to call anyone. So he used my phone. And talked really loudly. While sipping Red Bull. And now I have no money on my phone. So at 5 in the morning we pulled over for a little stopover at the police barrier at the entrance to Eilat to "sort things out". Siyyut (nightmare).

Feet - 5:30am
The bus driver kindly let my friend - alias Glinda - and I off at a turn off to a kibbutz/bird sanctuary/desalinization plant - basically, in the middle of no where. We hiked to the gas station up the hill to ask how to get to the border. The explained(ish) how to get there, and off we went. We went the wrong way. But there was a man from the kibbutz who drove down with his truck to pick up Jordanian workers (sketch?) to take to - presumably - pluck fruit and the like, and he told us how to go. As in, right not left. And the next time he came back for the following round of workers, of he brought us a large bunch of grapes. Gorgeous, delicious, crunchy, green grapes. Breakfast on the border. Yum.

The border (Yitzchak Rabin Crossing/Wadi Araba) opened at 6:30 - and we crossed at 6:30. We went through three windows in Israel, had our luggage and passports checked, paid our exit tax, went through customs, used the lovely border bathroom to change, freshen up, etc. and then we walked to Jordan. We also went through three windows in Jordan. But it was early in the morning, the border officials were happy to be slow, taking time to peel back their eyelids, drink coffee (which, of course, was offered to us), and generally wake up...none of them expecting an energetic pair of girls coming from Israel so early in the morning, especially with one who spoke Arabic. Soooooo, after some playful words, Glinda and I just sort of skipped the part where one is meant to pay the entrance fee to Jordan. just glided on through. Not a penny did we surrender. Ha.

7:40am - Inter-city taxi - Border to Aqaba
We got lucky. I refused the first taxi offer (60 dinar!) to Petra. But the second one I did take. And it was a good thing, too. Our taxi driver brought us to another taxi driver -- one that can go between cities. And this driver spoke English. {I actually started speaking to him in Arabic ...Fadicha! this context, Fashla!} He and I had some exceptionally interesting conversations ranging from the driving culture (or lack thereof?) to the percentages of Palestinians to Jordanians, the percentages of "normal" to religious to "fanatic" people in Jordan, to the glories of America where he intends to return after a 5 year stint in Jordan -- all of his kids were born in the US, he lived there for 7 years managing two franchise restaurants (a pizza hut and something else...I forget). But beyond the conversation: We got to drive his daughters to school! He told us that the cab company had woken him up (it was, after all, 7:30am) and that he hadn't gotten a chance to take his daughters to school, so if we didn't mind, he could drop us off at a coffee shop (he said he'd pay...) for 15 minutes or so while he took the girls (12 and 16) to school. "No, no no! It's quite alright," said we. "We'd love to meet your daughters -- assuming that's alright with you..." "OK...but I want to warn you, the older one wears a headscarf, you know? Hijab. Her friends wear it, and you know, peer pressure..." "O, of course, sure -- we have friends at home who wear the hijab..." "Oh, yes -- but I would never let her wear the naqab (full face veil) -- that's too much, too extreme." "Mmmhmmm..." They were very sweet girls, the 12 year old didn't really speak English and the 16-year-old with the Hijab was very shy. But it was nice to meet them.

8:00am - Intra-city taxi - Aquaba to Petra
Once we got to Petra (Glinda and I slept most of the way, we were exhausted, and I suppose felt a decently secure in our English-speaking cab) we went straight to the Visitors Center (with huge portraits of the King and his son [I believe...] on the wall as you walk up) where we did exactly what our friendly cabbie had recommended: We lied. We told them that we were staying the night (if you stay the night the price is reduced by approximately half) and gave him the name of the guy - along with a description! - who owned the hotel. Now, Petra is a small town, and they bought our story because they know the guy we were talking about (Mahmood -- big guy, bald, chubby....)...until they picked up the Telephone. And I knew we were done for. He didn't know us from yesterday's rotten eggs. It took us an hour to get in. But get in we did - and yes - at the full price. The story I gave in the end was that I must have picked up the card at a different hotel (where our stuff must be! ...It was in the trunk of our helpful taxi driver) and it must be a differnet Mahmood. Must be. Veysmeir.

We walked a little bit. I bought a hat. The price was 15 dinar. I bought it for 2. Haven't lost my Moroccan touch it seems.

Part of the deal when you buy the exorbitant ticket to get into Petra is that the ticket includes a horse ride. But you can tip...if you want. Oh -- I don't think I mentioned how much it actually is. Its 60 dinar. Before this March it was half that and its going to go up by a third to 90 dinar (@#*&%!) pretty soon. That's the equivalent of approximately $130. Something smells here. And its not burning garbage. In any case - I had a fantastic horse ride. The guy understood that I knew how to ride more or less, so he gave me the reins. Bad idea. My horse wanted to run -- and so did I. So off ran Silver and I. Glorious fun. I gave the guy a tip -- but only because the tourism police saw me galloping down the sandstrip and yelled at my "driver" that I couldn't do that. Certainly one of the highlights of the day, those few minutes on horseback, since the rest of the day would be spent - more or less - on donkeyback.

We walked down through the chasm (siq) of Petra and marveled. The whole thing used to be made of one solid piece of sandstone, but has since split, probably over millions and millions of years so that by the time the Nabateans got there (it became their capital in the 6th century) they established themselves in the valley carved out of it. I could talk about the waterways that the Nabateans built, or the Treasury and its facade carved out of one piece of sandstone but it would be useless -- someday I'll post pictures and you'll understand. For now lets just suffice it to say we got to the end of the walking section and were picked up by a Bedouin kid who led us over to his brother's donkeys. He wanted 10 dinar for the ride. I said 5. We got it for 5. And man was it worth it. On donkeyback we saw The Monastery, Jebel Aaron, the Wadi (flowering and flowing, pink and bubbly), climbing up ancient stone steps on donkeyback, sometimes going double, sometimes walking, all the time clutching the donkey with my knees, leaning forward and back as the trail required for the close to two hour trek up.

Our guides were Bedouins. Our taxi driver called them gypsies (and distinguished them from the honest FalaHin {farmers} as the other population living in Petra. And the truth is, he was pretty on target. The men wear eyeliner, they wear their kafiyyas pirate-style, and they try and and rip you something fierce. Our guides were of this ilk. Sweet talking, tea-drinking {tasted like Berber Whiskey!}, loosely Muslim gypsies. I say loosely Muslim because when my guide wanted to give me a new Arabic name (Shireen wasn't good enough for him) and dubbed me "Aisha" I said "Oh! How nice, the wife of the Prophet!" He said: "No....the daughter of the prophet...." "No....the youngest wife of the prophet, don't you remember?" "Oh, maybe" said he. "Oh, I'm not very good at Islam." Yup. Seemed that way. Oh and his donkey reeked...

Donkeys naturally happen to have a glorious, earthy smell - and it seeps from their hair in a - well, in an intense way - when they sweat. And it didn't help that I had swapped my 2-dinar hat for my donkey-driver's sweaty kafiyya. I won't attempt here to describe the combination of smells that assailed (and followed us) as we descended the mount, but I will give it a name and recommend you close your eyes and try to imagine what a whiff might be like: Sweatdonkerfume.

Intra-city taxi - 5pm
We exited Petra the same way we came in (backwards...obviously). About three quarters of an hour into the trip back the driver began to speak with me in FusHa. Judaism and Israel were the subjects of the conversation - my own personal Judaism was his specific interest, which is not something terribly easy to describe in literary Arabic while driving down a desert highway trying to avoid swerving trucks.

Short Tremp - 7:30pm
Our friend from the Kibbutz who brought us grapes was back at the end of the day. He saw us, asked "back so soon!?" and the next time he came back with an empty truck he took us up the hill to the bus station in the middle of no where where we had been dropped off some 13 hours ago. It kind of felt like home.

Long Tremp
- 8:15 - 11
It was HOT - even at a quarter to 8 in the evening - and no one was stopping. The next bus that would help us from Eilat wasn't going to be until 1am. Bummer. So there we were - stuck. A quarter of an hour, a half an hour, three quarters of an was going to be dark soon and we were going to be stuck waiting until 1am. Uggghhhh. And then someone stopped. "Where are you going?" "To the north!" -- DONE. Glinda and I were inside, without a glance at the license plates. But really there was no need -- one of the nicest, most interesting tremps I've ever gotten in all of Israel. I once wrote in this blog that every tremp is like a dream -- this one truly was.

Tremp Tremp
Nice guy - couldn't wrap his mind around where we'd been. 15 minutes - he dropped us off at the entrance to Kfar Adumim.

Bus Tremp
- 11:30pm
Midnight, the road to Kfar Adumim - a tiyyul from the middle school is coming back. And it picks us up. Even the most surrealist of movies can't bring you to the strange disconnected feeling that Glinda and I experienced on this bus. 50-or-so high-energy kids who had just come back from a day in the sun, sucking on their camelpacks, yelling to each other about homework and boys and girls, jumping over to the front of the bus to ask their supervisors a question about where the bus was going to stop. Bright lights, jerky movements, no sleep. Wow. Bizarre.

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