Masada, Israel to Petra, Jordan aka A REALLY LONG DAY!

07.01.2010

This morning, Tina and I got up at 4:15a and hit the Snake Trail at 4:45a.  Sunrise was set for 5:40a and we had just under an hour to get to the top of Masada.  I think it was a 400m climb, mostly straight up, with lots of zig-zags, and reminiscent of the “M” trail in Missoula, MT.  Since I was at sea level, I figured it would be pretty easy.  I was wrong.  I am no longer in “Camino” physical condition!  We made it up there with about five minutes to spare for the sunrise.  There were probably two hundred people up there already, some who had walked and some who had taken the cable car.  Many of them were part of Birthright groups from the U.S.  Tina and I joked with a couple of guys that we met that we were probably the only two Christians on the whole mountain!

It was a spectacular view and we walked around for about an hour or so, looking at the remains of Masada.  Some of it has been re-constructed to give a better idea of what things might have looked like when it was a fully populated fortress. 

At about 7a, we descended Masada back down the Snake Trail and went straight to the cafeteria for breakfast.  I was famished!  I think I had two plates of food and also grabbed some fruit for later.  After breakfast, I went upstairs to shower and pack up.  We had to check out by 10a, but the bus I was planning to take to Eilat wasn’t set to arrive until 11:15a, so I hung out at the hostel for a bit before going out into the heat to wait.

I met another woman, Tania, who was also planning to go to Petra and we agreed to share taxis to the border and to Petra.  I was pretty excited about this since I was dreading having to figure it out when I got there.  Tania is from San Francisco, so we chatted about living on the West Coast and whatnot.  The bus arrived and we were off to Eilat without incident.

When we arrived in Eilat, we went to find a taxi and two other girls from the bus asked if they could come with us.  It was 36NIS for the four of us to taxi to the border.  The border crossing was fairly painless, except for the lady in Israel being all cryptic about changing shekels to dinar.  I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what she was trying to say.  I tried to ask her if there was an ATM on the Jordan side but she wouldn’t give me a straight answer, instead choosing to talk in “code”.  I changed some shekels into dinar and called it good.  I had enough dinar to get to Petra and then I would find an ATM later.

We crossed the border and that’s when the fun really began.  There were some Jordanian police officers hanging around and a guy asked us if we needed a taxi and we told him we needed one to Petra.  Then the police got involved and it became very confusing.  We eventually found out there are only five taxis that service the border and they can only go into Aqaba.  Then we would have to change taxis in Aqaba to another taxi to take us to Petra.  Total cost would be 60JD, or 15JD each.  So, we finally made it into a taxi and he took us to Aqaba and we ended up sitting in his driveway while we waited for the other taxi to come.  The taxi driver had his son bring us out cold water, which was such a nice gesture.

The other taxi arrived and we were so fortunate to have the “angry Arab-American” taxi driver.  He was mad he had been called in on his day off to take us to Petra.  So, we received the brunt of his anger in many forms over the next two and a half hours.

It turns out he had lived in Nashville, TN for about 15 years before moving back to Jordan 10 years ago.  He worked as a manager at Pizza Hut and as a car salesman.  He was planning to move back to the U.S. in August because his children wanted to go to college there.

As the trip progressed, he started asking us questions about where we were staying.  Michelle from Washington and Katia from Slovenia were going to a place called Valentines.  As soon as he heard that, he went off about how horrible the owner was and how the place had changed names because the owner had been accused of rape, etc.  Basically, he started bad-mouthing the place and “recommending” another place.

Tania told him about the place she was staying at and he didn’t have anything too terrible to say about it, but he still was pushing for the place he recommended.

You can imagine the response I got when I I told him I was couch surfing with a Bedouin.  He became very animated and gave me a bunch of reasons why I shouldn’t stay with Ghassab.  Keep in mind, this guy has impeccable references on Couchsurfing.com and there were no red flags in his profile.

We endured the “angry” taxi driver the whole three hours to Petra and finally, I was let off at the Circle, in the middle of Wadi Musa.  My plan was to find a phone or someone with a phone I could borrow.  Well, guess who offered to let me use his phone?  Yeah.  The owner of Valentine’s Hostel, the place we were warned about from “Mr. Angry Taxi Driver”.  He had a few other people in his car, so I hopped in and he took me up the street to the hostel.  I explained my situation and of course, he also bad-mouthed Ghassab as well.  He offered to “dial” the number for me and I am fairly certain he didn’t.  Then he showed me how Ghassab’s phone wasn’t even working.  I was so frustrated at this point with Jordanian men in particular, I decided to cave and just stay there until I could figure out how to get a hold of Ghassab.

For the record, Valentine’s Hostel in Wadi Musa, Jordan is COMPLETE, UTTER, HOLE!!!  Do not stay there.  The backpackers and travelers I met were super nice, but the owner is a total con artist and I will tell everyone I know to avoid this place at all costs.  They charge for toilet paper!  If they suspect you are doing your laundry in the room, they will charge you for the water.  (Good thing I washed my clothes in the shower…..)

My excuse for staying there was I was tired, I didn’t have a reliable way to get a hold of Ghassab, and I was starting to believe these jerks.

I went ahead and paid for dinner and breakfast at the hostel since I wasn’t really sure where I was in relation to other options.  The food was quite good, probably the only thing about this place that was.  I met some cool people from other parts of the US and Canada.

Several people were going to Petra After Dark and I decided to join them even though I was soooooo tired.  I made friends with two girls who had been living on a kibbutz in Israel for the past few months.  They were very nice and I enjoyed talking with them.

Petra After Dark is pretty neat.  They light up the path to The Treasury (think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) with candles and then once you get there, they have more candles in front of The Treasury.  There are rugs to sit on and then two Bedouins play different musical instruments, they serve you some tea and then it’s over.  It was nice.  We walked back to the main entrance and I was trying to figure out how to get back to the hostel since I was out of dinars.  I managed to spot my friends from earlier and couldn’t wait to tell them where I was staying!

They invited me to go hang out with some guys they had met earlier at dinner.  I decided to join them since it might get me closer to the hostel than I was at the moment!  The guys invited us out for shee-sha (aka hookah or nargileh) and tea.  I was excited to try it and we all decided apple would taste the best.  It was definitely a different experience.  We had tea, smoked and talked for probably two hours!  I even asked them what they thought I should do about the couch surfing situation.  They suggested I meet Ghassab and make my own opinion.  They knew who he was and didn’t have anything bad to say about him.  I told them that was the most honest thing I had heard all day.  I decided to try and get a hold of Ghassab tomorrow to see if we could meet up first.

Eventually, I made it back to the hostel and I went to bed, almost 20 hours after I had woken up to see the sun rise on Masada.