Getting back into Jordan was considerably more easy than getting out of it. I traveled south from Jerusalem to the Red Sea resort town of Eilat with three Welsh guys, and after spending the night we simply walked across the border into Jordan. That was a first. I don’t think I’ve ever walked across a border. Well, I have, from Montenegro into Albania, but that was more or less walking a 200 yard stretch of unguarded road that supposedly had to be traversed on foot, and was one of several sketchy border crossings in southeastern Europe where apparently stamps and passport checks are a suggestion at best. But back to re-entering Jordan, it was almost too easy. Taxi dropped us off in Israel, we received our exit stamps, and walked through no-mans land into Jordan.
From there it was a taxi ride to the town of Wadi Musa, the gateway to Petra. Wadi Musa itself is unspectacular but enjoyable as a small, relaxed town.
Listed as one of the seven new wonders of the world, Petra doesn’t disappoint. Entering the wide rocky valley to the old city center requires a mile long walk through a narrow canyon that at points looks little different than the famous slot canyons of northern Arizona or southern Utah. Winding through one such stretch of canyon the famous Treasury of Al Khazneh slowly becomes visible, and then all at once dwarfs everyone gawking in front of it. It’s entirely understandable why the entrance to the famous site is designed as a bottleneck through the slot canyon.
The magician-like prestige of The Treasury’s entrance is absolutely amazing. I sat in front of it for hours on end several times of the 3-day stretch I spent in Petra. I could’ve done it for many days more. It is without a doubt the defining attraction of Petra, combining an amphitheater like focus of presence, an intimidating facade well over 100ft tall, and somehow, very little erosion for something so intricately sculpted roughly two thousand years ago.
The entire area is spectacular with hundreds of different little sites, many of them unlisted in tour brochures. Several, like the Monastery or Corinthian Tomb have a presence similar, if not quite as amazing, to the Treasury and hundreds of tombs of well-to-do nobles over the centuries cover the bright red sandstone walls of the valley and canyon like honeycombs in a beehive.
And yet what I think I appreciated most about Petra, was how it seemed to have completely different profiles depending on the time of day and the way light cascaded off of different rocks. Being built so deep into vertical sandstone cliffs, certain facades and buildings are sometimes fully shrouded in shadows, and at times directly lit. But the sun, and the viewing, was always best when the light was off center or low in the early morning or late afternoon.
These are the vast expansive deserts of southern Jordan. Further south than Petra, and nearing the border to Saudi Arabia, only about fifty miles inland from the Red Sea. The Wadi Rum was, and for me still, is a difficult place to quantify. I think the best relatable place I can mention would be Monument Valley on the border of Arizona and Utah. Monument Valley is famous for its towering and almost anthropomorphic mesas that tower across the high desert floor like monuments to the past glory of the American west.
Wadi Rum has the same frontier spirit, but a depth that Monument Valley doesn’t possess. Monument Valley, for all of its spectacle, has a clear ending- anywhere you stand looking out the mesas come to a stop on the horizon as if to say the American west had its heyday and it too came to an end.
I had several chances in the Wadi Rum, even amongst my safari group, to scramble up onto high rocks and get unrivaled views, and every time it blew me away to see a landscape that I felt was somewhat familiar, but instead see it continue far out beyond any vantage point.
Wadi Rum was otherwordly. It was a moon scape.
Like the American west, the deserts of southern Jordan had their own pioneering people who exuded the same married-to-the-land feel. The Bedouins of Jordan were wonderful people. Warm, relaxed, and welcoming. Like anywhere, as a foreigner I was propositioned to shop, purchase, and part with my money, but it was rare. I was always welcomed and given space to share, food to eat, and tea to drink. It was not only an experience I will remember for a long time, but a place that I know I will return without any sort of a time limit on my stay.