Going for the Holy Grail

Morning came harsh and early, but we had to persevere for just one more day of tourism before heading home.  We had something particularly awesome to look forward to in Petra, so that made the sleepiness bearable.  The nice folks at our hotel had made us some boxed breakfasts since we were too early for the complementary breakfast there, so we wolfed down some pastries and headed down into Petra.

To give a little background, Petra is an ancient city built in to a canyon that dates back to something like 300BC, first by the Nabataeans then the Roman Empire took over.  It was partially destroyed by earthquakes in 363AD which was the beginning of its demise, and eventually the last people were forced out by the Arabs conquering the region and poisoning the water supply in 663AD.  If you’ve seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you know Petra.

The entrance was literally 15 feet from the door of our hotel, so we were quickly on our way in.  We were joined by a friendly dog who guided us down into the canyon (we named him Indiana, natch) and towards the Treasury, which is probably the most famous part of Petra.  Zach tried to make us do a jumping picture, but it was far too early for that noise..

Sad attempted group jump photos

That was terrible, guys.  Just terrible.

Along the way there are various other ruins to explore.  You can also see remnants of the pipe system they used to run water in to the city, which was really ingenious.  They were able to collect water and pipe it down into the canyon and basically create an oasis, plus they made a series of dams and reservoirs to prevent from all regularly being swept away in flash floods.

These are some ruins:

…and this is where the pipes went.



The rock that makes up the mountains that surround Petra is just insane with bright color striations.  My pictures can’t really do it justice, but you can at least see the different shades.  IMG_2576

After about 10 minutes of walking through a canyon, you come around a little bend and …oh, hello.


Can you imagine the first time some western explorer dude came across this?

Zach’s foresight to get us up early was greatly appreciated when we got here and had the place to ourselves.  It’s not often you can have a picture of yourself at one of the wonders of the world without some other tourists wandering by and ruining it.  P1100017

From here there’s lots of tombs to explore as you head further in to the city.  Depending on where and when they were built, how buried they got in earthquakes, and how grave robbed they got in the 19th and 20th centuries the ruins are all in a variety of shape..  some things like the Treasury are almost perfectly preserved, while other parts of the city have nearly melted back into the mountain.


Oh look at me, I'm a rich Petra dweller living in my Rock Mansion

Ahh, it’s good to have tomb.


Here is a much better example of what the colors were like:



Nature, you crazy.

There is also, of course, plenty of merchandising.. lots of people set up little shops with trinkets and tea and the like.


There are still lots of areas where excavation continues and things are still being rebuilt.  Zach has been to Petra a few times before, but there was even some new things to him that hadn’t been uncovered yet the last time he was there.  This particular temple thing (that’s the technical term) is being excavated by archeologists at… um, I think it was Brown University.


We then began the long climb up a mountain to go see the other jewel of Petra, the Monastery.  I assume because monks like solitude they decided to stick their monastery way the hell up there.  There are tons of Beduins with donkeys who offer to give you rides up there, but that’s sort of ethically sketchy for a variety of reasons so we hoofed it (it’s really not that bad).


Along the way there’s even more stands with trinkets, along with a variety of goats and cats hopping about, including this insanely adorable kitten that I have to share because it’s been a while since I’ve included a cat picture and also because it is awesome:

Loud kitten


So… we trek on to the top, and we get there, and… yeah, the climb was totally worth it.


The Monastery is probably more impressive than the Treasury.. it’s bigger, that’s for sure.  It’s hard to imagine how people in ancient times got up and down from there, but I guess if it was just monks living there they didn’t need a whole lot.


There was also a nice cafe at the top, so we stopped there for a bit to have some tea and lemonade and we met two other travelers, Jack and Charlie, who were both Canadian and traveling solo but had stayed together the night before.  P1100041

The best part about the cafe is that it was ALL CATS.  SO MANY CATS.



Ok, I have now effectively made up for the severe lack of cats that this travelogue has had for the last several entries.

Anyway, we got to talking with Jack and it turned out she was trying to get to a nature preserve that was between Petra and Amman, where we were heading later that afternoon.  She had been planning to take a bus, but since she didn’t have much stuff we could cram her into our shitty, shitty rental and drop her on our way.

From the cafe there was a few more lookout points that you could walk up to at the very top of the mountain.  One of them had a sign that proudly stated “BEST VIEW”, so we kinda had to go check that out..


The view was pretty damn spectacular, even at a safe and respectable distance from the not at all elaborate safety measures they put in to prevent you from plummeting to your grizzly death and then being eaten by goats.


The trip back down the mountain was uneventful, though we did stop to spend a few random dinar on trinkets along the way.  When we got back down it was late in the morning and things had gotten much more lively, with more tourists around and people doing demonstrations and such.


At this point we decided we were hungry and also wanted to get on the road to get our 3 hour drive back to Amman over with before it got too dark outside, so we hiked back out to get the car and find some lunch.


Zach asked for schwarma recommendations and we were guided to a place that certainly was no Schwarma Reem, but was totally serviceable and also dirt cheap.

Lunch with Jack, the Canadian solo backpacker

Once again, check those unflattering schwarma faces.  As you can see, we got a whole pile… many of which we left in the hotel in Amman for some unlucky cleaning person, but more on that later.

We then got on the road and got to drive through some small towns and through some gorgeous mountains and then down into a valley to drop Jack off at her destination.  She went on her way, and then we had to try and coax the shitty, shitty rental car up some gigantic hills… which, for a moment, we thought we might not be able to do.  Thankfully the ol’ crappony made it and we got back on the highway towards Amman, the Citroen beeping at us if we went too fast all the way.

We didn’t quite make it back to Amman before dark and we had the added fun of hitting the city right at peak rush hour, so the last bit of our drive was pretty stressful… but after a few detours and close calls, we made it to the swanky Le Royale hotel back in Amman.  Zach used to live nearby and could see it from his house (it’s tall) but never could afford to stay there.. so this was an aspiration fulfiller for him.  It was also the second depressing time that we checked in to a really, really nice hotel that we wouldn’t even be staying at for an entire day… and in this case really it was only about 10 hours before we’d have to leave to catch our 6:30am flight.  We weren’t even there for a moment of daylight, so the awesome view from our 20-somethingth floor room was somewhat wasted.


Ok.. it was still a pretty good view.  We got settled in and cleaned up and then headed down to the German style sports pub to have a few drinks before we were to meet some of Zach’s friends for dinner.

So, I’ve mentioned a few times in here that Kate was looking for a soccer scarf from the national team of Jordan for her brother, since he collects them.  She had been asking around in Amman and Aqaba and Wadi Musa (the city outside of Petra where all the shops and hotels and restaurants are) and half the people didn’t even know what she meant and many more claimed that they don’t even exist.  She did find a few people who knew what she was looking for and were incredibly nice and tried to find one for her, even going as far to visiting other shops to try and hunt one down, but with no luck.  We looked online to try and see if she could get one that way with also no luck at all..  we were starting to think that maybe they really didn’t exist.  And then…

We walk in to the pub and there it is.  A Jordan soccer scarf.

The closest we got to acquiring one of these

Now, one thing about the Middle East/Asia in general is that pretty much anything you want can come with a price.  It’s corrupt, but I have to say it’s also incredibly convenient at times..  so with this in mind, Kate began the negotiations.  Unfortunately, this dude was not willing to budge at all..  he kept saying you could get them in the gift shop (you could not) or that you could get them at any store downtown (we had looked).. Kate tried to reason with him that since we were leaving at 3:30 in the morning she could just buy that one off of him and then he could go to any one of these supposed numerous shops and get a new one since he, ya know, lives there…. no dice.  Damnit.  We should have just stolen the damn thing and ran… but I guess not causing an international incident in the name of a soccer scarf was also a valid choice.

We wanted to go back to the same delicious restaurant that we had gone to our time around in Amman, particularly because it was a short walk from our hotel, but as it was a Thursday night, which is really Friday night in the Arab world, when we called they said it was all booked up.  Thankfully B harnessed the magical power of the concierge at our hotel and he got us the hookup for a table.  Much manti and delicious chickens for us!  We also had to end the trip the way it started, with anise flavored liquors.


After dinner we made a quick excursion to a convenience store to get a few last little odds and ends we wanted to take home, like tea.  B and I headed back to our room to take what at that point would basically be a nap before we all agreed to meet in the lobby at 3:30am.  Zach and Kate broke on to the roof of the Le Royale and then Zach took an across town stroll before also settling in to a wee nap so we could be headed to the airport to arrive with plenty of time for our 6:30am flight.

Cue the room phone ringing me awake in our pitch black hotel room.  I grab my iPhone to check the time and it’s… OH SHIT WHAT IT’S FIVE WHAT THE FUCK WHY DIDNT MY THREE ALARMS GO OFF WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?  I stumble around trying to find the room phone that actually works and finally answer to an equally panicked Zach who also was wondering how the fuck all four of us managed to sleep through/turn off/somehow screw up our alarms.

Thankfully I had packed our stuff up almost completely the night before, so we were able to throw on clothes, grab our stuff, get down to the lobby and get the car in record time.  Kate and Zach soon followed and we took off.  In a normal situation, the drive to the airport would take about 30-40 minutes, but Branden pushed our little Citroen to the limits, the governor screeching warnings at us that we were going too fast, Zach trying not to spray the side of the car in vomit, and Kate and I sitting quietly in the back thinking speedy thoughts.

We got to the airport with no time to spare and thankfully got an understanding and efficient person at the car rental return counter who let us throw the papers at him and run.  We busted in to the airport and rushed to the counter just to be told that the flight is already closed.  We all gave him our best pathetic, hysterical “no, please, no, just let us on” and, Allah bless him, he got on the phone and talked to someone and then let us check in.  We made it through security (only after Branden discovered that he left his large knife in his carry on and after for some inexplicable reason an agent cut a hook off my toiletry bag that I have flown with at least 20 times and never had a problem with) and got to our gate and soon we were soaring off to Istanbul again.

On the way from Istanbul to Amman we were able to watch the map and see what route we took, so I could tell that we flew a relatively non-getting-shot-down path…  on the flight on the way back it did not show us a map of where we were flying, and we did not fly over nearly enough water to have gone the same way we came.  Honestly, I’d rather not know.  All went well and that’s all that mattered.

We had a 4 hour layover in Istanbul’s airport, which was… a layover.  Look at how excited Zach is about it.

A few days prior several dudes from ISIS had been caught trying to get to Germany posing as Syrian refugees but were busted when the hotel they were supposedly going to had no record of them, so security was understandably completely insane.  There was 2 customs checks to get on the plane and anyone without a US passport had to provide the address of where they were going before they could board… which resulted in boarding taking for freaking ever and us leaving over an hour late.

Flight home was bumpy at first and then uneventful…  just long.  So long.  So goddamn long.  I just wanted to be home.  I did finally watch The Godfather and their inflight music system had Exile on Main Street so I was able to persevere.

We arrived in Chicago to a freaking snowstorm, because of course the only snowstorm of the year would hit when we have to drive through it after being awake for approx 24 hours.

Before and After.
It was hell.  We nearly died, but we didn’t and then we were home.





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