Fri, 20 Jun 2008 13:48:54 +0000

Petra Index Jerusalem Day 1

Getting out of Petra was a lot easier than getting into it. I had my breakfast and just wandered down to the bus station down the hill. I asked which way to the Aqaba bus, I paid the guy his 4 dinar, and got on board. Now that I know there's no need for haggling or shopping around, it's all much simpler.

There was a similar mixture to before: three Japanese, a western couple, and a mixture of Arabs. The western couple had huge backpacks as well as handbags, and filled up much of the aisle. I was glad I was sitting forward of that lot. There's really no room for luggage on these minibuses, and if I'd had my previous bag I wouldn't have been able to find room for it. As it is, I have little enough stuff that I can squash it between my legs.

The road south out of Petra is far more spectacular than the road north. Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the bus and couldn't really photograph it, but some of those hotels have the most amazing views I've ever seen. They look very, very expensive. In fact, on the way we passed what looked like some Jordanian official on a visit, because there was a convoy of six or seven identical black SUVs and even a military helicopter. I couldn't see who it was, but that could explain why there were quite a few troops around Petra yesterday, including a fearsome-looking pickup with a machine gun mounted on the back.

When we got to Aqaba we all piled out, most of us intending to cross the border to Israel. I arranged with the western couple, who turned out to be Canadians, to share a taxi to Eilat.

I should have known that the border wasn't going to be straightforward, with a Syrian visa in my passport. The Canadian couple had no problems, but I was asked lots of questions about my itinerary, where I lived, and so on. Eventually the woman took my passport and said it'd take "five minutes" to process. I had to apologise to the Canadians, but they said the'd wait a while to see if I was OK. It was a bit embarrassing, because I knew that it might drag on. After five minutes I asked and she said "she'd check again in a minute", and I told the Canadians to carry on without me.

At this point I was remembering Toni's story of how much trouble she had with security in Israel. In particular, I was trying to remember how many hours they kept her waiting. There were more questions, and I concentrated on being as polite, friendly and patient as I could. Syria and Israel are technically at war, after all, so it shouldn't be surprising that they take their time over me. And they were polite and friendly themselves. I also had to make sure I stuck to my story: I said I lived in Perth, which is the simplest version of the truth, and best matches what my passport says, but isn't really the whole story.

I didn't mind waiting all that much. There was shade and a drinking fountain, and I was in no particular hurry to get to Eilat. I was only staying in Eilat overnight in case there were problems at the border anyway: it's a resort town, and not very interesting to me. Only fly in the ointment was that I was pretty hungry, since it was about lunchtime. It didn't help that the woman who had taken my passport went out to fetch two large foil trays of food for the immigration staff's lunch. But after about half an hour, she turned up bearing a portion for me. I was pretty surprised and grateful, although I realised that it was only the leftovers from their own lunch. Not bad though. Fried chicken with sesame seeds inside pita bread.

Eventually of course they cleared things up. I think they phoned the hotel where I was booked in Jerusalem, becaused when I said "Jerusalem Hotel" they insisted that it can't be, and eventually I realised it was "Jerusalem HoStel". Good that I had a booking, that was surely a point in my favour.

So I changed my dinars to shekels and caught a taxi. I didn't have a booking for Eilat, but Wikitravel had told me to find a hostel around the bus station. The taxi driver, however, recommended I go to the youth hostel, and that sounded like a good idea. The taxi cost me 40 shekels, about EUR 8 for a short ride, which is astronomical. Double what it cost to go from Petra to Aqaba. Clearly Israel is going to be expensive.

So is the hostel, costing EUR 20 for one night. However, it is far cleaner and more comfortable than I'm used to. Especially because no-one else is in my dorm. The taxi driver said this was the low season: the season starts properly in July, with the summer holidays.

I sat inside and read while I waited for the midday sun to die down a bit.

So about 4:00 I ventured outside. Eilat is a pretty small place and there's not much to do there if you're not iknto snorkelling. The scenery is amazing though, the Red Sea nestled between jagged bare mountains. And you can look across the water to see a massive Jordanian flag flying on the opposite shore.

But the town itself is just full of sunburnt tourists (like myself). I had a vague idea that I might be able to get some more clothes in the mall, but everything was far too expensive. I just bought myself some replacement sunscreen, of the old-fashioned greasy, smelly variety.

I also went off to find the bus station, which I'd be needing tomorrow. In fact I bought a ticket too. Buying a ticket in advance is something I haven't done in a while, but it's a good habit to get back into. Afterwards I tracked down the one place to eat suggested by Wikitravel which sounded bearable, which turned out to be just a tiny kebab stand perched on the street. But they did me a felafel which I have to admit was pretty good.

One thing I have to mention about Eilat, which Wikitravel unaccountably omitted to mention: the airport is right in the middle of town. The taxi driver had pointed it out on the way in. I was going to say "you mean the shuttle bus to the airport, right?", and then I saw the tailfin of a plane and a windsock. You're walking around the malls and a jet will scream in overhead as it comes in to land. I've never seen anything like it.

So then home. I finished off Jill the Reckless, which not only have I not read before, but it's Wodehouse in top form. The Gutenburg project really is pretty cool. I then did something I've been looking forward to for a long time: I shaved. Having a beard didn't seem to help much anyway, I still had bedouin kids calling me "madam" in Petra. I'll certainly be recommending Jordan to any drag queens I meet in future.

Petra Index Jerusalem Day 1