Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Holy Land Pilgrimage, Tuesday, 3/16

Tuesday,March 16, 2010: Petra

We are on the coast of the Red Sea for a "free day."  A group of us bought tickets to travel to nearby Petra in Jordan.  We got away early, went through the border crossing, and set out on the 2 1/2 hour trip to the remote desert city, ranked by some as the eighth wonder of the ancient world.

Petra is a city carved into sandstone cliffs by the Nabataeans, who began as Bedouin caravan traders, but became the masters of this region's trade routes linking China and India with the Mediterranean coast.  They became a wealthy and powerful people, and created a unique home and civilization.

We walked into the valley through As-Siq, the main entrance to Petra through a stunning narrow gorge passing between cliffs 250 feet high.  We saw other worldly geological formations, beautiful rocks in earthy rose, yellow, bronze, and blue colors.  We followed the ingenious water channels and dams that provided water to the city that was home to up to 40,000 people. 

The most famous building is called the Treasury, which reveals itself through a very narrow winding cliff.  100 feet wide, 120 feet wide, carved into the sandstone wall – it is truly beautiful.  I thought of the poste on the wall of the Petra Cafe in downtown Fayetteville, and I'm looking to talking with the restaurant owner when we get home. 

I had no idea of the continuing scope of the huge city, much of which still lays hidden underground, not yet excavated.  There is an amphitheater that seated 4000, many cave tombs, and amazing carved facades into the cliffs.  We walked over seven kilometers, and didn't see half of it.  Truly an amazing wonder. 

On the bus, our Jordanian guide told a story to warm us up for the trip, and to make a point about the spiritual richness of this area.  The Pope was visiting in the Middle East, and saw a phone that he recognized.  It was a direct phone line to God.  He asked if he could make a call.  Of course, said the host.  After the Pope had finished, he asked how much the phone bill would be.  Four minutes, $200 a minute – $800.  A Middle Eastern neighbor asked if he could make a call also.  After four hours he hung up and asked How much?  Let's see, said the host, four times 2... $80.  Why was his call so much less? asked the Pope.  Of, from the Middle East its a local call.

While some of us were in Petra, others enjoyed a relaxing day in this resort town of Eliat, Israel.  Some snorkeled in the reef, at least two parasailed, some rested on the beach, others at the swimming pool, at least one enjoyed a mud-bath. 

During the meal, Suzanne invited our bus driver to come and sit with our group at her table.  In conversation they learned that he has three children, a daughter age 11 and two sons, 10 and 8.  He was very animated and proud when telling about them.  Suzanne asked what his hope were for his children.  His first hope – security.  His second – education.  When Suzanne asked about what they were likely to study, she learned that as Palestinians, they cannot go to college in their own country of Israel.  If they are to get a post-secondary education, they will have to go to Europe or the U.S. 

Our driver says he is fortunate because he was born in East Jerusalem, so he has an Israeli I.D., and he was born when E. Jerusalem was Jordanian, so he has a Jordanian passport.  He says he is very privileged, much more so than most Palestinians.  He says that Palestinians cannot get an Israeli passport.

Those of us who went to Petra, into another country, into Jordan, found that even though we went through the usual country-to-country business of presenting passports, getting visas, and going through customs, we got through that process more quickly than we did in Israel going between Israel and it's Palestinian territories.  Even so, as I went through customs, my backpack was searched thoroughly, every page flipped through in the three travel books I carried.

Tomorrow we visit St. Catherine's monastery in the Sinai on the way to Egypt.

Lowell

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