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Arabian Sea & Suez Canal Cruise on the Celebrity Constellation

4/22/18 to 5/7/18

Aqaba, Jordan

This would be the day that I would finally get to visit Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the New World that had been on my bucket list for too many years.  After spending five days at sea, most people on the ship were ready to get on land and visit this amazing place.  We had been cruising up the Gulf of Aqaba all during the night.  Since it was a relatively narrow body of water, we would be traveling between Egypt on the port side and Saudi Arabia on the starboard.  With it being a somewhat foggy morning, there wasn’t too much to see.  The Captain had told us that we would be arriving at the port close to 9:00 AM, and we should be docked and cleared by 10:00 AM.  As we got close to Aqaba, we could see the mountains of Egypt in the early morning light.

A couple of hours later we were approaching Eilat, Israel.  It was a pretty good size city with large mountains behind it.

   

Eilat and Aqaba are right across the gulf from each other, so we were approaching the dock.  With the haze in the air, there wasn’t that much to see on the Aqaba side. 

One of our Cruise Critic friends, Nancy, had arranged a private tour to Petra with Jordan Inspirational Tours (https://jitours.com/en/).  It would be a 10-hour tour with lunch for just $145 per person.  That price was for 24 people, with plenty of room on the bus.  Each person could take their own double seat if they wanted to.  Considering that the entry ticket to Petra alone is just over $70 US, it was an outstanding buy.  A similar tour on a packed Celebrity bus cost $279 per person.  Everyone appreciated Nancy arranging this tour for us.  We all met in the Rendezvous Lounge before leaving the ship together.  Once at the dock, it was getting very hot outside and we were having difficulty finding our tour guide.  Once we found him, we just had to wait a few minutes for the bus to arrive.  It felt very good to get in the air conditioning.  Our guide, Mahmoud, welcomed us to Jordan and told briefly about what we would be doing for the day.  He was a very nice fellow who knew everything about Jordan, especially Petra.  He actually lived in a Petra cave when he was young.  Jordan moved everyone out of Petra in 1990 so that they could develop the site better.

Mahmoud confirmed that the Aqaba forecasted temperature for the day was going to be 95 degrees.  It was going to be a hot one.  I was dreading how difficult it might be to get around Petra in the extreme heat.  I had prepared by purchasing a one liter and a two-liter Platypus water bottles.  These bottles are made of tough plastic that expands as they are filled.  By using this type bottle, I could fit them in my camera case, plus, as I drank the water, the bottles would get smaller.  I also had the type of cloth used to keep you cool.  You wet it and put it around your neck.  As it dries it cools off and keeps whatever it touches cool.  I was prepared; but still concerned.  I can walk all day; but I haven’t tried doing it in a challenging environment like Petra in the heat.  As we drove out of town, I was finally able to get a photo of the city.

Along the way to Petra we passed by Wadi Rum.  This is the area where Lawrence of Arabia lived, and the movie was made.  Some of Star Wars was also filmed there.  From the photos I have seen it is quite a beautiful place; but we were just seeing the edge of the area and I was not able to get photos from the wrong side of the bus.  I planned on doing that on the way back to the ship if I survived Petra.  The road we took when we got off the main highway, the Kings Road, went through a mountainous desert area where Bedouins live. 

We stopped along the side of the road to help another bus driver that was having mechanical problems.  Our bus was able to give him a section of water hose to help him get back on the road.  It allowed us to take photos of a group of goats that were eating along the railing.  

Further down the road, we stopped at a gift shop for a restroom and coffee break.  Mahmoud told us that we could see Petra from there.  I guess we were looking at the Petra area in the distance; but we couldn’t see the part of Petra we couldn’t wait to see.  We went up to the top of the building rather than taking photos through the windows.  It was a great view.          

   

I could see a slot canyon; but it wasn’t the one we would be visiting.  This mountain range apparently has plenty of slot canyons.

We got back on the bus and headed toward Wadi Mousa, the valley of Moses.  Moses brought his people through this part of Jordan after leaving Egypt.  They spent nine years in the area.

Mahmoud told us to look at the tallest mountain in the distance.  On top of it was a small white building.  It was hard to spot.  This is where Moses brother Aaron is supposed to be entombed.  One of the enrichment speakers told us that it is a very difficult place to get to and it requires a guide to take the right path.  I would have to settle for photos from a long distance.  I wish that I had brought my telephoto lens; but I hadn’t.

   

I was thrilled to see the sign welcoming us to Petra.  When we got into the town of Wadi Mousa, we stopped at the Petra Magic Restaurant.  This is buffet style Mediterranean restaurant that the cruise ship tours stop at also.  When we walked in, the place was packed and there were no empty tables to be seen.  We were directed upstairs to a large empty room, which we would have to ourselves for the whole time we were there. 

   

The food was lined up on tables on one side of the room.  There was a nice selection of salads, which I had to get seconds of.  The warm items were a meat stew, fish and chicken.  They were all good; but the salads were just outstanding. 

   

   

The views from the restaurant were also quite nice.  Even though we had to climb up a lot of stairs to get to our room, it was worth it for the privacy and nice views of the town area.

   

Ideally, we would have arrived at Petra earlier to tour before the heat of the day; but with the ship docking at 10:00 AM and leaving at 10:00 PM, we would be touring in midday.  Mahmoud had told us that we would be better off eating before going to Petra, so we could stay there until 6:00 PM when it closed.  He also said it would be less crowded since most people go in the morning and start leaving in the afternoon.  We were not happy we had to eat before going, but he said we would have plenty of time to see Petra.  It was 2:00 PM by the time we got to the visitor’s center parking area.  We would have almost 4 hours in the ancient city.  We were pleasantly surprised when we got out of the bus and the temperature was quite mild with low humidity.  We hoped it would stay that way.  We had a pretty good walk from the bus to the visitor’s center.  Since we were walking down hill on a pretty good incline, we knew that we would not enjoy coming back up this section after walking all afternoon in Petra.

At last we saw what we had been waiting the whole cruise for, the entrance to the Petra visitor’s center.

As we walked in, it actually started to sprinkle for just a few minutes.  People were pulling out and/or purchasing umbrellas.  With it being a very light rain, I didn’t worry about it.  There was a large open area with a fountain in the center.  Mahmoud told us that if we got separated from the group, we would meet there at 5:45 PM.

At one side of the main area was a shop that everyone got a big kick out of, the Indiana Jones Gift Shop. 

With Petra’s treasury building being in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie, it was what most people think of when you mention Petra; but that building is just a small part of the amazing city. The ancient town of Petra was built around the 1st century BC by the Nabataean People.  They thrived because they were on a major trade route.  The city was annexed by the Romans and was later destroyed by an earthquake in 363 BC.  By that time the trade routes had changed, and the city began its decline.  By the middle of the 7th century, the city was deserted except for some Bedouins living in the caves.  Petra was also called the Rose City due to the color of the rock.

On the wall near the entrance were the posted prices for the carriage rides.  With the Jordanian Dinar being equal to about $1.40 US, the price for a carriage through the Siq to the treasury would be about $28.  Mahmoud told us that the price was now more like 25 dinars or $35.  Of course, everything is subject to negotiation.  The drivers also expect tips; and some demand rather high ones we had been told.  This is especially true of the horse rides from the entrance to the Siq, which is about 800 meters or a half mile.  The horse ride is supposed to be included with your entrance ticket purchase; but the horse owners will demand a large tip.  Always agree ahead of time to be safe.  With this section of the walk being downhill, not many people were interested in a horse ride. Plus, with the mild temperatures it was a nice walk with lots to see.  There were interesting rock formations and some structures made by the Nabateans.

   

Every once in a while, one of the carriages would come flying by on the side road used for the carriages and horses.

I was really enjoying this part of the walk.  I could see ahead of us that we still had a good way to go; but there was lots to take in.  The large massive Djinn blocks are called the Bab Al Siq or gateway to the Siq. 

   

   

   

   

The most significant structure on this path before the Siq was the Obelisk Tomb above the Triclinium, both built in the 1st century AD.  There is a statue in bas-relief on top of the Obelisk Tomb that symbolizes the five people that were buried there.  The Triclinium below it was a banquet hall.

We continued down the path enjoying the scenery when we finally saw signs of activity ahead.  We were getting close to the Siq.  This was a walk I was really looking forward to.  It is 1,260 meters or .8 miles through what was supposed to be an amazing slot canyon. 

   

   

As soon as we entered, we were walking down a narrow path through high rock cliffs.  This was really cool! 

Some Petra security forces on horseback were coning though the Siq going the opposite way. 

There were water channels on both sides of the Siq that the Nabateans built to bring water from Wadi Mousa.

   

Continuing on, we came to some dams that were constructed to keep the winter rains from flooding the Siq.

   

We continued walking through the narrow passageway.  It was so pretty with the interesting patterns in the rock.  We came to a wider area, where Mahmoud gathered our group to tell us about the Siq.   But many of us were distracted by some goats feeding way up on the rocks.

       

The path continued to fascinate us with its beauty and multi-colored rock.  This was most enjoyable.

   

   

   

   

   

   

We came to an area where the path was paved with stones.  They were much more difficult to walk on since they were uneven.  They did look nice though.

I was loving the red color of the rock.  The Siq became very narrow in some parts.  This walk was so much better than I expected, partially due to the mild weather, probably in the low 80’s at the highest.

   

       

Every once in a while, a carriage would come charging down the Siq with passengers who were missing the beautiful walk.  It was easy to know when the carriages were coming, since the clomping of the horseshoes on the road were quite loud.

There were decorations cut into the rock along the path.  The partial statue of a person was quite nice; but the Siq itself was the most impressive.

   

I was fascinated with the water channels and took way too many photos of them during the day; but this would probably be my only time to visit this amazing ancient marvel.

   

   

We came to more dams.  Since we had a spot of rain earlier in the day, I was glad that the dams had been reconstructed.  The ones the Nabateans built had been destroyed.  I would have hated to be in this narrow passage when a flash flood came through.

The whole experience with the beautiful red rock cliffs and just drop dead gorgeous scenery was almost overpowering.  Even the carriages distracting us from our quest to the get deeper into Petra was fun.

   

At last we came to the final stretch of the Siq where we could get a partial glimpse of the most magnificent and well-known structure in Petra, the Treasury.

The narrow passage opened up to an area that was crammed with people taking photos of the Treasury.  It was a magnificent structure.

 

Since it was actually a tomb rather than a treasury, it just contains a few very small rooms in it.  People are not allowed to go into the building anymore.  I did take a photo through the door, that shows a little of what it looks like; but it was quite dark inside and the photo is of low quality.  But I am including it to give an idea of the interior.

Looking to the left of the Treasury, there were lots of shops and in the distance, steps going up the mountain.  The area was packed with tourists.

   

Looking to the right was the path that went further into the city that we would go through once we had spent all the time we wanted at the Treasury.

To the back of us, we could see the narrow path of the Siq we had come through with lots of tourists pouring in to see the Treasury.

I took some close ups of the details of the Treasury.

   

   

I also took photos of the side doors in the Treasury entrance area.   

   

I got a kick out of a group that was on a lot of camels that were getting ready to head further into Petra.

Once we left the Treasury area, the path was much more difficult to walk on.  There were lots of larger stones that were tough on the feet and made it easy to lose one’s footing.  I needed to watch where I was walking the whole way to make sure I didn’t take a tumble.  It is a shame that the path wasn’t like the one through the Siq.

   

Close by we came to the Street of Facades.  These are monumental Nabatean tombs.  Quite pretty.

   

   

   

I walked into one of them that was packed with tourists. 

The exteriors had such lovely colored patterns.  It was so unusual.

   

We continued further into the city enjoying the many structures all around.

   

There were shops around selling various items.  I liked the one with the name "Why Not Shop".

   

In one section, there were steps leading up to the High Place of Sacrifice where there are spectacular views of the area.  Unfortunately, there are over 600 steps to climb to get there.  We just didn’t have time to do that.

I could see the amphitheater down the road; but continued appreciating the beauty around me.  I can’t say enough times what an amazing place Petra is and what a treat it was to be there.

Mahmoud told us that the ordinary people lived on one side of the street and the higher ups lived on the other.  We could see the difference in accommodations.

   

   

I walked over to a different cave and went inside.  It had a low ceiling, along with some rugs on the floor and compartments cut into the walls.  I assumed that it might have been a tomb for several people.  The rugs might have been remnants of when people lived there before 1990.

   

I walked down to the theater and looked around.  It was a good size venue. 

   

I admired the beautiful patterns in the red rock.

   

I looked down the path that continued into other parts of the city; but knew that I didn’t have the time to explore as much as I would have liked to.

Since it was 4:20 PM and I hadn’t seen anyone from our group for a while, I turned around and headed back to a shopping area where I then spotted some familiar faces.  Several of the group were having a shopping frenzy.  Mahmoud was assisting them.  When the haggling was completed, he took the remnants of the group back toward the theater.  After a brief discussion about it, he continued to walk further down the path.  Since we had to get back by 5:45 PM, I was concerned if we would have adequate time and stamina to get back in time.  I asked him how much further in we would go, and he said just a little more.  He asked us to walk up to some higher ground where he could direct our attention across the road.  We were looking at the Royal Tombs.  They were magnificent!

   

He said that we could climb up to them and explore the rooms; but we didn’t have time for that, although it was most tempting. Behind us while looking at the Royal Tombs, the color of the rock was amazing.  This was such a beautiful place.

   

I would have liked to go further down the road to see the Royal Tomb that extended around the corner; but I didn’t know how long it would take to get back to our meeting place.  It did take about 50 minutes to get back.  Had I known that, I could have had 15 minutes to explore some more.  But it was better to be safe than sorry.  I was surprised at how small the group was at the end of the tour.  Apparently, most of them had headed back early.  I found out later several had taken carriages.

As we headed back, several vendors tried to convince us to take their horses, donkeys or camels further into Petra and back toward the visitor center.  It was getting late in the day and they wanted some more business.  I took a photo of a vendor’s group of camels and one of them turned his head around to pose for me.  Very considerate of him.

   

The walk back to the Treasury didn’t take as long as I was worried it would, even with the slight incline.  I was able to take more photos there with a lot less tourists in the way.

   

I had originally planned on taking a carriage ride back through the Siq, when I thought that I would be near death due to the extreme heat; but the temperature by this time of the day was around 79 degrees.  So, I just continued on walking through the Siq.  It was probably just as well that I did since there weren’t any carriages available anyway.  I enjoyed the walk back since I was looking at the cliffs from a different viewpoint.  I was also noticing that the mild incline going back was not as pleasant as the walk in earlier that day.

   

As I approached the Siq entrance, the incline was at its steepest.  I decided to sit on a wall and rest a moment, since I knew that the incline past the Siq was even steeper.  When I tried to stand back up, my back let me know that I had abused it too much that day.  When I was finally able to stand, I decided that the next time I sat down would be on the bus. I didn’t want to test my back any more than necessary.

The final half mile outside of the Siq was filled with tourists leaving for the day.  That section did seem a lot further on the way back.  But I must say that the cool breeze was most refreshing.  I couldn’t believe how lucky we had been with the weather.  I have put in a lot of photos of the walk to and from the Siq and visitor’s center; since it was a walk that I had difficulty finding out what it was like during my research.  Hopefully the photos help others in their planning.

   

   

At last we finally made it back to the gate at the visitor’s center.  Once through the gates, it started to rain again.  It was great timing since I could seek cover in the many shops.  As with the rain when we arrived in Petra, this rain was also short lived and was over in a few minutes.

   

Mahmoud had told us that there were seats in the fountain area where we would be meeting.  What was nice was that the seats were also covered.  Most convenient with the rain.  Rather than sitting, I just leaned against a post.  I wanted to make sure that I would be standing when we headed for the bus. 

After everyone completed their restroom stops, we began the last of the walk to the bus.  It was actually the steepest incline we had the whole day.  Fortunately, it wasn’t too far.  Once I sat down in the bus seat, my back said thank you.  My feet reminded me that they too had been abused, especially by the loose stones. 

On the way back to the ship, we passed by the very dry terrain.  After living in lush Florida, I can’t imagine what it is like to live in this type of environment. 

On this leg of the drive, I was able to see the other side of the road.   So, when we got back to the Wadi Rum area, I was able to take some photos; but not many. 

   

We stopped at a souvenir/coffee shop for a 20-minute restroom break.  Most people had hoped that we would have just driven the 2-hour trip straight through.  That way we would have gotten back to the ship by 8:00 PM.  The break ended up taking 30-minutes.  I was disappointed because the sun had set, and it was too dark for photos of the mountains.

We arrived at the ship at 8:30 PM.  It had been a very long, tiring and wonderful day.  I still can’t believe that I was able to visit this amazing place and with mild weather. 

 

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