Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

November 5, 1995

The Death of Yitzhak Rabin

Filed under: Jordan — Andy Carvin @ 10:44 pm

At 6:30am we caught a minibus to Amman. The trip was a little under three hours, most of it on Jordan’s high-speed Desert Highway. The driver blasted the news in Arabic the entire drive up, and all I could catch from the newscast were numerous references to Yitzhak Rabin, as well as a few mentions of King Hussein, Shimon Peres, and Bill Clinton. I assumed that it was a show about Mideast politics, though I never thought to ask anyone else on the bus. The Jordanians all sat there quietly, smoking their cigarettes and thumbing their worry beads.
We arrived in Amman before 10am. For a Middle Eastern city, Amman seemed very clean, sophisticated and modern (then again, we only had Cairo and Luxor as reference points). Pictures of King Hussein with his characteristic pinch-his-cheek smile were ubiquitous in a city largely devoid of billboards, at least on a scale similar to that of Cairo’s streets.
As we checked into the quaint Canary Hotel, off on a street near the Abdali bus station, we noticed a TV was turned on to an English language broadcast. It was a news program that was cycling through the week’s events, with lots of coverage on the recent economic summit that had occurred in Amman a few days before. All seemed quite slow and I joked that there weren’t any major wars or killings to speak of this week. Then, the news program returned to the program headline- Yitzhak Rabin had been shot the night before.
At first, I thought I had heard it wrong, because Susanne was chatting with this Aussie woman and I couldn’t hear very well. But when they showed a solemn picture of Rabin with the text 1922-1995, I knew it was real. Susanne and I stood there dumbfounded, part of us numb, part of us thinking “What the hell do we do now? Can we get back into Israel?” Our greatest fear was that a Palestinian did it, because that would mean all borders to the West Bank, and to perhaps anywhere else, might be sealed and we’d be stuck in Amman indefinitely. Even worse, there could be war, depending on who claimed responsibility.
We asked the manager what he knew, and he said it had happened about 12 hours earlier and that a Jewish extremist did the shooting. My first thought was that if this had to happen, I was thankful that it was one of those racist, right-wing hyperzionists. If it had been an Arab, all hell would break lose, but since a fellow Jew did it, it make actually help in the sense that Israel would be forced to recognize its own homegrown terrorist groups as well as the violent rhetoric that had been brewing as of late in the nation. In a way, this would be not unlike how the Oklahoma Bombing affected the US eight months previously. (note: as I write this, I’m not sure how clear or perhaps even cold-hearted this might sound, so perhaps my complex thoughts on Mideast politics should be saved for another venue.).
Even though it was early morning in the States, we called home just to say we were fine. This was more of an issue for Susanne, since her mother had seemed a bit nervous ever since we had announced six months earlier that we were planning to go to the Middle East. As for my family, I assumed they knew I wasn’t dumb enough to be camping out at Kiryat Arba or some other West Bank hotbed of insanity, but I called nevertheless so they’d at least know where I was at the time.

After chilling out for a bit, we caught a cab and headed north to the Syrian border to the ancient Roman city of Jerash. Our cabby scammed us big-time, but at the time, I was in no mood to argue. Anyway, Jerash was one of ten major Roman outpost towns on the Asian frontier, and today it’s the most well-preserved of the bunch. Columned streets radiate from an enormous square, and there were two amphitheaters in excellent condition. Unfortunately, it was an usually hot day, there was little shade, and the assassination was still looming on our minds, so by late afternoon we headed back to the hotel to watch more news and to make sure that the border crossing at Allenby Bridge was still open.

We then had an early dinner in downtown Amman – a bustling, almost European neighborhood with hundreds of people on the streets, shopping and hanging out at cafes. Our restaurant, Al-Quds, had really good hummus and mensaf, a slow cooked dish of spiced lamb or chicken and rice. We also delighted quite sinfully with a mixed platter of baklawa-style desserts.
Painfully bloated, we returned to the hotel. The next day, we would have to leave by 6am to get to Israel in the morning, and we assumed that the border could take several hours to cross. I was dreading that morning.

November 4, 1995

A Long, Beautiful Day at Petra

Filed under: Jordan — Andy Carvin @ 8:41 pm

So much for getting up at 5am. After several whacks of the snooze bar, we were downstairs for breakfast around 6am. We then grabbed our cameras and daypack, and started the winding one-mile descent into the entrance of Petra. After a steep five-minute walk, Susanne realized she had forgotten to take some medicine, so we huffed and puffed our way back to the hotel, grabbed it, and started back down.
The walk towards Petra was somewhat quiet, but it got me thinking a lot about Jordan. Visually, the city of Wadi Musa was what I envisioned of Jordan – rocky, steep hills with sandstone apartments dotting the landscape in every direction. There were also a lot of kids out that morning, but unlike in Egypt, none of them approached us, apart from an occasional shy smile from a little girl or two. Clearly these kids were used to tourists being around, but the contrast with Egyptian kids was still quite striking.

After reaching the entrance and paying our budget-breaking fee of 20 JD each (total: $60), we started the walk towards the opening of the Siq, the thin, river-cut valley with soaring multicolored sandstone and volcanic rock, jutting hundreds of feet into the air to our left and to our right. Numerous tourists were being guided on horseback, but on the whole, the start of the Siq was devoid of life (save the construction crews who were adding a paved road to the entrance).

We walked through the Siq for about 15 minutes, fully in awe with its magical beauty. Because the sun was only a few hours up at this point, the first rays of direct sunlight were peeking their way over the tops of the rock, about 200 feet above us. I kept on expecting to see El Khanzeh, the great treasury of Petra, to appear around each bend, but I was teased over and over as we would find only more of the Siq for us to walk through.
Another five minutes later, we could hear crowds of tourists quickly approaching straight ahead of us. Then, around a small bend, I had my first glimpse of El Khanzeh. Immediately my mind leaped to the final sequence in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which the treasury was filmed as the final resting place of the Holy Grail. At 120 feet, El Khanzeh humbles almost all who see it. It is an overwhelming, yet graceful Nabataean building carved out of the rock face of the Siq, a remarkable engineering feet for over 2500 years ago.

After taking a few too many photos of the treasury, I briefly sat with a group of camels, at which point Susanne took some more shots of me with my new docile friends. We then worked our way through the end of the Siq into the valley of Petra, in which hundreds of caves, burial chambers and temples have been carved out of the rock over an area of thousands of acres. We listened to a Bedouin play a wood flute while we continued toward the Roman amphitheater, which in its day held over 3000 people. Jordan’s antiquities department is now in the process of restoring it, so that performance may once again take place there.
Susanne and I climbed the steps of the amphitheater and noticed a path upwards which lead to more caves and chambers. These, of course, lead further up to more and more and more caves, until after 45 minutes or so, we had ascended the entire peak, which soared about 800 feet above the base of the amphitheater.

We hung out and enjoyed the view in all directions before beginning the climb downward. We chose to take a new path, and with about 30 feet to go, we reached two rocks, about 6 feet apart from each other at a right angle, which we needed to cross in order to get down. The first rock sloped so it was impossible to get a good foothold or a running start. After several minutes of trepidation, we decided to jump – the worst we could do, we figured, was break an ankle or smash a camera, the latter of which seeming much worse at the time. I am happy to report that we succeeded in our jump, though the inertia I developed from my short burst of energy nearly caused me to mow down Susanne as I jumped the rock and flew about 15 feet, skidding down the rock face down to the bottom of the boulder.

Susanne purchased some Bedouin-carved soapstone and after a drink of tea, we headed to the Roman street, on which lie the remains of many a fallen column. Some had been restored recently and the work was quite impressive. Further ahead were some cafes built into the rocks, so we paused to split a bag lunch of yogurt, pita and fruit. It was now about 2:30 pm and we decided to take one last jaunt before leaving, that to the Monastery, which Let’s Go claims is ‘a few hundred yards past the Roman road.’ As we soon discovered, it was actually several hundred yards up and several kilometers away, which aggravated us to no end. To make matters worse, I took my first serious spill of the trip – embarrassingly enough, we were walking up some stone steps when I slipped on some sand, bruising my knee and skinning my left arm rather badly. Fortunately, I had the forethought to swing my camera in the air as I fell, lest I shatter it by dashing it into the stone.

We tried to climb onward but my knee was throbbing so badly by then, we concluded that it was time to take the 75-minute return hike through the valley, past El Khanzeh one last time, up the Siq and to the park entrance. We arrived back at the hotel and celebrated with a bottle of Jordanian wine (1992 St. Catherine’s red) and hummus on the roof of a restaurant across the street. A muezzin called the city to prayer as we drank, which made me rather self conscious, though our Jordanian waiter kept giving me looks that said “drink up and relax, have another bottle…”
At dinner, we were joined by two elderly widows who were with a tour group, but they were late for dinner and needed a place to sit. In all honesty, they thought we were with their group, but that didn’t matter. They were terrifyingly similar to the Allen Sisters in EM Forester’s A Room with a View, so we made the most out of the conversation, talking travel and Shakespeare with them. Then, another early to bed evening. It seemed like a slow night (not like there’s ever a wild night in Wadi Musa), and we had decided to go to Amman the next morning before heading to Jerusalem. Thought it would be a nice, relaxing whim.

November 3, 1995

The Border Crossing to Israel, then Jordan; the Drive to Petra

Filed under: Jordan — Andy Carvin @ 9:31 pm

I dozed off again after the passport man incident, but soon after that Susanne was tugging on my shirt, trying to tell me that we had arrived in Taba. I looked outside and could see these incredible red rock formations to the left of our bus, and the Gulf of Aqaba and the northern tip of the Red Sea to our right. We were told by a group of South African backpackers on the bus that we had to walk about half a mile to reach the no-man’s land between Egypt and Israel. It was a surreal experience – the cold, dead silence of the Sinai morning; men with machine guns atop enormous border towers, enshrined with razor wire and electrified fences; the crunch of stones beneath our feet. At the end of the walk, passport control was relatively painless, taking no more than 15 minutes to fill out some forms, get our luggage x-rayed, walk across the border, and get asked questions by Israeli security (which I am now convinced is run entirely by 19-year old girls).

Once into Israeli, we hopped a local Egged bus for the 10 minute ride to Eilat. As we hugged the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba, we could see Egypt behind us, Eilat straight ahead, Aqaba and Jordan a few kilometers down the shoreline, and the mountain coast of Saudi Arabia less than 10 miles beyond that point. It was a sobering sight, as I thought how this long, beautiful waterfront could be divided so politically among these four nations.
We jumped off the bus at Eilat’s hotel strip and wondered around from hotel to hotel until we found one that would let us store our bags, buy some breakfast, and figure out what our plans for the day would be. For many months before this point, Susanne had insisted that we write off at least one day during the trip to allow us to rest and relax. Since we had originally planned to get to Taba, Egypt, late in the day, and not at the crack of dawn, we were a good 12 hours ahead of schedule. So after breakfast, we decided to run for the border to Jordan and catch the 11am minibus to Wadi Musa, the only city near the entrance of Petra.
Our plans were almost thrown off by an incompetent Israeli cabby who accepted our request to take us to the border, but after getting in the car and driving for two or three minutes, he said that the border was closed due to the Muslim Sabbath. Yet he still insisted that we pay for the ride, even though we could go nowhere. He demanded 20 shekels, I said he was crazy. He said he would call the police. In my mind, I said, please, go right ahead, but I really wanted to figure out what on earth was up with this apparently closed border, so I gave him a five shekel coin and told him to sod off. Schmuck.
We ran back to our hotel base camp and asked the concierge about the border. After a bit of checking she said it was definitely open, and she arranged to get us a cab that wouldn’t try to screw us over. We then drove to the border, which was about 5 miles away. The new Wadi Arava border crossing was slick and polished, and processing was about as quick as it was back at Taba, if not faster. Our luggage wasn’t even x-rayed, which really surprised us. The entire procedure took no more than 10 minutes, largely due to the fact that we got our Jordanian visas back in the US, possibly saving us two or three hour’s wait at the border.
We were met at the crossing by a Jordanian taxi that took us to Ailah Square in Aqaba, the home of the local minibus pool. Even though it was only 10am, the 11am bus for Wadi Musa had already departed, so we decided to spend the $40 or so it would cost for the cabby to take us for the three hour drive to Petra, 140 miles north on the Jordanian Desert Highway.
The ride to Petra seemed to pass by rather quickly, probably because the landscape was so stunning. While Susanne slept, I enjoyed being surrounded by red and grey rock formations, jutting well over 1000 feet into the sky, many of which were peppered by black charcoal striations from some massive fire eons into the past. Every 15 minutes or so we would pass a camel caravan or a collective of traditional Bedouin tents on a hill, flanked by scores of sheep and the occasional donkey.
Just before noon, Susanne woke up as we descended toward Wadi Musa, a valley strewn with hills in which Moses once discovered the area’s only water source (Hence the name, Wadi Musa, the riverbed of Moses). The driver tried to drop us at some hotel we hadn’t heard of, but I insisted that we go to the Al-Rashid Hotel, which received much praise from Let’s Go. As it turned out, the book was right on the money this time – Al-Rashid was new, very clean, and the staff was incredibly laid back compared to the intensity of some of the Egyptian hoteliers we encountered. Our room was a bit small, but nice, but Susanne quickly noticed an enormous spider in the bathroom, so we politely had ourselves moved to a room across the hall. Then, we discovered, the hot water wasn’t working, but the hotel staff apologized and fixed it in no time.
Susanne slept most of the day away, still recovering from the complete lack of sleep she received the night before on the bus ride from Cairo to Taba. I worked on my journal, read Let’s Go, and wandered the quiet streets of Wadi Musa for a bit. While on my stroll I stopped and got a Coke and some skin lotion for our cracked, desert-worn hands. I also began to conclude that I really liked the Jordanians, or at least, all of the Jordanians we had come in contact with. They were all very nice and sincere, not in-your-face or always trying to sell you something. And if they did had some service to offer or tourist item to sell and you said no, they would usually graciously respect it and thank you for your time.
When Susanne woke up later that afternoon, she turned to me and asked if I had just had a dream about a bomb going off in Jerusalem. Having been awake all day, I said no, slightly confused. She then proceeded to tell me about a rather disturbing, if not ominous, dream she had just had. Apparently, in the dream we were strolling along the tight, sandstone streets of Jerusalem, on a calm, sunny day. I turned to her and said, “We picked such a great time to come to the Middle East. It’s been so safe. Not one incident of violence.” As soon as I had completed these words, a pretty little girl turned around and looked at us with very bright green eyes and said, “Not yet.” She ran away with her little sister, and just then, the sky exploded with lights. Bombs could be heard smashing in the distance. We hit the deck and covered our heads with our heads as rubble and debris crashed around us. Suddenly, it was all over, almost as quickly as it had begun. We stood up and dusted ourselves off.
To make this seem even stranger, Susanne said that as soon as the incident was over in her dream, she woke up and turned to me, also having just woke up, and said she had just had this dream. I then said I had the same dream, too, and that it must be an omen for something dreadful to come. We then went back to sleep, and then woke up later in the afternoon, which was when Susanne asked me if I had had this dream and I said I had not. So, it would seem that the period of time when we had woken up and talked about our same dreams was part of her dream as well. It was all very strange, and for the first time in our trip, it made us ponder the possibility of some tragedy or disaster happening while we were still there. But there was no point of us dwelling on any sense of foreboding – I mean, chances are that if anything happened like a bombing or a killing while we were in the Mideast, it would be so unlikely for it to impact us directly. Indirectly, maybe, but worrying about whether or not we’d be coming back to the States in a bodybag was silly. So, we did our best to forget about it.
The water was now piping hot, we showered and headed for dinner – a lovely meal of yummy vegetable soup, pita, hummus, three kinds of salad, chicken, tea, and desert for only four dinar (about six bucks). And now it’s 8pm on Friday, November 3rd, and for the first time on our trip, I’m caught up with my journal. Tonight we’ll crash early, get up around 5am, eat, and spend the entire day at Petra, the lost stone city of the Nabataean Kingdom.

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