Monday, April 7, 2008

Israeli Highway 90

This weekend I completed many journeys. First and foremost I have now been on every single one of Israeli Highway 90's 480 kilometers. It is the longest highway in all of Israel. It stretches from Metula all the way south to Eilat. This weekend was my first time in Eilat!

When i got to Eilat I found out right away how much of a tourist town it is. There were no private hostel rooms available anywhere in the whole city...not because of any conference or anything like that, it was just the weekend. We decided to go with the dorm style rooms. (Since my friend was female we had to be in separate rooms.) It was a great experience to be in dorms. I met people who had been in Eilat for awhile, but didn't speak Hebrew. I speak Hebrew but know nothing about Eilat. The combination was perfect.

Eilat is touted the world around as a beach city, and I'm pretty sure that unless you have a lot of money to spend the beach part is non-existent. The large commercial hotels pretty much control all of the beach front property. The public beach is about 7 feet long at low tide. (Measurement from the sea to the boardwalk.) The public area is also quite rocky, but hey its free to sit there, unlike the Hotel beaches where they charge to sit on your own towel. Anyway, the water is goregous and always calm. Its also always about the same temperature.

So Friday we got up and headed to the Jordanian border. It was honestly a little scary leaving the comfort zone of Israel. However, my goal for this Israel Adventure is to be courageous so off we went. We changed money at the border and purchased our exit visas. Weird that they charge ₪ 56 to leave the country, but that's the way it is. The Jordanian Dinar is about the same price as the Euro, so expensive. Anyway, with 61 Dinars in our possession we walked across the border into the Jordanian border control facility. There our passports were checked 5 times and our photos were taken. The entry visa was free, more about that later, and we walked through the gates into Jordan proper.

From there we were immediately approached by a Jordanian cab driver who agreed to take us 2 hours to Petra. The journey was anything but simple. After driving for 5 minutes the driver stopped and got out. He swapped with another cab driver who drove us about 25 minutes to the city limits of Aqaba. There we switched cars and drivers in the middle of the highway. Turns out there is a regulation about which cabs can operate where within Jordan and Aqaba is a special zone. From there we stayed in the same cab.

Along the way we stopped in a bedouin village for a very good Turkish coffee and cookies. All part of the service the driver provided to make our stay more pleasant in Jordan. Finally after a lengthy car ride we were finally in Petra.

Petra is HUGE! There's absolutely not other way to describe it. I can only imagine what it was like to live there in its heyday. It must have been amazing, they even had running water in some parts of the city. Incredible how advanced they were so long ago. The pictures tell the whole story and there are about 100 of them up on my Picasa Web Album.

After close to 6 hours wandering around we finally met back up with our cab driver and headed back to the border. Remember I mentioned that the Jordanians didn't charge us to enter their border? Well they actually charge to leave instead...5 Dinars a person for the exit visa. This is where my friend and I ran into trouble. We contracted with the cab driver for 25 Dinars per person for the whole ride. Seemed pretty normal since most of my friends had paid about the same on their previous trips. When we reached the border they changed the deal and told us it was actually 50 Dinars per person...25 Dinars each way. Well we were obviously a little short. What to do...this is how bad movies start right? Well we piled up our Dinars and all $23 American we had. It wasn't enough. We then added about ₪100 to the pile. The driver then told us that it was close enough. We finally got out of the car and went into the border control station. We saved 10 Dinars to pay our exit visas and did it ASAP! It was 7:30 at night and the border closed at 8.

With the whole ordeal finished on the Jordanian side we still had to go through Israeli Security. I spoke to them in Hebrew, and that was probably a mistake. How do you know Hebrew? Are you an Israeli? Do you have and Israeli Passport? The questions didn't stop, but finally we made it through all of the checks to the last security gate. From there we split a cab with a nice middle age British couple on holiday. They were very impressed by my ability to talk with the cab driver in impressed the refused to let us even think of paying. It was nice...the kindness of strangers...seems to happen a lot here.

Back in Eilat we decided to take a walk around the boardwalk area for the evening. However, with 6 hours walking up and down the rock faces of Petra we didn't even last till midnight. We called it an early night.

When we woke up the next morning we headed straight for the beach. We spent the whole day laying out, reading, practicing Hebrew for our oral final exam, and generally relaxing. What an amazing weekend!


John Sklar said...

Sounds like the experience of a lifetime. What a great story. And a lesson... but I'm not sure exactly what it is.

I'm glad you got to see Jordan.

Sharon said...

Wow, I am impressed. These are amazing pictures. It was quite the experience. Next time, no cab

Phyllis Sommer said...

sounds like a great trip and i'm really glad you had enough to get back into israel:-)

and you learned an important lesson: when dealing with israeli security, just speak english. it all goes faster. this is good advice at ben-gurion too:-)