by Sandra Elzie
A few years ago, the group leader of our 55-Plus (age) group at church asked who would be interested in going on a trip to Israel…for a two-week Holy Land Tour. My hand was in the air almost before she finished the question. Yes, yes, yes, I wanted to go to Israel. My husband and I had always wanted to visit Israel, but only if we could go with a group of people we knew. It was decided that we’d limit the group to 30-34 since that would keep us all in only one of the large tour buses. Believe me, that was a smart decision. It’s easy to get separated in a foreign country. The dates were set and thirty-two of us put down our deposits. I couldn’t wait.
The big day came and a church bus dropped us off at Atlanta International Airport where we flew Air France to Tel Aviv via Paris, France. (We only saw the terminal in Paris since the layover was only a couple of hours) The flight was long and I don’t know about you, but I don’t sleep well while sitting in tight confines. Since we had flown all night, we arrived in the morning to meet the bus, our Palestinian tour guide and our armed guard. Although we were all jet-lagged and tired, we had a full day of touring ahead of us. By the way, the armed guard was along on the trip for our safety. To be quite honest, I’ve visited countries, like Mexico, where soldiers or the police stand around on street corners with M-1 rifles or even machine guns, but I’ve never seen as many armed soldiers as I did on this trip. The security in Israel is…well…world class.
We passed through several inspection stations where we all had to show our passports and the bus driver had to open the bottom of the bus and let soldiers go through our luggage. But that was nothing compared to the procedure to cross the border from Jordan into Israel. That involved getting off the bus, going through customs with our luggage and then walking across the border to board another bus. Safety measures in Israel are quite impressive…and necessary since they’re surrounded by countries that don’t like them. Just for the record, amazingly, I never felt unsafe.
I’ll pause here to mention one important consideration when traveling abroad. One thing I tend to notice in foreign countries is the bathrooms. Now, this might sound silly, but they’re all so different. Some are ornate, some utilitarian. None on the trip had the paper seat covers you tend to have available in the U.S., but at least most of them had toilet paper. Mind you, not all…but we’d been warned ahead of time, so we were prepared. (Just saying……)
Petra is our first stop in this desert land and it’s an impressive site. Over the past millions and millions of years, ancient turbulence in this area carved a deep valley (known as the Great Rift Valley) that runs from southeast Turkey, through the Jordan Valley, through the Dead Sea (lowest point on earth) and on through Wadi Araba, Aqaba and even beneath the Red Sea on it’s way into Africa. This area was once inhibited by Stone Age people, but centuries later the ancient Nabataeans carved tributes to their gods and their dead directly into the sandstone sides of the hillsides that rise high into the sky.
The City of Petra, currently uninhabited (for the most part) except for excavators and tourists, is carved into the sides of massively high walls and can be reached by riding a camel, riding in a donkey cart, or simply walking the 2 ½ miles along rocky, uneven, dirt paths that sometimes narrow radically, making the walls of the canyon seem to close in around you. ( Notice the donkey cart in the middle of the picture. )
Over the centuries, the city was inhibited and ruled by various invading kings, so there is a vast city as well as many royal tombs carved into the rocks. There’s an amphitheater that is truly impressive that used to seat 5,000 people, so obviously Petra wasn’t just a tiny gathering of people in the middle of the desert. The natural fortress-type walls of Petra are reddish in color, but some of the walls have waves of other colors running through them, making patterns that were quite beautiful.
In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, it is written: “Then the woman fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God so that she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.”…or 3 ½ years. (Rev 12:6) Biblical scholars tell us that “she” refers to Israel’s Jews and many Biblical scholars believe that Petra is the place in the wilderness where they will flee for protection in the final days of The Great Tribulation, told about in the Bible.
Since Petra is in the middle of a desert, it’s hot…no, that’s not quite correct…it is H-O-T…but, being cheap, I wasn’t willing to pay the $20 to ride a camel one-way over the 2 ½ miles…nor was I willing to pay that amount to be carried in a donkey-pulled cart. That was my first mistake. Of course, after watching the donkey carts pass us up along the path, I came to the conclusion that I was probably safer on foot…even though hot and tired. Just think about it this way…the faster the donkey cart gets you down to the bottom, the sooner they can carry someone else out (cha-ching), so, since time is money, the ride in the donkey-cart is fast and bumpy…and I mean teeth-jarring bumpy.
By the time I’d walked the 2 1/2 miles and then spent a couple of hours in the sun walking around looking at the carved out city, I was beginning to feel a bit differently on the subject and almost ready to put my life at risk and rent the donkey cart. We started walking out and a donkey cart stopped to offer myself and another lady a ride. It was being driven by a boy who looked about twelve, “It’s only $20 American…almost free…and its air conditioned!!” We loved his pitch…especially the air conditioning part since it was a small cart with just an awning over the bench seat, but otherwise open to the sweltering heat. Of course, by then I’d seen how people bounced up and down in the cart, so I told him I’d give him a $1,000 if he could get me a helicopter to fly me out. We again had to laugh when he said he’d sell me his donkey & cart for $1,000 American. We walked out, but stopped to rest a bit more often on the outgoing trek.
There was shopping available everywhere…pottery, tiles, dates, olives and clothing. After looking around for a while, we boarded the bus…for some welcome air conditioning…and headed to our hotel. Tomorrow would be another destination…The Dead Sea and Masada…so we got a good night’s sleep. See you next week!
About The Author:
Sandra Elzie writes contemporary romance and lives with her husband in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Oh, and we can’t forget the owner of Sandy’s house, Jack, the resident feline. You can read more about her on her website...www.SandraElzie.com Her books are available on Amazon.