Petra Jordan day 3: From the Desert to the Crater

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September 11th 2019
Published: July 9th 2020
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For breakfast at the Wadi Rum lodge I raced to be first at the egg station. Since nobody else had yet put odd ingredients into the pan, I got some freshly cooked eggs for a change. One of the chefs was baking flat bread at the next station. I watched him roll out the dough and spread it on a convex oven top where it baked almost immediately. Then he peeled it off the oven and placed it into a basket. Nice warm pita bread and eggs. Plus juice and fruit and cereal. Today I determined to start with a good breakfast and it proved to be a good decision.

After breakfast we boarded a fleet of pickup trucks for what they called a jeep safari led by Bedouin guides. Although they were not genuine Jeep brand, they were high 4-wheel drive vehicles. We climbed up into the back and sat on benches in the pickup bed, 4 to 6 people per vehicle. Then they revved up and tore into the desert.

At first all we saw was reddish sand - and more reddish sand. Then we saw various rock formations jutting up from the sand. In the distance near some relatively high rock hills was a compound of some sort, possibly ecological or geological research. We rambled on across the sand. Near a dark shadow between tall rocks the guides pointed out a face. They told us what looks like the bust of a human head peering toward the rock gap is a natural formation.

We paused near a flat rock wall with a drawing scratched onto it. The carved figures clearly represented a camel caravan. It was unclear how to estimate the age of the drawing. Considering how quickly the wind and sand wear away rock surfaces in this desert, I would guess that they have not been there very long. Maybe the Bedouin refresh it periodically?

At one point in the safari the jeep trucks pulled up and stopped on a shallow crest of the sand. (See lead photograph of this blog day.) There were typical rock formations ahead like those we had been seeing. What was special about this spot? This area of desert was part of the filming location for "The Martian" in 2015. As soon as they told us, I remembered sequences from the movie with this scenery. The red sand and scattered low rock hills represented the landscape of Mars as accurately as space scientists have determined.

In fact the desert safari was much more interesting than I had explained. Our group generally concurred with this sentiment. Obviously there were large expanses of sand. But the various rock formations and hills, as well as crests and dips in the sand and both natural and man-made visions made the landscape fascinating. Riding in the back of the jeep-like trucks was bumpy and we were jostled against each other, but we that contributed to the overall experience and fun. All agreed it was worthwhile and would recommend it.

The safari brought us to a Bedouin camp. This consisted of a very large tented structure and a number of smaller structures including loos. This was our morning rest stop. Between the road and the camp is a rock with a face carved into it. This is the image of Lawrence of Arabia. The rock highlights the place at which Lawrence of Arabia met with Arab leaders. Everyone took pictures. We saw a short camel train pass in front of the camp. Then we went into the Bedouin tent. This was a long wooden base covered with carpet fabrics on the sides and roof. It was setup for us with three areas. One part had some food for us to sample and some drinks. Another part was filled with various goods for sale, such as fabrics and souvenirs and carpets. The third was a seating area.

After a break the safari vehicles returned us to our hotel. There we boarded the coach for our journey back home. We left Wadi Rum before noon and the remaining itinerary was explained. We would drive to the southern border crossing from Jordan back into Israel. In Aqaba on the way the coach would stop and pick up box lunches for us to eat on the coach. Then we would cross to Eilat and drive north to Mitzpe Ramon Visitor Center. There we would experience the museum, learning about the geology popularly called Ramon Crater and about the Israeli astronaut Colonel Ilan Ramon. After that the final drive north would bring us back to Netanya from where we started. A couple of rest stops would occur along the way due to the long coach ride again this day.

As announced the coach stopped outside a restaurant in Aqaba before crossing the border. Turesh our Jordanian guide said goodbye and left the bus, as staff from the restaurant brought box lunches on board. Personally I had hoped we would cross back into Israel before getting lunch as then it could have been kosher food. The boxes were distributed from the front toward the back of the coach. As people opened the box they called out that it contained meat sandwiches. The restaurant staff said "No meat" but people could see what they were looking at. Some multi-lingual dialogue resulted in the understanding that these were turkey sandwiches (which is definitely 'meat' from a kashrut perspective) but the Jordanians did not consider it 'meat' because it was not lamb or pork or beef etc. So again the sandwiches were off my menu (since the turkey meat had not been prepared according to kosher rules) and even those who had eaten spaghetti or other 'vegetarian' dishes in the restaurants were disappointed and did not consume the sandwiches. I was glad that I still had a remaining granola bar to accompany the fruit in the box.

We crossed the border from Jordan back into Israel without incident. The process took longer than seemed reasonable considering our group appeared to be the only passports to process at that particular time. Like the first day, we collected our bags from the Jordanian bus and carried them through customs to an Israeli bus.

We boarded the Israeli coach and started north. Soon past the outskirts of Eilat we stopped at a rest area because many passengers wanted to get food for lunch. I satisfied myself with ice cream and coffee. There was no compensation from the tour company for the botched box lunches.

As the coach approached Mitzpe Ramon we could see parts of the crater. At one point we also saw a particular hill to the right. With my mini binoculars I could just make out an archaeological site on top. That spot was Avdat, a Nabataean acropolis. Avdat was an important Nabataean city in the Negev desert between Eilat and Beer Sheva. It traded in spices for almost 800 years into the 7th century CE. Now that is the site of Avdat National Park containing well-preserved remains. From the height they commanded a broad view over the area.

Late in the afternoon we reached the Ramon Visitor Center. This museum features both nature and science. We were guided through some of it and allowed time to explore some more on our own. The Visitor Center also provides a gateway to various hiking, nature and camping areas.

The geology of the big basin popularly called Ramon Crater is striking for its breadth and depth. But the surprise for us was that it is not really a crater. Geologists have determined that the hole is really a 'makhtesh' and as such is rare (for its size) but not unique in the area. Wikipedia reports: "A makhtesh is a geological landform considered typical for the Negev desert of Israel and the Sinai peninsula of Egypt. A makhtesh has steep walls of resistant rock surrounding a deep closed valley, which is usually drained by a single wadi." Therefore the proper name of this site is Makhtesh Ramon. It is possible to go down into the makhtesh and study the fossils, colorful sands, volcanic rock, coloured sand, embedded fossils, etc. We did not descend into it on this trip, but it is on my bucket list to return and spend interesting time here. The Visitors Center is built on the rim of Makhtesh Ramon and we had strategic lookout opportunities from both inside and outside the building.

The other aspect of the Visitor Center on which we focused involved Israel in the space age. Specifically, it showed the life story of the first (and still only) Israeli astronaut named Colonel Ilan Ramon. He was an Israeli fighter pilot who became an astronaut and made it into space at age 48. Ilan was a payload specialist on space shuttle Columbia mission STS-107. That was the fatal final mission of Columbia. Colonel Ramon and the six other crew members all died when the shuttle burned up in a re-entry accident in 2003. The story is presented in a serious and positive manner, although it is difficult not to feel the tragic emotional ending of his life.

We left on the coach and completed the drive north. We arrived around 9pm back in Netanya. Other passengers who live near me offered to drive me home, so I did not need a taxi.

In summary this was a successful, interesting and enjoyable trip of 1000 km. Thankyou to tour guide Stephen Kliner and the committee who set up this trip for ESRA Netanya, working with the Tourist Israel company. Stephen accompanied us on the coach throughout the tour and helped ensure things ran smoothly.

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Additional photos below
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Lawrence of Arabia in Wadi Rum (source Postcard)Lawrence of Arabia in Wadi Rum (source Postcard)
Lawrence of Arabia in Wadi Rum (source Postcard)
Petra tour MAP Sept 9-11 2020 (by Google about 1000 km)Petra tour MAP Sept 9-11 2020 (by Google about 1000 km)
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11th August 2020

Its a good symbol for Economy
11th August 2020

Do you mean it is good for the economy to take local trips like this instead of flying around during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic?

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