Al’Aqaba and Petra

To keep things on a bit of a lighter note, today’s post is going to be a Throwback Thursday to when Stuart and I went to explore Petra last year. Next week I’ll get back into what’s happening, changing, people disembarking, and all the other stuff related to the crazy current situation. For now, enjoy a little adventure into Al’Aqaba and the lost city of Petra. 

Last year (2019) we had the opportunity to go to Petra, Jordan. To any Indiana Jones enthusiast, it’s also known as the location of the Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Each contract we try to pick one place to go and explore more together. One might not sound like a lot, but to really go explore a port you need most of a day, and as Stuart works during the day and that’s the busiest time (in port during the day) for engineers to work on things, we focus the efforts for him to get even most of a day off to one place. As Stuart is a bit of an Indiana Jones fan, on this particular contract, this was the port.

Petra in itself is not that close to the water. It’s about a 3-hour drive from the Port of Al’Aqaba, Jordan. We went on a tour organized by the company specifically for crew. However, you can hire individual drivers to bring you to Petra. Those that I know that did this felt safe and comfortable with their driver. As always you should use caution when hiring someone to take you long distances away from your port. I recommend taking a picture of both your driver, their taxi license number, as well as their license/registration plate number and sending them to someone not with you. Let whomever you send it to know when you will contact them again and keep to it.

In Al’Aqaba

Now, we were in Al’Aqaba for two days and our tour was on the second day. The first day one of my friends and I decided to go explore a bit. We had a wonderful time walking around. We met a lovely gentleman named Alladin (can’t make it up). He had a souvenir shop where I bought my brother a t-shirt, and yes, we got a couple magic lamps.

We walked around and found a park to sit in. Some local high school girls came over to start talking to us – one of them even gave me a bracelet. A middle-aged woman also came over to us after hearing our American accents, called her son, tried to get us to talk to her son, and I’m pretty sure had our arranged marriage all planned. And, while she wasn’t picky, it didn’t matter if it was me or my friend that would be marrying her son, we unfortunately had to decline such a kind offer.

After this we went to a restaurant at a hotel in the downtown area. The restaurant was on the top floor which was an open deck – it had good food, yummy drinks (think fresh fruit smoothies), great Wi-Fi and tremendous views. It was as much as we could ask for.

From this top deck we could look out and see our ship, but also see the land surrounding us. From where we were sitting we could see Jordan, Israel, Egypt, and if you had binoculars you could probably even see Saudi Arabia. This is because the section of Jordan that we were in was just a little sliver of land leading to the sea where as the main landmass of Jordan is much further inland. It was quite a real life geography lesson for me.

After a lovely day meeting locals, rejecting marriage proposals, and finishing my taxes (remember that free Wi-Fi that I was talking about?), we called it a day and went back to the ship to find our guys. It was an early night that night as we were all going on the tour in the morning. 

Tour to Petra

For our tour we left the ship at about 7:00am, got on our coach bus, and started making our way up and out of Al’Aqaba, through the mountains and then the desert. The drive itself is beautiful especially if you are like me and hadn’t been to much of the Middle Eastern region before this.

After the long drive we arrive at Petra. We get our tickets, and our guide brought us down to the entrance. At this point he tried to convince us that we all needed to stay together, but let’s just say that everyone had a different idea on this.

The reason for this is that there is a lot that you can do and we were on a time crunch. There is one area known as the Monastery that you need to be going at a fast hike speed to get all the way up to it and then back to the bus in time. We probably had about four hours total in Petra and you really need to choose what you want to do to ensure you are using that time wisely.

So, map in hand, with an Indiana Jones hat on Stuart’s head, we made our way into the Lost City.

When you first make your way in you are walking through a cavern. It feels a bit mysterious. After walking for awhile you find yourself in a slightly smaller cavern but as the saying goes “there was a light at the end of the tunnel”. We kept making our way toward the light and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the Treasury. This is arguably the most famous part of Petra – it was heavily featured in the movie and is the supposed location of the Holy Grail. You can tell how popular this spot is with how crowded it is. There are a lot of tourists, the official gift shop, as well as all of the unofficial people that come in each day with their goods to try to get tourists to buy them, and there are people trying to get you to ride camels and horses. 

We stop at the gift shop to buy our own Holy Grail which is necessary to take pictures. We take a sip from the Holy Grail in front of the Treasury in Petra. Clearly we shall live forever.

After sipping from the Holy Grail and getting the necessary pictures we made our way to the Monastery! The thing is though… we didn’t make it all the way there. Probably about 45 minutes away from the top we decided we didn’t have quite enough time to get there and still explore a bit more on our way back.

We start making our way back and we enjoy looking around. There are some goats wandering about, there is a little boy that is selling rocks he found on the ground, and there are opportunities for camel rides.

The Camel Ride

Now, as is the case in many places around the world, this is a place where you negotiate on price. I hate negotiating. I wish people would just tell you what the minimum price they would accept was, or what is reasonable and just go with that. Any who, we negotiated down to $40 for two camels for about a 20-minute ride. If you read my post on animals I’ve seen around the world you will know that this is one of my favorite life experiences and possibly the best $40 I’ve ever spent. 

The thing with riding a camel is it’s just like riding a horse except for all the ways that it is different. The camel will bend down to it’s knees for you to mount it. At this point your guide will put his knee out with the camel blanket over it, you step on it and throw your opposite leg over just as you would with a horse. The “saddle” part is actually on top of the hump, so you end up even higher up than you would imagine. When the camel stands up is the tricky part. If anyone has seen a four legged animal that stands up similarly to a camel (think a horse or a cow) they know that they lung their head forward while getting their back legs under themselves, get up on their knees on the front, and then put their front legs under themselves. This means that the camels head is way below it’s back and you are at quite an angle. If you aren’t hanging on when the camel goes to stand up you will absolutely fall off.

The camel has a natural gate that you can feel in your seat pretty easily when riding along. We didn’t go at more than a walk, so I’m not sure how a camel would feel at a trot. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. Stuart on the other hand hadn’t ever ridden a horse or a donkey or anything so starting him off with a camel where you are 7 feet off the ground might not have been the nicest option, but it was certainly the most comical!

By the end of our camel ride Stuart was feeling much more comfortable and we were both really enjoying ourselves. After taking a few pictures with our new friends in front of the treasury it was time to get off of the camel. Well, much like getting on this involves the camel bending down onto it’s knees before lowering its back end to the ground. It was less startling than the first time as we knew a bit more of what to expect, but once again if you weren’t hanging on you would have fallen off.

At this point, we paid the guide that we had with the camel – as he held up his end of the bargain – 2 camels for $40 – and he didn’t try to charge us extra for taking our picture or for getting off the camel, and we gave him $50 with a hearty thanks.

Cautionary Tales:

While we had a wonderful experience in Petra (and myself in Al’Aqaba) we had been forewarned that not everyone might be so honest. Specifically we had been warned that if you took a camel ride that the guides for these camels would often agree to a price, get you up on the camel, and then not let you down until you agreed to pay more. This is why when our guide didn’t try to swindle us at the end for pictures or to get down we felt inclined to tip him for his honesty. Whether or not we got the best deal price wise we do not know, but we had a great experience that far outweighs whatever additional negotiating and bargaining we might have gotten which could have resulted in a whole lot of non-sense swindling and would have put negative feelings towards our amazing experience. 

Now, while our experience was positive, not everyone had the same experience that day.  A couple crew members that we know ended up on a horse out a bit in the middle of the desert. It was at this point, once they weren’t sure how to get back (and neither of them had ridden horses before) when the guide demanded they give them $300 and empty there wallets or else they wouldn’t get them back to the city. They ended up there because they wanted to go explore towards the top of a nearby mountain. This area was not heavily traveled. They went with someone they didn’t know out into a fairly remote area. Trust is a great thing but it can only take you so far. You must remain vigilant and intelligent. The red flag to them should have been when they got to the top and he kept going (oh – there is something so beautiful just a little further). They did make it safely back, just $300 lighter and with some very hurt egos.

To contrast this in a positive note I also have friends that booked a private tour to go to Petra (remember, a 3 hour drive from the port) and they had a great experience. They had researched where they were going, what the route was, and ensured that people not on tour with them knew what their plans were. Trust is a great thing when combined with research, diligence, and intelligence!  

There are good people everywhere and I would absolutely recommend a journey to Jordan! I am certainly looking forward to going back someday, exploring even more, and hopefully going to the nearby area of Wadi Rum!

To sum up:

Is it worth flying to Jordan for?

  • If you’re flying from the US, thinking of 10+ hours in the air and probably $1000 plane ticket and it is the only thing you’re planning on doing there – probably not. There are other things to do in the area such as Wadi Rum, as well as the city of Al’Aqaba itself. Combined they might be worth the trip.
  • Are you from Europe? It is certainly worth the trip!

If you are cruising to Al’Aqaba should you go?

  • Yes! Absolutely! If you are more comfortable going on a shore excursion through the company, then do that. It is worth whatever they are charging.
  • If you go on your own (hire a private tour) I would recommend doing it on the first day to make sure that you’ve got time to get back to the ship.

Should I ride a camel?

  • Is that even a question? Of course!

Should I get an Indiana Jones’ inspired hat before embarking on this adventure?

  • Yes! We bought Stuarts from one of the places selling them for I believe $20.

Are there shops after you go through the front entrance?

  • Yes! People have stands set up absolutely everywhere – even on the stairs up to the Monastery! You can buy hats, mini holy grails, lamps, ice cream, beer, magnets…

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