A Religious Experience

The minute our Seven Seas Navigator docked at the Aqaba Main Port Center in Jordan, we could feel the energy and vitality. This is a tiny, hard-working country that is filled with pride and anxious to push its success forward. Under the leadership of young King Abdullah II, a one-man chamber of commerce, tourism is thriving.

It is the only seaport in Jordan. Its location is strategic and enormously interesting. From our ship, we could see Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. These countries are not way off in the distance. You can drive there in minutes, not hours.

That said, Aqaba isn’t a lovely resort city on the sea. It is a port city and intensely commercial and busy. And it is a gateway for tourists to get to Jordan’s leading tourist site, the ancient city of Petra, a Nabataean city that was the center of an Arab kingdom in Roman times. Its ruins are in the southwest of Jordan, a two-hour drive from Aqaba.

Petra’s location is on a terrace in a valley enclosed by sandstone cliffs veined with shades of red and purple varying to pale yellow. The coach ride through the rocky desert was absolutely beautiful and, unlike our experience in some previous countries, absolutely devoid of trash and garbage along the road.

The rest stop about half way there was a place that looked out over a beautiful valley and had several high-priced souvenirs you could almost not do without. However, the $14,000 (shipping included) mother of pearl covered chair was easily resisted.

As we arrived in the city of Petra, the view of the city was down into a valley that was very busy with construction. Memory from 10 years ago was a totally different site.  Now there is a new Marriott Hotel, a Seven Wonders Hotel and a Movenpick Hotel where we would have lunch,

The entrance to the historic site is now fitted out with formal ticket gates just like an amusement park with souvenirs, refreshments and modern restrooms. Also present were the one-horse carriages available to take the lame and the brave on an expensive, lickety-split ride over the several mile rocky path down to the historic site – The Treasury. This is a Greek-style, three-story building/tomb carved in the pink sandstone and made famous by an Indiana Jones movie.

Heartier and more curious souls made the walk on foot on the same downhill narrow path between walls several hundred feet high in places. It was fun to look for and discover ancient carvings in the walls, placed there several thousand years ago and slowly disappearing due to the passage of time and erosion.

At the end of the siq, or path, the view opens up to reveal the spectacular pink sandstone Treasury, with hundreds of tourists shooting selfies, camel trainers offering rides and terrific souvenir stands. Some of the tourists actually knew what they were seeing, but not all of them by a long shot. They were there because everyone else was.

The trip back up the siq was just as far up as it was down!  That walk is a killer. It was a relief to reach the bus, get our breath and settle down for a long nap on the bus as we returned to our floating home docked at Aqaba.

The next two days were spent in a commercial dock on the Red Sea port at Safaga, Egypt. Lots of shore excursions took passengers in to Luxor and Karnak, both mind-boggling sites.

Karnak is a vast complex of temples on the bank of the Nile. It is a sprawling open-air museum, the largest religious site in the world and the second-most visited place in Egypt behind the pyramids of Giza. Numerous ruined temples, chapels and other buildings abound in Karnak, most notably the great Temple of Amun, begun by Pharaoh Ramses II over 3,000 years ago.

Luxor Temple was built mostly by Amenhotep III and Rameses II. This majestic temple complex on the east bank of the Nile was the center of the annual festival of Opet in Ancient Egypt. The ruins include enormous pylons, obelisks and colossi.

On the Nile’s west bank is the Valley of the Kings. Tombs were built for the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom from the 16th to 11th centuries B.C. The valley is located on the Nile’s west bank, across from Luxor and surrounded by the Theban Hills, which are dominated by the pyramid-shaped peak of Al-Qurn.

In modern times, the valley has become famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhaman. While many tombs are accessible to the public, exploration and excavation continue in the area today. For quite some time, it has been believed that a still-buried tomb with treasures greater than that of the King Tut tomb exists. The cost to excavate this tomb is more than the Egyptian government can afford. They feel that leaving it buried for the moment keeps the contents safe.

Leaving Egypt, we entered the Suez Canal going north at 6 a.m. The canal is a sea-level waterway that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. It was built over a 10-year period from 1859 to 1869 and is operated by the Suez Canal Company. The transit took about nine hours and was completely different from our earlier transit of the Panama Canal. The biggest difference is the fact that there are no locks in the Suez. It was a beautiful day and a photographer’s dream.

At our next stop, we docked at Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel. On our excursion from Haifa to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, our tour guide, a Haifa native, stressed the peaceful, inclusive nature of the city where Muslims, Jews, Christians and those of the Ba’hai faith all respect one another.

The ride to Nazareth was beautiful. We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, the place where it is believed that the angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. The basilica was built over the remains in 1966. We then went to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Then after a delicious lunch at St. Peter’s Restaurant on the Jordan River, we went to Yardenit, a baptismal site on the Jordan River where one could rent regalia in which to be baptized and buy all sorts of religious paraphernalia including holy water, various holy oils and more expensive religious jewelry than you can imagine.

The next day was a spectacular 10-hour excursion to Jerusalem for a walking tour of the Old City. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and walked along the Bazaar and the Via Delorosa, the route that Jesus took to his crucifixion. Our walk ended at the Western Wall. Then our coach took us on a circular tour around the outside of the Old City before taking us to a lovely modern hotel for a late lunch.

We returned to the ship in time for an Arabian Nights costumed dinner. It was a long day. VT

Photos Courtesy of Carla Sue Broecker.