Updated: Apr 12
Bottom line: No where else is so much hoopla crammed into such a small area.
My wife and I recently completed a three-country visit to Jordan, Egypt and Jerusalem/Bethlehem (Israel) with Uniworld. We felt safe, and encountered no protests, uprisings or hostile action, though some of the merchant vendors in Egypt were on the more insistent side. We weathered blustery winds generally, and rain on two days! In hindsight, we were there during a sweet spot. We started in Amman, Jordan, then flew to Egypt, where we were when Ramadan commenced, and finally visited Israel/Jerusalem/Bethlehem prior to Passover. Since our departure, unfortunately, some disturbances have occurred in “the force.” We’re glad we traveled there, as we thoroughly enjoyed visiting well-know historical sites … ancient by American standards … and the company of other fellow travelers.
A few things I learned in Jordan, mostly from our guide, Mohannad (I hope I’ve spelled his name correctly):
1) “Yalla” in Arabic has various meanings. Depending upon context, it could mean, Let’s go, while “Yalla, yalla” means, Hurry up … but take your time. How’s that for a more polite way to say, Get the lead out!?
2) Bedouins—in Jordan there are many—are those individuals who choose a “nomadic” lifestyle, though not as a result of destitution. Some, wealthy by Jordanian standards, may move twice yearly to locations more favorable weather-wise, occupy permanent or semi-permanent structures, or simply move tents. Many have modern conveniences, such as cell phones, motor vehicles and electrical generators, as we observed when traveling the roads.
A Bedouin awaiting a tour group wanting camel rides?
A Bedouin encampment.
3) Petra’s “Treasury” was a temple, though later people mistakenly believed a treasure had been hidden there.
Janet and I pose in front of the Petra Treasury.
Our Uniworld tour group, "Bus One," poses at the Treasury.
4) Wadi Rum, the desert region bordering southern Jordan, was a filming location for “The Martian,” as well as a number of other films, including “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Awesome views of Wadi Rum awaited no matter where I looked.
A sunset view near Palmera Camp.
5) The Dead Sea lies 1,300 feet below sea level, and has a high salt content, which makes floating in it quite easy, but getting vertical while in it quite difficult. (Self-administered mud baths are free of charge.)
Janet and I float in the Dead Sea like corks.
A contingent of our "Bus One" tour group takes a Dead Sea mud bath.
A few things I learned in Egypt, mostly from our guide, Ahmed:
6) The movie Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, is an accurate representation of the famed Egyptian, though Liz’s eyes are the wrong color. (I’ll let you be the judge on that.)
7) The current Egyptian government (replacing the Muslim Brotherhood) embarked on a major construction program to relocate many of their poorer population to better housing. By doing so, they hope to alleviate, or disrupt and reduce, the root causes of religious/political radicalization.
8) Ancient Egyptians worshiped numerous gods and were accepting of each pharaoh's choice of which and how many to worship for the most part—though perhaps not when Tutankhamen ruled, though that’s a long story. As a result, the hieroglyphic record in their temples and tombs depict a plethora of gods, too many for me to keep track of as our guide, Ahmed, pointed them out and quizzed us. The stories told in their temples, intended to be seen by others, depict their prowess, power, strength, and favorable connection to their god(s), and should be considered more like political messages. Their way of saying, Keep me in power, I’ll protect you--an early version of, Vote for me. Sound familiar? Whereas, the stories told in their tombs weren’t intended to be seen by anyone after the tomb was closed. Oops, that hasn’t worked out so well for them! Instead, those messages were intended for their god(s) only … and should be considered gospel. (Pun intended.) By that I mean, those stories reflect what they really believed and how they wanted their god(s) to see them in their final and ever-lasting judgment.
Various Egyptians gods at Komombo Temple. (Don't ask me to name them!)
9) The ancient Egyptians considered the Nile’s west bank as the land of the dead, and thus their pyramids/tombs/graves were primarily located on the side of the “setting sun,” while the living did their thing on the east bank, the side of the “rising sun.” Temples, I’m not so sure about, but it stands to reason that many of those would be on the eastern side. (Note: before it got dammed, the Nile changed course now and then, though stayed within its flood plain.)
Aerial view of the Upper Nile near Luxor. (Note
the narrow flood plain bordered by desert.)
10) The Suez Canal wasn’t the first waterway dug through Egypt’s sands. The pharaohs dug canals connecting the Nile to Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Our guide told us one connected Qena to the Red Sea, a distance of approximately one-hundred-twenty miles.
Ancient Egyptians likely contributed a considerable number of ideas/concepts to us:
11) Ever wonder where the term breakfast originated? Try this. Break fast, as in breaking a fast, which Muslims do every day during Ramadan when they eat their first meal of the day after sunset!
12) Ever wonder where the term, Holy cow, came from? The ancient Egyptians considered cows sacred, or at least some of them did.
A "Holy Cow" on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo?
13) Our guide told us the ancient Egyptians originated the concept of infinity—though some would credit the Greeks … but then the Greeks ruled Egypt for a period of time, so who’s to say they didn’t expropriate the idea?
A hieroglyphic representation (snake's double loop)
of the concept of infinity at Esna Temple?
14) The “all-seeing eye,” of justice and/or healing, was the god Horus’ left eye, gouged out in a battle with Set (later renamed Seth by the Greeks). I suspect, this idea was passed on via the Free Masons to become the eyeball atop the pyramid on the US one-dollar bill!
A modern day representation of Horus' "all-seeing eye."
(Note: his left one to be exact.)
The Sphinx and Great Giza Pyramid. (No blog about a trip to
Egypt would be complete without a photo of one of these.)
A few things I learned in Israel/Jerusalem/Bethlehem, mostly from our guide, Eli (pronounced Ellie, and short for Elijah):
15) The Valley of the Shadow of Death, an otherwise small, nondescript valley in current day Jerusalem, served as the location for first-born male sacrifices in past times. Not long, deep, nor dark, it’s bisected by a curvy, two-lane paved street.
A view of the Valley of the Shadow
of Death from the Mount of Olives.
15) Israeli citizens cannot travel into Bethlehem, nor any other Palestinian Authority controlled area. We were transported from Jerusalem to Bethlehem through the “border checkpoint” by a driver who had permission by birth to cross between the two areas. And we had a different guide while in Bethlehem!
Queued at the checkpoint waiting to exit Palestinian Authority
controlled Bethlehem. I did not dare exit the vehicle!
16) The Church of the Nativity, purported site of Jesus’ birth, is utilized by various religions/sects (Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Greek Orthodox Church, with minor Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox, and Syriac Orthodox rites) each taking turns to worship by appointment, of sorts.
17) Sites and locations across the entire region are in close proximity. I felt quite stunned that most locations of biblical reference (Christian) where within a few days walk, something difficult to comprehend until I saw it. (I had problems with Jordanian customs twice as result of carrying small binoculars! They’re quite touchy about people sneaking across the Jordanian/Israeli border.)
If you’re so moved to travel to those destinations, in part or all, I recommend utilizing a well-known travel company, such as Uniworld. An established company will be working with locals who are in the know about where to go … and where not to. And you may want to consider cooler months, while also avoiding tourist season.
Walk in beauty.