Yup, day 5 gets its very own post. Its very own post it deserves. Day 5 was one day that I will surely never forget for so many reasons. It was both fascinating and terrifying; risky and thrilling and probably above all, educating.
The day didn't start out so radically diverse. We woke up in Jordan in a tiny town near Petra. The ruins at Petra are 2000 years old and attract a lot of tourists and attention each year as a wonder of the world. For those of you that have seen "Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade", Petra is the place where they filmed the buildings cut out of the rock where the holy grail was ultimately located at the end of the movie. The first picture in this post is the main attraction of the Petra ruins and the image most familiar from the movie.
We started the mile long walk down the narrow rock canyons, passing man-made caves and old canals until we arrived at the large wall. And it was completely amazing. Tourists all stood around it as well as a couple of camels drinking water bottles purely for entertainment's sake. We weren't allowed to go inside the building (so no, sadly, I was not able to locate the Holy Grail after taking the leap of faith on this trip) but we were able to peak our heads in to see . . . well a big empty room with a few doors going off to, presumably, more empty rooms. We hung around the building for a while until we all decided it was way too hot to be out in the desert, in the Middle East, in the middle of the day and we turned around to make the journey back up to the beginning even though there was more stuff farther down the canyon; we saw the main attraction and were quite satisfied.
We had to get going anyway so we could drive the rental car back to Amman and get a taxi to take us to the Israeli border, which we planned to cross that evening in order to be in Jerusalem by bedtime. Simple plan. Complicated outcome.
We said goodbye to the hotel, which we absolutely loved (mainly because of the incredible view). The drive back to Amman was uneventful, other than the 35 camels all crossing the road under the direction of a couple of children that couldn't have been much older than six (5th picture). So we waited several minutes for them to complete their mass exodus and drove on. When we got to the airport, I hopped out of the car to run in and find out what the car rental company wanted us to do with the car. I came back out, after finding out that no one working that day spoke a word of English, to find a stressed Uncle Will who was getting SCREAMED at by a man with a machine gun in a really crappy Hummer who was yelling something in Arabic through some kind of voice magnifying middle-eastern technology, inching closer and closer to the rental car in his giant vehicle. Somehow we returned the car and worked out a price with a taxi driver to take us to the border crossing which really wasn't more than an hour and a half away.
Well, it turned out to be about as far as we expected, with one minor complication: that border crossing was closed and our only chance of crossing the border was to go north to another border near Syria, one which, we found out later, was much less traveled by tourists. The long, hot, miserable drive took us another couple hours and by the time we got to the border, I just hoped and prayed it wouldn't take too long as I was getting tired, sick and rather dehydrated by this time, as well as a bit emotionally drained from traveling all over the Middle East all day, stopping ever now and again so men with machine guns could heavily scrutinize our passports a thousand times over.
We finally arrived at the border, or what we thought was the border, and all of our luggage was thrown into a new taxi as we were sent into a small building to be searched via metal detectors and minor bouts of frisking. We were then driven about 100 meters in this new taxi to another building where our bags were each put through surveillance as we, and our passports were checked again. The luggage was put back into the car again and we were driven another 400 meters to a waiting area with a group of Jordanians and Israelis. We were sort of directed to buy bus tickets after we found out from asking people around us what we were waiting for and were basically told that some bus would be coming to take us to the next spot. After waiting 30 minutes or so, the bus arrived and everyone threw their bags in the storage underneath and pushed each other out of the way to climb aboard. We went straight to the back, commenting to each other that we were so tired that we didn't care what happened anymore.
The bus drove about 400 meters down a dirt road with high barbed wire on either side and desert land as far as the eye could see. After the bus stopped, a Jordanian army man with a large machine gun came aboard and began checking everyone's passports as he walked through the bus, looking thoroughly through each page. He finally got back to us and looked at Krishelle's. As he flipped through her pages, his facial expression turned from mean to violently scary. He then, without giving her passport back, took Uncle Will's and flipped through his, growing angrier with each turn of the page. Eventually he took grandma's and mine and stormed off the bus. We sat there, growing a little nervous and deciding that we actually still did care what happened. After several minutes the man came aboard again and returned our passports and the bus suddenly backed up and turned around and headed back toward where we came from. Everyone on the bus started looking around, trying to figure out why were going back when Krishelle, looking rather freaked out, pointed out that they had just stamped the words "contact the nearest police within 30 days" in her passport. We then verified that the same stamp had been slapped on each of hours as well. As the bus came to a stop, the driver announced that he needed "the 4 with stamp come to front of bus!" We pushed grandma in front of us (you can't stay mad at her) as people around us mouthed curses in Arabic and Hebrew at us as we passed, stepping on their things as we went by. We were yelled at by some man who said something about an exit stamp and sent us into a building and down a hall to get something that we weren't quite sure about while an entire bus of irate middle-easterners waited for us. We were pushed around until someone got us through (we think you usually have to pay to get the stamp we needed but we were in such a hurry that they didn't charge us). After several LONG minutes, we were escorted back to a now much angrier busload of people where they made us stand at the front until we arrived back at the previous passport check where the same man came aboard and angrily checked ours again. We were then sent on the extremely awkward walk back to our seats where we set for another 30 seconds until the bus finally arrived at the actual border crossing (yes, we hadn't even gotten to the actual border yet, although what I've just described took hours).
We unloaded our bags and went inside another building where we now had to stand in line with the entire busload of angry people we had just detained due to our ignorance. The line moved slowly and when we finally arrived to the front of it, our passports were checked again (VERY thoroughly) and we were each asked a million questions about why we were there, where we were staying, where we had been, what we had with us, if we had any reason to believe that any explosives had been placed on our persons or in our bags, etc. Then our bags were sent back through more surveillance as we were escorted through more metal detectors and light frisking. At this point we were sent back to another window to get some kind of stamp where our passports were checked (again) and we were asked multiple questions (again) individually this time. Finally we were sent to another person who looked through our passports (very thoroughly), asked us a few questions, and then said "welcome to Israel" which I don't think had anything to do with being polite but actually served as a reminder of why the heck we had just gone through all of that as by that time, I had completely forgotten where we were trying to get due to all the emotional stress we had just been put through for the last 6 or 8 hours (or however long it was).
We were free and so so relieved . . . until we realized that we were standing in Israel in the middle of the night (because the whole ordeal took so long), hours from Jerusalem, with no ride and no idea how to get there. Another 45 minutes later we were able to get hooked up with a taxi driver (who we just watched smoke something out of a water pipe for a while) that took us to Jerusalem, driving through a bunch of dark Palestinian villages to get there. We stopped somewhere briefly and saw a Jewish parade go by (we think it was a wedding) and felt quite welcome when they walked up to the car and threw handfuls of candy to us.
When we arrived at our hotel, we dropped onto the beds, each of us still shaking slightly, not quite able to rid ourselves of the images of angry machine gun carrying military men, but also laughing a bit about how we can't ever seem to go anywhere without something life-threatening or embarrassing happening--or in this case, both life-threatening and embarrassing at the same time:). But I really can't describe how tired we all were by the time the whole ordeal came to an end. Even now as I type, I don't feel like my description really does the situation justice. I don't just mean that we felt physical exhaustion but we were mentally fried by the end and as I tried to fall asleep that night, I remember being shocked that it was only that morning that we were parading around the Petra ruins and laughing about the road-crossing camels and clothes-wearing goats (which I know I saw even if Krishelle is skeptical). I also thought that I would never really be the same again--in so many ways that I can't really explain, that day sort of changed the way I think about a lot of things, including some things that I'm much more grateful for now. It also helped me realize that sometimes you can either stress or find humor in your situation, so you might as well just laugh: stress gives you ulcers. And grandma must know that because she later told us that while we were all about to go into cardiac arrest, she apparently was trying desperately to keep from cracking up; this may be why grandma seemed to be the only person who wasn't tired on our long drive to Jerusalem as she told us ghost stories or when we finally did return home to Salt Lake City many days later.
But day 5 did finally come to an end as we went to bed next to a gorgeous view of the Old City, the Damascus Gate just blocks from where we slept.