One Day in Israel

The next morning I take a taxi to the Israeli border. I don’t end up paying a cent for overstaying my Egypt visa by three weeks. There are few people at the border. It’s a bit of a culture shock that suddenly all the people working are women, coming from an almost completely male world. The two young female workers give me the inquisition about why I’m coming and where I will stay. I’m embarrassed to tell them that I'll be staying with a stranger I met on Tinder. I lie and say I met Bar, whose last name I don’t know, through a friend who now lives in Israel.

When I connected with Bar, a very good looking young guy, on Tinder, he invited me to spend the night. I invite him to accompany me to the Dead Sea, but he has to work, so I tell him I'll come come to his place around 7 pm when I return. He says to message him with the Eilat city free WIFI. It's not worth buying a SIM card just for the one day I will be passing through Israel.

There's a bus waiting on the other side of the border, but no ATM or currency exchange place. I don't know what the hell they expect people to do when crossing this border. The taxis don't take credit cards. Luckily I happen to have a euro coin that was in my bag from my trip to Portugal this past summer. I use it to pay for the bus. I chat with the jovial bus driver as I notice some of the nice things about the West: streets free of trash and feral dogs; garbage trucks; joggers. Eilat, though, is the Vegas of Israel, which is really not my kind of place. I get to the bus station and there's a huge crowd of people waiting for the Dead Sea bus, as it’s New Years Day, but somehow I manage to get on standing room only. It’s a very comfortable bus with WIFI. Unfortunately the luggage storage place at the bus station was closed so I need to find a place to float in the sea that has a locker. The Ein Gedi spa is the only place.

It’s an aging, crowded facility. The bus arrives an hour late and the last one back leaves in only an hour and a half so it will be rushed swim. I shove my bag in the locker, get into my bathing suit, and walk the ridiculously long way to the beach. It's a beautiful sight. The light on the Dead Sea has an iridescent, shimmering quality. It’s warm and I float for a bit in the salt water, then cover myself in mud and rinse off in the hot mineral water shooting out of the outdoor showers. I feel good afterwards. My skin feels so soft.

I shower fast and grab my bag and cross the road for the bus. It's full so I stand the whole way, chatting with an Australian guy. We stop for felafel and it’s great to have one with yogurt sauce for a change after 6 weeks in Egypt with dry, sauceless food. The WIFI on the bus isn’t working, and neither is the Eilat free wifi when I arrive, so I have no way to contact Bar; he gave me his street address but not the apartment number. I take a taxi to the street then ask a guy walking his dog if he knows Bar. He doesn’t but he gives me his WIFI password which I can pick up outside his apartment. Bar comes out and gets me.

He’s an incredibly gorgeous man. His ancestors immigrated to Israel from Morocco and from Greece, which is a good mix. Somehow their nation of immigrants turned out to be a better-looking mix than ours. His apartment is tiny, windowless, and very messy. A young woman introduces herself, very friendly. She and I chat a bit. She asks me how long I'll stay in Israel, and I say that I’m leaving in the morning but plan to return in March.

Then she and Bar speak in Hebrew in a way that sounds like arguing while he hurriedly wipes off the filthy coffee table. They take huge bong hits packed with tobacco. A TV blares music videos. I’m not happy.

Bar speaks very good English. He works as a dive instructor and moonlights as a bartender. The girl leaves, and Bar sighs heavily and says “Finally.” She’s a friend who’s looking for a place. We take each other in. He's incredibly gorgeous. Medium length black hair tied back in a man bun, big eyes rimmed with long dark eyelashes, fine features, lithe and muscled body.

“Can I be rude?” he asks, moving his lips near mine, and I nod. His kiss is great, sensual, we make out for a while, but then he moves too fast, puts his hand up my shirt and pinches my nipples hard, and moves his body on top of mine.

I say, “So .. I would really love to kiss you and cuddle you. I’m not going to have sex with you tonight, I want to get to know you first. If it works, maybe we can see each other again and see what happens.”

“Hmmm,” he says.

We make out some more and then an Avengers movie comes on. It turns out we are both sci-fi and fantasy fans, but he seems reluctant to share much of himself with me. Maybe he’s tired from work, but it feels like he’s not interested to really connect. He doesn’t ask me anything about myself. I’m sleep deprived and go to lay down in his bedroom. He joins me and for a short while we cuddle. I kiss his neck and caress him. It feels so incredibly good to just be held by a man. But inevitably he pushes and pushes for sex, to the point of rudeness. His pushiness turns me off completely, so I tell him to get himself off if he's frustrated, I'm done.

"Why should I do it myself when your head is right there?" he asks.

"Because my head doesn't exist for your pleasure."

I go in the other room to sleep on the loveseat.


I wake up early, chomping at the bit to get to the Jordan border and have a full day to tour the Wadi Rum desert and then get to Petra in the evening. Bar had offered to drive me to the border, which was nice of him. I find it weird that he’s never been to Jordan; Petra is a mere two hours away, and Jordan is fine for Israelis. But he’s asleep. I wish I could leave my bags and go out to look for coffee and breakfast, and come back, but there’s no way for me to get in touch with him. Besides, I didn't see any places anywhere nearby. I really don’t want to hang around for hours waiting for him to get up, and anyways I’m sure he would prefer not to drive me, and anyway, now it's awkward. I slip out the door and hail a cab to the border.

There are huge herds of tourists crossing this border. They are all in big tours, so there is no one to share a taxi with to Wadi Rum. It’s 50 bucks. Jordan is a lot more expensive than Egypt. When I arrive I also can’t find anyone to share a tour with so I’m on my own. I pay about 70 for a 5 hour tour. I like the guide very much. We stop at one of the desert camps for excellent cardamom coffee and then set off in the jeep into the desert.

Wadi Rum desert is incredibly gorgeous, the sky enormous with slow moving clouds casting moving shadows, the sands soft and tinted every shade of red, tan, and orange.

Huge sandstone and granite cliffs and rock bridges rise from the sands. It’s silent except for crows and some tiny birds with beautiful squeaking voices.

I hike through a canyon with high walls and a few small, special trees.

There are Bedouins with camels throughout, and when we stop at the tents I notice their culture seems more intact than their cousins in Sinai. Longhaired men wear some traditional clothes and rim their eyes in kohl, giving them the pirate-gypsy Johnny-Depp look. Their jewelry looks like the jewelry of the Rajasthani and Roma (gypsy) peoples (who originally migrated from Rajasthan, the western part of India). Perhaps they are all related, or, perhaps they only share cultural influences to the Silk Road. Jordan is one of the major crossroads of the ancient spice route, where the routes from East Asia and the southern route from Arabia converged.

My guide drops me off at my guest house in Petra, which I like very much. The room is tiny but well furnished, and the very kind and helpful host turns on the heat for me. I am so, so excited to be warm. It’s legitimately cold, with temperatures barely above freezing. Wadi Musa, the town by Petra, is a hilly place, pleasant enough. There is one restaurant that has some atmosphere, with decorative gas heaters going. I order a typical Jordanian dish, and my eyebrows shoot up when I taste it; it’s really good. My seven weeks in Egypt I had mostly tasteless meals, aside from a few places in Dahab.

I sleep happily in the artificially warmed air...

Petra Day 1

...and wake up early, excited for Petra. I buy some extra socks so that I don’t have to wash my other pairs. When I walk the 20 minutes down the hill to the entrance and go to buy a bottle of water, I realize my wallet is gone, with my ATM card inside! I try my best not to panic. I only have two dinars on me which is about 3 dollars, and a taxi ride back up the steep hill is 3 dinars. I ask a driver to help me, saying I’ve lost my wallet, and he very kindly takes me back up the hill. I go into the shop where I had bought the socks, the wallet is still there! Arabic people are so trustworthy. The taxi driver even offers to drive me back down and won’t take any money.

So. I’m ready for Petra.

The story of the first Westerner to see Petra in modern times, 27 year old Johann Burchkardt, is utterly fascinating. In 1809, when he heard that the last guy to go look for the legendary lost city had been murdered, he was intrigued. He learned to speak Arabic and studied the Koran and disguised himself as a Muslim shiekh from India, to account for his non-native accent. The locals at this time were devout simple back-woods people who did everything they could to destroy the evil works of ‘Pharoah’, the demon to whom they attributed the ancient mysteries in their lands. They would have had no context for archaeological study, nor for gazing at a beautiful building for the sheer appreciation of beauty, so in their minds the only reason for an outsider to come around was in search of treasure. If his disguise had been found out, he would have been killed like the first guy.

He hired a local guide to take him to the ruins, saying he wanted to sacrifice a goat to biblical prophet Aaron, whose tomb was supposedly there. He made 12 detailed pages of notes, with measurements. Maybe it was the measurements that aroused suspicion, since he left quickly.

What I love about Burckhardt is that he wasn't faking his love for Islam; he gained a deep respect for and understanding of Islamic culture. The pilgrimage he made to Mecca and Medina was for real. Iain Browing, in his book Petra says, “…he discussed and interpreted with sincerity and great understanding. He, like Lawrence of Arabia almost exactly one hundred years later, was one of those very few, indeed rare, individuals who have managed to bridge the yawning cultural and intellectual gap which divides the world of Islam from that of the West.” When he died of dysentery, tragically young in his early 30s, he requested to be buried in an Islamic cemetery under the assumed name of his disguise!

Now, two centuries later, there is no more danger and adventure left in the world. Anyone with 70 bucks can come to Petra, a mere two hours from the resort cities of the Red Sea. The ancient paths are lined with souvenir shops, although fortunately they’re pretty scenic Bedouin tents. Along the old Roman walkway, one souvenir seller shouts “One dinar! One dinar! One dinar!” until you want to strangle him. (A few weeks later in Ethiopia, my Swiss travel companion would ask me, “Did that guy just say ‘One dinar’?” I would say, “I heard that too!” He would say, “I think I have PTSD from that!”) Yet still, the landscape is so vast, it swallows those modern insults. It’s utterly breathtaking.

The official story is that Petra was built by the ancient Nabateans in Biblical times, who were Bedouin camel nomads like the people there today. The Nabateans definitely lived there and grew rich from their strategic position controlling the Spice Road trade. The two main routes, the one from Arabia and the one from India and China, meet right there in Jordan, and go through Wadi Rum and Petra. One of the main items they traded was frankincense. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all needed frankincense to burn in their churches and mosques, so there was a huge demand for the stuff.

Nabateans were mostly pagans whose main diety may have been Al Uzza, the pre-Islamic Arabian Mother Goddess, whose name changed to the Hellenized version, Atargatis, in the 1st century. Nabateans still retained antique customs of respect for women, well into Roman times; women had the same rights as men, and queens ruled aside kings when a monarchy developed.

However, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Nabateans built Petra, despite the fact that the official story claims it without question. Once you start paying attention you realize this it's very common for "experts" to claim to be certain of things with no proof. Three of the sites at Petra are enormous megaliths and it is impossible to imagine Iron Age people carving them from stone with steel chisels. No chisels have been found anywhere at Petra. They extrapolate that Nabateans built them because steel chisels were found at another site in Arabia with similar styles; however, the Saudi is tiny. It seems much more likely that the Arabian site was imitating the architectural styles at Petra. It’s impossible to imagine or describe the massive scale of the sites at Petra that have been carved out of massive rock face; you have to see it in person. The exterior facades are perfectly straight and precise.

As we know, there is no way to date stone, so we don’t know when these enormous facades were carved. My hero Jimmy, the creator of the Bright Insights videos that present evidence for the advanced ancient civilization, believes that 3 of the Petra monuments are much more ancient than the Nabateans: the Khasneh, the so-called Monastery, and the so-called ‘tomb’ of Umm. Those are the three monuments with megalithic proportions. The Khasneh is 82 feet wide and 131 feet high, twice the height of the carved faces on Mount Rushmore. The precision, Jimmy says, is remarkable, and he believes the Nabateans happened upon it and inhabited it, as the Romans later did with it. There is no physical evidence to suggest they built it, and they had no written records. It is theoretically possible to carve sandstone with steel chisels, but the amount of time and difficulty to do so is “beyond incredible”, as Jimmy says. The Khasneh only makes up 1% of Petra. There’s the amphitheater, which seated 8000 people. Iain Browning notes that the round- and arch-headed monuments, which are the three megalithic ones, don’t seem to fit in with the other architectural phases, and that the Khasneh is “totally un-Nabatean”.

Jimmy is very skeptical that nomadic tent dwellers would suddenly decide to built an enormous city, and then go back to roaming in tents. It’s telling, he points out, that it was built in such a location to be hidden from the elements, in the middle of remote mountains, which supports the theory that it was built by survivors of the last cataclysm.

Check out Jimmy's video about Petra.

The path to Petra is almost a 2 kilometer walk to the main entrance, winding through a very steep canyon of red sandstone and granite walls. The whole way is paved with large flat stones. Then you see it peeking out — the Khasneh. An impossibly tall facade carved out of the cliff face, with huge pillars.

If you’ve seen one picture of Petra it’s probably of the Khasneh, with its gigantic columns and circular facades carved out of sandstone cliff. It was featured in Indiana Jones. Iain Browning says of the Khasneh: “There was no build-up to the creation of this uniquely beautiful monument and as all its characteristics are totally foreign to the native tradition, one must believe it was designed by an architect from outside the Nabatean orbit. Why, though, was such a monument created? We do not know the answer, nor do we know its date.”

The main square there is sunny, much warmer than the town. It’s full of Bedouins, tourists, camels, donkeys, and horses. There is music playing. I decide to find some marijuana, which I had failed to do in Wadi Rum, so I ask a group of three young Johnny-Depp looking boys, gorgeous guys with the kohl eyeliner, long curly black hair, and the warm capes the Bedouin wear. They say we can smoke up on the rock and we climb up above the scene and roll a spliff. They point out the caves where they live. There are about 75 Bedouins who live in the caves of Petra, sometimes sleeping in the village just outside the park.

One guy shows me pictures of his American girlfriend, who just left the country. I compliment him on his hair, with beautiful ringlets. “Yeah,” he says, “I don’t have to do anything, I just wind it around my fingers and it comes like this. Touch it.” I do. I make an almost audible gulp as I swallow my drool. “Yes, you are very handsome, you look like Johnny Depp.” “No”, he says proudly, “Johnny Depp looks like us! Bedouins originals! Maybe his mother travel here and get the idea.”

I tell them I'll look for them later and climb down to explore more. There are closed off grates where you can see below the earth in front of the so-called Treasury, where there are chambers underground. They no longer allow people to enter the Treasury openings. So I keep walking. I enter a large open area between steep red cliffs studded with caves, openings, and carved facades. The sandstone is the most beautiful stone I have ever seen! The colors are swirled and marbled, with veins of white, every shade of red and tan and orange imaginable. Pictures cannot do it justice.

Clearly it was a huge ancient city with chambers and tunnels throughout.

I walk and arrive to an enormous amphitheater that held 10,000 people. Past there is a a main area with the ruins of a temple, a long paved colonnade, and another building that may have had an administrative function. These buildings were clearly Roman-era buildings. They use small blocks and are very square. No advanced technology required. It would have been a beautiful site, in its day.

Check out this photo. You get a feel for how extensive are the facades carved in stone. It looks like that entire mountain would have had rooms carved in it. This is just one less-famous area of Petra. Notice the size of the people.

There are Bedouin stalls selling various trinkets. I pass one whose wares look like intriguing and dusty antiques, and I buy a few small things from him. I like his vibe very much.

At a cafe nearby there’s a Beduoin guy with a beautiful oud, the Arabic strummed string instrument, wooden with inlaid stones. He starts playing and I’m fascinated. Another guy starts to sing, as the leader, with two other guys responding back and clapping their hands. Bedouins clap with their hands flat together, different from the percussive clapping in flamenco, where the right fingers hit the left palm center. The music is so beautiful.

The guy with the oud waves me over. “Come, Madame. Come enjoy our music.”

I sit among them where the strumming of the gorgeous oud vibrates my entire body. It’s the first time I’ve heard Bedouins play really, except the one guy in Egypt who played the simple one-stringed harp. The Egyptian Bedouins, sadly, have lost their culture, compared to the Jordanians, but here too, it’s rare to see. The oud player is quite serious, but the singers and clappers are ecstatic.

They stop a moment, and say, “Tonight we will go celebrate and play music, you are invited to come with us!”

“Yes!” I say, and take their number. They say they can drive me to the town 20 minutes away. Then another guy walks up in a long robe, that the other ones seem to respect.

“And we will bring this one with us!” says the first oud player. He hands the oud to the new guy, who makes a slight show of getting settled in, and then begins to strum. He does a beautiful long intro, each plucked string capturing the attention of the people around. It reminds me of flamenco or Spanish guitar, starting slowly and deliberately with a flourish. Then he picks up speed and the others start to clap and sing. The two clappers stand on either side of me, their shoulders touching mine, and I clap with them. They sway me back and forth, sweeping me into their rhythm. I feel overwhelmed with the beauty of the music and the culture. It feels so sweet, so ecstatically familiar, that I feel somehow that if I opened my mouth I could sing along with them, that I could make that rumbling sound in their throats that fits so perfectly with that music.

Then they have to go. I wander off, stunned. It’s strangely quiet for a space with so many people, but then, it’s an enormous space. Once in a while a cheeky Bedouin on a donkey-taxi rides by with a loud boombox under his robes. One of these guys had some kind of beautiful music I didn’t recognize, but once it was some bad hiphop, so I put on Bedouin music on my headphones! The most annoying sounds you pass, though, are generators to keep the restaurants running, and, the one central trinket peddlar who shouts “1 dinar! 1 dinar!”

Along the Roman paved walkway is one magnificent tree, all gnarled, that is a 450 year old pistachio tree. The woman who has claimed the right to set up shop underneath it is a lumbering, mean-eyed sort who tosses an empty water bottle into the creek as I walk by. I suppress the urge to climb into the creek and get it.

I hike up a high point and marvel at the vast ancient landscape before me. A beautiful cat comes straight for me, recognizing me as one of her own. She has the fluffiest medium length hair that blows in the wind, and she knows she’s beautiful. I give her the petting of her life, as she purrs and talks to me, and tell her she’s the Queen of Petra.

A guy near me says, “Oh, she’s a queen without a king. I think you are the kind of person who likes to be away from people. I think you like animals better than people.”

This is true. I have a tendency to give animals love when they look like they need it. I have pet half the donkeys in Petra, because I have a theory that donkeys bellow like that because they're lonely and need love. When I pet them and scratch them behind the ears, some of them really love it. Others don't know what to make of it.

I tell the guy he’s right, I like animals better than most people. We chat for a while, he’s a very cool guy who has travelled to many countries. He invites me to smoke a spliff in a cave, and we talk about our travels and lives. It’s starting to get dark so I realize I need to figure out what I'm doing. I'm hoping to find those musicians to go with them to hear more music. If I can't find them, my backup plan is to find the Johnny-Depp Lost Boys crew, since they told me that if I stay with them after the park closes, I can hang out until the evening event happens. Petra By Night is a music and dance show for tourists. It costs money, but apparently if I'm with locals, I can just hang around until it starts.

I wander out of the cave into the sunset, marveling at the tunnels in the sheer rock, and make my way to the main area by the so-called Treasury.

I look around for the musicians, but don’t see them, and realize, I can’t call them since I don’t have a SIM card. By the time I get back to the hotel WIFI, it will be too late. I look for the Lost Boys, but don’t see them.

I decide my only option is hike on out of the park, when a local guy comes up and offers to take me up on the mountain until Petra by Night starts. He seems like a nice sort, so I agree. We climb up on the mountain. He's staked out a carpet on a cliff overlooking the Khasneh. We talk for a while about existential topics. Arabs are good at deep philosophical spiritual stuff. Below us, people shout, trucks come through and take out trash. Above us, the stars come out. He leaves for a while to go run around. It seems like Arabic men don't like to sit for too long, they like to be doing things. I sit and meditate and enjoy the stars.

I’m still not certain what’s involved in Petra by Night, but they start to light candles. There are hundreds of candles in a beautiful pattern. Then Fahed returns. I let him listen to my favorite song with my headphones, the 800-year old Arabic song Lamabede. “Did you understand?” I ask him. “Sure. You don’t?” “No, I don’t understand Arabic. What is it about?” “Love.” “What kind of love? For a woman, God, a donkey?” “Maybe all of that.”

We sit in silence for a while, staring up at the stars, watching the candles below lit one by one like stars coming out. Then a man climbs up the mountain to where we are, and shouts at me: “You can’t be here! You will pay double!” Fahed shouts back: “No she’s here with me! She’s my guest!” They start arguing in Arabic. I say: “Stop it! Okay, I’ll leave!” Fahed says, “No! Stay!” Then suddenly they are fighting, rolling on the ground! I slip past them and huddle against the side of a small cliff. Luckily, we're not close to the really high cliff. I shout, “Stop it! Stop!” Then Fahed is thrown down the small cliff to the next level below, and the man throws a fairly large rock at his head. He lays there limply.

Suddenly two young men appear and are shielding me. “Are you okay?” They ask. “I’m fine, but check on Fahed.” They shine their flashlights and help me climb down. Fahed climbs down too, and seems to be okay. One of the young men says, “Stay near him. If you are with him, a tourist, he won’t go to jail. Go with him to the police.”

I ask Fahed, “Are you okay?” There is blood on the back of his head but otherwise he seems pretty unharmed. “Yes, now I just want to save you.” “I don’t think I need saving.”

At this point, I really want to just go to my heated room, but Fahed takes me by the hand and starts to run in the opposite direction of the exit. “Where are we going?” I say. A truck comes by and he makes me hide behind a sign out of the headlights. “I don’t want to hide anymore,” I say. At this point I want the authorities to find me and drive me home.

His friends come along and we sit down in a dark souvenir shop. They tell me we are waiting for Fahed’s father to come from the village and pick us up in a truck. There’s a small puppy there, shivering, and I take him in my lap. He cuddles with me gratefully.

One of the young men, a kind and handsome and noble person, smiles at me. “Welcome to ‘Petra By Night’,” he jokes with dry, wry humor. I laugh. “Yes, not what most tourists expect!” I say.

A truck arrives for us. His ancient father and some other relatives are crowded in there. I am squeezed into the middle while all the men chain-smoke. I really don’t want to be here. We drive through the sad little modern Bedouin village and then make our way to the town. When I recognize where I am, close to my hotel, I suppress an urge to run. It’s getting late and I want to go to bed. Can I really save him from going to jail?

It’s a long way to our destination, the hospital. A cop does look in the car and sees me. Then some medics take Fahed away. They drive me all the way back to my hotel, and I pass out in the nice, warm room gratefully.

The next day I explore in more detail the two other megalithic sites. The Umm Tomb is a gigantic doorway carved into the rock face. When I walk in, my jaw drops. The ceiling is impossibly high. As the guy who does the Bright Insights YouTube channel points out: … why would they make them so high? They could have made it half as high and it still would have been majestic, spacious and impressive. The walls are made out of that utterly gorgeous and unique sandstone of the area, swirls of reds, whites, and tans. In some places the plaster layer has peeled off, revealing the rough sandstone, but where the plaster remains it is perfectly smooth and straight. Or is it even plaster? How was this done? It almost looks like it was shaped by a machine, there are lines on the surface. The walls are at completely precise angles; it seems to be a perfect square. There's also water erosion at the base of the structure, which means it is far older than 2000 years old.

I sit and meditate in Umm Tomb for a bit then emerge blinking into the sunshine.

It’s a warm day, T-shirt weather. I see the red longhaired cat I bonded with the day before, and follow her to a tea tent. The middle aged woman there urges me to have tea with her, and waves me in. I accept, since it’s so rare to connect with women, but she serves me tea and then spends the whole time talking on her cell. Then she hangs up and sells me on a donkey ride to the Monastery with her brother. It’s a good price, so I go with it.

I find the brother, a nice guy, and we ride donkeys up the mountain to the Monastery. I’m not too relaxed as the donkey often stumbles and there are some steep ledges. It’s a beautiful trail. In one spot there are large hollows carved out of the mountain used to park jeeps.

Bedouin stalls line the path, with beautiful embroidery, fabrics, jewelry and stones. Finally we reach our destination, round a hill and I gawk: another gigantic doorway carved from smooth, perfect stone, impossibly high. The Monastery is 160 feet wide by 148 high! The front step is neck-high!

You can’t entirely grasp how big it is until you notice the person sitting up there on the rounded spire, so tiny and far away.

I walk down the mountain and visit the Roman-era church. Not much is left except the usual tiled floors featuring motifs of peacocks and such. I hike around the site one more time, hoping to see the Bedouin musicians, then visit the Petra museum. It’s a good one. It describes how the Nabateans were nomadic traders who became very wealthy when the Egyptian, Roman and Greek empires needed large quantities of incense for their rites and rituals. They happened to be right at the crossroads of the Silk Road trading route.

A plaque in the museum points out that women were equal to men in the Nabatean civilization. They owned property, ruled as Queens, and owned and ran businesses. Rights for women in Arabia would degrade over the centuries of Islam and the falling consciousness of the planet.

On the way back to the hotel I stop at the lovely cave bar for dinner. Then I meet a taxi driver who says he is heading to Amman, the capital, the following day for an interview, with a friend, and he can take me at 4 pm for only 10 dollars. I grill him about whether he’s sure and can commit, because the daily bus leaves at 3 and if i miss it, a regular private taxi would be about $80. He swears he's reliable and gives me his card.

The following day I get a taxi for Little Petra nearby, a small suburb of Petra, but I’m more interested in the Neolithic ruin nearby. I ask a guy directions, and he says he's walking out there and will join me. He seems like a nice, quiet person, so I agree. We walk around the bend and there is's a vast plain opening up into the distance. The ruin, a stone village, is simple but situated with a great view. Some of the earliest agricultural settlements in the world were in this area, back when it was green and fertile.

The man tells me that when he saw me he really vibed with my energy, or something to that effect. I let him take my hand, a bit warily, and we walk like that a bit. He wants to have a picnic. I tell him that the taxi driver is waiting for me to return, and he says he can find another car. I’d like to stay, but I’m uncomfortable with the attention. I tell him it’s easier to walk without holding hands, and he gets moody. He says, “Why you change your mind?” I say, “I didn’t change anything.” We walk in an awkward silence back to the taxi.

I go back to town and enjoy a traditional Jordanian dish of lamb in yogurt sauce before the taxi driver arrives to take me to Amman. He’s a jovial, talkative type, middle aged and well-travelled. His young handsome friend is very quiet, apparently his mother has just died. So the driver carries on a monologue. He urges me to tell him stories and entertain him. There's no such thing as a free ride, I have to work for it. The landscape is a bleak empty white desert highway. I would have liked to take the famous scenic King’s Roadm but that takes much longer.

We arrive in Amman in 3 or 4 hours, driving around a modern mall area to find the office they are looking for. I'm disappointed to see that the women shopping around me mostly have hair coverings, except one. I had thought a modern area like this would be more progressive.

The metered taxi ride costs me 4 times as much as the ride all the way from the south: about 40 bucks! The driver doesn’t know where the cheap hotel is, drives around and around asking for directions, all the while my blood pressure is rising along with the fare on the meter. All my money goes to the taxi so it's fortunate that hotel lets me pay by credit card for the cold, dusty, bleak room and the airport transfer early in the morning. There’s no heat in the room, and it is really cold -- they are calling for a dusting of snow even! so I get under three blankets and take a sleeping pill to exit that reality, until my early morning flight.

Next: Continue on to Ethiopia