Erik Trinidad And The Second To The Last Crusade

This blog entry about the events of Monday, June 22, 2009 was originally posted on June 29, 2009.

DAY 9: “Why are you here?” asked the armed Jordanian border patrol guard at the Yitzhak Rabin Israeli/Jordanian border crossing, about a five-minute drive from Eilat’s city center.

Because I’m looking for the Holy Grail, I thought to myself. 

If you are a child of the 80s, or just an Indiana Jones fan of any age (as I am), you undoubtedly know that Petra — Jordan’s main archaeological tourist attraction — was the site at the ending of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, where Indiana Jones and his father end up finding the Holy Grail after running away from Nazis via boat, motorcycle, horses, camels, and tanks. (You’re welcome.) That movie was released in 1989, when it was to be the last installment of the Indiana Jones trilogy — this was of course, before Spielburg and Lucas raped Indiana Jones (South Park fans will get that) and decided to make an entertaining, but much inferior fourth movie in 2008, making the 1989 movie Indy’s second to the last crusade.

It should go without say (for anyone that knows me) that Petra was a must-see site for me, the Indiana Jones nerd I am.  I had grown up with the burned-in image of Petra’s main gateway of the treasury in my mind from multiple viewings of the Indiana Jones movie, and gazing upon it with my own eyes would be a lifetime milestone, like a Muslim finally making it to Mecca, or a Jew to the Western Wall.  (I completely regretted that I almost made it there during my big trip five years ago when I was in Sinai, but opted out due to time and money constraints.)

THE BORDER CROSSING INTO JORDAN took about an hour, but was fairly easy and straightforward — political red tape and tension between Jordan and Israel had cooled off in recent times — and I simply answered “touring” to the officer.  The crossing was especially easy because I had decided to go with a small organized full-day tour from Eilat that sped up the paperwork proceedings for us.  I had learned my lesson from my experience getting tour guidance at the Terracotta Warriors, and not getting tour guidance at the Great Pyramids that having a guide can be good thing at a historical site like Petra.  (This was especially evident when I met a lone Asian-American backpacker at the border who figured he could just wing a trip to Petra with ease, not realizing until then that he couldn’t easily get a shared taxi or bus to Petra when he crossed into Jordan.  He chose… poorly.)

“My name is Abdullah, and I will be your guide today,” said Abdullah, a middle-aged Jordanian man who looked just about as tired as we were for waking up super early to make the tour.  He sat in front of our minibus, behind the driver and our armed Tourist Police officer, and spoke on a microphone.  As we did a quick tour around construction-zone-a-plenty Aqaba, he spoke about how it was to be Jordan’s beachy Red Sea resort town by 2011 — a competitor to Eilat — but no one on the bus seemed to care yet with the lack of caffeine.  I myself passed out for a bit during the two-hour drive to Petra from the border, but when I awoke, I got to talking to my Jordanian guide after he made an announcement.

“Does anyone here need a kosher meal for lunch?” he asked the crowd of about a dozen people.  Four Jews raised their hands, and he made a call on his cell phone to request it, ironically in the Islamic nation. 

“So is all the meat that is not kosher, halal?”

“Of course, it’s an Islamic country,” he answered with a smile in his Jordanian accent, finally waking up.  “You can’t just break and kill an animal without draining the blood from the vein,” he continued, speaking like duh, how do YOU kill an animal?  I told him that halal meat was everywhere in NYC and that I have Jewish friends that, whenever there is a lack of kosher meats, choose halal meats since they are both cleaner meats with similarly strict religious supervision rules. 

With the talk of slaughtering animals as our ice breaker, we had more intimate conversations up front, on the minibus ride through the desert, beyond the famed canyon of Wadi Rum where Lawrence of Arabia had been filmed.  I learned that Abdullah had spent ten years working as an engineer in Houston, Texas, but had spent the last thirteen years working as a guide back in his homeland.  “It’s good to stay in America for a while, make some money, but if you stay in America too long, your culture will crash,” he told me with smiles.  “The Arab-Americans come back to Jordan to get married.  You can’t get married over there [in the USA].  You know how it is; you’re divorced within twenty-four hours!” 

He felt comfortable in my company when I told him I had a Filipino roots; he had made many Filipino friends from his time in The States.  “Far East, Middle East… Asians and Arabs are good people.  They help each other, stay together.  It’s not like in America where people are only thinking of themselves, [like] when you go and you lock your car, then lock your house — keep to yourself…  How is that living life?  You have to help people.”

The minibus ride conversation expanded to other folks.  “What’s the mindset between Israel and Jordan?” another tourist asked, breaking the taboo of talking politics.  It seemed everyone liked to break that taboo in the region.

“It’s better,” Abdullah said.  “It will be better when the Palestinians have a country.  You know, it’s Palestine, it’s their country.  There are [nine million] Palestinians waiting for the problems to be finished.  They need a country, so we [Jordan] don’t have to have them.”  He mentioned that Jordan has already been a haven for refugees, including those from Kosovo and Iraq.  “It’s not right or wrong; it’s just people asking for rights,” he continued.  “It’s not just an Israel and Arab problem; it’s a problem for the whole world.  But we hope for the best.  We just want peace.  Peace is very important.”

After a pitstop at a gift shop where I bought a few postcards, we slowly approached Petra.  We drove through Wadi Musa, the town that sprouted up around Petra, with Abdullah pointing out biblical/Koranic things on the way.  He told tales of Moses/Musa, a man signficant in both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, and he pointed out the Arab market.  “Here, we call it ‘souk.’  It’s similar to the word in Hebrew, ‘shuk.’  Hebrew, Arabic — we’re brothers, we’re cousins!”  (If A comes from C, and B comes from C, A and B come from C.)

Finally we were at the main entrance to the archaeological park.  It was not the famed gateway from the Indiana Jones movie, but a built-up national park entrance gate with the obligatory vendor stalls nearby.  Not surprisingly, some of the stalls cashed in with the association to the movie, like the Indiana Jones Gift Shop, the Indiana Jones Coffee Shop, the Indiana Jones Snack Shop and — what the hell, why not — the Titanic Snack Shop(You call this archaeology?)  From there, Abdullah led us through the winding canyon (as opposed to one in The Last Crusade, shaped like a crescent moon). 

Alongside me were the beginnings of my “Best Friends Of The Day” (BFD):  Marina, a beach-loving accountant who had Jewish Ukrainian roots, grew up in Australia, but now worked in London; Jessica and Sofia, a Uruguayan and Argentinian pair of girls who had just gotten off their Taglit Birthright trip and were extending their stay in the region to see more; and Javier, a traveling Colombian from the suburbs of Bogota.  “Andrés Carne de Res is the best place!” I raved to him. 

He smiled at the recognition.  “I live near Andrés Carne de Res.”

Abdullah led us down the Siq (canyon) carved from a river millions of years ago, where we weren’t alone; there were dozens of other tourists there — some on horse, camel, mule, or carriage offered by entrepreneurial Bedouins.  We were all on our way to the first site during what was rapidly becoming the hottest part of the day.  Abdullah led us from shady nook to shady nook within the winding canyon, explaining the carvings in the rock and their significance — which I didn’t care much for because I was at Petra to see the treasury gateway carved into the rock known as Al-Khazneh. 

“Is it here yet?  Is it here yet?” I’d asked Abdullah at every turn, only to encounter another bend in the canyon.  It only increased my desire and anxiety to see the ficticious resting place of the Holy Grail.  But not everyone was as anxious.

“They filmed Indiana Jones here?” a woman in our group asked, oblivious to one of the most beloved adventure films of my generation.  “Which one?  There are so many!”  (I should have slapped her for blasphemy.)

Abdullah knew of my Indiana Jones anxiety and kept teasing me with Al-Khazneh’s whereabouts.  “You want to see it?” he’d say, pointing.  “It’s there.”  Every time, it clearly wasn’t there, but he got me.  But, finally around a bend, he announced to everyone as if a drum-roll was going, “Okay, here. You see it?”  He pointed in the distance.  “There is Al-Khazneh, the treasury, that you see in Indiana Jones and Last Crusades.”  Through a sliver in the winding canyon, I could see it.

All of us, penitent or otherwise, passed through the Siq and into the plaza of Al-Khazneh (picture above), the treasury of Nabatean King Aretas III, built somewhere between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D.  Ancient history aside, I had finally reached the shrine of my Indiana Jones pilgrimage tour, and marveled in its splendor.  I tried to get a good, classic photo of it, but it was near impossible with the onslaught of tourists there, and all the Bedouins trying to cash in with camel photo opportunities (compensation for their brother-in-law’s car).  It was crowded enough there, especially in the nearby gift shop that, “Damn, I just stepped in gum.”

No matter, amongst the tourists I was in good company with my own little band of travelers, who took photos of me here and there, and entered the treasury with me.  Much to my chagrin, there was no Holy Grail inside; in fact there wasn’t much of anything inside, just an empty room and tourists taking photos behind a fenced off area.

But Petra is much more than the iconic Al-Khazneh; you can spend days hiking all of Petra’s trails of red stone shapes and textures leading to many other sites in the “Rose-Red City” of the 3rd century B.C. Nabateans.  We would only have half a day to explore though, which was fine by me since I had already gazed upon what I came for.  Abdullah continued to lead us down the winding Siq, with view of the amphitheatre, the Byzantine church and the residential caves-turned-tombs — some of the caves were still inhabited by Bedouins until the 1980s when the government designated the area as a national park and World Heritage Site.

Not surprisingly, Bedouin touts sporting trinkets and tchotchkes approached us, trying to make deals for their goods — “Dinar? Dollar?” — or photo opps.  This was mostly the case when my Best Friends Of The Day and I climbed up the Royal Tombs and Byzantine Church, peeking inside and out, and played on the cliffside and boulders.  With our time running out, we hiked down and went back through the Siq the way we came.  For the last leg out of Petra, I opted to fulfill my Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade fantasy by exiting via horseback.  The others went up by foot while I paid a Bedouin for use of his horse. 

I know how to ride a horse, I thought to myself as I did in Honduras.  Without asking, I temporarily “stole” the Bedouin’s horse, left him in the dust quite literally, and galloped out of Petra myself, faster than the others on horseback who were being escorted up.  I figured my Bedouin wouldn’t mind; there was only one path up and I figured he’d follow me — I knew the way.  “Hyaaah!!!”

BACK BY THE ENTRANCE GATE, I found the Jordanian post office to get stamps for the postcards I’d written — some to the USA, and one to Zvi in Israel, thanking him for his hospitality up north.  (He’d always wanted to go to Petra and was excited for me to go.)  “I need stamps for these,” I requested of the middle-aged Jordanian man as I put my cards on the table. 

He scrutinized them.  “America… and Israel?”

Uh oh, I thought.  Am I not allowed to send a postcard to Israel?  What is he thinking right now?  Did I just trigger something?  Why is that other guy looking at me funny?  Oh God, oh crap, oh no…

“You need a different stamp,” he said smiling, hoping to save me on unnecessary postage.  “Everyone thinks you can’t send to Israel [from Jordan].  Israel, Jordan, Jordan, Israel… We’re at peace.  It’s all… sababa.

“You say sababa here?” I asked him, remembering it to be the cool slang word in Hebrew.

He chuckled.  “Ha ha, yes. Sababa!”  (If A comes from C, and B comes from C, A and B come from C.)

IT WAS AT THE DELICIOUS, better-than-expected halal lunch buffet at the Amra Palace Hotel in the town of Wadi Musa that I bonded with the South American Jewish girls Sofia and Jessica — it turned out that I had met them before, on the rooftop party at the hostel in Tel Aviv.  It was at dinner that night, back in Eilat, that I bonded with the other two, but not after an hour-long confusing game of phone tag, made ultra confusing with my lack of an Israeli cell phone, a confusing phone card, and a rude lack of help due to what Eric the American Dad called “Israeli Service” everywhere I turned.  In the end, I’d calmed down and had a lovely evening with Javier the Colombian and Marina the beach-loving accountant.  (Later I was shocked to discover via Facebook, that Marina and I already had Uri [Paris] as a mutual friend.  Small world!)

“Aqaba can’t compete with Eilat because it’s an Islamic country,” Javier said during one of our rambles.  “They’re not used to people being topless on the beach.  Here, they don’t care.”  (Ah, the Chosen People…)

The three of us ate and drank at a bar on the beach, our feet in the sand, talking about life and travel, and wondering why a platter of watermelon in Israel is usually served with cubes of Bulgarian feta cheese.  At the ending of a long day — a day I’d seen my “holy shrine” on the Indiana Jones trail and made some new friends in the process — I’d known for sure that I’d chosen… wisely.

As for Jordanian/Israeli relations, I was happy to see that everyone was more or less cool with each other — with the common bond of tourism — despite the difference in opinion on the Palestine issue.  Abdullah had concluded his tour with his appeal to get more tourists into Jordan.  “Thank you everybody.  Tell your parents, your children, they are welcome to Jordan!”  He knew well enough that the future of his country’s economy would depend on it; “If we had oil, America would be over our heads, just like what happened in Iraq.  You know what’s our oil?  Tourists!”

If tourists were to be the Holy Grail of Jordan’s economic future, I had a pretty good idea where to find them, even without the help of Indiana Jones.

Next entry: Keeping Kosher in the New Jeru

Previous entry: Jewish Mother, American Dad

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Comments for “Erik Trinidad And The Second To The Last Crusade”

  • More to come…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/29  at  05:24 AM

  • wait, the holy grail is not there? don’t cross the seal?  junior, let it go?  they shot marcus?

    it was just a movie?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/29  at  06:04 AM

  • Siq (canyon) is incorrect.  I’m not sure of an accurate English word…rift maybe?  Siqs like the one at Petra are formed by tectonic forces, not water erosion.

    Glad you’re blogging again…the detail in your daily entries is a great fix for a travel addict.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/29  at  06:26 AM

  • Okay, now I’ll read the entire thing, but OMG that opening picture is AMAZING!!! Thank you.

    Posted by No-L  on  06/29  at  06:39 AM

  • Thanks for that entry, I’ve always wanted to go there, and haven’t yet made it… I did a report on it when I was in school… ahhh, school. :D I am kind of bummed that nothing is inside, though.

    Posted by No-L  on  06/29  at  07:36 AM

  • @neil: Abdullah never called it a siq; he informed us of it being formed by a river.  Lonely Planet calls it a siq, but doesn’t mention how it was formed.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/29  at  08:46 AM

  • Interesting…different tour guides, different stories, even on something as basic and non-controversial as geology.

    Posted by Neil  on  06/29  at  05:04 PM

  • i’ll have a cafe de Kazim and a Marcus Brody Baguette

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/29  at  05:59 PM

  • I am a little behind on reading.  Glad you made your pilgrimage (I was sure you had chosen…wisely).  What fantastic pictures!! About how much time did the walk/hike from the entrance to Al-Khazneh take?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/30  at  07:28 PM

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This blog post is one of sixteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Holla! In The Holy Land," which chronicled a two-week journey through Israel, with jaunts into Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian West Bank.

Next entry:
Keeping Kosher in the New Jeru

Previous entry:
Jewish Mother, American Dad


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BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

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