Petra: a Pareidolia Paradise

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I have wanted to visit Petra in Jordan for years, and with a spare day in Eilat, it was too good an opportunity to miss. And having spent the last few days sighing in delight at the spectacle of the Jordanian mountains in all lights and atmospheres, I was particularly thrilled and inspired in equal measure by the prospect of the four hour journey there from Eilat/Aqaba, reliving Lawrence of Arabia‘s mad dash in the reverse direction.

So at 07.30 yesterday, we were ready and waiting for our transport to the border crossing from Israel into Jordan, passports to hand and clutching the Lonely Planet guide.

Peace between Israel and Jordan has clearly been of reasonably mutual economic benefit to both sides if the daily numbers of those making the crossing are anything to go by. A rather puzzlesome “border tax” is payable to the Israelis, and odd little bits of cash seemed to be called for here and there as part of the package price. Still, it was worth it, not least for a good opportunity yet again to observe cultural exchange and difference.

From the flat expressions and serious demeanour of our Israeli frontier minders, I half expected to see a Disneyland Space Mountain-style sign at the last minute saying we didn’t have to make the ride across.

We were given dire warnings about buying drinks in Jordan without prior agreement on price; the possibility of women being sold; and the state of Jordanian bathrooms.

“Eez ze Meedle East” our Russian Israeli minder droned dolefully.

Our entry into Jordan was then considerably delayed as everyone made a rush for last minute use of Israeli bathroom facilities.

It was but the start of a day of complete paranoia about bathroom facilities. Once over the border, our Jordanian guide kept giving us details of the itinerary with estimated bathroom stops and dire warnings about lack of facilities anywhere in between, with the result that everyone made use of every opportunity en route and thus we became expert on bathroom culture and discovered that Jordanian bathrooms were in fact no worse and no better than Israeli ones.

Nor were we troubled by white slave traders, and no one in our group was ripped off for a coffee. The Jordanians were hospitable and friendly; the Jordanian mountains were as magnificent close up as from a distance; and Petra was quite stunning.

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Apart from the more famous and iconic sights, I was equally transfixed and intrigued by the infinite pareidolia
possibilities of the worn sandstone rock faces surrounding us. It added a disconcerting and faintly terrifying element to our (continuing film theme day)Indiana Jones expedition.

A few examples are here.

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