The Rose-Red City Half as Old as Time
Our earliest forays into the Red Sea were immediately after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. I was approached by a Dutch diver who was setting a diving operation in Aqaba, in Jordan.
This was an exciting destination, but at that moment Israel had other things on its mind besides diving. Besides, Jordan had been the site for the filming of the blockbuster David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia. There was a fruit drink bar in downtown Aqabe called the Omar Sharif Bar, which had some of the coolest drinks I've ever encountered. No alcohol, of course.
Outside the city, we drove in the wadis where the film had been shot, and looked out over the Great Nefud Desert, which T.E. Lawrence and his Arab guerrillas crossed to attack Aqaba.
We had a short coastline to work, twelve miles from Aqaba to the Saudi border. Across from our dive sites lay the coast of Israel and its port of Eilat.
A great treasure of this period was our discovery of Petra, which lay along our drive with our groups of divers, about half way between Amman and Aqaba.
In those days, tourism was in its infancy and the war had just ended., We were allowed to go everywhere in the great valley of Petra, from the narrow Crack in the mountain called El Siq, (the sole entrance and easily defended against invaders), up the 777 stone steps that lead to the towering Monastery, high on a commanding hill.
The Nabateans were highwaymen of the Silk road 2300 years ago, preying upon the commerce with China like some gang. They became immensely wealthy, and built colossal and elaborate tombs for the Royal families. The polished edifices of these amazing tombs have stood above the desert all those centuries with almost no deterioration because of the absence of water. When we look at the powerful force water is in shaping the stone formations of the U.S. desert southwest, the effect of the same kind of soft stone lasting millennia is enough to give pause.
Today, access to Petra is rather limited, and wandering around is not allowed. So—enjoy pictures of places of places such as the Monastery, now out of reach.
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