We finally made it to Petra. Visiting here has been on our bucket list for many years. Our hotel is literally across the street from the entrance to the Petra Archaeological Park. Mohammad met us at 8:30 and off we went. The forecast showed a high of 49, so we were totally layered up. But the sky was once again blue and cloudless, so that was a plus.
Mohammad told us that you can zip in and zip out in an hour and a half, and that some groups do that (going only as far as the Treasury), but why would you want to? On the other hand, he said you could also spend 3 days here, exploring all of the different trails. We are in the middle group: a one-day guided tour along the main road.
Petra is an ancient city built in a sandstone canyon. Since sandstone is relatively soft, it is easy to carve, but also erodes fairly rapidly. People have been living here for thousands of years, but it was under the Nabateans, from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD, that Petra reached its height. According to our Eyewitness Travel book : "As merchants and entrepreneurs, the Nabateans grasped the lucrative potential of Petra's position in the spice and incense trade routes from East Asia and Arabia to the Mediterranean. By the 1st century BC they had made Petra the centre (sic) of a rich and powerful kingdom extending from Damascus in the north to Leuke Kome in the south and had built a city large enough to support 20-30,000 people." Once again, over time, the Romans came in, then the Muslims, then the Crusaders. But from the 12th century until the 18th it was largely unknown outside the area. For many of us, our first (and perhaps only) exposure was seeing the Treasury building as the backdrop in the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Remember, "he chose poorly"? Oh yeah.....that building!
But let's back up and start from the beginning of our trek.
We start walking down the siq (translated from Arabic as "gorge")-- a pathway, which was paved in ancient times, between the sandstone mountains. It gradually leads downhill, and it is about 1 mile to the Treasury. However, that is only about 1/3 of its entire length.
Mohammad pointed out that a majority of the structures in Petra are actually funerary in nature. Note that he said "structures" as opposed to buildings. There is actually only one free-standing building in the entire city that was built by the Nabateans (and that one was done after the Roman influence started). The rest are all carved out of (and into) the rock itself. And the bigger ones (like the Treasury) were actually carved from the top down! Just an incredible feat of design, engineering, and craftsmanship. PBS produced a wonderful show explaining this and other amazing engineering feats of the Nabateans; click here to see it.
Yesterday in Wadi Rum, our hosts for the camel ride and tea service were Bedouins and, in Petra, today, Bedouins once again were the purveyors of multiple services--carriage, horseback, camel, donkey rides and retail opportunities (once we passed the siq--see below--there were stands with various Jordanian tschotchkes plus miscellaneous items of clothing every couple hundred of yards). Those offering animal rides were all men (mostly young men) and those selling in the stands were women (of all ages). There were also roving men and young boys selling postcards and/or silver bracelets. These folks were real entrepreneurs and appropriately assertive but not uncomfortably so; many Bedouins actually live in the Petra caves and this is how they make their living. Mohammad told us especially not to buy from children; the government encourages the parents to keep them in school, but if the children make money the parents find that hard to ignore.
During our 7 hour, 8.5 mile, 23,000 step adventure we took over 200 photos (and could easily have taken many more). In this post, we've tried to select the best and will let the pictures tell the story:
The siq gets narrower and narrower, and darker and darker until.....all at once you get your first views of the Treasury bathed in sunlight!
At this point, the next main structure to see is the Monastery. So the choice is to a) walk up the 800 arduous, rough-cut steps, b) ride a donkey to the top, or c) turn around and go back. Good sense and team spirit told us to choose option b. (Can you imagine doing this in the heat of the summer?) On our trips we have ridden camels, horses, and elephants, but this was a first for both of us! We had said hello to the donkeys in Santorini, but hadn't climbed aboard.
It was actually more comfortable than the camel. We had to hold on tight as the animal went up, up, up. Wayne loved it; Wendy thought that hers walked too close to the edge. Our guide kept asking "do you trust me?" We did, but for those not admiring heights, it was a tad unnerving. (Note: unlike at some other tourist places, the animals here are very well cared for, and not abused or overworked.) Along the way there were some stunning views; you'll have to take our word for it as there was no way to take a pic while we were clutching our pommels for dear life.
Once off the donkeys, we still had to make our way up 80 more steps...pant...pant.... to the Monastery, dedicated to King Obodas I who died in 86 BC.
Although it resembles the Treasury, it was never as ornate. It came to be known as the Monastery because of the many Christian crosses carved later into its walls (now difficult to see even up close).
From this point you can continue to walk even higher to a lookout point. Um...not gonna happen.
There are only two ways to get down: walk or ride the donkey. Mohammad had warned us that riding down was much scarier (not necessarily more dangerous) than going up. So we chose wisely and heeded his warning and walked. It was tricky, and slippery in spots, and whenever we stopped our legs would quiver, but it gave us a chance to take some of the pix we couldn't on the way up.
Again, many more pictures, but you get the idea. We finished up , headed back to the hotel and rested up for an authentic (as opposed to another hotel buffet) dinner with Mohammad.
At 6:30 he met us in the lobby and walked with us about 2 blocks to a restaurant called "The Three Stairs" (because you walk up 3 stairs to get to the door). He knows the owner (and apparently everyone in Petra knows him), and he had called ahead to have a special dish prepared for us.
First though, the owner brought mezzes to our table--a basket of pita, a large bowl of fattoush, and dipping-size plates of hummus, labneh (youghurt-cheese combo), babaganoush, mutable (pureed eggplant spread; we have made this ourselves), a mix of pickled olives and carrots, and muhamara (a dish we had never seen before...a mix of pomegranate molasses, garlic, sweet red pepper, onion, and cumin; sooooooo delicious!).
Alcohol is not served here, so we all ordered "lemon juice with mint".
Not sure how they make it (there is a little added sugar), but it is all frothed up and green. Very refreshing!
Then he brought out the special main dish: sawani dijaj.
It is chicken and potatoes and tomatoes and onions, slow cooked for several hours. The spices are a secret recipe, but he told us they include cinnamon, cloves, cumin, turmeric, salt, and pepper. This looked like the same amount of food we made at Husam's house, and that served 7 with leftovers!!! Served over rice.....m-m-m-m-good!
While we ate, Mohammad told us about lots of other wonderful things to see in Jordan, including a sleep-over in Wadi Rum in ultra-deluxe "tents" (even better than we had last year in the Sahara). So we are putting Jordan back on our list of places to visit. Though our visit here has been short, it has been wonderful. We have felt so welcome at every turn and completely safe.
Tomorrow we cross back into Israel, and take a short flight from Eilat to Tel Aviv. We stay overnight (one more excellent restaurant to try!) so we can make our Wednesday morning flight back home. It's been a long two weeks, but every day has been jam-packed with amazing sites and sights, and filled with wonderful stories and knowledge from our guides.