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Michael’s Travel Diary

Friday, 07 Apr 2006

Location: Petra, Jordan

MapEntry 20 - Exploring Petra

Petra, the city shown at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (at least I think so, it has been a long time since I've seen the movie) is a pretty quiet town, that knows it popular with tourists, by Jordan standards, and charges like it too. A can of coke, costing 0.35JD in one city will cost 1JD in a super market at Petra. And it seems to go for all things, especially entry into the tourist site. I planned my trip at the a most inconvenient time, after the entry prices to all Jordan tourist sites had fallen for the last three years, they jumped back to their previous price in the last 6 months.

The first night in the hostel was COLD. I don't mean, 'geeze, better put a jumper on' cold, I mean, shit, I've put every piece of clothing I packed on, and am walking around in my sleeping bag cold (so, maybe not that bad, but you get the idea.) The hostel (Oriental Gate) was... to say the least, 'dinky'. In this case, being such a pricy town, I really did get what I paid for. It wasn't a shocker, but you wouldn't spend 10 days there like I did at Dahab. 3 nights was as much as I'd bear. The bathroom was clean, but the 'hot' water coming out at slightly warmer than body temp, and by the time it reached your body from the shower head, had cooled dramatically already.

That night was so cold that (this time I'm telling you accurately) I wore full length thermal (top and bottom), a pair of basketball shorts, a t-shirt & jumper. I slept in my sleeping bag, under two blankets as well. Here comes the too much info... Given that I never sleep in anything more than a pair of basketball shorts, and didn't change that ALL winter in Australia, it goes to show just how cold it was. The following morning, I ventured to the shower, stuck a toe in, and decided I'd let the shower wait till the weather, and hopefully the water,warmed up as well.

There were a German couple and a Sth African couple that I met at breakfast. We exchanged pleasantries and bitched about the cold. Then the hostel man came in and said that it had been the coldest day for winter... winter finished 2 months earlier! Got caught in a cold snap I guess.

I headed for the gate to Petra, assured it was a 10 minute downhill walk. Along the way I bumped into the South African couple and basically started tagging along... they had the Lonely Planet Guide! Oh yeah, and they seemed like nice folks too.

The tickets to the city of Petra are not cheap... at all. The small part of reading I did said that you need at least 2 days, but perhaps three. I knew I wasn't going to stay for three days, and the price difference between 1 and 2 did't seem substantial, after paying for the first day. 1 Day tickets went for 21JD ($42 AUS) and 2 Day went for 26JD ($52 AUD). Now, that is a huge chunk of my money, but I figured it must be worth it, even if I was skeptical that I would spend a full 2 days inside.

Upon entering, there is a long walk along a gravel path, descending and curling slowly away from the town (Wadi Mousa), and the further you walk the less you can hear the outside world traffic. The more you can hear the people asking you if you'd like to ride a horse to the bottom though. It is a long walk, and the Sth Africans (Matt and Helszka) were taking their time. At this stage I think I was so excited about seeing the Treasury I was ready to bolt. They actually noticed, and Matt said, you can go ahead if you like, we tend to take things slow and take our time. I figured what was the rush, I had two days, and they had the guide book, plus it could be a little boring walking around all day by yourself.

We finally reached the entrance to Al-Siq, after about a 1km walk down the gravel path, and seeing a couple of tombs cut into the side of the rocks. One of the tombs was decorated, but not all that spectacularly. As we started to head into Al-Siq, a 1.2km split in the rock, that ranged from 16m wide, to just 3m wide, and towered up above on both sides. It was incredible just to walk inside. At the entrance you can see the remains of a grand archway that used to mark the entrance, but was destroyed in the numerous earthquakes to hit the region over the years. You have to remember, most of this was built between 200BC to 500AD, so it 1500-2200 years old.

The place slowed considerably as we descended further into the once lost city, and this time I was more than happy to stay at the slowed pace. The feeling of walking through this rock was incredible, but even more so was the actual rock itself. I have never seen so many colors in rock in my life. Ribbons of color flowed the rocks, red, whites, yellows, blues and everything between. I KNOW my camera didn't capture it properly, the one dis-advantage of traveling with a 'light-weight' camera. The people who built the city were quite ingenious. Being in the bottom of a valley, there was problems with water running into the chasm, and flooding the walkway, and then further running into the city. They actually carved out channels in the side of the rock, so that as the water ran down the face of the rock into Al-Siq, it would be captured, and flowed down, like a gutter, into what I presume was like a holding tank for the water in the city. There were actually remnants of terra-cotta pipes in some sections. There were also sections of path that were laid in the years 100BC, that still were there today.

Eventually, after what seemed like an enjoyable forever looking up at the rock faces on either side, suddenly I glimpsed what I had come all the way to Jordan to see... and straight away I knew I got my $52 worth. I somehow had the sense to stop on the spot, pull out the camera and capture exactly what I saw. Then, rather than go forward, and peer through the end of the Siq, I went backwards. Why? I wanted to see jut how much further back I could see it, being that I had been looking up, and to the side, and not infront of me. 4 steps further back and I couldn't see it. It just appears. Can you imagine being Johann Someone-or-other that re-discovered it in the early 1800's after it was forgotten for hundreds of years?

Stepping out of the Siq, at about 930am (it had taken about an hour and a half from the hotel) I was surprised to see not that many people there. In fact, talking a photo, there were only a hand full of people in the way of the building. This can be attributed to a few things:
1. Jordan, and therefore Petra, get much fewer visitors than Egypt's tourist attractions.
2. You can't get inside, and there really isn't much to see peering inside.
3. To really appreciate it, you need to be at the entrance of Al-Siq to see it all, let alone get it all in the camera.

The building is perfectly preserved, set back in the face of the rock just enough to allow the wind coming up the valley (from right to left when you exit Al-Siq) to pass in front of it so that deterioration doesn't really occur. It is also the most amazing Red color of rock too. Getting up closer, you get a better feeling for the size, and looking inside the rooms, you can see the marbled finish of the rocks that isn't visible on the facade outside is definitely present inside.

The entire feeling is marred not by the number of tourists, but the souvenir tent set up directly opposite the Treasury, and the hordes of people trying to convince you take a camel or donkey further into the lost city. Instead we proceeded on foot, starting to look at the hundreds of tombs that were scattered around the city, some simply holes cut into rock, others with facades set into the rock, but none as well preserved, or as big, as the Treasury. The more you walk, the more you understand why they suggest you will need 2 days to see the whole thing, let alone actually appreciate it all.

As we walked further into the city, looking at the rocks of different colors, we glimpsed the Amphitheatre. A 7,000 seat theatre, cut into the side of the rock. Rather than continue to take the 'most common' path and continue past the theatre to the old town, we turned left and started climbing the steps that were cut in the rock, not entirely sure where it would lead us. Despite the walking and climbing, it was still freezing and the wind wasn't helping things at all. Continuing the climb, we saw rock formations, that appeared as though they were actually chunks of wax, that had been melted and re-set. The colors were amazing, and it was easy to stop looking where you were stepping to look at the walls, and risk falling, that is of course except when the steps cut into the rock were jut as magnificent.

After about half an hour of climbing, up and down, we reached the sacrificial high place. Being that the Nebateans (the people who lived in Petra) were largely responsible for the trade going thru the area, they were subject to alot of different cultures. One of the primary commodities that the Nebateans had alot of was Frankincense, and it was in high demand by the Pagans. As such, there were a lot of Pagan influence on the Nebateans. This high place of sacrifice, set high on a mountain above the city, contained an alter, seats, basins for water and sacrificial blood, all cut into the top of the rock mountain. It was quite amazing, with channels running all over the place for run-off of blood (there must have been alot of it). Up there for about half an hour, we had the place to ourselves and stopped for morning tea of biscuits that Matt and Helszka brought - I knew there was a reason I ad stuck around! It wasn't till we were getting ready to go that someone else finally showed up.

We soldiered on, marching out further still from the beaten path, planning on completing a big arc, and finishing back at the end of the old town. More tombs, and temples, as well as water features all over the place. These guys liked to manipulate the path of water, and would have created some stunning water features back in the day. Eventually we came to the garden temple area, which in itself isn't that great, but the rocks in the area are amazing. As we headed on towards the back end of the old city, we stopped on a rock, with the sun finally prying thru, for a lunch.

Moving on, we finally reached the old town, and headed straight for the Monastery, and hour long walk/climb up over 800 steps (I counted 840 on the second day) to the second best preserved site at Petra. After the climb was completed passing too numerous to count trinket sellers (too numerous? I just counted 840 steps?) we reached The Monastery. It is even bigger than the Treasury, and still in pretty damn good condition too. Again there was a store selling stuff opposite the front of the building. The color though wasn't as impressive as The Treasury, with a clay brown color dominating most of the facade. Again though, there were hardly any people there and I actually managed to get a photo without anybody standing in front of it. There goes one of the two reasons I was going to come back on the second day. I figured if I got there early enough (6am) I could get The Treasury and The Monastery to myself long enough to get an unspoilt photo. Now I already had one of The Monastery,and it was bout 3pm, peak time for people to get in the way.

We headed back to the old town, and started walking along the cobble stoned streets lined with columns back to the Royal Tombs. They were the most decorated tombs, outside, not inside, but have been extremely weathered over the years. Never the less, they still look impressive, and can be seen cut high into rock walls from a long way away. As you get closer, you can again appreciate the colors in the rocks, as well as the detail in the cut-outs that haven't been eroded. Next to the Royal Tombs, heading back to the Al-Siq, we passed the Theatre again, and this time actually stopped to look, and climb to the top. Quite an impressive back drop for a theatre, being able to see all the Royal Tombs.

Being 530pm, we headed back to Al-Siq, and back to the hostel. Taking one last look at The Treasury, I noticed that I had an unobscured shot, with no one standing in front of it. Pulling the camera out, I snapped true, and got the 2nd of the 2 photos that I wanted (all be it a day early). I even had time to get a photo with just me in front of The Treasury! Both are now on the web-site.

Heading back, it quickly became apparent just how far we had walked... and how much of it had been down hill at the start! It must have taken an hour and a half to walk from the treasury to the hostel, which is the same time it took to walk the other way, while we were meandering and taking our time. Finally we got back and I managed to get the nerve up to have a 'warm' shower. The night was pretty quiet (and I was dead tired after walking for 10 hours) and headed to bed in order to get myself up at 530am for a 6am arrival at Petra.

Well, 7am and I finally climb out of bed, content that I had my photos and there really was no need to rush. This time I walked much quicker to The Treasury, and took some photos through my sunnies to get a better picture showing just how red the rock is. I walked immediately to the treasury, and arrived about 900am, two hours after waking up. There were only two people there, and they were both sitting down catching their breath, and one was kind enough to get a photo with me in front of it. I found a rock, above the shop opposite the building, and climbed up to eat my breakfast. What a great view for breakfast.

After eating, I continued to walk past The Treasury, and beyond any path that was on my map, which all finished at The Treasury. That was possibly the best decision I made in two days. After a 15 minute walk, along what could best be described as semi-paths, I ended at a look-out over the canyons below. And man what a view. I could see the whole Jordan valley in front of me, and beyond that into Israel. The wind was howling, but it was warmer than the day before. As I turned to head back, a bedouin man (local) arrived and offered to fix me a cup of tea... why not? After some chatting, and another cup of tea, he showed me the crap he was trying to sell, and I told him no thank you. And that was that. No more hassling, unlike the Egyptians. He even offered another cup of tea. By the time I left it was almost 12! Where did the time go?

I wandered back and continued to make my way through the rest of the lost city that I had missed the previous day, which wasn't that much. By about 3pm, I was headed to the front door, seriously contemplating using a horse or donkey to get me to the front gate. I soldiered on, and came to the decision that when I made it to the gate, I was going to stop at the hotel on the way home for a beer. Well it did the trick and I made it to the Petra Hotel, desperate for a drink. I managed to sample all of the Jordanian beer in one hit (really quite nice): Petra (8%), Philadelphia (5.2%, they tell me its the name of an old man in Jordan?), and Amstel (okay, so it's not really Jordanian, but they have a license to produce it here, rather than import it).

The beer might not have helped make the uphill walk any quicker, but I did need the break and was able to catch highlights of the NCAA championship game route. So in the end, it was a very productive pit-stop, and I can now say that I have drunk all of the commercially produced beers in Egypt and Jordan (I think).

Another quiet night, nursing what could be a re-occurrence of the shin-splint pain that I was suffering last year and I fell into bed rather early, readying myself for the trip to Medaba.

Next issue: Entry 21 - Petra to Medaba via Dana, Kerak, The Dead Sea, and Mt Nebo, and Around Medaba.

Side Note: The iRiver listening has taken a bit of a side step, with time dedicated to listening to Kanye West, after reading the tour review for his Melbourne concert that I missed, and Snoop for the last day and whilst typing this (given the concert is on right now... 8 years of waiting and he comes out now? Damn). To all who are at the concert, hope it's a good one. But, I am up to track 968, which happens to be 'Goodies Remix' by Ciara, from the Goodies album. Recent highlights include hour after hour of Chris Rock stand-up!

Side Note 2: Wow, I've been away for over a month now, and am closing in on 1000 hits to the website, but managed to drop to 4th? Anyway, thank-you all again for taking some interest in my travels, and I hope the length of the entries aren't deterring too many people from reading.

Next time I''ll be writing from Athens! Ahh, out of the Middle East, I think I'll like that!