Friday, Dec 7, 2007 – Petra, Jordan

Astonishing! I was so overwhelmed by the lost city of Petra that I don’t know where to start with describing it. I never imagined in a million years there could be something so incredible on the planet. All other places I’ve seen pale in comparison to this amazing site.

The trip to get there was long, but well worth the effort. It was dark when we left…I was picked

me up at my hotel at 4 a.m., and then others from different hotels, arriving at the airport with not much time to spare. Daylight broke as we flew over the Red Sea from ‘Sharm’ to Aqaba, Jordan. We then took a two hour bus trip to a city near the entrance to Petra. Jordan seems to be not much but desert and rocks of varying kinds from limestone to sandstone and red granite.

Petra was first established sometime around the 6th century BC, by the Nabataean Arabs, a nomadic tribe who settled in the area and laid the foundations of a commercial empire that extended into Syria. It was invaded by several people, but didn’t succumb until the Romans came around 100AD. It was still inhabited during the Byzantine period, when the former Roman Empire moved its focus east to Constantinople, but declined in importance thereafter. The Crusaders constructed a fort there in the 12th century, but soon withdrew, leaving Petra to the local people until the early 19th century, when it was visited by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.

Basically it was kept hidden by the local people all those centuries and the only way that Burckhardt was able to find it was by pretending that he wanted to honour the grave of Aaron, the brother of Moses, who was buried there with his horse centuries earlier. Legends had said that Aaron was buried at Petra. The city is surrounded by towering hills of rust-coloured sandstone on the edges of the mountainous desert of the Wadi Araba.

There is about a 400 metre walkway to the entrance of a narrow canyon (The Siq) where the caravans would travel to reach the city. One had the option of taking a buggy-like thing, but I was determined to walk. Going through the Siq one saw how they had diverted the waterfalls that fell into the gorge and built a water system with a series of channels, culverts and drains in the rock to accommodate the visitors and their camels. It was a steady decline, passing incredible pieces of architecture and religious carvings.

I took what they call the classic tour through the following places:

3. Necropolis

4. Roman Amphitheatre

6. Tombs

9. Marketplace

10. Colonnaded street

11. Temenos Gateway

13. Crusader castle

14. Temple of the Winged Lions

The pictures I took reflect these places, except that I missed the Roman Amphitheatre. At one point, while I went to buy new batteries for my camera in a tiny shop, my tour group left me behind and I didn’t catch up to them until after they’d passed this site, and then I was on a donkey on the way back and didn’t want to stop to take a photo.

Some of these are in ruins, while others are just being excavated. One could spend at least three days exploring. The entire tour that I took was about four hours long there and back. I was told this was about 12 km in length, though I’m not sure if that’s accurate. Let me tell you that it certainly felt like at least that as it was a very long way!
My legs were aching by the time we got to the bottom, (especially after the gruelling tour of the pyramids the day before). Keep in mind I’ve been sitting at an office desk and in front of a computer for the past 9 1/2 years with very little exercise except for the walking I’d done in Cyprus. The muscles in the top front of my legs and my shins were screaming. There was an option to take a donkey back, so I hired one and started off.

This was a little precarious as I kind of slid from side to side as we sauntered along. Luckily, the animal was a very small one so I didn’t have far to fall and I had a super young lad guiding me, who kept saying “Relax. Relax.” The unfortunate part was that he could only take me as far as the Treasury, so I still had to walk several kilometres until I reached the entrance of the canyon.
From there I crawled onto a horse, which took me closer to the tourist centre, but I still had to walk a distance to get to the hotel where we were having lunch. I was in agony by the end of the day and could hardly go up and down the steps of the bus as we made a stop at a tourist market halfway back to Aqaba and to get onto the plane to go back.

My legs were seriously aching, so much so that I took painkillers (aspirin/Advil) so that I could sleep. The one good thing I did find at the market in Jordan was some Dead Sea bathing salts, which were on sale. I didn’t get to use them until the next day when I switched hotels as I only had a shower in my first hotel, but when I did, it was heaven.

Note to self: Next time I’m going on an excursion I need to get more details about the trip before I leave and wear hiking shoes or sneakers instead of sandals. I also have to make sure I have extra camera batteries with me.