2.26.2017

petra

Petra is breathtaking. It is unique, certainly in my experience, but likely in all the world. Imagine an extremely unusual and beautiful natural site, with unique rock formations, colours, and features, combined with a unique archaeological site, a place where ancient people honoured and buried their dead. It is wondrous.

More on this later. First, back to our story.

* * * *

I was up checking my email at 4:00 a.m., eager to get out of the yucky hotel room. I woke up Allan at 5:00 and we were out the door by 5:30, in a taxi and at the Jett Bus station before 6:00. The night before, the desk clerk at Yucky Hotel had called to reserve our seats on the bus to Petra, and I imagined getting there early would mean getting a better seat. Buses are fine -- if I'm sitting in the front.

Tourists slowly gathered at the bus station, but when it opened and I paid for the tickets, I was surprised to see we had assigned seats. The bus costs 10 Jordan Dinars each way, about $20 Canadian. It's a proper coach, not a local microbus.

While waiting for the bus, I spotted what appeared to be a breakfast cart, and went over to get a Nescafe. As the guy was making the coffee, I noticed he had cheese (the little foil triangles we have seen at every breakfast), eggs, vegetables, jars of spices, several different kinds of tea, and fresh herbs. On a breakfast cart!

I pointed to the cheese, and he asked, "Sandwich?" He made me a cheese and hardboiled-egg sandwich on a fresh, hearty wheat roll. I forced myself to decline tomato and cucumber. This sandwich and breakfast-cart experience made my day. I love the little things.

Once on the bus, we found our seats were the second-to-last row. It's a three-hour trip, and I didn't see how that was going to work, without major motion sickness. We saw there were lots of empty seats, so we moved up... only to realize the bus was stopping at another Jett station to pick up more customers. (Or else why would we have been assigned almost the last seats?)

A young couple was looking for their seats; I told them we were probably in them, that we had been sitting in the back, but I didn't feel well. To my astonishment, the woman said, "No problem, stay there, we'll take your seats. We hope you feel better." Of course I asked several times if she was sure, was that all right, but she waved me off. People are so wonderful (when they're not horrible).

When we stopped for a bathroom and food break, I found them to make sure she was OK sitting in the back. I tried to offer her a banana but she laughed and waved me off.

Once changing seats, the bus ride was uneventful. A man behind us was mansplaning human relationships for three solid hours. I didn't know Allan was also listening until we later deconstructed all of the man's sexist garbage. A real asshole.

We took a quick taxi to the Petra Moon Hotel; it's walking distance but not with all our bags. It's a beautiful, Western-style hotel, and was meant to be a bit of indulgence towards the end of our trip. We had no idea the timing would be so perfect! After Yucky Hotel, the lovely room and bathroom is like a palace.

We quickly settled in and walked over to the Petra site entrance.

Travel note. Petra is the most expensive site in the region, charging the equivalent of almost $90 Canadian per person. The ticket is good for two days. However, if you purchase a Jordan Pass, Petra is included in the pass. A Jordan Pass gives you free admission to a long list of historical and cultural sites in the country, plus waives your visa entry fee ($25 US). The only requirement is to stay at least three consecutive nights in the country. It's good for 30 days, and starts the day you visit your first site. An inspired idea. With only the visa fee plus Petra, we've already saved money, and will use the pass for a few other admissions.

* * * *

As I mentioned, Petra is a mix of natural and human-made wonders. The two are inextricable, as the Nabataeans, the people who built Petra, used the configuration of the natural site as their spiritual base.

Geological forces created a narrow space 1.2 kilometre-longs, and in some places, less than 1 metre wide -- a pathway between mountains of rock. The Nabataeans used this as a spiritual processional. At the end of the path, they carved a grand tomb out of the face of a mountain, and carved many more tombs throughout the rocks beyond.

The processional way is now the heart of how visitors experience Petra. You walk on this narrow path, with massive, mountains rocks towering above you on both sides. Much of the stone is orange and pink. Along the path, there are the remains of niches, which the Nabataeans used as shrines or worship sites, as they neared the holiest place.

Also visible are the Nabataeans' water engineering systems. They lived in this place of extreme dryness where there were (and still are) flash-floods several times a year, so they learned to harness the floods. There are remains of dams, channels, and cisterns along the way.

The Nabataeans used these mammoth rock formations as the natural equivalent of soaring cathedrals or pyramids. Surrounded by these massive rocks, you feel incredibly tiny, and awed.

Then, suddenly, the path ends, the vista opens up, and there is a grand monument carved into giant rock face. The effect is exactly as planned -- breathtaking. We were blown away.

This is the image most associated with Petra (a quick internet search will show you). Beyond this, there dozens of tombs and steps and hidden pathways over more than 260 square kms (100 square miles). Most visitors see only a portion of it, although it's also a very popular site for hikers and backpackers.

After the hike through the canyon*, we explored some of the area immediately after it, where there are tombs and carvings cut into the rock. I was tired, and I knew it was a 2-km walk back, plus the walk to the hotel. I had been up since 4:00, and I was really flagging. Allan wanted to try a more strenuous hike, and I convinced him that we could split up. He doesn't like to do that, but why should we curtail his activity or why should I push myself to exhaustion?

[* It's not really a canyon, because it was not formed by water and wind erosion.]

The walk back was long enough, and the final portion was very sunny. (Great thing about Petra for us: shade!) I got back to the hotel drenched and tired, and was sleeping when Allan got back. He had a good hike with great views. He can tell us about it in comments.

We had dinner in the town, trying some Jordanian dishes, both with lamb. More on that tomorrow, for those who like the food portions of these entries.

Photos from Petra are here.

3 comments:

allan said...

My hike story will come later. Right, now, we are off for Petra, Day 2.

allan said...

The High Place of Sacrifice. After Laura and I split up, I went off in search of the trail. The beginning of the hike was not marked in any way, so it took awhile. The guide book said it was about a 45-minute hike to the top, which afforded spectacular views in all directions. The steps are mostly cut into the stone and in many places are not so much steps as an incline with some indentations to place your feet. After maybe five minutes of some very steep stairs, I was surprised to come across a small souvenir stand. (Much to my amazement, there would be several more all the way to the top. Beside one of them, was another tent where a few women were resting. There was a small grill with some burning embers beside them, which they must have used for cooking during the long day.)

As has been the case with any strenuous hike I have done on this trip, my legs are always fine, but my lungs are not, at least at first. So there was much huffing and puffing as I began, but eventually, I was feeling all right. For most of the hike, the trail winds its way upwards between two huge mountains of rock, and the path is in shade. And even with my fear of heights, walking gently around corners with steep drop-offs on the side was not too bad.

It took probably 30 minutes before I broke past the tree line and was once again in the direct sunlight, with nothing around me but rocks. Close to the top, I was amazed to see a covered cafe where people could have a bit of tea! (A hot drink was not what I would have liked at that point.) Once again, there was another very steep climb to the mostly flat top of the mountain.

There was a Bedouin man relaxing at the top with some items for sale on one side of the square area where the sacrifices took place. After noting the raised area where the animals were offered to the gods, there was also a round bowl-like place beneath it where the blood collected, he pointed out two sights far in the distance: The Tomb of Aaron (Moses's brother) was a small speck on the top of another mountain and The Monastery (the other big uphill climb at Petra).

He told me he had been spending his days (6:30 am to 5:00 pm) on top of this mountain nearly every day for the last 17 years. He hiked up the opposite side, up from some caves where he said Bedouins lived. He loved the peace and quiet, and I could certainly agree. It was quite sunny, of course, but quite breezy. He told me to follow him and we set off down the other side of the mountain a little bit. At the ledge, you could see the visitors walking through the central area of Petra far below, but no noises rose up to our ears. I imagined that a very small percentage of visitors make this amazing hike.

I thanked him for his time and gave him a few dinars. It was much quicker on the way down and when I reached the bottom, it was perhaps 4 PM and most of the crowds had left for the day. I walked back past the "Treasury" and through the winding, narrow Siq, where for most of the time, I was utterly alone.

I think Laura disagrees with me, but I thought Petra blew Abu Simbel out of the water.

laura k said...

Petra is amazing. I just think you under-value Abu Simbel.