petra, day two

Staying overnight in Petra was a great idea and worked out beautifully. After an elaborate but nondescript (and overpriced) breakfast buffet at the Petra Moon, we left our luggage at the hotel, and took a taxi to the little-used "rear entrance" to the site. On a tip from Lonely Planet, we would start the trail at the very end, and walk back to the beginning. This would allow us to walk the entire trail without having to double back.

The car climbed uphill on switchbacks, past crazy rock formations and tiny Bedouin villages. When we entered the site, we were the only tourists on the path. A Bedouin shepherd was moving his goats; men with donkeys were offering us rides. The pink and orange rock formations were all around us. It was so quiet and peaceful.

By the time we reached some ruins, the tour groups had caught up with us. It was wonderful while it lasted!

In the centre of the Petra park are the ruins of the commercial centre of the ancient town -- a long market road, a market, a palace, and some important tombs.

When Allan went off to explore some higher ground, I saw a dog that I knew right away was special. We have seen many, many dogs in our travels. Most of them look well enough, if dusty and thin (although not emaciated), and they have a certain outdoor/street dog look about them. This dog was shiny, sleek and well fed, and clearly a herding dog mix. I saw him trotting with great purpose. Suddenly he stopped, his ears went up, and he bounded up a hill! This is remarkable -- you never see street dogs do this.

Some time later, when Allan and I met up, we both said, "I saw this dog!" After the dog ran up that hill, Allan saw him herd goats -- by himself, no human around -- and get them moving somewhere else. We have seen dogs herd cows and sheep (especially in Ireland), but in this rocky and remote landscape, the dog on its own -- that was a real treat.

After maybe an hour and a half of walking, we reached the place where I had turned back the day before -- the almost intact remains of an amphitheatre. Allan pointed out where he had climbed to yesterday, called The High Place of Sacrifice. It was a long climb!

We took a few last looks at the "Treasury", the most famous of the Petra buildings (it was a tomb, not a treasury), and began walking back through the narrow path. It was wonderful to spend more time in this unique and awe-inspiring landscape.

(Also, while waiting for Allan, I bought some pottery from a Bedouin selling local crafts. They are here in designated areas. I keep thinking I'm done with all shopping, and then...)

After we finished, we spent some time in the visitors centre, which is truly excellent. It's a small museum that tells the story of the Nabataean civilization and people. We didn't know anything about them, and it was fascinating. Two aspects of their culture were especially of great interest.

I mentioned yesterday that on the walk through Petra, you see the remains of gulleys and dams -- but that's not the half of it. The Nabataeans were geniuses of water management. They understood hydraulic engineering and created a system of reservoirs, aqueducts, hidden cisterns, and other water-management features. They hid water in cisterns in the desert, so that when enemies threatened them, they could retreat deeper into the desert, where others could not pursue them and survive. They had such an abundance of water that they built a fountain for religious and ornamental purposes! In the desert!

We also learned that the Nabataeans were advanced socially -- women were equals in their society. Women could (and did) own land, sign contracts, run businesses, inherit property -- and could rule the kingdom.

* * * *

One thing I have not written about regarding Petra is the education and awareness-raising for tourists. The Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority, which runs the park, has a huge education campaign around three points -- ending child labour, improving animal welfare, and protecting the antiquities in the site itself. This was a very welcome contrast to what we saw in Egypt!

At Petra, local children sell postcards and offer donkey rides. The education campaign explains why tourists -- whether well-intentioned or simply ignorant -- who buy from children are contributing to child poverty.

Horses, donkeys, and camels are used for rides, and horses pull carriages. The awareness campaign asks tourists to be mindful of how the animals are treated, and not overloading the animals. Tourists are urged to report perceived abuse: the carriages are numbered, and there are many ways to report.

This reminded me of the campaigns against puppy mills -- addressing the problem by shutting down demand. The PDTRA can't interfere with or end local practices, so they focus on the people who use the services.

We were very impressed with this, especially in contrast to what we saw in Egypt.

* * * *

We finished our "reverse" walk through Petra, very happy we had done it and that it had worked out as planned. We got some pizza in the little town, then collected our luggage and went to the bus back to Amman.

In Amman, when a taxi took us to the Marriott, I discovered our reservation was not for the Marriott near the downtown, as I thought, but at a five-star hotel in the upscale Jebal Amman district. Turns out it is one of the top hotels in Jordan. Yikes!

So here we are in this amazing hotel. We might as well enjoy it!

Photos from Petra are here.

No comments: