Our first impression upon entering Petra was “wow, look at all the tourists”. We have been lucky so far, that most of our visits to tourist places have been empty. With the nice weather in Jordan at this time of year, we guess it is not really that surprising to see so many tourists – we’ve just been spoilt. Our second day at Petra had the opposite effect – there were very few tourists, and the entire site was much quieter. We guess the Jordanian weekend made a difference.
Walking through the first passageways of the Siq made Becky feel like she was in the middle of one of the Disney mountain theme rides. We definitely know where Disney’s creators got their inspiration. We suspect that it is the smooth paved floor that led to this feeling, as the areas with ancient cobble stones don’t feel quite so supernatural. We were especially amused by the horse cart driver talking on his cell phone!
The first view of the Treasury, made famous by Indiana Jones, took our breath away. After the organic curves of the Siq, the massive façade of the Treasury was a huge contrast, especially since it was illuminated by the morning sun.
The natural rock formations have a breathtaking beauty that cannot be compared to any other place we have been. Petra is called “The Rose City” because the rocks are mostly various shades of red, but it is the greens, yellows and other dark colours that contrast with the red to give the formations wonderful texture and definition.
As we walked down the Street of Facades, Scott wandered away to take some pictures. Becky paused by a large display of necklaces to admire the work of the Bedouin girls. After declining to purchase anything, the girls asked if Becky would like to sit and join them for some Bedouin tea – free no charge. After hesitating, Becky decided that this was one of those opportunities that should not be missed. She walked behind the table and joined the girls for some conversation and a cup of very sweet mint tea, exactly what the doctor ordered at that point in time!
While enjoying the tea, Becky talked to the girls about school. They live in a cave in one of the valleys behind the Petra tourist site. The older two were 15 and 22 and both in high school. School is out for a month on the yearly holiday break, so the girls spend their days at Petra selling jewelry that their mother makes at home.
Scott came to join us for tea, and one of the younger girls asked if Scott would marry his sister. The older girls chastised her for it, but we just laughed. Becky said that he was already married it her. It did not even occur to her that to a Jordanian that did not mean anything, as a man is allowed to have up to five wives! Fortunately, Scott pointed out that the rules in Canada were different. It was an interesting cultural exchange.
Before we left, the oldest girl gave Becky a camel bone necklace – a gift. She took no money. It was an honest expression of hospitality – and a highlight of Becky’s day at Petra and likely one of those memories to last a lifetime.
We climbed up to the tombs near the bottom of the Street of Facades, and found a nice place to sit and enjoy lunch while soaking in the heat of the sun and the surrounding views. It was peaceful in a different way than Little Petra, as there were people milling about below, tourists and Bedouin all experiencing different aspects of Petra.
Transportation within Petra has been divided into sections, with different means of transportation for the different sections. Camels only go from the Treasury to the town center, carts go from the Treasury to the dam, horses go from the dam to the main gate. Donkeys go almost everywhere, including up the 850 steps to the monastery. The various means of transportation are managed by the Bedouin men. The younger boys guide the donkeys with the older men managing the camels, horses, and carriages. Over our two days, we took the opportunity to add two modes of transport to the collection for our journey: camels and donkeys.
Our journey to the town center on the first day was a slow three-hour amble downhill involving various side trips to inspect nooks and crannies, so the walk back up would take at least an hour. To reduce the amount of walking, we hired a camel. A camel ride was one of the things that Becky wanted to do while in Jordan, and this was the best opportunity. We negotiated a price (not too bad, 15 JD for the two of us) for a camel ride up to the Treasury. Riding a camel is amusing, with a gentle but deep rocking motion back and forth; however, it is not exactly restful. By the time we reached the Treasury, our legs were jelly and we were ready to walk the remainder of the way to the gate.
Rather than climbing the 850 stairs to the Monastery on the second afternoon, we decided that a donkey was a more efficient approach. We negotiated what we think is good price with a 10-year old Bedouin boy (6 JD for the two of us). He hopped off the donkey and had Becky hop on, while Scott hopped onto the second donkey. Becky was surprised at how smooth it was to ride the donkey, when it wasn’t galloping or climbing stairs. The stair climb itself was impressive, and the donkeys performed amazingly well. We did find that at times we were hanging on for dear life! It did not take us long to decide that the way down would be much better approached on foot. The climb up took just under 30 minutes by donkey, and likely would have taken 90 minutes or so on foot at Becky’s current speed (slow) – so it was a 6 JD well spent. It is also impressive to note that the 10-year old boy walked and ran up the stairs pushing the donkeys along and a pretty impressive clip. There is no worry that he doesn’t get enough exercise in his day.
The walk down from the Monastery took us 45 minutes – at our usual slow amble. We were entertained by a couple who had hired donkeys for the trip down. We could tell by their shouts that it was a rather harrowing experience – at one point in time the man actually fell off the donkey after a stirrup broke. Fortunately, he was unhurt. The poor animals looked rather tiny in comparison to their charges. We think we made a better choice of donkey (bigger donkeys) for our trip up; however, the couple did successfully make it down from the monastery and all the way back to the Treasury on their beasts of burden.
The highlights of Petra are both the carved facades and the high places. Sometimes, like at the Monastery, both are combined in a single location – extra spectacular. Our guidebook says that it is possible to climb to the top of the Monastery, and stand beside the 10m high urn (or climb on it). Scott was sorely tempted, but in the end he obeyed the “No Climbing” sign and stayed on the ground. He did take the opportunity to abandon Becky for a morning and climb to the High Place of Sacrifice though. There are many High Places throughout the hills of Petra. They were used for religious rituals of various kinds, and all have spectacular views. The High Place of Sacrifice is the most accessible, with the original Nabatean staircase repaired and upgraded, making the 110m climb much easier. The entire top of the hill has been leveled, and two giant obelisks sculpted out of the rock – a huge amount of work. The obelisks were not carved and set in place – they are actually attached to the rest of the hill! The High Place of Sacrifice also provides spectacular views over the centre of Petra, with a great view of the Street of Facades as well as the City Centre. Since he was at the High Place with no other people around (which is apparently very rare) Scott took advantage of the nice flat rock, warm sun and beautiful views to meditate and do yoga.
We had high expectations for Petra, and it greatly exceeded them. The hills, rocks and colours were beautiful, with something new to look at around every corner and then there was the carving. The facades and caves were awe-inspiring, and changed every hour with the shifting light. For Becky, the most special part was the Bedouin people. We enjoyed friendly chats with everyone we talked to, from the smallest children selling postcards, sitting with their families or guiding us to the right trail, to the women with handicrafts and the men on their animals.
More pictures below …