Friday, February 19, 2010

The Lost City of Petra

February 17, 2010

By Claire
First, I have to share the email I received from Deniz from the infamous Customs Warehouse:

Hallo Claire
I hope..! you have a fabulous time
I find your file and everthing ok your car from customs areia
don't Worry.
Lost of love

I also received an email from the Surahan Hotel in Istanbul letting me know that there was a fax waiting for us of a document we will need to pick up Homer. The hotel was so helpful to us and literally saved the day, again!

We left Dahab at 5 am for our minivan-“luxury” bus-ferry-“luxury bus-trip to Petra. We were given a box breakfast which we planned to eat later since lunch would not be until 3 or 4 pm, after our visit to the Lost City of Petra. Another couple was picked up but Edel, the manager of Penguin Village, noticed they didn’t have a breakfast box from their hotel. He drove to a market and put together a couple of boxes of food for them, picking up some bananas and oranges and a bottle of water for us. Then we drove to a gas station, he turned off the engine, adjusted his seat to recline and went to sleep. This is somewhat typical—no communication whatsoever about what is happening. It’s hard for me to just sit and relax not knowing what’s next. Finally our “luxury” bus (as he called it) pulled up. We were hustled onto the bus, grabbed a couple of cramped seats and without a word from anyone sped off into the gathering sunrise. Along the way we stopped at a resort area north of Dahab to pick up some other people. While we waited, I watched in the giant rear view mirror the bus driver fiddling around with a large screw driver. He seemed to be tightening a number of things up. The steering wheel perhaps?

We arrived at the port 2 hours later, dealt with endless paperwork and had our passports stamped a few times. The ferry ride was great—it was a fast hydrofoil—it only took 30 minutes from Taba, Egypt to Aqaba, Jordan. We’re in Jordan! Many of you may remember from the movie Lawrence of Arabia that During World War I, the occupying Ottoman forces were forced to withdraw from the town after a raid, known as the Battle of Aqaba, led by T. E. Lawrence and the Arab forces of Sharif Hussein in 1917. The surprise was that Lawrence and the Arabs approached from the desert rather than the sea. It's a wonderful part of the movie and it was a thrill to be there, even if it is 93 years later.

We drove north towards Amman with the Red Sea on our left. At one point, the bus pulled over so we could see Egypt, Israel and Jordan all at once.

There is something so elegant about a man in a gown wearing the Arabic Kufiya headwear

A beautiful hotel in Jordan--this country seems far more Western than I expected.

Jordan edges the Great Rift Valley that stretches from East Africa’s lakes to southern Syria. The rift was created as the Arabian plate pulled away from the African plate, a geological event that gave rise to the Red Sea. Jordan’s Wadi Araba (wadi means valley), the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley lie right on this fault line.

Getting off the ferry we realized we had no idea what to do next. We wandered around until we found someone who looked like he was in charge. I said, “Petra?” and he nodded and pointed up the street. We joined a group walking in that direction and got on the bus. Turns out it was a group of Russians with a dabbling of English speakers here and there who were traveling in groups. Once again, we found ourselves somewhat isolated. Everything was spoken in Russian and then another guy got onto the mic and I think he spoke English. Could have been German, or Swahili. You know what it sounds like at a drive through with a bad mic? We had no idea what was going on but the guy was definitely speaking some form of English—we could pick out a word here and there. About an hour into the ride we decided to fill up on some snacks we had been told to bring because of the late lunch. Feeling smug that we had planned ahead so well, we saw that we were pulling into a fancy 5 star hotel. Uh oh. Lunch time. Neither of us was hungry and it was one of those huge buffets. I put a few things on my plate but all I wanted was something to drink. The waiter came over and asked about drinks, mentioning juice. I asked for orange juice, which arrived fresh squeezed and delicious. It better be. We found out it wasn’t included in the price and cost us $10. Another lesson learned. Always ask.

Finally, we arrived at the parking lot of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra. It only took 7 hours….

The Nabataeans, a nomadic tribe from Western Arabia, settled in the area around the 6th century BC. They organized a stopping point for camel caravans and over the next 500 years they used their accumulated wealth to build the city of Petra. Their coveted trade route, the most lucrative in the region, was eventually taken over by the Romans, who strongly influenced the later architecture. Interestingly, their main god, Dushara, had a virgin mother, Khaabou. I had never known another religion with a virgin mother.

I won’t give you the complete history of Petra, just the most recent: From 1189 until the early 19th century, Petra was a forgotten outpost, a “lost city” known only to the local Bedouin. They were reluctant to reveal its existence because they feared that the arrival of foreigners might interfere with their livelihood. In 1812, however, a young Swiss explorer, J. L. Burckhardt, ended Petra’s splendid isolation, riding into the city disguised as a Muslim holy man. Throughout the 19th century Petra became the focus of the Western European obsession with the Arabic Orient and the site was pored over by numerous archaeologists, travelers, poets and artists. The first English archaeologists arrived in 1929 and excavation has continued ever since.

We walked down a marked trail taking in the carved tombs and cave dwellings along the way.

We arrived at the Siq, a narrow 1.2 km. long chasm with 200 m. high walls created by an earthquake. We were lucky there were not too many people and the sites were amazing to behold. We pretty much ditched most of our group; most of them couldn't keep up the pace with our fast moving guide.

Gorgeous rock colors

Looks like an elephant to me

Inside the Siq

We learned a lot from our guide, at least what I could understand. His English was good but his accent was so strong that after awhile I just took pictures. Suddenly, he told me to move to a particular spot and look. I did and I gasped. This was our first view of the famous Treasury.

It really was a thrill. We walked on, came out of the opening and there it was!

It was bigger and better than I expected, a nice surprise. Did you know it was featured in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? We studied it for awhile and then continued our walk through this lost city, taking in the incredible rock colors which ranged from yellow to orange to red to black. Simply gorgeous. We also noted all the beautiful rock carved tombs and caves. As well as a few people along the way.

Looking back on the Siq entrance to the Treasury

Bedouin playing a Rababa--a single stringed instrument

Cave house—maybe this is where Marguerite van Geldermalsen, author of Married to a Bedouin lived?

Jordanian girl, seller of bracelets and postcards

Soon we came upon yet another amphitheatre, this one carved out of a single rock. Now that’s different! I wonder how many amphitheatres we’ve seen in 6 months?


We saw so much but had only 3 hours to explore it all. Turns out Chuck and I were the only ones staying overnight, something we had decided so we would have time to really see it all and to hike to the Monastery, our plan for tomorrow.

Back to the bus we walked. It was quite warm but there was a nice breeze and plenty of shade in the Siq. It was now about 3:30. We were told to be back at the bus by 4:00. Most of us were. We waited and waited. And waited. We were exhausted and thought only of the showers waiting for us and a long nap before our “Petra by Night” walk at 8:30 pm. Finally the two guides went off in search of the missing people. They eventually came strolling up, eating ice cream cones, the irritated guides right behind them. Once they were on the bus, the driver floored it out of there. We came to a stop about 3 minutes later. Our guide jumped off the bus with us and escorted us to our hotel while everyone had to wait once more in the bus. Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t have our names or our reservation (made by the travel agency). After about 5 minutes of Arabic conversation we were told to relax and sit down, which we did. Finally, it was all sorted out and we were given a room key and our guide left, fortunately giving us a copy of the list of people on the tour, which included our names. That was all we had. As we started to follow the man to our room, we asked the guy at the desk what time breakfast would be served. He said he would check our reservation and call us. Of course he never did. We took hot showers, got into bed and relaxed!

At 8 pm we got up, dressed and set off for Petra. It was nice and balmy out and the Visitor’s Center where we were to meet was only a 5 minute walk from the hotel. Our host, a Bedouin man, gathered everyone together and we were told what to expect (how refreshing!). We were told to walk in a single file and to be silent. But, we were also told that couples could hold hands and walk together. We set off along the trail lined with 1,500 candles set in luminaries (candles set in sand, in a paper bag). It was all quite magical and the sky was bright with stars. People were actually pretty good about not talking. There are always a few that just can’t keep their traps shut, no matter what the circumstances. We hustled past them and just enjoyed the experience. Once we arrived at the Treasury it just turned magical. We were quietly directed to sit on mats that had been spread out and then Bedouin tea was served by a man carrying a tray. Soon, our host walked to the center of the candles, welcomed us and began to play a Rababa. What an experience! Next, another Bedouin played a wooden flute—sometimes sitting—sometimes walking around. I looked up at the stars and realized that this is the third time we have been in a place where we could see the night sky without interference from city lights. We are so glad we decided to do this! In fact, I only found out about it from a comment on my book review of Married to a Bedouin. A woman suggested the Petra by Night tour, saying how much she enjoyed it. Ah, the wonders of modern communication via forums online.

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings. ~ Moslih Eddin Saadi

1 comment:

Pat in Santa Cruz said...

Oh I am just amazed by the Petra at nite experience!!!!! Climbing to the Monastery -- what a feat! I am reliving my astonishment at first seeing the Treasury. Thank you for sharing this fantastic view of Petra -- I knew I would thoroughly enjoy seeing it through your eyes.