Friday, February 19, 2010

Stairway to Heaven—the Monastery at Petra

February 18, 2010

By Claire
We woke up early, checking our bodies, attempting to figure out why everything hurt. We popped some Ibuprofen and hobbled off to breakfast.

We were glad of the early start, it was nice out and the breeze was still present. We tried not to race walk our way through the Siq to the start of the more than 800 step hike uphill to what is known as the Monastery. It’s another 1.5 km. from the Treasury so we wanted to reserve whatever energy we had left for this somewhat tough ascent to the top of the world.

Start of hike--you can just make out the stairs over by the white donkey (it really helps to click on the photos for better quality)

It was plenty warm in the sun but the trail had some shade here and there and we took breaks every so often. The stairs are high or non-existent or simply an idea and all uphill. Have I mentioned that it’s steep and uphill?

Along with gorgeous, vertiginous views, we found interesting rock formations and, hmmm, a padlocked cabinet?


There were a number of Bedouin stallholders along the way, many of them with children to care for and tea to prepare.

One child was crying passionately as the mother continued with “You want to buy anything? Free look.”

Up and up we climbed, rarely seeing anyone else on the trail but donkeys.

Almost at the top, the stairs suddenly went down, we rounded a bend and there it was, the Monastery.

The spectacular Monastery, known locally as Al-Deir, is similar to the Treasury but far bigger. It was built in the 3rd century B.C. as a Nabataean tomb. It derives its name from the crosses carved on the inside walls, suggesting that the building was used as a church in Byzantine times.

We sat on some benches, strategically placed for the best view, and caught our breath. It really is magnificent and definitely worth the exertion. After resting awhile, we followed a trail with signs pointing to “Views of the End of the World.” Apparently we saw Wadi Araba, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. It was wonderful to have the place almost to ourselves. I continued hiking up to Tomb 468 promising a fine façade, some carvings and another fine view. It’s true!

Monastery view from tomb 468

Cameras don’t really capture a view, do they?

It took us 50 minutes to climb to the top and probably about the same going down—on the way back we ran into tons of people coming up, not to mention even more donkeys. It was definitely warming up and we were anxious to get somewhere in the shade to cool off and recover. Walking back to the hotel, where our bags were being held, we cleaned up then made our way back to a restaurant we had stopped by on our way back the night before. The owner had come out to speak with us and we had a very nice conversation with him. He told us that he was a Bedouin who had lived in the caves in Petra and was part of the resettlement in the eighties. He was very kind and intelligent and spoke excellent English. He asked us about our travels and we talked about Petra and tourism and came away with a very good feeling about Jordan and the people. It’s less edgy here. No one seems to have their hand out with the expectation of money for nothing, even if they are trying to sell souvenirs and t-shirts. They didn’t endlessly pester us after we said “No thank you.”

We each ordered drinks to start with, Coke for me and Ginger Beer for Chuck. I don’t even like soda that much but ordered a second one immediately.

Note the pull tabs--outlawed in the U.S. for many years

Chuck wasn’t hungry but I had a wonderful Greek salad. I’m looking forward to more of them soon.

We went back to the hotel at 3pm and waited for our guide to show up. At 3:45 Chuck asked the hotel to call a number we found scratched on the paper we had been given. We were told that the guide would call back in five minutes. At 4:35 he called to say he was on his way. Finally, we jumped onto the bus and took off for Aqaba, the ferry and Taba. All went well, except for the very long time it took to get everyone through the border check. At last we settled into our bus back to Dahab; I read while Chuck tried to nap. Suddenly I smelled that burning electrical odor that is never good. Several other people started reacting and the next thing we knew, the bus driver pulled over. After one hour, several Bedouins stopping to help, a repair guy from a bus plus another bus stopped in front of us, and many tries at starting the engine, we were FINALLY on our way. It felt so good to be back. We arrived at midnight.

Cost for our side trip to Petra for both of us, including all transportation, hotel, lunch and breakfast and two day entry: €468 ($633).

The Petra by Night was on our own and cost 24 JD or $36. We also paid for our own lunch the next day, $16.

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


Paros Shepherd said...

I am a bit behind in reading about your Petra trip. All I can say is: WOW! WOW! WOW! The Petra by Night must have been a very wonderful experience. Have you pinched yourself lately to see if you are dreaming?
Now, here is a bit of interest: My cousin was the one of the Palace interior decorators (from a big architectural firm in Chicago) who went to Jordan at the request of the American Queen Noor (American), wife of the late King Hussein! She loved Jordan....but found the craftsmen very hard to work they kept their own hours! You can probably relate to that! Ha, ha.
Did you buy any jewelry? I would want to buy, buy, buy. And how would I carry it all?

Karin from Paros in Prague (for 10 more days!)

Chuck and Claire said...

We remind ourselves often that we are living a dream.