Saturday, November 4

A Long, Beautiful Day at Petra

So much for getting up at 5am. After several whacks of the snooze bar, we were downstairs for breakfast around 6am. We then grabbed our cameras and daypack, and started the winding one-mile descent into the entrance of Petra. After a steep five-minute walk, Susanne realized she had forgotten to take some medicine, so we huffed and puffed our way back to the hotel, grabbed it, and started back down.

The walk towards Petra was somewhat quiet, but it got me thinking a lot about Jordan. Visually, the city of Wadi Musa was what I envisioned of Jordan - rocky, steep hills with sandstone apartments dotting the landscape in every direction. There were also a lot of kids out that morning, but unlike in Egypt, none of them approached us, apart from an occasional shy smile from a little girl or two. Clearly these kids were used to tourists being around, but the contrast with Egyptian kids was still quite striking.

After reaching the entrance and paying our budget-breaking fee of 20 JD each (total: $60), we started the walk towards the opening of the Siq, the thin, river-cut valley with soaring multicolored sandstone and volcanic rock, jutting hundreds of feet into the air to our left and to our right. Numerous tourists were being guided on horseback, but on the whole, the start of the Siq was devoid of life (save the construction crews who were adding a paved road to the entrance).

We walked through the Siq for about 15 minutes, fully in awe with its magical beauty. Because the sun was only a few hours up at this point, the first rays of direct sunlight were peeking their way over the tops of the rock, about 200 feet above us. I kept on expecting to see El Khanzeh, the great treasury of Petra, to appear around each bend, but I was teased over and over as we would find only more of the Siq for us to walk through.

Another five minutes later, we could hear crowds of tourists quickly approaching straight ahead of us. Then, around a small bend, I had my first glimpse of El Khanzeh. Immediately my mind leaped to the final sequence in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which the treasury was filmed as the final resting place of the Holy Grail. At 120 feet, El Khanzeh humbles almost all who see it. It is an overwhelming, yet graceful Nabataean building carved out of the rock face of the Siq, a remarkable engineering feet for over 2500 years ago.

After taking a few too many photos of the treasury, I briefly sat with a group of camels, at which point Susanne took some more shots of me with my new docile friends. We then worked our way through the end of the Siq into the valley of Petra, in which hundreds of caves, burial chambers and temples have been carved out of the rock over an area of thousands of acres. We listened to a Bedouin play a wood flute while we continued toward the Roman amphitheater, which in its day held over 3000 people. Jordan's antiquities department is now in the process of restoring it, so that performance may once again take place there.

Susanne and I climbed the steps of the amphitheater and noticed a path upwards which lead to more caves and chambers. These, of course, lead further up to more and more and more caves, until after 45 minutes or so, we had ascended the entire peak, which soared about 800 feet above the base of the amphitheater.

We hung out and enjoyed the view in all directions before beginning the climb downward. We chose to take a new path, and with about 30 feet to go, we reached two rocks, about 6 feet apart from each other at a right angle, which we needed to cross in order to get down. The first rock sloped so it was impossible to get a good foothold or a running start. After several minutes of trepidation, we decided to jump - the worst we could do, we figured, was break an ankle or smash a camera, the latter of which seeming much worse at the time. I am happy to report that we succeeded in our jump, though the inertia I developed from my short burst of energy nearly caused me to mow down Susanne as I jumped the rock and flew about 15 feet, skidding down the rock face down to the bottom of the boulder.

Susanne purchased some Bedouin-carved soapstone and after a drink of tea, we headed to the Roman street, on which lie the remains of many a fallen column. Some had been restored recently and the work was quite impressive. Further ahead were some cafes built into the rocks, so we paused to split a bag lunch of yogurt, pita and fruit. It was now about 2:30 pm and we decided to take one last jaunt before leaving, that to the Monastery, which Let's Go claims is 'a few hundred yards past the Roman road.' As we soon discovered, it was actually several hundred yards up and several kilometers away, which aggravated us to no end. To make matters worse, I took my first serious spill of the trip - embarrassingly enough, we were walking up some stone steps when I slipped on some sand, bruising my knee and skinning my left arm rather badly. Fortunately, I had the forethought to swing my camera in the air as I fell, lest I shatter it by dashing it into the stone.

We tried to climb onward but my knee was throbbing so badly by then, we concluded that it was time to take the 75-minute return hike through the valley, past El Khanzeh one last time, up the Siq and to the park entrance. We arrived back at the hotel and celebrated with a bottle of Jordanian wine (1992 St. Catherine's red) and hummus on the roof of a restaurant across the street. A muezzin called the city to prayer as we drank, which made me rather self conscious, though our Jordanian waiter kept giving me looks that said "drink up and relax, have another bottle..."

At dinner, we were joined by two elderly widows who were with a tour group, but they were late for dinner and needed a place to sit. In all honesty, they thought we were with their group, but that didn't matter. They were terrifyingly similar to the Allen Sisters in EM Forester's A Room with a View, so we made the most out of the conversation, talking travel and Shakespeare with them. Then, another early to bed evening. It seemed like a slow night (not like there's ever a wild night in Wadi Musa), and we had decided to go to Amman the next morning before heading to Jerusalem. Thought it would be a nice, relaxing whim.

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