19.03.2010 - 25.03.2010 24 °C
For your sake, I hope you've got a fast internet connection because this blog entry contains a whole bunch of photos. It's also another one of my long blogs so find a comfy seat, make yourself a hot cup of something and settle in fo the ride...
I'm also warning you that if you plan to visit Petra one day this might spoil it a little for you so you might want to stop reading it now, just don't say I didn't warn you.
So finally, I had arrived in the Kingdom of Jordan, Aqaba to be exact, which is the second most important city in Jordan (after Amman). Even though the ferry trip had only taken a little under three hours, the whole process had lasted for almost the entire day. It begun with a long wait to board the ferry, then came the trip itself and it finally ended with a torturous wait at the port in Aqaba while the two-finger-typist immigration official entered each tourist's passport details into his computer. Our wait was further prolonged by the official's overly optimistic attempts to multitask by simultaneously talking on the phone and drinking tea while he was working. It didn't matter though because once my passport was stamped all was forgotten and I was all smiles as I headed towards the door and the waiting mob of taxi drivers beyond it.
I was hoping to spend a little more time relaxing at the beach, but the same wind that had blown through the Sinai Peninsula was also blowing through Aqaba so I didn't stick around for long. There isn't much to see or do in Aqaba anyway unless you want to go diving or snorkeling. Aqaba marked the first place ever where I've been able to see more than two countries all from one spot.
The view of Egypt and Israel from the shores of Aqaba in Jordan (Saudi Arabia is off the frame directly to my left)
After a short two hour bus ride, I had arrived in Wadi Musa, the town located at the edge of the famous ancient red-rose city of Petra. Wadi Musa is located within a valley, hence the name "Wadi Musa" which actually means "Valley of Moses". It's quite a small town and the center of it consists of little more than one roundabout and the streets that radiate from it. Most of the hotels, stores and restaurants are all situated a short distance from this roundabout and the entrance to Petra is only about two or three kilometers away. I stayed in a small budget hotel called "Petra Gate Hotel" and even though it was extremely simple, it had some of the nicest staff I'd come across in my travels.
The roundabout in the center of town in Wadi Musa
Sunset at Wadi Musa on my first night
After breakfast the next day, Nasser, the hotel owner kindly drove me right up to the gates of Petra in his car while giving me some helpful suggestions on which parts I should visit. I had been looking forward to visiting Petra for so long that I had even started to get worried that I would be disappointed. It was not to be though because these next few days easily became one of the highlights of my trip so far. You can buy one, two or three day passes to enter Petra and without even thinking about it, I bought a three-day pass (it was a decision I didn't end up regretting, but my legs sure did hold it against me by the end of the third day).
Once through the main gates, you still have to walk about 800 meters to the entrance proper of Petra, which marks the start of the famous 1.2 km high-sided Siq, which is like a canyon but created by tectonic forces rather than by flowing water. On my first day I arrived at around 9:30 am and this was definitely tourist rush hour. There was no use trying to fight it, no matter how fast or how slow I walked, there was always a large tour group either behind or in front of me. There were also regular horses galloping past me pulling small carridges full of lazy tourists.
By pure luck, after about ten minutes I was in a gap between groups of people so that I didn't feel so claustrophobic, though I could still hear the crowd's voices as they echoed all the way up and down the weaving Siq.
Then all of a sudden...
First glimpse from within the Siq of the amazing Treasury facade, probably the most famous of Petra's sights
The Treasury was much bigger than I had thought, and far more intricately carved, though it does show its age by the looks of some of the worn out carvings on the facade. In case you are interested, Petra was built by the Nabataeans in the 3rd centry BC. They carved palaces, temples, tombs, storerooms and stables from the sandstone cliffs. They were forced to abandon the city after it was hit by several earthquakes, including a massive one in AD 555. Petra was recently voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
A full view of the Treasury after emerging from the Siq
The Treasury was more likely a temple, though it got its name because of the misguided local belief that an Egyptian pharaoh hid his treasure in the top urn. The urn even had some bullet holes in it courtesy of some of the hopeful Bedouin who tried to get their hands on the treasure.
Many Bedouin tribes used to live in Petra until they were relocated by the government in the mid-1980's into a newly constructed village at the edge of what became Petra National Park. You can see the village from several places in Petra and many of the Bedouin still travel into Petra every day to make their living selling tea, souvenirs and horse and camel rides to tourists (just as they did when they lived inside the park).
I knew there was much more to see in Petra than just the Treasury, but I never knew exactly how much. The place is huge and there couldn't have been a better backdrop to all the carved structures than the surrounding red sandstone cliffs and narrow winding valleys.
Just past the Treasury, the valley widened and just around the corner was a long stretch known as the Street of Facades
The Street of Facades just around the corner from the Treasury
Further along the valley, you came across another famous sight in Petra, the huge Theatre with its worn out seats
The Theatre in Petra
A Bedouin woman walking along valley just before the Theater
Looking back down the valley a little bit further along from the Theatre
I liked this scene of a small rock which appears to be supporting a large portion of a cliff that had broken off
I spent most of the first day exploring in and around the Royal Tombs which actually appeared to be larger than the Treasury. Surrounding the Royal Tombs were a series of narrow paths which lead you to dozens of caves dotted over the cliff sides. I was jumping around from rock to rock and down steep paths like a mountain goat.
The Palace Monument, one of the monuments along the row of Royal Tombs
Shot taken from hill leading to the Crusader Fort, in the background you can see the impressive Royal Tombs carved out of the cliffs, just below the center you can see a line of people walking along the Collonaded Street. To the right of this where the columns are is the Great Temple.
Qsar al-Bint at the end of the Collonaded street, one of the only free standing structures in Petra, the rest are all carved out of the cliff walls
In addition to the tombs and temples, there are also hundreds, probably thousands of caves in the park. The caves were not only good for exploring (even though most weren't very big), but they also provided much needed refuge from the baking heat of the sun. It was very refreshing to enter the cool air of the caves though unfortunately some of them were obviously used as urinals by the Bedouin working there and most likely many of the tourists also.
One of the views across the valley from inside one of the caves
A Bedouin man resting, his donkey was also resting under the shade of a nearby cave
The "Love Lion" souvenir shop, I don't think I saw the self-proclaimed ladies man himself, but most of the Bedouin men working there (at the tea stalls and as horse, camel and dokey drivers) had the same type of style - they all had dark eyes which looked like they were wearing eye liner; which as it turns out they were wearing a type of traditional make up made from kohl.
By the time I left the first day, it was starting to get dark and the number of tourists had dwindled to a mere trickle. Walking through the Siq in the fading light while almost alone was an awesome experience. Unfortunatly the photos I took at that time didn't turn out so great even when I used a flash, it was just too dark and too big for it to have an effect. I had been walking or standing for the best part of seven hours that day, punctuated only by a couple of short breaks at the tea stalls where I'd have a mint tea and a quick snack. My legs barely had the energy to carry me out of the park towards the main gate and I wondered how I was possibly going to be able to return for two more days, let alone for just the next day.
I had a beer and a huge meal at one of the restaurants near the entrance to Petra before I headed back to the hotel for a hot shower and then straight to bed so I could rest my feet.
The view of the hills of Wadi Musa at night from my hotel window
Because I went to bed so early, I was up at 6 am the next day, which for anyone who knows me, is hugely uncharacteristic of me. I took the opportunity of this natural early start to head out to Petra before the swarms arrived. Quite fortunately my legs didn't feel bad at all and I was rearing to go again. This time the walk through the Siq was much better, no crowds and plenty of time to take photos without people getting in the way. Parts of the path through the Siq were still paved with the original stones, some of them even still bearing the worn down paths from centuries of passing carridge wheels.
Original paving stones through the Siq
My mission for day two, was to visit the Monastery, which many people say is the best part of Petra. To get there you not only have to walk all the way to the end of the main valley, which is about 40 minutes from the entrance to the Siq, then you have to walk up a long and steep winding path through one of the valleys. I only saw a few other people on my way up the path which was absolutely perfect. The views down the valley from along the path were truly breathtaking, though that could have been the long climb up, either way I was out of breath.
Some of the thousands of caves in just a small section the valley leading to the Monastery
After about an hour on the winding path, I finally arrived at the top. I didn't even realise I had reached my goal until I turned around and this is what I saw...
The incrdible Monastery, bigger and more impressive than the Treasury - The path up to it from the valley floor ends just to the right of this photo and as you can see my early start payed off as no tourists were staning in front of it
I was glad to see a tea stall with a shaded area opposite the Monastery where I could enjoy a mint tea while taking refuge from the sun
About to enjoy my mint tea with a view of the Monastery from shaded tea stall
The Monastery wasn't even at the highest point in the area, there were several taller peaks with lookout points close by where you could not only get brilliant views of the Monastery, but also many of the large valleys in the surrounding areas.
The Monastery from path up to lookout point, to the right in the background is the main valley floor where the Collonaded street and the rest of Petra is located
At the top of one of the lookout points - I finally found it!
I hung around the top of the valley walking around the Monastery and between the various lookout points for a couple of hours before the crowds started arriving, then it was back down the winding path, through the valley floor and up another winding steep path towards an even higher point, called the High Place of Sacrifice.
It was getting busier, but not too many people were climbing up the steep paths yet (most people buy a single day pass and do their climbing late in the afternoon) so my walk up to the High Place of Sacrifice was also quite peaceful and quiet. The towering cliff walls provided plenty of shade along the winding paths and there was a cool breeze blowing through Petra so my second climb wasn't at all unpleasant. About 40 minutes later, I finally reached the top where I got some of the best views of Petra and the surrounding areas.
Me very near a steep cliff at the High Place of Sacrifice, behind me on the left is the main valley floor and the facing cliffs where the Royal Tombs are located - I only look calm because I hadn't really looked down yet so my vertigo hadn't kicked in, I turned around as I stepped away from the edge and the world started spinning (not good when you're a couple of meters away from certain death)
Side view of the sheer cliff at the top of the High Place of Sacrifice, I stood near where those people are sitting to pose for the previous photo, almost makes me feel sick thinking about it
The views in all directions from up there were incredible and I ended up staying up there for a couple of hours. When I did finally decide to come down, one of the Bedouin women who sold trinkets up there, tried to serenade me with her flute. She wasn't really playing music, it was more like random music notes but she did enough to earn a couple of Dinars. She asked me if I was married and when I told her I wasn't, she immediately pulled out a couple of photos of her daughters... but they were baby photos! The photos looked ancient and so did she so I'm sure her daughters were no longer babies, but for a moment there I thought she was trying to sell me some very young brides. Her feeble attempts at matchmaking put a whole new spin on the old "misleading blind date photos" trick.
The Bedouin woman who played the flute for me, and then tried to set me up with her daughters
Once down from the High Place, it was time for a good rest and yet another mint tea. There are a couple of large tea stalls right in the middle of the valley floor on either side of the main path. It was a good place to sit and watch the opposing cliff walls turn different shades of red as the sun set over the valley.
Again it was a huge struggle to walk back to the park's entrance, but my hunger and need for a shower finally got me back to the hotel.
On my third and final day in Petra, I decided to take a different route into Petra. Just near the entrance to the Siq, there is another path to the right that begins through a tunnel. This path is actually a water channel and the tunnel had been created by the Nabataeans along with a small dam near the Siq's entrance to divert the flash floods which often devastated Petra. Officially, you were not allowed to take this alternate route into Petra without a guide because it's a little more difficult and there was a chance you could get lost if you wandered off the main path, but I'd read about it in Lonely Planet and Nasser from the hotel recommended it and told me it would be easy for me. It was also a clear, bright sunny day with not a cloud in the sky so the chance of rain was virtually zero. At first the guards tried to stop me going, but after a lengthy argument where I told them I'd already walked through it with a guide, they finally let me do it but only after they took all my details at the guard booth. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my Petra experience.
The tunnel over the alternate path into Petra through Muthlim Siq
The tunnel was only about 50 meters long then after that it became a rugged valley just like the main Siq but narrower in parts and with some tricky parts where you had to climb down a couple of large boulders. I didn't find it hard at all, but I wouldn't recommend it for someone who's not so good at climbing around. There was only one place in this Siq where you could take a wrong turn at a point where it formed something like a T-intersection. I had already read and been told that you simply had to take a left at this point so it was not a problem. The best part was that it was completely silent, there was not another tourist in sight for the entire one and a half hours it took me to get into Petra's main valley floor. Once again, even though it was sunny, the breeze was cool enough for it to be bearable and even a little cold if I stayed in the shade too long.
One of the boulders I had to climb down from in the narrow part of Muthlim Siq, an alternate path into Petra
I made it back into the main area in the valley where the tea stalls were located and rested for a while. While I was there I heard a couple of tourists talking about some Kiwi woman selling books about Petra. This wasn't the first time I'd heard about a Kiwi woman and a book about Petra. As the local Bedouins who manned the tea and souvenir stalls asked me where I was from, almost every one of them replied with, "Ah! Kiwi! We know Kiwi woman who wrote book about Petra", and then they pointed in the vague direction where the main tea stalls were. I thought they were talking about some renowend archeologist or a travel writer from New Zealand who'd written a good book about the site and that one of the souvenir stalls was selling it. But after hearing these other tourists say she was there, I butted in their conversation and asked them who and where this Kiwi woman they were talking about was. They pointed at a small stall that I had already walked past many times over the previous few days.
I walked over and saw a large crowd of people huddled around talking to a slight, western looking, red headed woman in front of shelves full of books and souvenirs. Behind her was a large poster advertising her book, it wasn't an archeological book, nor was it a tourist hand book for Petra, it was her true story entitled, "Married to a Bedouin". Her name is Marguerite van Geldermalsen and she was born and raised in New Zealand to Dutch immigrant parents. She had travelled to Petra as a backpacker back in 1978 and ended up meeting and then marrying a Bedouin man who lived in one of the caves in the middle of Petra (prior to their relocation). She moved in to the cave with him and they eventually raised three children. It was quite an interesting story and I ended up buying a personally signed copy of her book. If you want to know more about her visit her website: www.marriedtoabedouin.com. She greeted me with an unmistakable kiwi accent and we chatted for a while before she was mobbed once again by several people wanting to buy her book.
Mum: I had her sign the book for you and I'm sending it to you as an early birthday present. You should have received it by now and this blog post has explained the mystery package ...so you can open it now! Chances are with you being you, you've heard of this woman and have already read the book, but at least I'm pretty sure you don't own a personally signed copy from the author so snap!
Kiwi Marguerite van Geldermalsen - author of "Married to a Bedouin" - holding the book she'd just signed for me
Soon after buying my book, I headed towards my final mission in Petra, and that was to reach the lookout point above the cliff tops opposite the Treasury.
As I headed past the Royal Tombs towards the start of the winding steps that led to the lookout, I walked past one of the Bedouin women who have souvenir stalls set up along the paths and she recognised me (I had walked past her several times over the previous days and I always said hello to the women), she yelled out, "Come, come. Have some tea! No money. No charge". It was an invitation I couldn't refuse. She cleared room next to her on the rug she was sitting on and she stoked up her little fire on top of which she balanced her little smoke-blackened kettle. When it was ready, she handed me a small glass of piping hot tea and I nearly dropped it as it burned my fingers. It was the sweetest tea I had ever tasted, actually, it was the sweetest drink I have ever tasted. Her English was quite poor, but we managed to communicate with what she did know and lots of hand gestures. Not long after I sat down, a small kid, probably about three years old, from the stall next to hers waddled over to us. She had food all over her mouth and fingers and she was trying very determinedly to rub the top of my head (I had just shaved that morning and she had obviously not seen many shaved heads in her short life). My host saw that I was trying to avoid her sticky looking fingers so she got a stick and waved it in the air to scare the child away. It seemed to work because the child ran away, but I realised she was giggling so of course she came back for more. I just gave up avoiding her and let her touch my head which seemed to satisfy her curiosity.
A little while after an older kid arrived who I think was related to the woman. His English was much better and I talked to him for a little while.
Drinking tea with Bedouin boy and woman in front of the Palace Tomb - I asked them both if I could take this photo and they both happily agreed so it's funny how the kid looks so angry, before I took the photo he was smiling away so I figure he might have put on his "I'm a tough guy" face just for the photo
After a couple of glasses of tea, I thanked the woman and contined on my final quest. I begun my one and a half hour climb up some winding steps along the side of the cliff. Again the views along the way were amazing, but then as you are probably tired of hearing by now, the views were always amazing. I finally reached the look out just as a large group of French tourists were leaving which was good not only because it was nicer being there alone, but being there on the narrow ledge with other people would have made me a little nervous (my vertigo started to kick in again).
Me at the lookout on the cliff opposite the Treasury - It may appear that I have an amazed look on my face but in fact it's a mixture of that and a bit of fear, note that I'm a fair distance from the edge which was once again a scary looking sheer cliff.
After a mini picknick at the lookout, I decided to head down before it got dark so I could make my final walk out of Petra through the Siq and finally back to the hotel.
It had been a long three days and my legs had had enough. I abandoned my initial plans to leave Wadi Musa the next day and instead stayed another night. I spent the enitre next day relaxing, reading the book I'd just bought and chatting with a funny Dutch couple whom I'd met a couple of days before. When the Dutch woman saw me in the lobby on my last day, she yelled out, "Oh my god, you're a negro!" (her English wasn't the best) Of course she said this in an entirely friendly tone and she was just commenting on the tan I had aquired from walking around Petra for three days, but the way she put it and how she said it was so hilarious, especially because the lobby was packed with people talking and when she yelled it out across the room everyone stopped talking and turned around to look at me.
Anyway, that was Petra! I was blown away by it and if it weren't for my sore legs I could have gone another day (which I could have done because the fourth day is free if you buy a three day pass like what I had). It's going to be very hard for the upcoming destinations to top Petra! I just really hope it's not down hill from now on.
If you made it this far, I'm impressed at your dedication, hope you enjoyed it.
The next day I headed north to Amman where I'd end up taking an even longer rest, my legs still needed lots of recovery time.
Until next time!