14.VII.06 4:25pm

We were going to take a Jordanian bus to Petra, to have the full experience, but it turned out there were no busses running on Thursday. So we took an air-conditioned van driven by an insane little man with a well-groomed mustache. I think the trip normally takes 3 and a half hours. We made it in 2 and a half.

We checked into the Movenpick hotel. Don’t ask. Reservations made by the RFC. There’s a rooftop grill with live music. But we’re not here for the luxury.

Our first experience is Petra by Night. After dark, they light the narrow canyon path to the treasury with candles. As you walk there are vague outlines of enormous rock formations. The sky is sparkling. There are shooting stars.

Inside the canyon, it is warm enough to take off my sweatshirt. The temperature of the canyon creeps from cold to hot, retaining the heat of the day well into the night, and keeping the cool of the evening through the day.

Eventually the path opens up on the treasury. The entire sandy space in front of it is dotted with candles. We sit on straw mats and listen to a Bedouin man play an instrument reminiscent of a lute. When he stops, we clap. When the sound dies away, a haunting flute melody emerges from the darkness of the treasury. At first I think it’s a recording, but then another Bedouin man emerges, slowly making his way through the field of candles, playing the haunting notes. As he does, a man comes by and serves us sweet Bedouin tea. They have asked us to avoid flash photography and excessive talking. I realize at this point that Petra by Night is all about mood.

The next day, after a quick breakfast, we head down to Petra again, this time in the fullness of sunlight. When the day is over we agree that Petra by Night was the perfect introduction. It made our trip a slow unveiling of a masterpiece.

It’s impossible to describe the beauty of the rock formations and the vastness of the landscape.

The treasury has a wonderful red color that seems to get redder as the day goes on.

A Bedouin man convinces us to ride camels to our next destination, the head of the trail that climbs up to the monastery. We talk him down to from 30JD to 20JD for the three of us. At least I think we talked him down. There are two camels. Daisy and Zsu Zsu. Luke rides behind the saddle on my camel. Later, when I complain about the bumpiness of the ride, he scoffs. Apparently a camel’s back, while appearing soft, is really quite bony.

We realize that camels are a lot taller than we thought. And the ride is very very bumpy, particularly when the Bedouin man clicks his tongue and the camels begin to trot. I think he does it just to mess with me. I can feel my sperm count going down.

We arrive and are immediately accosted by a group of children with donkeys, offering to save us from the grueling climb to the monastery by providing their special mode of transport. Once of the positives of having taken the camels this far is that we are cured of any more desire to ride animals. We walk.

The hike is pretty hard, up well-worn steps that switchback constantly. We stop often to look back at the staggering views. Every few hundred yards is a makeshift Bedouin hut, usually burlap draped over four wooden posts. Here, old women and children sell jewelry or offer donkey rides.

One Beouin girl says, “Ride up on donkey. 2 jaydee. Very far.”
Chris, being witty, says “How about for free?”
“How about I die?” she retorts.

Thank God we are carrying water.

We finally reach the monastery. Another beautiful structure carved directly into the rock face, like the treasury. It’s completely worth the hike.

Some weird instinct kicks in and I search the landscape for the highest point and decide I’m going to climb up there. Luke and Chris are a little wary. By the time they start to follow me, I’m frantically scrambling my way up. Climbing like this feels right.

On the way back down, a man is ferociously beating a donkey. I can hear the smack of stick on scull.

There’s a charming little girl, sitting in the shade. I carefully ask her if I can take her picture.
She shakes her head, “No.”
I start to put my camera away.
She springs to life. “Yes, yes!”
She poses.

We make our way back the way we came. The paths are full of tourists now, since it’s midday. A fat man in flip flops will never make it. Americans stick out like a sore thumb. I wonder if I do. But then I remember that I’ve been asked for directions numerous times. Next time I’ll shake my head, touch my finger to my nose, wink and say, “I’ll see you at the meeting.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

the pictures of petra are fantastic. when I was a kid, I remember watching the mini-series "masada" with all of it's fortresses dug into the mountains. impressive.

I once camped in the sahara desert (morocco 2001), and had to ride a camel several miles into the desert to reach the campsite through shifting sand-dunes. it is an uncomfortable ride to say the least.

(all the best to you on your journey krt!)

6:24 PM  

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