Our campsite at Wadi Rum ended up to be a lot more civilised than my one and only experience of camping in wet, windy Wales. Actually we got upgraded to a chalet with a touch of Ashraf’s magic and walked smugly past the white tents and in to our little chalet. The beds were rock hard but surprisingly comfortable and I had my first hot shower in two days. I was almost quite sad to leave our humble chalet but today was Petra, our grand finale. This is what we had really come to see after all.
We checked in to the Movenpick hotel in Wadi Musa a couple of hours later, located right at the entrance of Petra.The staff were friendly, the rooms were clean and spacious; what you would expect from a Five star hotel and the prices which go hand in hand with them.
On to Petra though…
Once we paid for our tickets at the busy gate and used the washroom facilities, we were introduced to our English speaking guide and were away to go.
What struck me was how friendly everyone seemed to be. ‘Good morning ladies!’ the local men would come up to us with their charming smiles. They didn’t even want us to buy anything from their stalls. They merely inquired where we came from and wanted to practise their English on us; although most of them had already perfected the language.
‘Please. Allow me to tie your scarf for you. Petra is very dusty. We must protect your beautiful eyes’ another local came to my aid and without my consent began to unwrap my shawl from my shoulders and wound it tightly around my head.
Next we were in search of a couple of horses… the smallest ones I could find as they scare the living daylights out of me. I would have been happy walking on my own two feet but my friend insisted there was only one way to journey in to Petra and that was on horseback. Headscarf wrapped around my head like a mummy and satisfied that my horse wasn’t going to go galloping off, I felt like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade as we trotted steadily past the first set of Obelisk tombs and shrines.
Just as I was fancying myself as a bit of a pro with horse riding, our guide ushered us to climb down. This was a bit of a feat in itself. The 1km journey through what our guide told us is called the ‘Siq’ was to be on foot; a natural gorge amongst red rock. I wish I had paid more attention in my geology lessons at school. This was incredible! Our guide informed us that the gorge was formed from tectonic activity that caused the rock to split in half. Natural striations of red, pinks and white in the sandstone gleamed in its glory where the narrow path widened and allowed the sunlight to cast a beam down in to the gorge. Now and again a huge gust of wind managed to find its way in to this intimate path and threatened to blow dust in to every orifice of one’s body. I was suddenly grateful for my head scarf and tucked the loose bit of cloth in to the skull of my cap to cover my nose and mouth.
Our historian prattled on about the water channels which lined the sides of the gorge, carved by the Nabateans to provide water to the city of Petra. We past shrines and carvings, oohing and ahhing as we went, crossing over well preserved cobblestones which the horse drawn carriages rattled against. I was in awe of the never ending, meandering Siq but I was anxious to reach the main city of Petra.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw as we approached the end of the gorge and a flash of red appeared in a small opening between two rock faces. Cries of delight emitted from other tourists as they entered through the opening before me. I could see why there were looks of wonder spread across their faces.
A massive façade intricately carved out of the pink red rock face, rose above us 43 metres high. It made everything else surrounding it seem insignificant. This was the Treasury. This is what thousands of people came to see every year and I was one of those fortunate people.
It was hard to believe this was carved in the 1st century. Aside from the odd headless or limbless statue, and the one ‘new’ column, it looked pristine.
Unlike the scene in Indiana Jones, when Indy enters a magnificent chamber, through the Treasury doorway, there is a blank square chamber.
One cannot enter beyond the doorway however and slightly disappointed with this, we took a moment to rest at the coffee stall, our eyes never leaving this remarkable feat of engineering.
There was so much more to see. With a whole city to explore behind us, our guide practically dragged us through an opening to the right. What was through the archway was something as old as time; something which could have come right off the set of Jason & the Argonauts.
We followed our guide along a red dusty path, passing the remains of an amphitheatre and numerous tombs. These tombs became more and more extravagant as we continued our tour; elaborate facades carved out of the sheer red stone that resembled huge palaces rather than tombs. Tourists could be found dotted in and around this vast landscape, exploring every crevice, every niche they dared enter with wonderment.
Every now and again a Bedouin would approach us on a horse or donkey, eyes thick with black eye liner, black scarfs tied around their heads. ‘You want donkey to monastery?’ they asked, striking the poor four legged animals with a whip. RSPCA would have had a right job on their hands in this place. Everything furry with a tail was either being thrashed by its owner or being weighed down by an exhausted tourist.
I took it upon myself to chastise a young local boy who was kicking his donkey for, from what I could tell, no apparent reason.
‘Oi!’ I yelled ‘Stop kicking that donkey!’
He looked over to me with narrowed eyes and retorted in perfect English, ‘It’s my donkey so it’s none of your business!’ Charming!
Then there were the touts. Young girls selling postcards or beads came running up to us, refusing to take no for an answer. ‘Oh please!’ they implored following us for the next twenty metres until our guide roared at them to leave us alone.
Our guide stopped us at ruin after ruin for a few minutes each, rushing through the facts and figures so quickly, nothing was really setting in. I guess he was on a timer, eager to pick up a generous tip and depart in search for the next batch of tourists before closing. We were quite eager to be rid of him actually so we could explore on our own. Besides we were intent on ascending the 800 or so treacherous steps up to the monastery before it got too dark.
There was nothing DDA (the Disabled Discrimination Act) friendly about the climb. The carved out steps in the rock face were varied, some so steep you had to virtually hoist yourself up. There were fewer tourists here though. Perhaps the 800 steps separated the nutters from the sane. I certainly felt like a nutter as we followed the umpteenth bend, expecting the monastery to be just around the corner, but realising we were only half way up. Every now and again a donkey laden with an exhausted tourist rounded a bend, it’s own buckling legs looking ready to give way.
The climb was worth the sore calf muscles… As we cornered the final bend, what lay ahead was a monstrous block of red rock with carved out archways and columns. This was the monastery of Petra. It wasn’t as intricate or even in as pristine condition as the Treasury but still, it was impressive.
An 8m high doorway stood central to the façade and would have been the grand entrance in to the monastery. Now Asian tourists were posed in front of it brandishing a peace sign for the camera.
To the right of the monastery were spectacular views of the city of Petra and Wadi Musa beyond; to the left, untouched mountains which rolled away beyond the skyline until they appeared to be mere silhouettes.
The climb and trek down to the entrance of Petra in Wadi Musa was exhausting. It was tempting to follow the crowd and clamber on to one of the many four legged animals, but one look at their sad, imploring eyes, I gave pity on them.
‘Hello ladies! How are you?’ a young, dark, handsome Jordanian cried to us once we finally reached the main city of Wadi Musa. He waved us towards his stall and motioned for us to sit on the plastic chairs, next to hundreds of fridge magnets.
‘My name is Mohamad and this is my cousin’ he said introducing himself and his rather ginger haired companion who didn’t look at all related to him. Grateful for the chance to rest our tired feet we sat and chatted to our new friends.
Somehow we had our evening arranged for us. They would pick us up at our hotel in an hour after we were showered and rested and take us to Mohamad’s shisha café, where they would bring us kebab. From there, they would take us to a camp for a taste of true Bedouin life. Sian and I gave each other a wary look. We were easy prey for these testosterone charged young men… How many evenings had been arranged for other female passing tourists? But what the hell, this was our last night in Jordan and we were away from Doha where life seemed so much more restrictive. It felt liberating to feel free once more.
Read the next part From Petra with Love – Part II