Petra-Fied

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
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Trip End Apr 22, 2005


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Sunday, March 20, 2005

It's a shame really that most Westerner's sole knowledge of Petra, the former capital of the Kingdom of Nabataea, founded in 312 BCE is that the first Indiana Jones movie was filmed there. Petra was once one of the most important cities in the region, an advanced society supported by their control of the spice trade and dominated by their use of extensive hydraulic systems and a vibrant art scene. The Roman's later inhabited the city and under Emperor Hadrian added their own touches such as a theatre and the ubiquitous triumphal arch. During the Byzantine era many of the pagan shrines were converted into Christian churches, one of which was recently uncovered with mosaic tiles in excellent condition. Time was not kind however to Petra and upon losing its standing in the spice trail and with the advent of Islam it was later abandoned as a proper city. It wasn't until the early 19th century, when a Swiss explorer stumbled into Petra that it was rediscovered in the West.

Part I

It's a twenty minute walk beneath varying hues of soaring schist from the ticket entrance to the ancient rock-hewn town of Petra. Echoes of overburdened creaky horse carts and donkey yowls reverberate through the narrowing passage ways and the sun pierces shards of light on the centuries old cobblestones. Finally at the darkest and narrowest part of the siq a sliver of the famous Treasury Building suffused blindingly in the morning sun comes into view. Like a thunderous rumble of the timpani drum after a delicate piccolo and string overture it majestically appears. The contrasts are astounding.


Part II

It's an hour and a half long climb to Petra's second most famous attraction, the Treasury's bulkier sister, The Monastery. The journey oscillates between arduous sand and rock trails and smooth carved steps as the trail hugs past precipitous jagged rock formations and cavernous ravines. Along the way Bedouins sleep beside tables laden with souvenirs and the occasional drink area with little rope-strung stools. I seldom pass up the opportunity to sit and soak in the atmosphere and enjoy a beverage and watch the world breathlessly crawl past. As I've done in various other destinations when I'm relaxing I like to help out the seller and assist in the hawking process. "YUM! Hot damn this is one hell of a refreshing beverage! Sweet Lord this is the nectar of the Gods for crying out loud! Sit your ass down and enjoy a frosty libation, by God!" I am so often astonished that people don't enjoy more beverages especially when it's hot and they're clearly physically exhausted. "What are you people trying to prove here?" I yell, "Are you cheap or just a bunch of morons?" This amuses the drink sellers, frequently irritates the tourists and seldom works but the bottom line is that it entertains the living hell out of me and that's what this is all about. I do hold back on the insults however until after I've established that the victims are non-English speakers. At that point it's a virtual free-for-all and I heap on the abuse until I wet myself in peels of laughter.

At the top of the mountain I ran into some fellow survivors from the previous night's vile debacle. The Japanese girl was there still able hold her head high though she was feeling physically ill. I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't a manifestation of the humiliation she suffered at the hands of Nasser and his pack of goons. God love her. There was a terrific café directly across from the Monastery with fantastic views so I asked if I could eat my boxed lunch there if I ordered some mint tea and was warmly welcomed and asked to sit and enjoy. Australian Peter came and joined me and we lingered chatting and soaking up the ambiance. The rest of the NasserGate survivors appeared and though I was only trying the soft sell approach I still couldn't get them to relax and enjoy a tasty brew. Dutch Peter asked if I knew how much it was going to cost and I told him that I didn't care because for views like that what difference does it make. How many times do you get to enjoy a thick cup of fragrant Jordanian coffee on a comfortable cushion and gaze upon an ancient wonder of the world? Soak it in and enjoy.

Part III

The following day I returned to Petra more to saunter about and relax than to explore. Stepping out of the admission patrol gate a carriage driver asked if I'd like a free ride to the Treasury. I couldn't think of a good reason why I shouldn't so I climbed in. I peered out beneath the fringed canopy with the clacking rhythm of the horse's hooves resonating in my ears and again I saw the initial squint of the bright treasury through the blackness. It was even more theatrical than the first time. It was so spectacular that I offered to pay the driver anyway but being a man of his word he refused payment.

I was slowly kicking around when I spotted a tea shop near the amphitheatre and settled in for a spell and watched a heard of camels and a dogfight. I was just about to head up to another attraction, the Place of High Sacrifice when one of the hundreds of boys offering donkey rides approached. This time I actually paused. I'd never ridden a donkey so I was toying with the idea when a couple came down and told me that the hike up was treacherous. I bargained hard and timidly climbed on and leaned forward. Ascending steep rocky terrain on a beast of burden that insists on smelling every nugget of excrement along the way even when it's on the edge of a cliff is unsettling. The expression, "You don't have the sense God gave a mule" sprung to mind and I pictured my untimely demise plummeting to my death just so he could smell his own turds.

The last several feet to the top are only navigable on foot so I dismounted and with hands on my hips I sighed and squinted up. Last year in Vietnam in the Cu Chi Tunnels I realized I am a bit claustrophobic and this year in Cambodia I developed a little fear of heights or what I like to call, "common sense caution". Turning back however was not an option I would consider since I was already so close. A Bedouin woman was sitting on top playing an impromptu flute that looked as though it was crafted from the sawed-off handlebar of a bicycle. She stood up and walked in my direction and offered a henna-stained palm. I smiled and thanked her and grasping it tightly she pulled me up. She insisted on taking me further up to see the place where the sacrifices occurred and I saw the trough carved into the rock where the blood of the dead would drain. Looking out from that vantage point I instinctively crouched a bit lower and I strained my eyes to catch a glimpse of people below but saw no one. Surely, I thought I am completely beyond earshot, as well.

An illogical thought crossed my mind. This woman could rob me and throw me off of this mountain and no one would know she'd done it. No one. I knew I was being paranoid and I was fully aware that the odds were well in my favour that she was not a murderer but I was beginning to work myself up. I was solicitous and ludicrously sweet to her as though she held my destiny in her hands. She gestured that I should take her picture and I nimbly reached for my camera. I will document my killer; I thought and I will leave a trail of clues that will avenge my cruel and senseless death. She lifted the flute to her lips and posed for the shot, which I imagined, would be plastered across local newspapers. "How stupid she was to get up there with that maniac" they'd say. Others would laugh, "She had it coming if you ask me. I'm glad she's dead! I hated her guts!" I felt sick. I reached in my bag and offered her the equivalent of fifty cents and as I zipped my wallet closed I thought, I am one cheap bitch. There was a half-eaten candy bar in my purse so I handed that over, too. She accepted and seemed pleased and walked me to the edge. I crawled down slowly and then seeing the souvenir sellers below whom I'd forgotten were there I breathed a sigh of relief. But wait -- what if they're in on it? My foot was just touching bottom as she released my hand and smiled and said goodbye. I exhaled and thanked her for not killing me.

The long walk down the mountain was peaceful and not once did I spot another living soul, which means I didn't have to worry about someone plotting to assassinate me. In the solitude amongst the canyons I whistled loudly everything from an Oasis tune, to Ravell's Bolero and Mozart's "Queen of the Night" aria from Die Zoberflote, which showcases my expert whistling skills. Midway through the over one hour descent I paused on a step with chin in hand and looked all around me at the majesty of nature and the wonder of man who'd gilded the lily. I looked out and above at the circling birds of prey and across to a verdant patch spreading shades of green across the rose colored stone. As the sun was stretching shadows across the canyons up to the carved facades I stood up and bid it all a silent farewell.

I descended faster now, my sandals slapping to the beat on the stone steps to the theme from The Raiders of the Lost Ark as I whistled down into the near sunset.

Christina
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Comments

grannytravels2
grannytravels2 on

Terrific story telling!
I'm heading out to Petra myself this morning and ran across your journal entry. I'm laughing my head off. Thanks for starting my day out so pleasantly. When time permits I'll check out your Egypt reports as I'm headed there on Sunday. Best regards. A fellow traveler. Linda

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