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One Off the Bucket List – Twice

Sorting out Petra is such a tangled thing. From whence came the Nabateans and where did they go? Who was the architect that imagined such a place and the engineer that made it work? How did the craftsmen and artists come to carve these monuments in stone? How did they choose this stone in this place? How did it feel to live in the rock bones of Mother Earth?

Petra is a city of cave dwellers who carved perfectly impressive homes for government, religion and the rich. The merchants didn’t do badly with enlarged caves that were comfortable enough. Water was provided for and enough food could be grown. It all remains for us to see. The poor that must have been had little to leave behind.

Stunning is the first thread of the human accomplishments of Petra and that thread is the lesser thread. The rock itself is the wilder and more ancient beauty that preceded and still remains. These rocks of many colors, swept by wind and water are perfect artistry. Seeing is the only way to know these sculptures. The free form curves revealing the layers of color are poorly distinguished by words and photos pale. Touch this beauty only with your own eyes.

Petra is a gift. The effort to see it all has its greatest gift at its furthest point. The exhausting hike to the misnamed Monastery reveals a building as impressive as the Treasury and a few steps more…. Just beyond the Monastery, when the visitor is ready to call it quits from exhaustion, a hand lettered sign reads “best view.” Curiosity and exhaustion have a discussion and curiosity won. From that place, further beyond and uphill, are mountains of many colors. The mountain where you stand is red, the color that marks the Petra governate. To the right is the black mountain and, in a distance, standing before the valley is a mountain of pale gold.

I thank B for suggesting we go that extra distance. He too had never gone so far into the site until this his fifth visit. The way down was easier going, except for avoiding the donkey caravans hauling tourists who did not wish to walk the 930 steps. Actually, the challenge was more avoiding what the donkeys left behind.  A word of advice; if you must ride a donkey, ride it up. Tourists riding down looked terrified.

We rested at many places up and down the stairs and with so much natural beauty; the rests were pleasant for the eye. When we finally arrived back at the Treasury and sat to rest, I laughed to hear a tour guide say, “Ok, take five minutes to take it all in.” Impossible! These poor tourists arriving in late afternoon would not do more than scratch the surface of Petra. To come so far to such a place and be herded around in an hour is an insult I cannot imagine.

From the Treasury it is a substantial walk through the rock canyon back to the entrance. It is an uphill walk at that so we slowly made our way, I might have opted for a horse carriage but B had made it clear on the way in that he like absolutely nothing about horses. My knee was beginning to send out substantial sharp pains but I cajoled it to hold out the entire way. A rest at the ticket check point, when you STILL have a walk to the exit let me observe the horse wranglers.

The lead wrangler had a clearly better horse than any in the string and probably grew up on a horse’s back. His ease in the saddle as he urged the horse up a path on the hill made it clear this was his horse and no one else’s. From the hill he could spot groups of tourists exiting. Then he’d ride down and give directions to the guys who would solicit the riders and line up the tourist horses. These rides were supposedly included in the ticket but of course, the living is off tips.

When we finally gained the car, we flopped into it like caught fish. It was several minutes before we mustered the energy to even close the car doors. Once we got underway, B wanted to stop for shawarma but the place was closed, so we stopped at a place that had roast chicken. It was the best chicken, rice and beans on earth. Eight hours of walking on only a couple granola bars and a falafel sandwich made it so.

B is an interesting guy. Although Jordanian, he lived in the States for quite some time. He was also working in Kuwait when Iraq invaded. He, his staff and several hundred in transit travelers were held at the airport for several weeks. As the manager, he was the one to keep everyone together. He has only come back to Jordan in the last several years and is working as a driver until he can find another managerial job.

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