The Rose of Jordan

Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
Trip End Dec 12, 2005

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

(This piece is called "The Rose of Jordan" referring to the colour of the rock and how highly prized Petra is to Jordanians, not because it smells so wonderful! Another title I was considering was "Camels, Donkeys and Dust"!)

We decided rather than dallying in Amman to hightail it south to see some sights and make our way back to Amman (since we fly out of there on the 23). So we picked the highlight of sightseeing in Jordan - Petra - and set off. Our taxi driver who took us to the bus station, in contrast to the driver who delivered us to our hotel, was very polite and helpful, even going so far as to drive around to each of the buses until we found the right one. It was a mini-bus and, like the shared taxi that we took from Damascus, it didn't depart until filled with passengers. Lucky for us, we were some of the last passengers on and within a half-hour, we left.

As we were leaving the city, a woman two seats in front of us peeked around our backpacks (they'd been stacked on the seat in front of us) and said hello. Thus we met Tara and Tristan from Sydney, Australia. They had been living and working in London for almost two years and are gradually making their way back home. Tristan works as a lighting technician in theatres (and had been working at the London Opera House); Tara is a chemist who has been primarily employed with pharmaceutical companies. We instantly hit if off and chatted non-stop until Tristan started to get carsick and had to turn around to face the front! The mini-bus took the fastest (though not the most interesting) route via the Desert Highway that runs through the centre of Jordan.

Together the four of us managed to find suitable accommodations. Our guidebook warned us about women being harassed while staying at some of the budget hotels (and there was even one report of rape), so we chose one in the mid-range category. Lately it seems like our digs are always at the top of about six flights of stairs (and there's never an elevator), so we should be in top form by the time we get back to Sask!

Wadi Musa is the town located just outside Petra ("wadi" meaning valley, "musa" meaning spring), Jordan's pride and joy, "a red-rose city half as old as time" as the poem by Dean Burgon goes. So many things are here are named in its honour: there's Petra soap, Petra Travel, Petra this and that. Petra is an ancient city of palaces, temples and tombs hewn out of huge limestone cliffs by the Nabataeans (an ancient Arab tribe) in the 3rd century BC. From here, the Nabataeans of Petra commanded the trade route from Damascus to Arabia. A massive earthquake in 555 AD forced the city's inhabitants to evacuate. Movie buffs may remember that part of the third Indiana Jones flick was filmed at Petra.

Visitors to the sight have the choice of purchasing a one-day, two-day or three-day ticket. At $26 a day, it's a pricey venue, but we did select a two-day pass as there's lots to see - and a lot of ground to cover! (Student prices were half the cost - we should have gotten those fake student IDs in Thailand!) The sight covers 10 and one-half square miles and it is believed that there is much that has yet to be uncovered - Petra may be as large as 35 square kilometres in size! (And apparently there's more ruins another 7 m underground that have never been excavated.) Some archeologists consider it the 8th Wonder of the Ancient World with its incredible geological formations and colourful rocks.

To enter the rose-coloured city, you walk through a canyon of 80 metre cliffs until you get to a gap called a "siq" where suddenly you see a spectacular towering carved wall of rock known as the treasury. The road continues to various tombs, temples and a monastery high on top the hill. There are 800 steps to the top; many of the visitors opt to take the donkey ride up (and, as a result, you're sidestepping landmines - donkey poop - all the way). I can't imagine the traffic up and down that mountain at the height of the tourist season! The climb almost kills you, but the view is worth it! (And it almost killed poor Tristan - he and Tara ate something last night that didn't agree with their systems and he suffered all of day number one!)

The grounds of Petra are rocky and dusty. Donkeys and camels abound; you are continually hounded to take "taxi" rides: camel rides, donkey rides, horse and buggy rides. Horse and buggies speed by, their poor passengers hanging on for their lives and cringing at each of the bumps; the dust is flying. (The little donkeys are so cute! When they're not toting tourists here and there, you see them off by themselves standing very quietly or else braying like there's no tomorrow.) Of course, there's donkey, horse and camel doo-doo everywhere and unfortunately, what stuck in my mind (and probably on my clothes) was the smell. You certainly had to watch your step - no wonder so many people chose to ride even though it wasn't cheap ($20 for a camel ride as compared to $2 that I paid in Palmyra and I got a free pervert to boot!). At least they clean the main pathways at the end of each day so when you first enter it's not that bad.

They also hosed tourists for food; we hadn't brought any along on the first day, but managed to survive on some cookies we found. There's also plenty of hawkers selling jewellry, old coins, bottled sand designs and the like, all telling us that they had special "happy hour" prices. Ha. The little kids are the most aggressive sales people - and the hardest to resist. (I was wishing I'd brought along some balloons to distract the kids like we did in Sapa, Vietnam - it worked great - took their minds off the selling and we were able to play with them. Balloons also won't rot their teeth the way "bonbons" will!)

I've felt so sorry for the dogs and cats here - they're so pathetic-looking. I think they're thought of as pests; no one seems to care about them and they have to fend for themselves. They're very timid and skulk around looking for food. If you try and get close they generally run away. They're also very scruffy - we've seen more than one cat missing an eye. In a country where people are struggling to get enough to eat, animals do not take precedence and, in fact, are considered competition. We noticed several kids throwing stones at cats and dogs to chase them away.

Our second day was spent trekking to various areas - and to great heights - which is always a challenge for me and my vertigo! We thought we climbed a lot of stairs on the way to the monastery the day before! One problem is that tracks here are not always clearly marked and the trail you're walking will abruptly end in the form of a huge cliff and you have to retrace your steps and try again. We saw many tourists wandering around lost, just like we were.

We were all dead-tired after two days of hiking around the site. The four of us could barely put one foot in front of the other as we walked the last couple of kilometres out. The horse riders race past the exiting tourists, literally leaving us all in the dust. Tara was the smart one and hired a donkey. By the time Tristan, Martin and I got to the gate, we were also wishing we'd gotten a ride!

Though our first evening meal was not good (and made Tristan and Tara both ill - we ate something different than they did so escaped the runs), we did have excellent food the second night: Arabic chicken shwarma - chicken and tomatoes wrapped in flatbread, served with hummus, baba ganough and salad. Yummy. (We even went back for another fill the day we picked up the truck in Petra.)

We've been awoken each day in Wadi Musa by roosters - at 2:30 am! Crazy, mixed-up birds. We have gotten so used to the early morning call of the mosque we hardly notice anymore . . . .
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