Day 6: History and the End of the World

Trip Start May 19, 2009
Trip End Jun 16, 2009

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Petra, Jordan
Prima Music Eilat

Flag of Jordan  ,
Monday, May 25, 2009

(Day 6, Petra, Jordan) Our "breakfast bags" full of bread, jam, cheese, and vegetables were waiting for us, as were cups for the thermos of hot tea, as the reception desk at Bait Ali, since we were going to leave even before they began to serve breakfast at 7:15 a.m.; our cab was waiting at 7:00 a.m., as ordered, so we could get to Petra early. Petra is one of the "new seven wonders of the world," an ancient Nabatean city carved into the massive stone facades many stories high. Featured in the third Indiana Jones movie, it has been someplace both Kevin and I have wanted to visit for a long time.

An hour later, we arrived. Luckily, it's in hilly terrain, so it was comparatively cooler. We met our guide Mahmoud and headed into history... The ancient residents lived in caves, which dot the hills. They built a city into the rosy mountains, using Greek and Roman architectural influences, including great columns, statues, and inscriptions; they fashioned marketplaces, municipal buildings, temples, and an amphitheatre (for religious rites), as well as burial tombs (for the rich--the poor apparently sealed their dead in their own homes). The most famous building, and the first major site one encounters, is the so-called Treasury, which is reached by walking down the most awesome narrow ravine ("the Siq"). The visitor is dwarfed by the multicolored, multistory (easily 20 stories high) cliffs on either side of the twisting, winding road, each turn yielding another breathtaking view in contrasting colors, the rocks often striated by time or weather. (The Siq is lined on either side by channels to deliver floodwaters to the city hidden below.)

And then, in an instant, the Treasury appears through the giant vertical crack ahead. Its scale, like that of the Siq, is hard to describe. It's alive with activity: tourists, of course, and souvenir stands, and donkey and camel ride hawkers. Alas, the building is empty. Tearing ourselves away, we headed along the path past all the other sites mentioned, admiring the scale and colors and logistics of the whole thing. At intervals along the way, vendors set up shop, selling jewelry and souvenirs, and donkeys, camels, and horses came and went, carrying tourists.

At the end, we elected to make the climb high up the mountain (we were told it was 950 steps, but I counted 770 very exhausting, often treacherous steps) to the so-called Monastery (apparently, a number of famous sites are actually misnomers). Again, it was a stunning site to behold, also on a massive scale, also cut into the mountain face. There we had a quick bite, and pushed on yet further to one of several viewpoints even higher up. The one we chose was called "The End of the World," and it afforded a stunning view of the mountain range we were in, and the Arava Valley below, beyond which lay Israel. To our side were several other spots, some higher, affording views, and a few mountains away, one was topped by what is said to be (Biblical) Aaron's tomb.

But just next to us was...a gift shop, of course. We bought some things at the End of the World, and headed back down, past a dozen or more Bedouin women vendors, each with her own set of jewelry and wares, each with a come-on as you either hiked up or headed down. It was mind-blowing to think that they come on such a grueling journey each day, never mind climbing hundreds of steps (not all of them smooth or evenly hewn) with all their inventory. We succumbed to Sara, the very first vendor who approached us (step 135, was it?) to "make [her] day" on the way up, and who remembered us well on the way down. We bargained, but I still think she got the better of us.

Lunch in the shade then a long walk back all the way through the city and the long, winding Siq. A breezy, sleepy, hot cab ride for 1.5 hours, and we were back at the border crossing. X-rays, paperwork, no-man's-land, more x-rays, money changing, and a bumpy ride back to our hotel. A nice open-air dinner, and blogging while watching "Israel Idol" (auditions), and here we are. Tomorrow: rental car and a long drive through the desert to Ein Gedi, a kibbutz guest house on the Dead Sea. I am hoping my scratches will heal enough before taking a dip in the salty water on Tuesday.
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