Wednesday, 21 November 2012


Our trip to Petra was organised by Cora of Classic Culture Tours. We actually did this trip earlier in the year, in March to be precise, but for some reason I haven't written about the experience.  A definite oversight on my part because Petra is an interesting place.

There were seven of us booked on the trip which saw us transported from Riyadh to the airport in Amman, Jordan, then picked up by a tour guide and driven down to Petra and back up to Madaba and the Dead Sea with a few tourist stops on the way.  I have to say if I was to return to Jordan and Petra, I'd skip the extra tourist stops unless there was more time because our timetable had us leave Petra a little early.

This was our transportation...

The roads were rather rough most of the way down and the person who drew the short straw and got the fold out seat looked forward to each toilet stop and swapping places.  

Jordan, we decided, is a lot poorer than its large southern neighbour.   Our tour guide told us that the Arab Spring that has swept the Middle East has severely affected Jordan's tourist industry.  Most overseas visitors include Petra and the Dead Sea on their list of places to see as part of a larger Middle Eastern itinerary which usually includes the pyramids of Egypt and Damascus in Syria.  With both these places on the 'Travel With Caution' list, Jordan does not provide enough of a draw card on its own to bring large tourist numbers.

We came because Petra was on our bucket list and Egypt and Syria were off the safe travel list so now is as good a time as ever.  Plus we wanted to compare Petra with Made'in Saleh in Saudi Arabia.

The drive from Amman to Petra which was long and uneventful, unless you consider our driver playing it safe - which means he drove really slowly all the way - as an event.  We were doing our best to hint,  suggest and then outright ask if he could put his foot down because we were all chomping at the bit to get out of the vehicle and on with the show.  His pace served to make a long drive a lot longer. 

Eventually, after a couple of pit stops for food, dunny and the usual 'lets fleece the tourist' souvenir places  and a religiously significant pool we made it to our accommodation.   The suggestion was made that we go for a night walk.  The language issue made this suggestion a bit confusing.  Our Arabic was zilch.  His English was not quite enough to do away with guess work about exactly what he meant.

So we went for a night walk otherwise known, we discovered later, as Petra by Night.

Petra by Night is a walk at night (no kidding Kiwi) along the Siq path lit by hundreds of candles that ends at Al Khazneh, or The Treasury.  Its quite an other worldly walk, especially with the full moon shining brightly in a clear blue-black sky, but if your eyesight is a bit on the dim side, or you're a bit of a klutz, beware of taking a tumble on the path which does get a bit uneven in places, particularly where the cobbles from the old paved road still exist.

At the end of the line you're greeted with chai (tea) and directed to seats in preparation for the musical entertainment, the haunting sounds emanating from a traditional flute, and a poet.

Petra By Night has become quite popular with tourists but I wish we hadn't done it.  Not our first night.  Why?  Because part of the excitement of going to Petra is imagining how the European explorers in the early 1800's must have felt when they came upon the sight of the Treasury through the gash in the mountains for the very first time. 

For me, that first view at night just did not have the kick I'd imagined and detracted, just a bit, from the impact of the same view the next day.  

But that aside...

Our tour included a walking tour guide who picked us up at the gates and gave us the option of a horse and saddle ride to the beginning of the Siq (the narrow gorge path to Petra) or horse and cart ride all the way to The Treasury.  We opted for horse and saddle which meant we got to walk the Siq path again in the daylight. 

The path is an easy walk in the brightness of the day and if you're fortunate enough to get there before the hordes of tourists, the Siq has a tranquil quiet that allows one to consider, as you run your hands along the water channels carved into the gorge sandstone walls, how mankind for centuries has managed to carve out his existence in different environments around the world.

For an organism with sufficient brain power to figure out survival techniques so many years ago and supposed advancements in thinking today it is frustrating how we seem to keep stuffing things up with each other in the modern world.  But hei aha - let's move on.

Petra, the lost city, covers a vast area of land.  We had half a day to site see through it - not nearly enough time which is why our tour schedule got a little blown off course as we all took slightly longer than the stated itinerary to get our butts back to the bus.

After an initial talk by the tour guide most of our group headed off in different directions and the poor guide was left spending more time trying to keep track of everybody, who had their own sight seeing agendas, than guiding.

One good decision we made was to hire some donkeys to carry us up the 800 steep and uneven mountain steps to the Monastary.  Donkey riding technique is explained and basically consists of "hold on".  For some in the group it was a test of character to put their faith in the sure footed-ness of a small beast to get you up the rocky incline safely.  But get us up they did.  And after a look around, they also took us back down.

The Monastery is an impressive pinkish hued structure carved into a mountain top.   Over time it has been used as a temple, a church and a tomb.  My photo doesn't do the size of it justice.  Once you make it to the top, and many a soul actually walked the stairs in the blazing heat of the sun, there is a cafe opposite where you can drink in the enormity of the Monastery's creation along with a welcome glass of cool beverage.  You can also walk to a higher vantage point for a better camera shot.  We didn't make it that far.

Dotted up the mountain path and spread throughout Petra are the souvenir shops.   Their presence, or rather the tactics utilised for getting a sale, can get a bit pesky.   Even the young donkey handler tried his best to sideline me into a stall while still atop the donkey on the way down.  This is the commercialism we have heard many a traveler to Petra complain about and, though it didn't spoil the visit, it's a less than positive memory.

It was time for us to head to our meeting point in Wadi Musa, the township that acts as host to the many tourists that come to Petra and there was so much we still hadn't seen.  Here's a few more pics from what we did see on our half-day in Petra.

Camels waiting for riders in front of tombs.

A look back at more tombs

Old road.
We figured a horse and cart was the fastest way back so hitched a ride on one.  It only got us half way.  The cart was waved down by two blokes with horses and after an exchange of words in a foreign language it was on to them that we were directed to complete our trip back to the gate - for an extra fee.

The tourist can quite literally be taken for a ride in Petra.  We figured out that these two were cowboys and the words exchanged were likely something to the effect that everyone should share in tourist dollars.  We were on a time schedule and besides, Hubster liked the idea of another horse ride on a beautiful afternoon, so we saddled up.  Once all the crew were rounded up we were taken for lunch at a local joint before the we packed back into the van for drive from Petra to Madaba.

In comparing Petra to its smaller cousin Made'in Saleh I have to say although Petra does have some spectacular tomb facades, is of enormous size and is cradled within stunning mountain scenery it does not allow the hands on interaction that you currently get in Made'in Saleh.  Most of the tombs in Petra are closed off to tourists and the commercial factor is also a huge turn off whereas Made'in Saleh allows entry to all tombs and there are no pesky hawkers.   That being said, Petra is probably easier for the tourist to access simply because tourist visa's into Saudi Arabia are, well, practically non-existent.

I'm glad we went to Petra and though there are some aspects of it we didn't get to see due to time constraints I can say I've been there and, all things considered, it is a fabulous place.

Ka Kite,

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