Monday, February 28, 2011

Indiana Jesse and the Last Crusade

The ancient city of Petra is simply incredible. Built by the Nabataeans in the 6th century BC, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The city is massive, and we spent over 10 hours walking, climbing and exploring the ruins.*



We entered Petra via the Siq, a narrow sandstone gorge that served as a busy highway of travelers and pilgrims, and was also a natural defense of the city. Channels on either side of the Siq held water pipes, and carved niches throughout were filled with small statues of gods and kings.

The Siq is massive and over 1 1/2 kilometers long

The Siq opens into the breathtaking Treasury, or Al Kazneh.  No evidence has been found that it was actually ever used as a treasury, although plenty of people have attempted to uncover its reputed treasure.  We prefer to think of it as the resting place of the Holy Grail.  

Indy and Henry Jones explore the Treasury (by horse)
Jesse and Dave Meshkov explore the Treasury (by foot).
We turned down many, many opportunities to explore by camel or donkey.
Heading deeper into the city along so-called Facades street, the towering sandstone cliffs are dotted with tombs (now apparently used as urinals/trash dumps. Sad. And smelly.)

All those little holes are tombs carved into the rock face.
Hi from inside a tomb.
Smells soooo bad.
The countdown on the camera timer seemed to last forever.
Not all the tombs are this small.  Some of them, built for kings and other VIPs, are truly massive.

The Urn Tomb (I think), built around 75 AD
Some other tomb - it's hard to keep track.


The town of Petra used to be a bustling marketplace, with goods traded from far and wide.  Below are some remains of the main commercial street.  Today, Petra is unfortunately still a marketplace, with plastic made-in-China trinkets and overpriced snacks hawked every few feet.



There are also the remains of a massive temple that is currently undergoing excavation by a team from Brown University.  We spent some time climbing up and down stairs and along back passages to nowhere.


Pillars topped with elephant heads


Finally, we headed up towards the Monestary, or Al-Deir.  Originally built as a temple, it was later used as a church by early Christians.  


Dave (that little spec in blue) rejoicing that we are done climbing the thousands of steps that take you up to the Monestary.
And, of course, it is also the hiding place of the Matrix of Leadership in Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.**  If you're not up for a twenty minute climb, there are hordes of men and boys offering to take you up to the Monestary on donkeys.  


(Endless) steps to the Monestary

Our favorite donkey-hawker line:
"Taxi! BMW Taxi!"
Once you're up at the Monestary, you can hike a little bit farther for some spectacular desert views.  Apparently you can see Israel, although if that is true than I assure you that Israeli desert appears indistinguishable from Jordanian desert.

We checked it out.  The sign was a bit of an exaggeration.

A great view, but still not the best view.

The view towards Israel (we think)
 
To get to what we think is the best view in all of Petra, you're going to have be willing to climb.  A lot more stairs.

Yep, more stairs.
Also, in case you haven't noticed, the colors of the sandstone are incredible!

In order to get there, find the flight of stairs in between the tombs marked 14 and 15 on the Petra map that you get when you buy your ticket (not the map in the beginning of the post).  Follow the steps until they end, pass a stone hut of sorts (and if you see a young Bedouin guy in there, ask him if it's his bachelor pad, more about this later), and then continue on downhill-ish along the (faint) path. 



Follow the cairns (that's little manmade rock piles for you non-supertrekkers) until you come to this:

The Treasury from above.
Best view in Petra.
(Yes, Dave is wearing a fitten).
After we drank in our fill of the Treasury, we headed back the way we came.  It wasn't long before a young Bedouin guy invited us to tea.  Skeptical, we hemmed and hawed and then figured "Why not?"  I guess the philosophies of the Why Not Shop had really stuck with us.

First, he offered to let me ride his donkey, Shakira (Shakira, Shakira!)



Shakira's hips did not lie.
Then, he and a buddy built a fire and brewed up some Bedouin tea, to the tinny sound of Bob Marley played on a cellphone.

Brewing the tea

Drinking from "Bedouin cups" - a liter bottle of water cut in half, the jagged ends melted smooth(ish) with a lighter.  Mmmmm, hins of carcinogens.  There is really nothing like the long finish of of burnt plastic.
Happily, they wanted nothing more than to chat, practice their English, and enjoy our good company.  As the sun set, we said our goodbyes and enjoyed a few last twilight photos in front of the Treasury, before setting off back through the Siq in the growing darkness. 
Petra, seen from the Siq.

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Footnotes:
* You can be assured that it was indeed over 10 hours since Dave, as he is apt to do, started a timer on the iphone when we entered Petra and stopped it upon our exit.
** I know this because, WHILE WRITING THIS POST, I turned on the TV and this very scene was playing on HBO (or some sort of weird India HBO knock-off with Hindi commercials). I'm not sure if the Matrix of the Leadership part is right, I could barely understand the description of the plot when I tried to read it on Wikipedia.
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You can see even more of our Petra photos by clicking here.

IF YOU GO:

Wadi Musa: A taxi from the Amman airport to Wadi Musa (the town where Petra is located) costs around $75 USD.  You can also get there by taking a bus to the south bus station, and then another bus from there to Wadi Musa.  If the bus driver tells you his bus is going to the south bus station but he is a huge liar and in fact his bus is going to the north bus station (can you tell this happened to us?) then you can take a taxi back through Amman to the proper bus station.  And don't forget to bargain for the price of your bus ticket, especially if they're making you buy an extra seat for your luggage!  We stayed at the Saba'a Hotel in Wadi Musa - really nice people, and the room was fine for about $30/night.  Great shwarma place by the traffic circle near the hotel.

Petra:  The ticket to Petra is crazy expensive - $50 JD ($75 US) when we were there - so get there early (like 7 AM to get in all your time and to beat the tour buses).  You can also do Petra By Night, a candle-lit walk through the Siq to the Treasury, on Monday, Wednesdays and Thursdays.  As mentioned above, the view of the Treasury from above is a must-see, and the Monastery is also totally worth it.  It's easy to get a donkey ride up if you're feeling lazy.  There are other sights to see near Petra that we didn't have time for, and apparently the hike from Little Petra to Petra (with a guide) is fabulous.  Finally - we suggest bringing your lunch into Petra with you.

6 comments:

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  2. The Bedouin boy with the donkey called Shakira is Khalid Dreybeyah; he is a great kid.

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