Installment 2 of my trip through the south of Jordan: Petra

Driving from Dana to Petra, we made our way through a series of sleepy, tan towns, men and boys walking into the street to watch our large yellow bus lumber through, driving past precarious power lines and clothes blowing in the wind, bleaching and stretching in the sun.  This whole country seems to be a sort of construction site; buildings left unfinished, awaiting top floors that will never be built.  They all have metal protruding into the sky asking for poured concrete and proper roofs.  Many are without windows or doors leaving sunlight and sand to stream in and stain everything the same dusty brown that is now a permanent fixture on my one pair of pants for the four day excursion.

What seems like scant barren desert stretching on into the horizon are actually plentiful wheat fields, coloring the world a glorious honey brown.  We drive past fields being harvested by women in black niqabs, bearing down in the heat with utmost grace and strength, the black fabric catching the wind and casting a shadow against the pale blue sky.

Petra is buried beneath a clutter of tourist towns, the entrance bombarding visitors with generic vendors that blur together in a flash of reds, maroons and calls of half-price sales and “happy hour specials”.  We walked quickly past, a chorus of “la shukran” (no, thank you) and descend towards the inner valley.  The path is littered with animal droppings, flies and immodestly dressed tourists.  Running alongside you are children selling postcards and “silver” bracelets destined to stain your skin a ripe green.

The farther you move through the pink and red rocks, the farther you seem to go back in time and onto the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark (which was filmed at Petra).  The opening ruins are unfortunately relatively unimpressive compared to the natural setting, striped rock sanded smooth.

And then you round another bend and looming before you is the Treasury, the most iconic image of Petra.  And then you round the corner and find yourself face to face with wailing camels, stoic and terrifying in their rainbow saddles.  And then you round the corner and find yourself thousands of years back in time, before the calls of the market place became tourists asking for pictures.

We moved past, climbing farther in, making our way quickly through deep holes buried into the Cliffside, once tombs.  We climbed past camels and donkeys and horses, up red rock and down sandy washes.  We reached the base of the Monastery hill, an hour into the park, on empty stomachs and sweating profusely.

We began the climb, up 811 steps interspersed with sandy hills and slick rock.  I was astonished with how out of shape these ancient pathways and baking sun made me feel.  But after struggling to the top, we reached the sandy flat expanse that leads to the larger and more beautiful yet less well preserved architecture of the Monastery.  A short walk farther led us to a beautiful vista of a black jagged canyon and the desert beyond.

And then, blisters popped and knees twisted and we descended rapidly into the valley once more, moving along the stony stretches, charging past the clanging, weary animals in exhaustion, hobbling through the shaded canyon and emerging once more into the present daylight.

Petra's "wildlife"




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