Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jordan:The Blog -- Day Nine (Part 1)

This was one of the most spectacular days I’ve ever had traveling.

We started early in the morning, before 8 a.m., and headed directly to Petra. At the entrance, we were met by our guide for the day, Mohammed. Although we would not have done so ourselves, the tour company had arranged for us to ride a horse to the opening of the Siq, the narrow canyon that hides Petra from the world. All started well, with me and Ellery on the same horse. I guess we looked so comfortable that the horseman handed me the rope reins. We walked on for a bit and then I lifted my camera to take a picture, which resulted in the reins falling on the horse’s neck. Big mistake, as the horse immediately took off at a fast pace. Ellery and I held on for as long as we could but it was no use; eventually we both tumbled off onto the hard, stony ground. I was a quite scraped and bruised; Ellery fared much better, and we soon were back on our horse for the rest of the way.

As we entered the Siq, Mohammed did a wonderful job of explaining the history of Petra, the various small carvings and water canals hidden in the walls. I told Ellery that at some point we would come to a corner and she would be amazed. I didn’t realize that, even having seen photos and movies, I would also be amazed. Mohammed told us to close our eyes and then pulled us to just the right point, where the massive Treasury building just comes into sight through the rocks.

Really, no words can describe the sight that unfolds in front of your eyes – and it isn’t just the iconic treasury building. Petra is vast and there is no way to see it all in one visit. After the Siq, a wide path opens and all around, on every mountain, is another building carved into the side – they are up high in the mountain and down low underground. For once, the crowds seem to actually enhance the experience, as everyone walks, open-mouthed and wide-eyed.

Again, like Karak, Petra is alive. Along the path are stalls selling trinkets, places to sit and have a glass of tea, and offers of donkey and camel rides through the site. Mohammed pulled us aside, off of the path, and up into the mountains away from the crowds. Ellery was like a mountain goat and couldn’t be contained, climbing well ahead of me and often Mohammed as well, in and out of caves with vivid layers of color, above and below carved halls and tombs, on top of pillars and around statues. As amazing as the view from the path was, the views from on top were even more spectacular, as you could see the entire ancient city unfold. At one point we stopped in a cave where two Bedouin women offered us tea, and we sat there and took it all in.

Eventually we came back down to the path, and walked through a small site of Roman ruins that are being excavated by professors and students of Brown University. Our tour – about 4 hours of climbing and walking – ended just past these ruins, where we grabbed some cold water and rested. Although we contemplated taking donkeys up to the Monastery, a building high in the hills similar to the Treasury, we needed to make our way back to the gate for the continuation of our journey, sadly knowing that there was so much that we missed. So, we leisurely (and safely) rode the donkeys back to the Treasury.