I got goosebumps as we drove past the gate to Petra searching for Little Petra Bedouin Camp where we’d be staying for the next four nights. I was looking forward not just to Petra, but to staying in “the cave”, and at first glance it was everything I expected. Our own cave. Bedouin decorating. Peace and quiet. Or…constant barking. All night. For four nights. So thanks Little Petra Bedouin Camp for the unique accomodation and the stunning light show you put on each night. You can keep your dogs though.
However, we were here to see Petra. And it doesn’t matter how much sleep you get (or don’t get). Petra simply blew my mind. Seriously. It’s difficult to put into words the sheer size, the simplicity and the stunning beauty of this place. I’ve travelled a bit, I have plenty more to see, but this is a sight that will be difficult to top in my lifetime. How to tell the story I’m in right now?
It’s hot. Really hot. I’m walking down a dirt road fighting through horses and carriages and crowds of dishevelled people returning from battle. I see a carved figure on the side of a rock and think it’s pretty cool. And then I hit shade. It’s like the rock has opened up right in front of me and it’s just for me. I walk through the opening and get lost in the cool, calming echo of the rock. Even though there are thousands of people around, I feel like I’m alone in paradise.
I continue walking for what seems simultaneously like minutes, and hours. Peeking through the end of the tunnel is the most incredible sight. The sun shines down, illuminating an exquisite piece of greek-influenced architecture 39 metres tall. The famous piece (yes, think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) takes your breath away.
At this point, I think I’ve seen enough to warrant the entrance fee. But as you wander further through the valley, more than 1000 tombs of all shapes and sizes start to emerge.
It is believed that, at least early on, Petra was a religious centre with tombs, temples and public buildings. Eventually, as mentioned in the Petra Scrolls, Petra became a large urban centre housing approximately 30,000 people. And as you stand in the centre of this town looking at the ruins of the theatre, the seemingly perfectly maintained tombs and the Roman ruins you feel a sense of being part of something special. It’s easy to transport back to days where thousands of people came together daily in Petra’s role as an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. Imagine the kaleidoscope of colours and the spice aromas drifting through the valley. The sounds of bargaining and gatherings and religous festivals. And remember that this place has lasted over 2000 years.
Over the next two days, Michael and I (along with our travelling companion Andrea) wander around the many hiking trails Petra has to offer. First, the 720 steps up to visit the monastery, the largest tomb at 50 metres high and 50 metres wide. Second, the lazy climb to see the Treasury tomb from above. Third, the climb to the High Place of Sacrifice, tracing the paths of the colourful priests and their wafts of incense that formed part of the progression to the altar at the top of the hill.
Finally, on our last day we wandered into Petra the back way from Kharrubat al-Fajja near our camp at Little Petra. With stunning views of both Palestine and Jordan, it was an experience lacking in occupational health and safety but full of that feeling that not many have done what we did. At least, not every one of those thousands of tourists that spends a day at Petra and thinks they’ve done all there is to do.
That night we farewelled Petra in true style, with a Jordanian massage and a lesson in cooking. Or in reality, turkish baths and vegetable chopping. Jordanian baths involve a steam room (for about 10 minutes longer than a comfortable steam room), severe soap scrubbing and a Chinese massage. It feels amazing afterwards, but during, I’m not so sure. A bit like walking through a drive through car wash. And Jordanian cooking (see below for the food we cooked), felt strongly like you were supporting your partner in the kitchen (“honey, can you just chop these vegetable”). Still, the food we made as a group was tasty and filling and a fitting end to our Petra experience.