In the words of The Sound of Music’s Mother Superior: “Climb Every Mountain”
***Note: This was a previous post that I had to move/recreate (thus comments are lost). Sorry for any inconvenience — webMAN***
Masaa Al-Khayr (“Good Evening” in Arabic) from Petra!
After waking from a restful night of three times the amount of sleep we’ve received in the last three days (AKA seven hours) we were raring to experience Petra—one of the Eight Wonders of the World (Please note, citing eight wonders is not a mistake…All of our readers should note that we are obliged to acknowledge the Astrodome as one of these impressive wonders).
We were told to wear comfortable shoes and a hat and drink plenty of water, because the entire day was dedicated to exploring this amazing area. We were also told to wear comfortable riding pants, as we would be riding horses, donkeys and camels. A true Jordanian experience.
We walked 100 meters from the back exit of our hotel to the front entrance of the Petran gates. Hewn from towering rock walls of multi-colored sandstone,Petra’s temples, tombs, and now gift shops are a true testament to the vision and entrepreneurial spirit of the desert tribes who sculpted them. The Nabateans—Arabs who dominated the region in pre-Roman times—chose this as their capital, because it was concealed from the outside world. They fashioned it into one of the Middle East’s most remarkable cities…a true wonder of the world. During Roman occupation, Petra became one of the regions busiest and most well-known trade routes.
Our initial Petran impression is at the first main entrance…it’s an Indiana Jones Gift Shop, probably owned by one of Ruti’s Jordanian relatives. Naiheim and Tony Balogna led us further down the path where many of our group members chose to ride horses down to the second main entrance. We both walked due to the fact that most of the horse guides were 12 years-old AND we’re both East Texas girls and wouldn’t want to show up any of our city slicker comrades on the backs of these fine Petran stallions (read: Both of us have been bucked off in recent memory and would really rather not have to blog about broken tail bones in a 3rd world country!)
We congregated together again at the third main entrance and our guides would walk a few hundred yards and point out a fissure in the rocks, then another few hundred yards to an interestingly colored sandstone to the high left or the recently-discovered (5 years ago) aqueduct to the bottom right. Another few hundred yards would yield interesting vegetation (olive trees and oleanders). The deeper and deeper we walked into Petra, the mountains just seemed to rise up like giant oak trees around us. This type of towering sandstone structure is referred to as a “siq” (pronounced “seek”) and Petra’s is about 1.2 kilometers long to walk at the bottom. It was like walking in the bottom of the Grand Canyon…kind of.
Well, truthfully…neither of us have ever been to the Grand Canyon before, but we’d bet it is similar, aside from the fact that the GC probably doesn’t have kids selling $5 camel bone necklaces, donkey drivers wearing shirts with “I’m with Stupid” written on them, and recklessly-driven donkey carts zig-zagging between tourists to go and pick up the next bunch of lazy Americans who can’t seem to make it all the way to the Treasury. It just didn’t scream “Bedouin” to us!
We followed the siq to the dead-end into a carved façade that …wait for it…is in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The community’s Treasury, all Hollywood aside, is truly the finest site we experienced all day.
Though nobody is really sure how old the Treasury is, it is certain that it’s carved out of the sandstone mountain and was originally intended to serve as a tomb for the Nabitean King Artus III. It gets its name, however, from the story that Artus hid his treasure in an urn on the second level while pursuing the Israelites. You can actually see pock-marks in the solid-rock urn, indicating vain attempts by the locals at breaking this treasure chest open.
We pressed on past the Treasury with promises from Tony & Naiheim of spectacular visions … and CAMEL RIDES!! We hiked up a small cliff to the site of a Byzantine temple carved out of the side of the mountain. The 10,000 ft2 room had naturally colorful interiors and great acoustics. Aside from the kids, still peddling their $5 camel bone necklaces, it felt as if we’d been transported back through time.
Our head honcho leader delivered a message in this temple/cave focusing on the premise that drawing near to God results in His drawing near to us. It was a very meaningful devotional, despite the fact that Naiheim’s cell phone kept going off. Only this time, the cave we were in had fantastic acoustics and whatever he was saying to answer his wife, brother or Cousin Abdulla in Arabic, we are almost positive translated to “Can you hear me now?” “Can you hear me now?” “Can you hear me now?” Who knew that Byzantine Temple ruins had such great reception?
To drown out Naiheim’s conversation with his wife about what was for dinner and whether or not he could pick her up a Camel Tooth necklace, our group sang a few songs and in the words of our former guide Ruti (We love you, Big R!) we sounded “like nightingales.” It was one of the most beautiful parts of the day.
We headed on to our lunch spot a bit down the mountain, appropriately named THE BASIN, and dined on (believe it or not) hummus, cous cous, olives, and an unidentifiable fluorescent orange dessert. Bedouin rumor has it that Barbara WaWa visited this spot several years ago for her in-depth interview with Harrison Ford. There is no church erected on the site to commemorate this occasion.
Following lunch, our group split up. There were those in our group who chose to massacre themselves and walk 10 feet south of the sun to reach the Monastery pinnacle, among these was Lincee. There were others who chose to get back to Jordanian civilization, have a beer, take a dip in the pool, and reflect on the 17 camel bone necklaces they had purchased. Among these, NJO.
NJO’s experience: It was a no-brainer that I’d take the camel back to the Treasury (about a 2 mile walk from THE BASIN). I bartered Solomon, my camel guide, down from $15 USD to $10 USD and he immediately arranged for me to ride atop Elian, Petra’s most disgruntled, overworked and underpaid camel. I should have known better. I was no less than fifteen feet away and already Elian was hissing, spitting, and screaming at Solomon, who was, I’m sure, cursing at him in Arabic.
I kept asking Solomon, “Are you sure Elian is a nice camel?” To which Solly replied, “Oh yes, princess, he is a wonderful camel and loves American women, just like I do.” Translation: “You get what you pay for you, cheapskate!”
A bit nervous, albeit excited, about riding a camel, I swung my leg around the saddle horn, held on with a death grip (the blister is just now subsiding) and Solomon coaxed Elian up from his “at ease” position, again cursing him for attempting to bite the leg of a fellow camel rider right next to me.
At this point, faithful readers, I was freaking out. And I do mean AUDIBLY freaking out. I had every Bedouin camel guide in the city of Petra thinking I was being sacrificed at the Virgin Altar I was screaming so loud. Solly wasn’t quite sure what to think of me at this point and I think was ready to start paying me denari just to shut up…this was not good for his reputation as a camel guide. My fellow camel rider comrades just stared at me in disbelief. I had bragged all morning about growing up around horses and here I was, not even riding the thing yet.
I calmed down once Elian got all the way up to his feet (about 10 feet high) and aside from the intermittent glances back to try and nip my legs, we were friends now. Until he decided he was going to be the Mario Andretti of the Petran camels.
As luck would have it, Elian is a young camel. He’s a camel who is not afraid to show his prowess. He was also not afraid to run a bit and I think even quite enjoyed hearing Solomon chasing after us cursing in Arabic, my nervous, “Um sir, sir SIRRRRRR,” tourist groups stopping all over to snap pictures of the afflicted camel rider, and Petran necklace-peddling kids laughing and pointing as I raced past them in a camel-like blur (okay, so it wasn’t THAT fast, but I’m telling you that camel ride is not the smoothest ride in town!).
By the time Solomon finally caught up with us, Elian was ready to compromise and be a good camel. The rest of the 45-minute ride was quite uneventful, excepting the moment when he finally did get a good little nip at me when I tried to pet him. Too petrified to ask for pictures to be taken, to even speak really, I don’t have anything to commemorate my camel experience. I suppose I could ask around, as I’m sure my rendezvous with Elian is on You Tube somewhere out there!
Returning to the hotel for a little R&R, was just what the sheik ordered. I also got a little “real work” done and awaited hearing back from my roomie re: her afternoon adventures.
Lincee’s Experience: Earlier in the day, Naiheim mentioned to me that I must make the trek up to the Monastery after lunch, because it would change my life forever. Built in third century BC as a Nabatean tomb, the Monastery gets its name from the crosses carved on the inside walls, suggesting it was once used as a church.
I congregated with others from our group at the base of the mountain and began the journey at an aggressive pace. Probably a little TOO aggressive for a climb that takes 40 minutes and boasts more than 800 steps that wind around in a zig zag up high inclines.
Pretty much immediately, the slight throbbing pain in my right knee (two ACL surgeries) told me to take my time. I convinced myself that I was just going to “enjoy the view” as the other people my age passed me left and right. The first ten minutes wasn’t that bad. The second ten minutes? No so much. I started doing that fake, “Oh look at that rock!” or “Check out this view!” as I leaned over, huffing and puffing, convinced that my right lung was about to explode in my chest. I’d ask my fellow climbers, one an 80-year-old man who is currently on the waiting list for a kidney, to take my picture at every curve we rounded. These were precious seconds that allowed me to catch my breath and chug down ridiculous amounts of water. I figure there were around 43 photos of me on the way up that mountain, which were all immediately deleted. Bless my heart, no one needs to the pained look on my face as I fake a smile.
Reaching the 30 minute mark, I almost decided to take up residency with the Bedouins who peddled camel tooth necklaces every 100 yards. I was resting against a rock in the blistering heat, when a nice lady offered me shade under her tent. I hoisted myself up to her blankets and sat down. She offered me tea and even let me bounce her baby (who was absolutely precious) for a few minutes before I returned to the mountain that knows no mercy. Another 1oo yards at the next Bedouin tent, a little boy tried to force, you guessed it, a camel tooth necklace on my arm. After graciously declining, he said, “That’s okay miss. Only five more minutes left. You come see me when you are done!”
If I could have felt my arms, I would have picked that little eight-year-old up and carried him on my shoulders to the Promised Land. This information gave me a new sense of strength! I readjusted my backpack, daintily dabbed the sweat from my brow and trudged on. The next Bedouin tent resident was an old lady smoking the largest joint in existence. I bet she had a few offers for it, but that’s neither here nor there:
Bedouin: “Miss? Miss? Something to take home?”
Lincee: “No thank you. I’m just going to the top of the Monastery. I hear it’s going to change my life.”
Bedouin: “Okay. Only five more minutes.”
HOLD THE PHONE! FIVE MINUTES WAS THREE MINUTES AGO!
Calculating the jumping distance on what it would take for me to fling myself off the cobbled steps into the death valley below, I am rescued by the sweetest angel this side of the evil mountain.
His name was Christian and he was the husband of sweet Heather from the other church in our group. I assume he sensed my internal struggle and clearly recognized my physical incapability to press on. He offered, nay, insisted that he carry my backpack the remaining five minutes.
I can’t tell you what a huge weight was literally lifted off of my shoulders due to the fact that my laptop, camera, 32 pound Bible and 17 Bedouin necklaces were weighing me down. I skipped along to the end of the path, light on my feet and sipping my water bottle with glee, while encouraging Christian to the top. I probably would have serenaded him with “Hero” by Mariah Carey if I had not been in awe and speechless at what stood before me.
Fifty meters wide and 45 meters high, it took my angel Christian and another jock dude from Faith Church to hoist (lots of that going on today) me up into this beautiful building to take a closer look. Sadly, it smelled like urine inside, so I opted to enjoy the majesty from a nearby rock outside.
A few minutes later, our fearless leader (who just had a hip replacement) and Henry (the gentleman waiting for a kidney transplant) walked past and invite me to come with them just beyond the Monastery to see Aaron’s tomb. Promising it would only take five more minutes, I was clearly either on crack or a high from the climb and joined them.
The view was breath taking and it was something I will remember forever.
I joined sweet Bonnie and Robert for the walk back down the mountain. Obviously this task was easier on the lungs, but much more strenuous on the ACL knee that was pleading me to rest, ice, compress and elevate. Bonnie and I talked about how riding a camel never sounded so good and we were relieved to find a herd waiting for us at THE BASIN exit.
Our three camels were tethered together in a group. Bonnie led the way and I brought up the rear on a black camel named ZaZa. Being that I’ve ridden a camel before at FCA camp in high school, I felt like a pro. Our guide Ferris said that she was the best camel in Petra and was considered a matriarch of the herd. She was also impatient. ZaZa insisted on being first in line and would annoyingly pass Robert’s camel Jack and try to make her way to the front of the line. Being tethered together, this made for some awkward maneuvering among our group. Robert’s legs would become wedged against his camel and mine, Jack would spit and hiss at ZaZa for not staying in line and I would often have to swing my legs from one side to the other as not to knock over Bedouin displays of Petra magnets and oil lamps.
We reached the Treasury and bid Ferris farewell. All-in-all, it was an amazing day at Petra and there was a moment in my quite time on the mountain that I will treasure forever. It was a true experience of a lifetime.
Together again: Once we’d showered and de-camelized ourselves, we joined our group downstairs for dinner and debriefing of the day’s events. Nancy Jane failed to bring up her camel-riding experience and Lincee was mum on her finish-out with the other 80 year olds in the group. No need to bring up anything that could find itself on the world wide web, right?
We closed out the evening with cocktails in the Jordanian-inspired hooka smoking room (no loyal readers, we did not partake) while Ali and his guitar assistant Mohammed played a repertoire of exactly three songs: “The Girl from Ipanema,” “God Bless the USA,” and “Every Step you Take.”
Conversation was light due to the fact that we were all nursing broken tail bones, camel horn blisters, swollen knees, sunburns, donkey rot and the inability to complete sentences due to a high from the secondary hooka smoke. All the girls looked really fabulous, however, in their camel tooth necklaces.
Truly, all in all, Petra was THE highlight of the trip thus far. Words cannot express and pictures will never do justice to the wonderment we experienced today. It is truly amazing to think that ancient civilizations came up with and carried out such intricate detail to architecture and city planning in the side of sandstone mountains. We are also completely overjoyed to experience the hospitality and kindness of the Jordanian people. They are just wonderful. Regardless of whether or not we ride a camel or hike the Monastery again, we will definitely find our ways back to Petra.
Side note: It’s 3:47 a.m. and we are currently listening to an Islamic call to worship ringing through the streets. Not joking.