The plan for Jordan is two days at Petra. Three of us caught a taxi to the Petra Gate Hotel. It’s a very plain hostel. What the hostel lacks it is made up for by the hospitality of the proprietor and staff. A lovely man who couldn’t do enough for us. If you are ever in Petra you must stay here.
When we arrived they made us some gahweh; their traditional coffee in a small cup; very sweet and think. As someone who never drinks coffee, I did this time and it was wonderful. Very impressed.
The owner has a lot of Aussie backpackers stay and he has heard of Vegemite but never tried. Glad I had my tube of Vegemite in my emergency pack for him to try; he even liked it – he came back for seconds.
For the afternoon the owner drove us to Little Petra (Siq al-Berid) and picked us up two hours later. Little Petra is around 400m long; not as dramatic or extensive as Petra but well worth the visit. At the end of the siq are some steps that I climbed to the top for some great views. The area was very peaceful and two Bedouin people were there. One selling his wares and the other, I assume, his wife who played me a tune on her flute. The Bedouin are a nomadic people who live in desert areas within a tribal social structure.
Around the corner from Little Petra along a goat track for 15 minutes are the Neolithic ruins of Al-Beidha which date back around 9,000 years - one of the oldest archaeological sites in the Middle East. Abandoned around 6,000 BC, it is why it is still intact – ie latter civilisations never built upon it.
That evening I witnessed the most spectacular sunset I have every seen. Even the photos don’t completely describe the amazing view.
We drank marrameeya before dinner, also known as sage tea – black and sweet. I like sage tea.
We asked for “upside-down” for dinner when we arrived. It is a traditional meal for the area they call “magloobeh” which literally translates to “upside-down” as once the chicken on steamed rice with strips of grilled vegetables is finished, it is turned upside down into a shared plate.
It turned out that they cooked that meal the previous night, but they didn’t tell us so they cooked the BBQ Chicken for the other guests and a special dinner just for the three of us. They are the nicest people.
That night we did Petra by candles. We walked down to the famous Treasury building with thousands of others. Petra is often called the “Rose-red City” and the Treasury by night is a red glow.
The call to prayer from the mosque went out at 11:10pm and was woken at 4:20am. The mosque is just next door to the hotel.
That next morning I was up very early to be down to the Petra entrance just after 6:30am to get a good start. The plan was to get to the Treasury before everyone else and get a few good pictures, then onto the Monastery – more than 800 steps to reach.
I was one of the first to reach the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) that morning; construction is subject to some debate: estimates range from 100BC to AD200. Petra is overwhelming – carved ornate classical facades into desert cliffs.
Next impressive construction is the Theatre, built over 2000 years ago. It has a capacity of about 3000 in 45 rows of seats.
I then realized I had left my hat and sunglasses at the Treasury when I was taking photos – back I race. I return to find it gone and none of the locals (Bedouin) had seen it. I then ask a boy with his camel and he took me to his father who had my glasses. The boy then retrieved by hat from under a rug on the back of a camel.
I tipped the boy and bought a 30 minute ride on his father’s camel. What a ride back down past the Theatre to the low point (Qasr al-Birt) of the Petra area. Then I was off heading for the start of the track to the Monastery (Al-Deir) - 220m above the elevation of the Qasr al-Birt. To reach it requires the climbing up the spectacular ancient rock-cut path of more than 800 steps.
Similar in design to the Treasury but is far bigger (50m wide and 45m high) and just as impressive. Built in the 3rd century BC as a Nabataean tomb.
“It was once possible to climb up a steep trail to a point above the Monastery, but this is currently not allowed for the sake of preserving the Monastery and its tourists – with one visitor falling to her death a few years ago”. I climbed it – there were a few warnings that it could be dangerous – I just had to be careful with some huge drops.
At the top was another Bedouin and his tent. It was a black goat-hair tent (translated from Arabic as “house of hair”) where he lives his simple life (he was until recently an archaeologist but decided to go back to his Bedouin roots).
The Bedouin are known for their hospitality, I can confirm it is all true. I had sage tea cooked in an iron kettle on a small open fire. At was very hot and very refreshing.