Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Petra & Madaba, Jordan

Days 76-78, September 30th – October 2nd, 2008

From Wadi Rum, we were in no hurry to drive the 2 hours to Petra since we couldn’t check into our hotel until noon anyway so we lounged around the Bedouin camp just relaxing in the cool desert morning. Khaleid was back in the morning but it was obvious that he was much worse off than the last time we had seen him. He spent the rest of our time at the camp and the time on the bus to Petra doubled over and wincing in pain. Things didn’t get any better for him or us as the day went on. He continued to feel worse and worse and then some suspicious events started to happen. I am not going to get into all of them but most of the suspicion surrounded multiple changes to our itinerary. In Egypt, our guide Michael, followed our itinerary to the letter. Here in Jordan, with a sick guide, that has been a lot of confusion about everything that has been going on.

For two days, we were visited the sights and monuments of Petra. If you have seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you would know Petra as the location that housed the 800 year old knight and the Holy Grail. That must have been movie magic, though, because I saw neither.

On our first day, we visited a site called “Little Petra.” It is just outside of the main city and was used to house traveling merchants and their caravans. It was kind of like the business park of the city with hotels and stables. The building here were impressive enough on their own and I knew that the main city was dozens of times larger and more grand so I was very excited to see the main event the next day.

At Little Petra, Khaleid didn’t get out of the bus with us. He was too sick. Our guided tour of Little Petra turned into a self-guided walking tour with several of us trying to pull a few facts from any guide book that had been circulating through the group.

That night, Khaleid went to the hospital again. So, again, we were left guideless, in a foreign country, in the middle of no where, and with the biggest day of our Jordan visit ahead of us: Petra.

Petra is a city, founded by a people called the Nabateans, cut right into the limestone mountains of Southern Jordan. The Nabateans were an early nomadic Arab tribe that settled in the area of the Arabian Peninsula. The Bedouins that currently live here trace their ancestry from these people. They are also the only people that are allowed to live in Petra today though most now make their home in the desert or small urban communities.

The Nabateans settled here because the area that would become Petra sat in the middle of trade routes from all over the mideast They became powerful and wealthy from the control of these trade routes and with this wealth, built some of the most spectacular ancient monuments that survive in the present day. Many of the grand facades were carved as tombs or temples. Only about 25% of the area of Petra that was used for daily living has been excavated. The city is huge and covers at least 10 square kilometers. The Nabatean civilization was at its height from about 200 BC to 106 AD when it was conquered by Rome.

Since we had no guide, our tour agency tried to arrange another agency guide for us but couldn’t find one so the next morning, we met with a local guide, Akmed, for our tour of Petra. This is probably the best thing that happened to us in Jordan. Akmed is a Beduoin who was born in Petra and knows the city better than anybody. We definitely got a VIP tour. Not only did we get to see the sights that the other tourist did, we got to climb and hike to some places where there wasn’t another soul. It was an incredible day. We were scheduled to be in Petra from 8AM until 6PM and I thought it was going to be way too long of a day. I could have stayed for several more hours there is so much to see and do.

The buildings that the Nabateans built are pretty amazing. Imagine taking a sheer rock cliff and carving an entire 6 story building or cathedral right into the solid rock. That is exactly what the people living here did 2000 years ago. It is truly a wonder of the world. You also enter the city just like Indiana Jones did by going through a very narrow, winding valley. I heard several people, from my group and others (but not me, of course), humming the Indiana Jones music while walking through the Siq (the name of the valley).

Our last day in Jordan was spent driving northward, with some stops, towards our overnight stay in the town called Madaba which was Moab in the bible. It was an overall tense day in our group. Khaleid was not happy with us that we questioned him to the agency and we were not happy with him that we had to do it in the first place. The tension mixed with the fact that the trip was winding down really made for a quiet day. I think that almost everyone was looking forward to wrapping up the trip or moving onward to their next destination. Despite all of this, I enjoyed the day.

A highlight of the day was a visit to Kerek Castle, which was the last crusader castle to fall to the Muslim Army of Saladin during the crusades. Most of the castle is in ruins but it was still fun to walk through the few resorted areas where war was raged during the crusades. The highlight for me was the dungeon. As you can see, I escaped.

We also stopped by the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the face of the Earth, for a few hours of leisure taking advantage of one of the many spas that are along the coast. The Dead Sea has a salt content (33%) that is 10 times higher than that of the oceans. Because of the high salt content, there is absolutely nothing living in its waters (hence the dead part of the name). It is so dense and buoyant that sitting in it is like sitting a floating chair. You can float with your arms and legs straight in the air and it is almost impossible to put your whole body and head underwater. That’s a good thing, too. If you get any of the water in your nose or eyes, it hurts…bad. If you’ve ever got ocean water in your eyes, you know that it stings. Now imagine 10 times the sting. There is so much salt that it crystalizes out and sits on the shore like rocks. Also, the mud at the Dead Sea is supposed to be healthy for the skin so everyone sits on the shore and slops mud on themselves. People look completely ridiculous doing it but, of course, I had to join in the fun. I do have to say that after the mud bath, my skin felt….exactly like it did before.

Our last stop was Mt. Nebo, which has been a site of pilgrimages for millennia. It is, according to tradition, the last place in which the Israelites camped after wondering the desert for 40 years and before entering the Promised Land. It is also the place where Moses saw the Promised Land before him, wasn’t allowed to enter, and then died and was buried. From the top of Mt. Nebo, you can see very little green, a completely dead body of water, and a lot of desert. If I were Moses and had just finished wandering the desert for 40 years after battling a Pharaoh and God told me that the land under Mt. Nebo was my people’s birthright, I’d ask him if he had any other options. The only thing that I can think of that could be “promised” from that view is some thirst and a sunburn. Nonetheless, visiting here has been interesting just as it has been visiting so many other places that have been significant to history.

Tomorrow, my tour group continues to Amman, the capitol of Jordan. I won’t see Amman on this trip, however, because tomorrow morning, when the rest of the group moves on, 4 of us are hopping the border into Israel for the next and last part of my adventure.

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