Rick’s Petra

We barely knew what to expect going to Petra. We’d all only really seen pictures of the “Treasury”, an extraordinary building cut into a tall face of sandstone rock. We’d heard from others that the “city” and general site was far more expansive and even more impressive than just that one iconic representation. No words could prepare us for the vast amount of work that had obviously gone into creating such a “wonder” as Petra. After two days of walking around, constantly open jawed in abject shock and appreciation, I really believe that Petra should be reconsidered as the Eighth wonder of the ANCIENT world. It is every bit as remarkable an achievement as the original seven.

We booked a guided tour for our first half day, which was invaluable. Not only did he describe what everything was and how the society had lived, but he took us to some outstanding out of the way places. He not only showed us some great places off the main paths, but positioned us for many great pictures and unique photo frames of parts of the city and/or ourselves. His insights and little “side” stories were very worth the extra $75 for us four to join the 10 person tour.

After our tour we wandered around by ourselves for the latter half of the day. It was nice and relaxed, but still our feet all hurt by the end of the day. I know it’s a good day when our feet hurt… The entire city “site” is very extensive and clambers up and down and around a few valleys in the area. There are a huge amount of caves all over the place. The entrance of the city is called the “Siq” and is a long (1.5ish KM) twisty, narrow rift or canyon. The sandstone colors and swirls are absolutely spectacular, not to mention the carving of a water trough all the way down to supply the city. The Siq comes to a “T” intersection at another canyon right at the treasury. The Treasury “building” is most widely associated with Petra and was the final scenec of the third Indiana Jones movie. It’s use is still hotly debated today. Only two floors show, but the canyon floor is said to have about 7m of silt & sediment washed down the canyon by a breach in the dam at the start of the siq that was left unrepaired for about 100 years. Our guide from the morning had been a senior archiologist several years previously and detailed the lower excavations of a couple of tombs in front of but below the existing floor of the Treasury. This is one of the few large buildings that was carved into the cliff face with a large countersunk distance into the face to protect the facade from water runoff during the rainy season. It was shocking to see recent (in the last several years) photographs and videos showing huge rivers of flash flood water running down the wider canyon in front of the treasury. That wasn’t half as surprising as seeing pictures of snow in the city! This included in front of the Treasury and even all throughout the city.

The central area of the city is just a little past the exit point of the main canyon that houses the Treasury and several other equally tall and majestically carved buildings. From this sort of central point we could see cave holes littering all of the mountainsides in every direction. There seemed to be no end of them if we zoomed in with the camera or used the binoculars. Many more large carved buildings into cliff faces could be seen all up and down this valley, as well as into two adjacent valley’s. There was only one “built” building still standing due to centuries of earthquakes in the area. This was only because it had horizontal wood beam “buffers” built in to the walls every 4m or so up the stone block face. Most all of the caves and large rooms carved into the mountains were still in remarkably good condition though.

The Bedouin people were all moved out of the caves in the mid 80’s by the government. A whole new town was built for them only a few kilometers away to live in. Many still make the daily trek into ancient Petra to sell animal rides, or all sorts of trinkets, or to just beg.

We spent a few hours off the regular beaten track hiking around a small mountain and exploring the incredible sights. We used one 1.4GB disk in the camera each of the two days we were there. That fact alone speaks to the spectacularness of this ancient city, never mind the fact that I was really restraining myself. Many vendors and four ridiculously expensive restaurants lined the wider valley. Some locals were offering donkey and camel rides for outrageous prices as well. A two minute ride in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza near Cairo was only $2. In Petra a two minute ride was $15!!! I knocked them down to $7 each for the two kids, but still felt badly for missing out on the (shockingly) much more reasonable prices in Egypt. Additionally many local Bedouin kids were found along various trails with an interesting collection of rocks picked up around the area that they were only too happy to sell to any passing tourist. We also passed by a few Bedouins living there who offered us to sit down and have tea. This would probably necessitate a tip afterwards, but the offers were very friendly and genuine unlike in Egypt. One vendor was selling a book about his mother who was a New Zealand tourist in the 70’s who married a local Bedouin guy. She settled down into cave life, cooking all meals over an open fire and they had two children together over the years. He supported them by selling trinkets and souvineers to tourists. Claudette bought the book and is quite captivated by it so far. Alex will read it next and then we’ll send it home.

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