Wednesday, August 12, 2009

7 Petra, Jordan

When we told people that the Middle East was on our agenda, the suggestion that came again and again was Petra, and it certainly lived up to the hype. The entrance to Petra, after paying the whopping $30 entrance fee per person at the gate, is a path that descends between massive rock formations with walls several stories high. It's a spectacular way to enter the ancient ruins, with just a bit of sunlight streaming through to highlight the beautiful colors and features of the stone. And then suddenly: the Treasury! This is the first of Petra's many ornate buildings and structures carved from the red rock. There is a main path through Petra that one can take to see many more structures like this that is both easy to follow and a very flat, though a bit dusty as our shoes can attest.

There are also a few steeper climb options--which of couse we did--to explore some more isolated sites and get fantastic views. One took us to the Garden Tombs and Tomb of the Soldier, another to the Royal Tombs that tower above the main path. And then there is the popular hike to the Monastery. This building, like the Treasury, has impressive columns, window facades, and other architectural details purely for aesthetics and not function. The path there boasts 800 steps, though Patrick only counted 719.
Exploring Petra was an unforgettable experience, but also an oppressively hot and exhausting one. It probably didn't help that we were visiting in August. Thus there is a huge business in animal rides around the ruins. When we first entered we were bombarded with offers of horse rides to the Treasury. Then it was donkeys that would take us all the way up that 800 step path to the Monastery, followed by camels back to the entrance. The smell alone was enough to deter us from these options, but it definitely seemed to be an increasingly popular mode of transportation as the day wore on and visitors grew weary.

Wadi Musa, the town that surrounds Petra, is made up of small restaurants, markets, and plenty of hotels to house the visitors to Petra. We stayed at the Cleopetra (get it?). A small hotel about a 20-minute walk uphill from the site, the Cleopetra boasted hot showers (sometimes), ensuite bathrooms and breakfast included for $30/night. We arrived at around 11pm on our first night and were offered the "last room", which was small, dark, and unfortunately did not have pillowcases or a fan. The bathroom was the size of a closet with a shower head positioned at the far end. We were used to no shower curtains by this point, but having no distinction with the bathroom floor was a first. Also, the wall was so close to the toilet that you had to sit on it sideways. But we made it our Petra home anyway. We will say that what the Cleopetra lacked in comfort and charm it made up for with its very kind and friendly staff. That night of our 11pm arrival, with most restaurants in town closed, the man at reception scrounged together some pita and cheese for us to have a makeshift dinner. And he also arranged a ride for us with his uncle to the Amman Airport on our morning of departure for less than taxis were charging.

That ride, filled with stories about neighbors and children, was just another interesting form of transportation to add to our list. We had some crazy times in cabs and buses while in the Middle East. In order to get from Dahab to Petra alone we took a bus to Nuweiba, Egypt, a ferry to Aqaba, Jordan, and a taxi to Wadi Musa.

The ferry ride was new territory for us. It was advertised as the "Fast Ferry" but in the end we learned by fast they meant really, really slow. Upon arrival at the ticket counter we learned that the preferred method of payment was US dollars. It was pretty embarrassing and mildly ironic being the only Americans among those buying tickets yet the only people without US dollars. After going through security and wandering around the port for a while, we finally found the place to go through passport control. Unfortunately all the officials were on lunch break so we joined the crowd waiting for them to return. We were getting impatient since it was 1pm and the ferry supposedly left "between 2 and 3" according to a security guard but luckily the officials finally strolled in seemingly very satisfied from their meal.

Our passports now stamped with shiny new exit stamps we bustled through ready to board the ferry but instead found ourselves held in a waiting area before boarding began. We were told boarding would begin at "3 and a half". Well 3:30 came and went and there was no movement. At this point people were sleeping on benches, kids on suitcases. Every now and then the large man that appeared to be running the show would make very loud announcements to the crowd. The content was of course lost on us since he would yell in Arabic but judging the reactions of our fellow hopeful passengers it seemed as if he was alternating between important information and some sort of stand-up routine. It was after 5 when we piled into a cramped bus that took us what couldn't have been more than 100 yards to the boat. The ferry finally departed around 7pm.

We learned a lot about patience in the Middle East. Nothing was efficient, systems and processes seemed nonexistent or unenforced, and everything just took a really long time. Basically if you think something will take X amount of time...multiply that by 3 or 4 and that's how long it will take. And there was nothing we could do to help our situation. So we relaxed, took it in stride, and just figured we'd eventually get where we were going. And we always did.

On that last drive from Wadi Musa to the airport, the uncle asked us what we thought of Jordan. We said we liked it very much. He then asked how many kids we had (this was a very typical question we got in the Middle East). We told him none yet, that we'd only been married a month. He told us, "When you have three children, then you come back." We look forward to our return.

View more pictures from Petra here.


  1. Hi,
    I have plan to go to Petra this week and wondering if you have recommended tour guide for Petra. Thanks! :)

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