Thursday, 7 July 2011

Indiana Jones? Pah, he's got nothing on me... Exploring Petra


Ever since I first set eyes on it's rose facade (or, probably more accurately, when I eventually tore my eyes away from Harrison Ford and noticed it in the background...) in The Last Crusade, I've wanted to go to Petra. I knew nothing about it at the time, not even it's name - I wasn't even sure if it was a real place, but I needed to go. It took many, many years, but when we booked our flights to Jordan, it was obviously top of the list, and our first destination after Amman.

Being the relaxed, reasonable traveller that I am, I woke up at a natural time, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then wandered down the entrance to the site. Patiently buying my ticket, I excitedly went in.

Hang on. Wait a moment. This is me. Me, the person who got just a little *cough* um, competitive on the final day of the Inca trail and almost destroyed herself racing up to the sun gate. Combine that with my Petra-related dreams, and 'patient' was never going to happen. Let's recall what actually took place.

The entrance gate opens at 6am. At 5am my alarm went off. By 5.20 I was ready to go. 5.30, and we were at the gate, standing right by the ticket booth. When 6am rolled round, there was no sign of the guard, and I am rather ashamed to admit I was getting jumpy. A group had arrived, who had clearly offered their guide extra if he got them in first, queue or no queue. When the guard finally came, they got their tickets and started in. However, they had not counted on the competitive nature of a history buff. Ticket in hand, I dashed through the entrance gate, F in tow (grumbling all the way!) and overtook the group. With the sun barely up, it was still gloomy, and we decided to hot foot it down to the start of the Siq, the famous rock-walled walk to the Treasury, and then talk a slower walk back along the entrance kilometre at the end of the day.

Arriving at the start of the Siq, the other group were far behind and we slowed down to soak up the atmosphere of the walk through. The colours were incredible, pale oranges turning to vibrant reds as the light began to hit, an echoey canyon made even more atmospheric by the silence. Seeing a first glimpse of the Treasury revealed by a crack in the rock parade was impressive, and as we stepped out we were amazed that we'd managed to be the first there.


There was just a sole cleaner around, and one stall holder, as we wandered around the space and took in the rock-hewn building. The treasury was just as impressive as I'd hoped, and after snapping a *few* photos, we sat on a bench to admire the view. Digging around in the backpack, I pulled out my prize possession - an Indiana Jones hat, which became the object of it's own personal photoshoot in situ . Geeky? Well, maybe just a bit... After around 20 minutes, we realised that no-one else had arrived. It was now close to 7am, and we were still the only ones. Another 20 minutes and no other visitors. We couldn't believe our luck (and I felt a little silly about becoming impatient - a lesson learnt!). We finally tore ourselves away, hoping to continue to take advantage of the quiet.


Walking through to the main city alone was amazing, and as many of the stalls hadn't begun setting up yet, completely hassle free. After admiring the main central buildings and the current excavation area (and still not seeing a soul), we decided to climb up to the Monastery, which we'd heard was even more impressive than the treasury. A popular viewing spot for sunset, we realised that the chance to see it alone couldn't be put off.

The climb up wasn't too difficult, although the heat was already beginning to beat down on us and it was a bit of a trudge, and we spent a lovely twenty minutes chatting to a guide and a stall holder near the top. The guide explained that the combination of low season and the recent troubles in the Middle East had resulted in much lower visitor numbers, and the tour groups arriving later. The incredible still and silence that we had revelled in was an awful downturn in fortunes for the locals who relied on the tourist income.

As he had no clients, the guide offered to accompany us up to the Monastery, giving some information on the way. We completely expected to pay him a little, but on arrival, he waved and disappeared. This generous spirit was going to characterise the rest of our trip. The Monastery is an extraordinary building, sitting majestically high above the site, surrounded by desert below. We climbed up to the higher viewpoint, and sat for a while taking in all the details.

At last we saw a few people making their way up, and we started the hike back down, ready for a cold drink. After a break, and the filling up of the site with the arrival of the tour buses, we made our second hike, up to the High place of sacrifice. A hotter, more tiring climb that we should probably have tackled later on, rather than at lunchtime (!), the view was fantastic but our legs were beginning to complain, and we were pleased to make it back down in time for another cold drink and a bit of shopping.


Finally heading out of the site later in the afternoon, almost 9 hours since we arrived, we passed back via the treasury, finally swamped by crowds, the stallholders looking at a lot happier at the increased business!

With a final glance, we turned back down into the Siq and the famous building melted out of sight.

Well, temporarily at least...

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