Petra – a place I have always dreamed of going. I was like a child in a lolly shop, so excited for the geology, the ancient history, the carvings, tombs, culture of the Bedouins and the sheer magnitude of the place. So this post has a bit of photo bombing in it! But I am not apologising, this place was amazing. Looking back now, it was a baptism by fire experiencing Petra on Day 2 of our study tour. The combination of the amount of walking, climbing, sweating and heat meant by the end of the day I was struggling. I have never sweated so much as I did that day – 35 degree heat, around 25,000 steps and 850 steps (1.5km) up to the Monastery. I thought I had prepared myself fitness wise for this trip…but not dealing with the heat as well!
After an amazing buffet breakfast at our hotel, we got our gear together for a big day walking through the Petra gorge. It is about 10 km long, probably more close to 12 km if you walk to every attraction.
The first km or so was fairly open, with some holes in the rocks that would have originally been tombs. They created them in the rock so that when they buried bodies, they didn’t touch the sand. As you meander down, there are ornate carvings in the rocks, some tombs have fancy surrounds and some tombs are very plain – just a hole. There are plenty of bedouin people with horses, donkeys and carriages hoping for a customer to pay to be taken in.
After the first km, we entered the gorge part of Petra (called the Siq). This was lovely as it provided much needed shade on a 30 deg day. This path meandered around and through, some parts wider than others, with plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
The rock formations are simply amazing. The action of rain has eroded the rock, leaving many layers of colours, different shapes in the rock, and the beautifully carved-out gorge. Along the edge of the path are in-built channels where water can flow down in the big rains. On this day, it was hard to imagine a lot of water flowing down the gorge, but it does. At different times, it was fun to get the sunshine coming in at the right angle, giving colours that were rich and glistening.
Walking through the Siq gorge, we had to keep our ears listening for horses, donkeys or carriages that would come down the path. The carriages come through quite fast, and tend to have bells on them to give some warning. The Bedouin people are all along the trail, men and children, trying to make eye contact, trying to sell something to you. This is their living. This is their means of survival in a harsh countryside.
Nothing will top off seeing the first peek of the Treasury. The rocks pull away, and in the crack of the gorge in front of you, you see the fabulous pillars emerge. This place is traditionally called “Al-Khazneh”. It was a city of the “Nabatean Kingdom” (established 3rd C BC, and conquered by the Romans in 106AD), inhabited by the Arabs in ancient times. This elaborate temple was carved out of the sandstone rock, originally to serve as a crypt. Such a beautiful place, with camels, donkeys and horses waiting for passengers, Bedouin men, women and children with jewellery and postcards hoping for a buyer, and this awe inspiring temple frontage right in front of us.
After a group photo, and purchasing some jewellery, we kept walking past the Treasury, past some temple relics, and ended up about 4 km in at a restaurant! Never have I been so pleased to enter an air conditioned building! This place served the most beautiful buffet – it was bliss!
After lunch, we made the decision whether to amble back to the hotel, or go adventuring with the main group to the Monastery (“Al Dayr”). At the last minute I decided on the Monastery because hey, I was here, and it was there, and I had come a long way.
It was a 1025km climb, 800 steps and many merchant stalls on the way. Donkeys would take paying passengers to the top, but after buying some jewellery at the Treasury, my cash was low, and I didn’t really trust the donkeys with the sometimes steep and narrow path. I chatted with Tony, Dan and Tash along the way, each giving the other much needed encouragement. I remember back to a funny moment which was not very funny at the time…Dan got up to a corner and said ‘ahhhhhhhh’ – implying we had made it to the Monastery. We made it up to that corner, and found out we hadn’t made it, and he was kidding. It is now funny, to think back! One thing we had to watch was, if we stood in the shade of a merchant stall, they would sometimes ask for $$ to take advantage of their delightful shade!
A long, puffing, hot, sweaty, complaining story later…we made it! What a sight. It was so huge, it was hard to take it all in. There in front of us was an amazing frontage, carved out of the sandstone. And just like the Treasury, it was built as a crypt – a Nabatean tomb. There was a stall at the top, selling all sorts of cold drinks and divine lovely shade. I resisted a coke for $5 US dollars, but thought about the revenue that the stall would bring in! Good on them!
After taking in the view, we ambled back down the stepped path, struggling a bit in the heat. The other group climbed up to a sacrificial site, but a lot of us just ambled back to the hotel. I ran out of water with 2-3 km to go, so was feeling it pretty bad. I chatted with Tony a lot of the way back – he was very gracious to share his water with me! We both were struggling with cramp despite downing loads of water and electrolyte, I was definitely at my limit of having had enough, but pushed through with determination. It was so wonderful to see the entrance gates, as our hotel was right there. We went straight away to a stall and bought electrolyte and sat in the foyer of the hotel chatting with others who had just made it back. A couple of litres of water and electrolyte later, I had a divine cold shower and got changed for dinner. There was not a lot of socialising that night, we all crashed in bed, but with some fabulous memories to cherish, and for me a real sense of accomplishment.