Sure, sure, the title doesn’t really make sense. It should really be something like “Petra and the Obligatory Indiana Jones Reference” but that ruins the whole “Indiana Jones and the Something Something” trope. Is trope the right word? This entry isn’t starting very well is it? Is anyone still reading my words or have you all determined my mental state to not be conducive to good words in nice order, as it were?
Aaaanyway, if you did survive that, let me tell you about Petra and why it’s one ANCIENT WONDER that’s not an underwhelming disappointment. It’s actually bloody spectacular and impressive and all manner of other words that middle-schoolers struggle to spell.
Petra, if you didn’t know, is in Jordan, which borders Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria, all of which are countries you either can’t go to because of rebellion (Syria), won’t go to because of politics (Israel), are completely terrified of because of the 96% chance of getting shot at (Iraq), or you like making Muslim/Mohammed jokes and don’t think it’s a good idea to go (Saudi Arabia). So unless you’re on a ‘classic film set location’ pilgrimage or you’re a boring archaelogical nerd who gets a massive hard-on for old rocks, chances are Jordan isn’t at the top of your travel wish-list.
But it should be. Well, perhaps not top, and maybe not even top ten, but definitely pushing Mongolia hard for 17th place.
When you arrive to Petra and have made your way to the “main entrance” if you can call it that, your disappointment sensor is starting to whine. There are tacky gift shops and touchy-feely locals who want you to try a pony ride. Then you realise it’s going to cost you $85 for a one-day pass, or $90 for a two-day pass, and you know there’s no way this is going to live up to expectations.
I bought a two-day pass because I was here two nights and I didn’t have much else to do tomorrow and hey, I wasn’t going to be any more disappointed paying $90 than $85. Unless there was a killer fridge magnet for $5 that I then wouldn’t be able to afford. But that didn’t cross my mind at the time I reluctantly handed over more money than I’d spent in the last week for one piece of paper. It wasn’t even glossy.
I gave the ticket to the bored-looking man at the gate and entered the Petra site, although not Petra itself yet. I followed the path along to the canyon, taking a few photos of some nice-looking holes in the rock (you don’t get description of that quality on just any old blog, do you?). I was repeatedly offered pony and camel rides but I ignored them all.
The entrance to Petra itself is a long, winding canyon called the Siq, which Wikipedia reliably informs me is about 2km. Then the money shot. The reveal. The first sight of the Treasury in all its whip-cracking glory.
It’s stunning. Photos just can’t do it justice so I haven’t given you one, and nor can the silver screen and Harrison Ford battling villainous Nazis. The effect wears off when other tourists with swinging cameras accidentally elbow you in the face and yet another Jordanian asks you to go for a camel ride. That was when I went off the beaten path. The main route goes from the Treasury to the Monastery and is about a 20-minute walk, but I spied some hardy hikers heading up a side route and up high. I couldn’t resist. I filled up my water bottle at the public toilets, ignoring the “No! You can’t drink that!” from the cleaner, then started hiking.
I ended up walking for several hours, sweating worse than a 14 year old pale kid talking to his first crush, but I saw some of Petra’s hidden gems.
It’s these kind of sights that hundreds of thousands of tourists a year never see.
There’s a lot of nothing at Petra, smaller holes in great sheets of rock, and I’m sure there were some Nazi skeletons and crystal skulls inside some of the rock-holes but I didn’t have the time nor the inclination (nor the bottled water) to check them all. A lot of the place might be boring by regular standards, especially compared to the Treasury and the Monastery, but it’s the sheer scale of the boring that’s quite astonishing. The place goes on for miles and miles. I don’t think I even scratched the surface in about six hours of walking, although I did spend a good chunk of those six hours sitting down in the shade wondering where the hell I’d ended up and why the bloody hell I’d not just followed the other sensible tourists from point A to point B.
Then I found the other tourists and made the climb up to the Monastery.
Then I got bored hanging around the fat, panting Americans and found the following sign:
Well, I couldn’t resist. I followed the path to the top, feet aching, mouth parched, shirt crusty. The view was worth it though:
Then it was time to leave. There were a few other bits and pieces to see but I was dead on my feet so I headed for the exit. Only, I wasn’t going back the way I’d came. Ghassab, my Bedouin host, who I mentioned in a previous post, said I could walk from Petra to his village. I asked a water-seller which way and headed off. Big mistake.
I ended up so far out in the desert landscape, completely lost, more exhausted than I’d ever been in my life. I was waiting for a Tuscan raider to rise up out of the sand and kill me. I genuinely thought I was going to pass out. Stumbling through soft sand in 30C heat after a day’s hiking, with no water, and with only a rough idea which was the right way, is harder than I can describe. Imagine a fat woman with asthma wading through a kids ball pit while in a sauna.
I did make it out alive, just, and I was quite annoyed that I realised I could’ve walked to Petra cross-country and not paid $90. Grr. But it’s definitely worth the money, you just have to put in what you want to get out of it. Spend the day hiking and you’ll discover some hidden secrets of an ancient civilization; follow the tourist trail and be content with spending your time shuffling around so as not to get strangers’ heads in all your photos. Your choice.