E-Travels With E.Trules.....petra, the cliff notes version, Jordan,Middle East, Middle East, Malaysia,Sandinavia, SE Asia Travelogues

« petra, the cliff’s notes version »

june 25, 1999

petra, jordan

okay. i’ve driven the kings’ highway from daybreak and finally arrived. without incident. petra. rose colored city of the nabateans. the one must see sight in all of jordan.

by eight o'clock, i've changed some money with an ATM card at the local bank of jordan in wadi musa, eaten a quick continental breakfast (even though i'm on a different continent), and i've paid my twenty dollar admission to the once-lost, but now very-found, ancient city of petra. in fact, that's my first impression of this great triumph of the ancient arabic world - it's now the voracious and commercial disneyland of modern day jordan. i mean, there are a lot of people here. busloads and parking lots full. i automatically feel my anti-tourist antennae flare up. but c’mon, what did i expect? how many times can you hear about the fantabulous-ness of a place and then not expect to see people there to enjoy it?

well, people there are. i feel like i'm making my way down the two and a half mile fissure in a continuous, unbroken caravan of human cargo. there is a pedestrian lane for most of us camera-toting common shutterbugs, and there is a camel lane for the adventurous and more materialistically endowed. young, bronze-skinned bedouin boys walk the camels down with their sedate, overweight tourist loads, and then gallop them back up in the "return" lane in a swaggering display of adolescent machismo. it's part of the show, and makes us hoofers smile.

at the end of the towering, wind-sculpted “siq” (the only entrance to the city) lies “khazneh”, or "the treasury", petra's greatest memorial to the gods of the dead. sculpted with the pain and ingenuity of human hands only, it's nearly impossible to fathom the amount of labor and dedication it took to carve these gigantic, several hundred foot raw mountain walls into such delicately-ornate and aesthetically-pleasing temples to the gods. it can't help but remind you of the power of the egyptian pyramids at giza. or of the mayas’ temples of the moon and sun at teotihuacan near mexico city. but here, five centuries before the birth of christ, this formerly nomadic arab tribe, the “nabateans”, settled into this naturally fortified and spring-fed valley and carved this monumental city out of the raw, rose-colored sandstone of arabia. inspired by greek, roman, and egyptian architecture, and then lost for centuries to all but a small inhabiting bedouin tribe, petra was rediscovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer named burkhardt. fortunately - or unfortunately - depending on how you see it - it has since been re-leashed upon the world through the glamorous big screen adventures of indiana jones and through the well-worn pages of every middle eastern guidebook written in the twentieth century. and with the friendly israeli-jordanian border still open to backpackers and fat cats alike, petra has not been lacking for visitors.

well, i'm here. and rather than indulge my already easily-provoked touro-phobia, i proceed further into the scenic and historic canyon. from the main path, i see “djinn” (ghost) caves, sacrificial altars, royal tombs, triple-arched roman gates with giant corinthian columns, palaces, tombs, winged temples, and even a column (“zib faroun”) sculpted into a pharaoh's penis. ahhhh, those clever pornographic nabateans. my favorite stop however, is into a little refreshment cave where a couple of red-kaffia-ed hashemites indulge my touro-sarcasm by trying to get me to buy an admittedly over-priced bottle of water and some post cards. "have a cup of tea, my friend. no charge. and buy a few more postcards - for your girlfriends back in america." i laugh with them, ask them several questions about their lives down here in the caves of petra, which they answer either truly - or falsely - it's hard to tell - and i do - buy some more postcards and an overpriced bottle of water. at least these dudes have a sense of humor about the whole touro-trade. they make me feel real and human again - instead of like a wallet or a commodity. at least, for a moment.

it's still early afternoon. i have a decision to make. i can continue on deeper into the bowels of petra, more off the beaten path into the sprawling wadis and desert splendor of the naked canyon itself, or i can tramp up the sik with most of the gang. i thought i’d be staying overnight in petra, but now with my still growing touro-phobia, i consider my options. first off, i'm once more without a sleeping bag. it will be dark by the time i hike in, and i'm not quite prepared for any further unknown discoveries of the desert night - without at least a veil of protection. second, i haven't really apportioned enough time to immerse myself into any one place in my three day, whirlwind, see-it-all drive-through of jordan. i mean all i heard was "petra, petra, petra"; i didn't really expect to find such a rich, fascinating and beautiful county. anyway, my time and rental car are running out, and another place - further south - is calling me - urging me on.