Saturday, January 11, 2014

Petra

Day One at Petra in Southern Jordan

If you've ever seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you have seen one of the better known monuments at the ancient archeological site of Petra. The giant monument seen near the end of the movie is carved right out of a huge cliff face and you first approach it down a long, narrow and winding canyon. There are many many structures carved into the rock here, but this is the first one of real signficance you come across walking into the park and it's called the Treasury. As you come toward the opening where it lies, the canyon narrows even more, but you can catch part of it in the background hinting what is to come. When you get there it all just opens up like a stage production. It's magnificent. Its ancient and you can see/feel that immediately.
My first Camel ride
Coming out of the canyon slot and seeing the Treasury in the background for the first time
The facade of the Treasury structure. Note the people in front for scale.
Sitting in front of the Treasury building. Think I'm wearing every piece of clothing I have here to stay warm.
The first evening I arrived in Petra and the adjoining town of Wadi Musa I was treated to an incredible sunset which I watched from my huge balcony at the hotel. I was extremely fortunate to get this room as there are only two like it in the whole hotel which is literally 100 feet from the park entrance. You can't get any closer than this. My hotel - The Petra Guest House also plays host to the Cave Bar, which is quite a destination here and cut right into the rock face.  The people at the hotel have been amazing, kind, generous and super informative.
They also told me I should go on the Petra at Night tour/walk that same evening as it wouldn't be repeated during my time here. It cost 12 Jordanian Dinars (about $16+ USD) and turned out to be wonderful. Once past the park entrance, there are small tea light candles lining the entire mile or more of path down through the canyon and opening at the Treasury (see above). It's just sublime. The weather was very cold that night and ended up sleeting/raining once I got down there, but didn't take away from the experience at all. They played and sang for us all once everyone had gathered and were sitting on the steps or portico of the Treasury structure.
Sunset from my hotel balcony
The town of Wadi Musa at Petra
A sea of lights in the open area in front of the Treasury structure 
Night sky sitting inside the Treasury portico looking out
Continuing down the path past the Treasury, the canyon opens up again and you start to see more and more variety of structures lining the cliff faces all around. Some are low and many are up on higher tiered cliff bands. Some look pretty inaccessible at first glance and it's hard to believe that people with basic tools and technologies could work these miraculous structures into the rock like they did.



If you want to visit the Monastery and higher view points at Petra, be prepared for a long steep walk or an interesting donkey ride on these narrow and winding trails carved into the rocks and canyons toward the far side of the park. I chose to walk, since I virtually always do and was rewarded with so many incredible sights and experiences you would miss if you just zoomed by on 4 legged transport I think. It's that whole slowing down and stopping to smell the flowers sort of thing. Not that it wouldn't be fun and a little exciting near some of the steep winding precipices along the way.  It would indeed!! I chose to take a camel ride later in the day when I could cover ground I'd already been through on foot.
Colored rock bands and patterns all swirled together by time and nature 
One of the most amazing things I came across were these gorgeous swirling patterns of color and shape made entirely by naturally colored rock bands pushed and moved around by time and geology. Though they look 3D, the colors are all flat and generally are fairly large. The photos here each probably cover an area from about 8 to maybe 12 feet. I could have stared at these all day long. So many endless variations and so much beauty. You can't paint this stuff.
This is on the ceiling of the Museum Chamber. It's all natural rock.
My shadow on the patterned rock in a smaller adjoining chamber
When you get to the top where the Monastery is, you find several other signs for Best View or similar and paths going in different directions. As is turns out, they all have very cool views as well as a hut with people selling tea and conversation at the very tippy top of each. That actually brings me to one of my only complaints about big tourist sites including World Heritage place like this and they all have it. There are so many people and little stalls everywhere selling all manner of souvenirs, maps, snacks, tourist crap etc. that it really begins to impact the experience after a while. In some places, you can walk along for quite a distance and decline the same offer for the same thing one after the other. This is even after they see and hear you talking to the previous person peddling the exact same thing they are.
It can be very persistent and while I always, but always deal with it outwardly in humor and lighthearted conversation, inwardly it can definitely be wearing. I struggle with this because while it is very distracting for me, at the end of the day I get to go home and they do not. They are just trying to make a living and stay fed and clothed in mostly very poor conditions and economies. Many of these sellers/peddlers are kids and that is hard to see wishing they were in school and studying for better opportunities for their futures. I cannot judge and try hard not to. It's tough for me though.
Store souvenir kiosk along the path up to the Monastery. Lots of these on the trail.

Up near the summit and you can see the weather moving down and creating cool atmospheric conditions for experiencing this amazing place. The structures carved into the rock are huge, old and monolithic. You can see part of one person in the top picture above for scale.



Path up to the Monastery
Path coming down from the Monastery
Anyway, the variety of ancient man-made structures, natural geologic wonders and other experiences here is endless. You could spend days here and only scratch the surface. I have 3 days here and it seems very insufficient.
The Artist in me sees the sublime beauty and aesthetics everywhere, both manmade and natural. The Historian appreciates the ages, lives and stories here while the Climber in me just wants to scale this incredible rock for the next 100 years (no climbing allowed though). An amazing experience all around and I feel blessed once again to be on this journey.  Now for Day Two here...