Day 7: Fear and Loathing, and Distrust of strange taxi drivers, in Petra

Not much of what my parents say to me sticks, except ‘Be Safe’. That one stands out a lot whilst travelling, being the naive 18 year olds that we are.

And so, when a random taxi driver drove up to our AirBnB, insisting that he should drive us to the Israel-Jordan border to take us to Petra, we ardently refused. This was a normal taxi, a man whom we had never met before, and we, as scrawny, young Brits, evidently seemed to be the perfect target.

We booked the trip to Petra through the company which had taken us to Masada and Bethlehem; in these previous instances, a tour bus had picked us up, and naturally, we assumed the same with Petra.

“I’ll take you to the border, for free!”

“No thank you, we’ve booked a trip with a company.”

“Maybe they sent me.”

Ha. Of course not – we thought – as this, after all, really was a random taxi driver.

The taxi returned three times; three times, we sent him away.

After fifteen minutes, I called the company and asked where the tour bus was.

“Sophie, we’ve sent a taxi to pick you up and take you to the border, but it seems he hasn’t found you.”

At this moment, we knew we had made a huge mistake.

We were desperately hoping that our future-taxi driver would not be the man whom we repeatedly rejected.

Of course, it was.

The moral of the story? Trust strange taxi drivers….sometimes….

Luckily, the taxi driver was in very high spirits and found our embarrassing mistake to be hilarious. In the meantime, he had picked up another participant on the tour, Rachel – an Israeli living in Florida – and the two of them laughed at us, deservedly, in Hebrew for a good 5 minutes.

Rachel had never been to an Arab country before; it has not always been possible for Israelis to cross between Israel and Jordan. The Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty was only signed in 1994, resolving territorial issues that had existed since 1948. Interestingly, Rachel moved to America to study at college, and as she was about to return to Tel Aviv, she met her future Israeli husband at her Leaving Party – she and her husband stayed in the US indefinitely.

The process of crossing the border into Jordan has added a number of phrases to the list of ‘Funny Things Passport Control Guards Have Said To Gabriel’. (To be revealed on the 17th)

The drive from the border to Petra is about 2 hours and during this time, I was fortunate enough to be seated in between two extremely sleepy Spanish men, Juan Manuel and Borja. Thoroughly enjoyable experience. 10/10 would recommend to anyone.

We drove through the Wadi Rum desert, where ‘Martian’, ‘The Last Days on Mara’ and ‘Red Planet’ was filmed. If Mars turns out to look nothing like the Wadi Rum desert, we’ve all been screwed over.

Petra is one of the new Seven (Ancient) Wonders of the World. From the 1st century BC, Petra was the capital city of the Nabataeans – Arabs who specialised in trading. The city literally collapsed to its downfall when an earthquake struck in the 4th Century BC, and the city was subsequently lost and forgotten, except to the local Bedouins in the area.

Yet, in 1812, a Swiss explorer, disguised as an Arab himself, persuaded his Bedouin tour guide to take him to the ‘Lost City’. Since then, archaeologists have uncovered over 800 different monuments in Petra of such great significance that it would take months, perhaps years, to closely see and admire them all.

Petra is fantastically preserved; the Nabataeans were excellent hydrological engineers and built an 88m dam in order to divert the floods of Wadi Musa towards Wadi Al Mudhilm and Wadi al Mataha, away from The Siq. More recently, however, the Bedouins have been able to keep the city unpolluted and well preserved by banning cars. You have to either walk the 3km path, or take a camel, donkey or horse. We walked both ways. It was hot.

This is The Siq: the narrow gorge that leads visitors into the city itself. It was formed by a natural split in the mountain, lined by the 88m water channel, and once boasted an arch across the entrance.

This man on the horse below, standing at the top of the rock, lifted his arm so that another horse, all the way at the bottom, understood his signal and ran up towards him, climbing the slope of the rock.

As you walk through, eventually you see this…

Then you see this…

This is the Al-Khazneh, also known as the ‘Treasury’ in Arabic:

It’s Arabic term ‘Treasury’ comes from the belief that bandits would hide their treasure in the Urn on the second level, and indeed, bullet holes can be found on this Urn. Others, however, claim that he Urn once held the pharoah’s treasure during the time of Moses.

The treasury itself is 40 metres high and beholds mythological figures linked to the afterlife; the 4 eagles on the top were believed to carry away the souls in death, and Castor and Pollux, the twins who spent their time between the underworld and Mount Olympus, guard the entrance.

‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Transformers’ and ‘Tintin’ movies have also been filmed at the Treasury.

We asked to have a picture taken. Two things happened. Firstly, this:

Then, Juan Manuel, our lovely Spanish man, told us to jump – and this happened:

What is that?

That is not a jump. That looks like somebody has forcibly thrown me off a rock.

This is equally disappointing from Gabe, who is not jumping, but galloping.

Of course, I kept my cool and, from then on, judged all passers by:

Tradition is important too, no matter the situation:

We carried on to the Theatre, built at the bottom of the High Place of Sacrifice. The High Place of Sacrifice place of worship on a high rock, as the Nabataeans believed that the higher the individual, the closer their relationship to the Heavens. The Theatre can seat 4000 spectators. Beat that IPS.

Next to the Theatre is the Street of Facades; this is a row of Nabatean tombs in which the Bedouins sleep in, and in which some of the Nabateans were buried in:

Opposite the Street are the Royal Tombs, notably, the Urn Tomb, which was once used as a Byzantine Church. The Urn Tomb is the larger tomb at the top, with the four columns. The rock ceiling inside the Urn Tomb bears an incredible marble design.

The Bedouins are particularly impressive people; they work all day at Petra, either cleaning, or guarding, riding horses, or putting up with irritating tourists, like ourselves. They will race their horses down The Siq, and climb half way up the rock face, just for the fun of it.

And some Bedouins sleep up on the Urn Tomb itself:

It is a comforting thought that, despite so many centuries passed, Petra remains a home to many.

This, however, is not a Bedouin, although I would not have been surprised if he had wanted to sleep there for the night:

What these photos show is merely a mall part of the Petra that has been discovered. Archaeologists claim that only 15% of the original Lost City of Petra has been uncovered

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