Petra, the ancient lost rose city, filled with pesky Bedouin.
My first trip. What I wish I knew before. My second trip.
I’ve been to Petra twice. Both times ended in mild disasters involving horses, in fact I don’t even know if I can classify the first time as actually going to Petra. Petra is just over a two hour drive down from Amman. There are regular local buses that run which take longer from the city for a next to nothing price or if you’re tight on time a driver costs 100 JOD for a car per day. The more time that you have here the more you can explore all the tiny caves and cisterns and go off on the smaller trails, but 4/5 hours is sufficient to see and explore all of the main archeological sites.
The first trip
Waking up early to get to arrive before the blistering heat, me and my travel buddy Kerry were both heading down to Petra, both for the first time. The landscape and beautiful sunrise kept us awake and the strong local coffee brewed with cardamom was great fully received. We were stopped a couple of times by military checkpoints on the way down. The checks are mainly to ensure that the drivers have the correct documentation, but I was also told more recently that with all the instability only 40km North of Amman in Syria, they were keeping a very open eye out for any suspicious behaviour. Jordan as a country has never felt anything less than safe (and I’ve been very close to the Syrian border whilst visiting Jerash in the North).
Arriving at the entrance to the East of the Ancient City, we were swiftly greeted by a few Bedouin men with their horses. They told us it that the ticket included a free 2km horse ride down to the Treasury and were adamant that we took them up on the offer. Thinking it would save us some time we jumped onto the horses and our journey began, slowly. We could have walked faster. Oh well, part of the experience? 300m in you start to see the beginning of what was a thriving city, a pathway between the international trade routes.
It was here that our horsemen said we were about to enter the Siq (the valley passageway) that would lead us to the Treasury, but we could take the horses up through the mountains to see the Treasury from a “secret viewing point”. He showed us an example in a brochure, it did look cool. Queue scam, how much was this going to cost? They said they usually ask for 30 JOD each, but it’s a tip, if we enjoyed the experience we could tip, if we didn’t enjoy the experience we did not have to. Sure, why not?
Next thing you know we are walking up the side of a cliff on foot behind the horses because it was too steep for them to be carrying us. The poor horses really were in dyer need of some tending loving care, they stank and needed some good nutrition.
At the top we reluctantly got back up onto the horses, and then our Bedouin men decided to hop on as well. If that didn’t make us feel uncomfortable enough the proceeding serenading and “this is where we bed the western women” winner of a line whilst pointing at a cliff containing hundreds of caves certainly did. Then off Kerry flew with her overly keen horseman…
Luckily, another steep part where we needed to travel by foot. Kerry’s younger casanova waited with the horses whilst my more calm, family orientated man took us up the highest parts of the cliff to see the Treasury.
Whilst my guy backed off and was happy to lead on foot whilst I rode the horse, Kerry’s was getting a little too frisky sat behind her and was offering the world, his collection of 10 “pure bred Arabian horses” amongst other things for her hand in marriage. Things quickly turned sour and we were abandoned en route with no refuge from the blazing sun and 50 JOD worse off (tip money turned to ransom!). It was beginning to get really hot and we were absolutely nowhere near any trail or any other person. We walked for a few kilometers along the cliff until we saw a way down (the views were still incredible to be fair), and an hour later, through some back alley we had made it back to rear side of the Treasury. The Treasury from the ground level is incredible. It’s hard to find a camera angle that can either firstly fit the entire structure in, or secondly accurately capture it’s impressiveness. After our long detour it was time to head back through the Siq to find our driver to take us to the Dead Sea.
When we got back to Amman I did a bit of research and I realised that the Treasury was just the start of the Ancient City. The very start. Of which there is also a lot more behind, A LOT. Such as further on 5km through Ancient City there is the most impressive monument at Petra, the Monastery. Didn’t even come close. Collectively we’d paid £300 to travel around 4 hours each way to, well lets be honest, get harassed and look at the entrance. Oh and turns out, it is a place for sex tourism for Western women!
Things that I’d learnt;
- It’s a good idea to take a copy of your passport with you to show at the checkpoints. I always take mine with me when I’m on work trips and it allegedly removes any possible uncomfortable questioning.
- Don’t take the horse men! If you do, don’t go off the trail. You can also access the “secret viewing point” by taking a left once the Siq opens out to the Treasury and walking up the steps directly opposite. It’s faster to walk.
- Just say no, they’ll move onto their next victims soon.
4. There is also a whole lot more to Petra than the Treasury…
· Driver for the day 100 JOD from Amman (anything more is overcharging, anything less I’d question the legitimacy, but this is just a normal taxi — we got our hotel to arrange). A bus is 18 JOD return per person. Pros/cons; buses are scheduled and take at least 3 hours each way, cars are at your disposal for the day.
· Entrance 50 JOD per person.
· Obligatory tick in the box camel/horse ride-no more than 15 JOD per person is a fair price.
The second trip
Did some research. Made it a little further this time.
Second time round, me and my boyfriend set off for a more successful trip. Managed to stay headstrong past the Bedouin horsemen at the entrance, I had learnt from my previous mistakes and there was a 15km round trip that I was adamant on completing! It’s more probable that the real reason we were let off was due to the bus full of tourists just behind us who had vulnerable targets written all over them. It was nice to see that just a year later, the “Arabian pure bred horses” were looking a lot healthier, and the Bedouins had seemed to have all swapped their identities from Indiana Jones to Jack Sparrow (who knew that he too had roamed the deserts of the Middle East).
The passage to the Treasury, the Siq, used to be a waterway to Wadi Mousa, and thousands of years later after it had dried up the first explorers roamed through here such as Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo on their journeys from Alexandria up towards the Silk Road.
Walking towards the Treasury, with its huge stature through the Siq and impressive rose coloured sandstone was breathtaking.
Walking around the corner (literally) I was stepping for the first time into the interior of the Ancient City of Petra. The 5km walk through the city starting from the Treasury takes you past the tombs, and up the main central street where traders and their caravans would have been attending the daily hustle and bustle of this magical city. Be sure to explore the tombs, we were lucky enough to experience a group of monks who chanted to demonstrate the intense sound and echo created by these huge structures.
Getting to the end of the Colonnade Street we were confronted by my worst Petra enemy. An army of Bedouin horsemen trying to pawn off their prized possessions. We had to pass them to get to the Monastery. Apparently because of the taxing hike up (800+ steps over 230m elevation in 38 degrees Celsius) people generally took the horses up and then walked back down at their own pace. I was determined not to be ripped off, so denying their ever lowering offers off we went on foot, sorry Joe!
The road continued initially as it had been for the last 7km, dusty, well trodden and easy, soon to become difficult and soft sand. In the distance the peak of Mount Hor, said to be the burial place of Moses’ brother, Aaron. Whatever your beliefs, or non-beliefs are, there is a certain humbling and calming feeling that you encounter in this region. It’s baffling that there is so much hatred between people that has led to wars and crusades that have been carried out on these lands for centuries, and still continue to do so now.
We had been walking for about 20 minutes now and didn’t really seem to have gone upwards and had certainly seen no sort of steps. Being the gentleman that Joe is, he ran on to see if there was anything up ahead. It occurred to me that we hadn’t seen anyone since we declined the horses. Then shortly after two guys came my way, they asked how much further the spring was. I said I hadn’t gone up there yet and remarked on how quiet it was. One of the guys said that people probably weren’t interested in the religious spring, they’d rather go the other way and see the Monastery. Uh oh! I asked them to send back a slightly burnt American if they came across him. So 45 minutes after our first encounter, now pressed for time we were back to the army of horsemen, turns out we had missed the fork a couple of minutes in and there I was eating humble pie. Managed to barter the guy down to 20 JOD for both horses to take us up to the Monastery and all the way back to the Treasury — bargain! Except they weren’t horses, they weren’t even donkeys. They were mules.
These mules, they were something else. Awkwardly poised and ready to go, our two mules were directed by their owner to start walking. It would seem they didn’t know how to walk, they only knew how to scramble at speed no matter what objects or people, and there were a lot of people, were in the way.
Quite possibly one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. The road up the cliff was less than 2m wide with a vertical drop down one side and the other side that was against the mountain housed a selection of stalls selling trinkets.
I think collectively we took out about 8 of these. About 10 people too. We had to scream ahead “move out of the way, we have no control over these animals”. Feeling fairly relieved that one man’s fate of my mule was just to be flattened against the inner wall, I turned around to see that Joe’s mule just behind had gone in for round two and managed to completely destabilise the poor chap, team work? I’ll take my hat off to them, they knew exactly where they were going (mule owner no where to be seen), and a mere 10 minutes later we were at the foot of the 50m tall, 2000 year old Monastery.
You can’t describe this place. It’s simply extraordinary and the views over Wadi Araba just behind are equally impressive. After we had spent some time exploring the other tombs and cisterns up here it was time to head back.
Closing my eyes the entire journey down, I was happy to reach the flat ground with only a few grazes. The mules took us back to the Treasury, mine headed straight towards another poor tourist on the way who went flying, puzzling when there was a 5m clearing either side. Then whilst passing another noble steed carrying a 20 stone woman, it occurred to me that perhaps they were actually quite smart animals and just playing their own game of revenge.