Finally, after talking our heads off about it for weeks, months before we even left for our ten-month world adventure… Lorna and I sat in a mini-van, driving along the Kings Highway in Jordan with a very exciting destination in mind…
We made a few decent photo-opp stops along the way, and the sheer vastness of the dusty-orange landscape did nothing less than make us more excited to get to the ancient lost-but-now-found city.
Now. Keep in mind that driving from Madaba to Petra pretty-much has to be done by taxi. Yep, you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. There’s no decent public transport system; no buses or trains. However, it’s not too expensive. If you stay at the Mariam Hotel in Madaba, it’s about $20 AU each to catch a taxi to Petra and takes about three and a half hours. The scenery is breathtaking.
Apparently you can catch a bus and go the only other way from Madaba to Petra, that being the Desert Highway, which is half as long but a quarter as pretty. I wouldn’t recommend it though as what we saw was more than worthwhile.
Petra is the name given to the ancient archaelogical cut-rock-architect city built sometime around the 6th century B.C. Wadi Musa is the name given to the modern city that’s sprung up around it for tourists. And it’s in Wadi Musa where you’ll stay in a hotel. However, don’t be fooled when booking accommodation on-line, you don’t want to stay in the inner-city of Wadi Musa, you want to stay as near to the public entrance to Petra as you can. If you stay in the main town, you have to get a taxi to and from the entrance every day and, trust me, they’ll know you’re not going to walk that more than once and they’ll take your money. At least four times, up and back, and then you’ve blown what you saved on the cheap-arse hotel to begin with.
If you’ve got money to burn or want to stay in a flashy hotel, first of all you should buy one of my books and second of all you should stay in the Movenpick. I’ve heard it’s bloody amazing and only one minute walk to the entrance.
However, to get the most out of Petra you’re going to be hiking, non-stop, for two days starting at 8 a.m. each day and returning about 4 p.m. Why blow triple the money at the fancy-shmancy Movenpick when you can stay at a more-budget, yet comfortable place like the Sun Set Hotel, which is where Lorna and I stayed and is only ten minutes walk to the main entrance.
That being said, we met some people who were staying in a few other hotels in the area, for a little more each night, and they seemed a little better. But the Sun Set did the job.
Okay. So you wake up for your first day’s adventure and eat the free breakfast at the hotel and get over the fact that they serve olives and cucumber. You drink the instant coffee and wonder why you bothered to leave home. Then you remember this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you smile to yourself as you thank god you packed a small tuna sandwich lunch, bottle of water and camera in your small backpack the night before. People stare at you as you walk out of the breakfast area to your room, where you grab your bag before leaving the hotel to begin your ten-minute walk to the entrance of the magical ancient city.
The initial entrance doesn’t look like much and it stings a little when you pay the entrance fee of $70 AU for two-days entry. And this is what you want to do, trust me. You need two full days or you’re wasting your time.
Initially you’ll walk through the tiny, cheap white-bricked building and still think you’ve been stung. This is normal. Keep walking past the little stalls where people will try to sell you a whole heap of crap you don’t need and give your ticket to the guards at the gate.
Your ticket entitles you to one free horseback ride, either now or on the way back. However, the guy giving you the horse will lead the horse the whole way and expect a tip at the end. If you’re into horses, it’s not a bad way to start the day. Camel rides are fun too, but will cost you. They say 15 Dinars, but you can get it for 8 if you haggle hard and walk away from them about four times. Lorna and I didn’t bother with a horse or camel on either day, but if you’re over fifty years of age, you should probably have a go at least once. You’ll need the energy. Still, even if you’re bloody eighteen and play football, it’s a large hike. You’re going to walk about ten to fifteen kilometers each day, and half of that is climbing small mountains.
Don’t be scared though, when you reach each of the amazing cut-rock temples, you’re going to spend some time soaking in the incredible scenery that you very well may never-again see in your whole life. Make the most of it.
As you walk down hill to start your adventure, you’ll see some small rock houses and chapels on the left and right of you. Don’t spend too much time stopping with the other lemmings or taking too many photos… you’re going to need the space on your camera for much better things and you’ll never look back at these shots.
You’ll walk a few kilometers before anything interesting starts happening. Eventually you’ll come to a Police outpost and you’ll see the entrance to an underground cave on your right, down a bit of a dip and the start of narrow gorge-walk through tall natural mountainous walls on your left.
Although the underground cave entrance takes you to the same end-point, to the first famous cut-rock formation you’re gunning-for, it is now deemed too dangerous to venture down. At some points, we were told, the tunnels and gorges only allow a one-meter wide pass to climb through and large boulders are in the way that you have to clamber over. Sounded like fun to Lorna and I and a decent challenge.
We initially trotted off down toward the entrance to the cave, as one hundred other people in a group stared at us and couldn’t believe we were veering off the beaten-path. But, then the Police-post men came out and told us off. They said no one is allowed to go that way anymore. Well, not in English, but we could figure it out from their flailing arm movements.
So we walked the kilometer-long gorge (called the “siq”) with the hordes of other tourists. It was hard to get a decent photo, because there were so many people, but…
…the thought of an ancient civilization living and walking this route over two thousand years ago, as they made their way to the secret, hidden rock-city, takes the oxygen out of your lungs. In a good way.
And the anticipation builds as you round one last corner and dodge the horse-and-carts speeding past you…
To finally see the Treasury with your own eyes. And it’s just as mind-blowing as people say it is.
A bunch of Hellenistic architects came together just before the 1st century B.C. and thought, Yep, this’ll be a great spot to carve a temple out of the side of the giant rock face.
Although it’s called the Treasury, it is said that it was more realistically a temple or royal tomb, in its day. A few hundred years ago the local Bedouin believed pirates hid treasure inside the temple and also in the urn located at the top of the structure. Hence the name (Al Khazneh) Treasury sticking ever since.
Speaking of the urn at the tippy-top. Locals used to shoot bullets at it to try and break it to release treasure they believed to be hidden inside. You can still see the bullet marks today.
After gazing at the Treasury for what seemed to be an hour, Lorna and I walked onward until we came to more temples. One in particular really struck me, because it had the features of a doorway, but the doorway still had its rock-face in tact, there was no hole, so you couldn’t walk through it. When I was in Egypt, local Egyptians told me that any rock surface that looks like a doorway, but is still filled in, but looks like a doorway, is actually a closed-doorway. They are doorways, I’ve been told. But only spirits can walk through them.
About a hundred metres onward from this closed doorway, appears an eery looking set of stairs leading up a small rocky mountain. If you weren’t looking for it, you could walk right past it and head on to see the old Nabatean theatre, about a kilometer down the road.
However, I say don’t worry about the theatre yet, because you’ll see it on your way back from… dum-de-dum-dum… The High Place of Sacrifice!
This is the point you should take your bottle of water out and have a skull, because you’re going to need it. And that’s exactly what we did.
After walking a few kilometres up steep slippery, rocky stairs…
We came to a fork in the road and passed two giant obelisks on your left.
After checking out the obelisks, we went back to the fork and took a right and walked up more rocky stairs and were amazed when we reached the top to finally find…
The High Place of Sacrifice!
It is said that animals were sacrificed here to the gods. The blood would collect in the alter on the left.
The center alter would have been used for burning sacrifices. Although no evidence of fire is left to be found.
As for human sacrifices… 300 kilometers away, south of Petra in Saudi Arabia, at another carved-rock-city site called Meda’in Saleh, there’s a Nabataean inscription which reads “abd-Wadd, priest of Eadd, and his son Salim, and Zayd-Wadd, have consecrated the young man Salim to be immolated to Dhu Gabat.” And some people believe if there were human sacrifices only 300 kilometers away, perhaps there could have been some at the High Place.
After you’ve felt the energy of the High Place of Sacrifice, there’s a walk that takes you down the other side of the mountain and around it, where you’ll see some cliff dwellings and more temples…
And then you should make a right toward the theatre (although you’ll be tempted to continue left, if not totally exhausted), where you’ll see the Tomb of Kings in the distance.
If you’ve got any energy and sunlight left, check them out.
Then make your way back toward home, walking past the theatre.
This is when you start feeling like taking up an offer to ride a horse or camel back to the entrance. It’s not a bad idea actually.
And you’ll walk past the treasury again and the sun will be daring to set. And somehow you’ll leave it, looking back over your shoulder as you stumble back through the siq.
Once you make it back to your hotel room, take a shower and then head-out to get a decent bite to eat at one of the restaurants you passed on the way home.
Then get to bed early because the next day you’re going to be doing it all over again!
Today, after cramming olives and cucumber into your gob for breakfast and sucking down the powdered god-awful brown-liquid-crap the hotel staff call coffee, you have to make your way back to the entrance. I hope you remembered to pack another lunch. We found buying bread and tuna and bottles of water made a better lunch than you could buy from the rare cafes located inside the ancient city. And I do mean rare. Which, is good anyway. There should be none at all.
We walked back down the siq…
…to the Treasury… and it felt like we were seeing it for the first time again. It’s that magic.
This time however, we walked past the stairs that took us to the High Place of Sacrifice and headed on past the theatre. We kept walking and followed the path around the corner, where we passed a pistachio tree on the right that is said to be 400 years old.
We kept walking and on our left we passed the Palace Tomb, which is worth a quick look.
Why is this article coming across more as a videogame walk-through rather than a travel blog?
After we visited the Palace Tomb, we walked down a two-thousand year old stone path, and past a flashy out-of-place restaurant that should be knocked down. If you’re so-inclined though, this could be the best coffee you have for a while.
A visit to the adjoining museum is a bit of fun, but nothing compared to what comes next. Still, they’ve got the last remaining remnants of statues and artifacts from the temples and tombs of Petra in the museum, so we had a quick look.
The walk to the Monastery is large. I’d say a little bit further and steeper than the one you did the day before to the High Place. But it’s just as worth it when you finally catch the first glimpse.
Lorna and I sat at the cafe (yes, another bloody cafe at this amazing site) and ate our home-made tuna sandwiches. And they weren’t happy about that, so we bought one of their pretend coffees.
And we stared for about half an hour at the Monastery. And Lorna sat in its doorway. Before we headed for higher ground to get a different angle on it.
And then we had to walk all the bloody way back to the entrance and nearly died after the two-day marathon.
If you’d given me just one day’s rest…
I’d do it all over again. And I’m sure Lorna would too.
Rob Kaay is an Australian author and musician.
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