I have done it—I have made the long-awaited journey and now I bring you my tales of peril and adventure from the ancient lands of Petra.
Again, we left bright and early, and thus were not all that pleased to hear that we were walking to the site. Ah, well—it’s good for us, right? So we walked into the hills, presented our tickets, and entered together.
Welcome to Petra, home of the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans are a fascinating civilization, coming into power late in the first century before Christ. They had relations with the Romans and Herod’s clan and were influenced by both Roman and Greek—but their capitol was entirely unique. Nothing in the world compares with Petra. But wait on that a moment—we have to get there first.
As we came close to Petra, signs of civilization were immediately present. Caves riddled the rocks in the hills, and many of them had openings far too symmetrical to be man-made. The stone façade of a family tomb complete with four obelisks greeted us on one side. After a short walk in the open country we entered the Siq—a narrow sandstone slot canyon. The faded remains of what was once an archway were visible above our heads. An aqueduct ran all along the wall beside us, clear up the canyon. Along the way, our tour guide (Yad—more on him later) pointed out several shrines to local Nabataean deities. He showed us places where Nabataean soldiers would have guarded the canyon, waiting on the rocks for anyone who attempted to enter the citadel unwelcomed. At the last of these stops, our guide made us stop, stand in four lines, and proceed with our heads down. I tripped and so by accident I looked up too early, before he told us to—and gasped at the sight. Before us, through the mouth of the slot canyon, the Treasury was visible.
Picture the last scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when they come through the little canyon and see the hidden palace-like structure. That’s what I saw. Exactly. Plus camels and a gift shop and eighty-plus BYU students. Our guide filled us in a little more, then we were set free for the day. The whole day. That has never happened on a field trip setting before. I stuck around the Treasury a little longer and paid three dollars to ride a camel. Katie rode one as well, tied to the one I was riding—just a little circular jaunt in front of the Treasury, but it was still very cool and made for a great photo op.
After that we both attached ourselves to a small group (including Mary, Jay, Bethany, and Katie Church) and we went off to have an adventure. We wanted to head up to a hike to start the day, but en route we also stopped off to see a few smaller tombs. In one of them we took this awesome picture:
Our first trip was up through a canyon (not slot—the normal variety) to see another amazing tomb called the Monastery. [Note: The Treasury and the Monastery are neither treasury nor monastery at all. Both were probably tombs for ancient Nabataean kings, but both have been misnamed over the years. The Treasury is rumored to have held the treasures of one of the pharos of Egypt who visited Petra. None has been found inside, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was true? I don’t know where the named Monastery came from, so I won’t guess. Note over.] The hike was some fair uphill over mostly sandstone. At one point after crossing over the crest of a high sandstone bluff, a couple who had been hiking ahead of us turned around and asked us if this was in fact the right way. We informed them that we did not know and that we had been following them. They informed us that they didn’t know either and that they had been following us. Great. We ended up yelling down to a local woman at a booth, who directed us how to get down and back on the right trail.
When we finally did get to the Monastery I was beat, but keeping up alright at the rear of the group (a moment’s rest in the shade and a drink of water did just the trick). The Monastery was magnificent, just as amazing as the Treasury, but hidden in this secluded spot. After a few minutes of photo shoot, we climbed to a viewpoint on a high hill right next door. The view was unbelievable. Canyons and cliff sides plunged deep into the earth on every side, all pink and orange and golden sandstone dotted with the greenery of bushes and low trees and sage—and with the wonder of the Monastery just nearby. It was well worth every moment of the climb. Mary interviewed each of us with her camera, demanding our spiritual experience for the day based on our experience thus far. Favorites included “stand on a firm foundation” (mentioned right after Mary nearly fell off a wobbling rock while filming) and “Don’t ride the donkeys!!!” (Brother Jackson’s eleventh commandment for the trip—the trip up the canyons on a donkey is dangerous, it would seem).
We got down with forty five minutes to spare before lunch, so we wandered around a complex of less well preserved but still magnificent tomb structures, taking pictures and admiring the view as we went. We did lunch at the Petra Basin restaurant right by the small visitor center/museum area, then decided to hoof it up to the High Place (the pagan sacrificial area). We had been assured that it was a shorter hike than the one to the Monastery, so we made the attempt.
|This is a shot from lunch--Mary's "I have hummus and I am in Heaven" face.|
My assessment of the hike to the High Place: Shorter than the Monastery hike? Yes. Easier? Not by a long shot. The entire hike was straight up stone stairs, winding and switchbacking up the sides of another steep canyon. By then I was already tired from our previous escapades, so I was struggling some to keep up. Fortunately I had good friends like Bethany and Mary who were willing to huff and puff along with me towards the back of the group. When we got to the top, the view was great and we could feel a breeze again, but I was spent—my head was throbbing, I was hot and panting, and my water was running very low. I sat right down on the sandstone to try to revive a little, and Mary came to join me. When I asked if I might take a little of her water (mine was gone and I was pretty sure I was getting a little heat exhaustion) she handed me her smaller bottle and said “This is yours. Except the bottle—my charity doesn’t suffer that long.” I laughed so hard through a mouthful of water that I started coughing and nearly got sick (though not all the way, thank goodness). She sat with me for a while ‘til I felt better and was more myself again. Then we joined the others and proceeded to sacrifice Jay on the high altar:
The hike down was much more pleasant than the hike up, and we spent the time talking about cars (specifically how Mary couldn’t remember the make and model of hers) and bicycles (my sad story about halfway losing mine, and Mary and Katie’s dismay at realizing that they own exactly the same kind). We made a quick stop off at the gift shop, then headed back up the siq (I did so without Mary and Katie and the others—I lost track of them after the gift shop, so I jumped in with a passing group and picked up with them again at the end of the canyon. Apparently I gave Mary a bit of a scare trying to fine me. Sorry, Mary!). Included with our ticket was a horse ride from the mouth of the siq to where the buses were waiting, so I paid another couple dollars as a tip and took advantage. It was a good time.
|To Brother Jackson: it is a horse, not a donkey.|
As we waited for the buses we sat on the street of a little market place outside of Petra. I bought myself some ice cream for a dollar and enjoyed a moment of rest. I wondered if I could possibly be any luckier—having a grand adventure, then finishing the day in the warm afternoon sunlight, watching the colorful merchants selling their wares and eating strawberry sherbet. I submit that I could not.