Indiana would have been proud...
02.02.2010 - 05.02.2010 15 °C
Our trip to Wadi Musa from Aqaba was by local mini-bus, where we were joined for the two-hour ride two American Jewish girls who were weekending from Jerusalem, a Korean guy who’d also arrived from volunteering in Jerusalem (however much to his dismay he was assigned dishes for a month) and a bunch of locals. Jac had managed to haggle our fare down 20% but as locals hopped on the bus en-route, it appeared that us tourists were heavily subsidising the local price. C’est la vie. The way mini-buses work in Jordan is that you can flag one down at any stage along the route and jump on, and the bus was soon packed with men carrying several bags of blankets, sports bags and household items that they squeezed in with them.
Once in Wadi Musa, a dusty, hilly town, we avoided the hotel touts and checked into our pre-booked ‘Hotel Anbat II’, however were redirected to the next door (and much more plush) ‘Anbat III’. The town pretty much exists because of the nearby site of Petra, however being off-season, it felt a little empty. We paid a must-visit to ‘Cave Bar’, which was set in 2,000 year old cave tombs. No where else in the world can you drink beer and Dubonet and smoke algeela in the small alcoves that are as old as JC himself!
2,000 year old Cave Bar
We walked down to Petra from Wadi Musa (only a 15-minute walk away) and as soon as we reached the site, we saw smooth, yellow rocks and the hills are littered with holes, signifying 1st century AD Nabatean tombs. Our Lonely Planet informed us that Petra was the capital of the Nabatean people, who were Aramaic-speaking Semites. Some look almost Roman with classical-style ‘triclinium’. While we ambled towards the entrance of the imposing ‘Siq’or gorge, Bedouins on beautiful, sleek Arabian horses galloped past us.
Interestingly, at the Siq entrance we happened upon a Bollywood movie in full production - a beautiful Indian girl in bright peach sari did several takes running into the arms of her beau and being dipped for the camera, while Indian pop blared in the background. A couple of crew talked to us - one, a Jordanian, proudly told us he’s been involved in Hollywood movies for 20 years, including Indiana Jones, and gave us his business card. One to send to Peter Jackson, perhaps?
Only superlatives can describe the Siq. Impressive, imposing, majestic, towering, awesome… (an aside - Jac has just asked Chalky for a word. He thinks and goes: “…Big”.) You’ll have to see the photos to get a small glimpse of how terrifically ginormous the Siq is. We walked along the original Roman road through the 2km Siq in pure awe, gazing at the swirled red, pink, brown and yellow hues of the smooth rocks. We also spied the odd tenacious tree, growing stubbornly through the cracks in the rocks. The Nabateans were pretty clever people, as evidenced by several aquaducts cut into the sides. In places the Siq is wide, some 10m across, and open and sunny, in others it is noticeably cold and dark as the rock almost joins above our heads. As we walked we tried to imagine what it must have felt like for the Swiss explorer who discovered Petra after it lay empty for a millenia - he disguised himself as an Arab pilgrim who wanted to sacrifice an animal - and laid eyes on the magnificent Siq for the first time.
After each twist and turn we wondered if were ever about to emerge from the Siq, until the familiar sight of tourists standing and snapping gave the game away. At the end the narrow opening gave us a glimpse of the famous ‘Al Khazneh’, or Treasury, which almost seemed surreal at first, appearing through the darkened crack of Siq almost glowing in sunny contrast. However once we approached the opening, it suddenly loomed in front of us, a spectacular sight. We looked around us for any sign of Indie but sadly all we saw were Japanese and Spanish tourists jostling for camera position.
We spent the whole day walking around Petra, climbing all the way up to the High Place of Sacrifice and passing some poor beleaguered donkeys being struck by their adolescent owners along the way. The High Place was at the top of a flat mountain and bore the remains of the altar as well as platforms and deep baths. It started to get really windy and cold so we didn’t stay at the top for long. On the way down into the valley we stopped to have sweetened tea with a Bedouin woman. We gave her an orange and some cheese pastries, as she didn’t have many provisions with her. She gracefully accepted then, then shared her pastry among the ‘bis bis’ (cats) that kept her company among the ancient tombs. All the way back to the main path the craggy hills were dotted with old tomb sites. Most you could climb into and wander the darkened caverns, some unfortunately, smelled like someone couldn’t hold onto their pants fast enough.
At each of the main tombs the local Bedouin were selling souvenirs and ‘antique’ Roman coins and Nabatean artifacts. One old vendor we passed enthusiastically began talking to us in broken English and showed us a Nabatean coin that had a couple fornicating on it! Chortling, he pointed at us and then pointed at the coin, as if that would broker the sale. We laughed and replied ‘shukran, shukran’ (thank-you, thank-you, as in ‘no thanks’) and then he proudly told us he had 10 children and all from only one wife! We were suitably impressed and he asked us if we had any. ‘La-la’ we replied, and tried to explain that hopefully in the future, but adding ‘En sha’Allah’ for good measure.
All the climbing and walking worked up an appetite so we stopped to have lunch, which consisted of homemade cucumber, tomato and luncheon sandwiches on the ubiquitous flat bread, all prepared with the Swiss knife and melamine plates we bought in Aqaba. We tucked into our hearty lunch and we ate while perched on a cleft of a cliff, dangling our legs and watching the action below us. Certainly was the most scenic picnic venue we’ve ever had!
The day turned really icy cold and windy, so by about 4pm we decided to call it a day after wandering the tombs and Roman ruins, and taking photos of all the adorable Bedouin kids playing in the cold and selling souvenirs. We could have easily stayed longer, as there were more sights to see and hills to climb in sprawling Petra. Before we left we bought a few pieces of turquoise off a stall owner, who informed us that it would likely snow the next day. We walked back through the amazing Siq, then shivered back to our warm hotel. At the door of Al Anbat II we passing a mini-bus load of little local kids who all crammed themselves out the back window to shout "Hello, hello, hello, hello!" at us - the first of many warm Middle Eastern greetings we received.
As you can imagine, we took a billion photos but have tried to post a succinct summary of what we saw, but to say we've posted quite a few is an understatement!
Walking towards the Siq
Arabian horses galloped past us
Nabatean Obelisk or 'Nefesh' tombs, built in 1C AD
A Bollywood movie set
Entering the Siq
The Siq is 'THIS' big!
A glimpse of The Treasury
The view as we climb towards the Place of High Sacrifice
Made it to the top!
The High Place of Sacrifice
Jac by the Lion Fountain
A striped tomb on the way down
A Bedouin woman who we shared tea with
The Soldiers' tomb
Inside the Soldiers' tomb - fantastically swirled rock
The jolly (and virile, as he informed us!) Bedouin souvenir seller
Chalky infront of the many towering tombs
Our homemade lunch atop a cliff
Jac infront of an impressive tomb
A cute Bedouin kid, who was in love with his yellow elephant
Huddled in his father's jacket against the cold
"Hello, hello, hello!"