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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

11/1: Carriage Races & Donkey Taxis in Petra

Eating a lovely breakfast in the large hotel restaurant overlooking the village of Wadi Musa prepared us for another long day of hiking and climbing at Petra. Our goal for the day was to see Petra’s most awe inspiring monument, the Ad Deir or Monastery, located about 6km one way from the Visitors Center. To reach it though meant retracing our steps from the entrance all the way through the Siq canyon, past the spectacular Treasury where we oohed and aahed again, to an area of Petra beyond what we’d reached the previous day.
As you can see from the following photos, I loved seeing and hearing the carriages roar past us through the canyon. I wondered how often there are crashes as they go at breakneck speed with only the sound of the horses’ hooves to warn others of their imminent arrival.

Returning to the canyon meant seeing it in a different light and also viewing items for the 1st time like this water drainage system.

This sand bottle business often was the busiest enterprise in the park and usually had a throng of people admiring the complexity of the sand designs that even had camels, the sun etc inside. They were really works of art.

I had talked to both of these Bedouin females yesterday so I was glad to see them again today and also to be remembered by them.
 Photos of the Nabatean Theater I mentioned in my last post but didn’t include the pictures.

First up was the imposing Colonnaded Street, which led through the city center, and was, in its heyday, flanked by temples, public buildings and shops.
We next saw Qasr al Bint, probably the main temple of the Nabatean capital, and the only freestanding building in Petra to have survived centuries of earthquakes and floods. The size of it was overwhelming as you could walk in it and around it to look closely as every detail if you wanted unlike the other monuments at Petra that are built durectly into the cliffs and rock faces.An added bomus for us too was that there was only one other tourist there when we arrived and he soon left  so we had this huge temple to ourselves to appreciate.
Brown University has contributed a good chunk of both money and professional services toward the restoration of Qasr al-Bint.

Getting to the monastery involves doing one of the most taxing hikes at Petra. It was daunting realizing that we had roughly 800 steps to climb after walking about 3 miles in order to reach the summit. But walk it we did, disregarding the pleas of the countless donkey drivers who kept asking every few steps if we wanted a ‘taxi’ to the summit. Below is the ‘Donkey Station’ located just before you start climbing all those steps– it’s really called that, I’m not kidding!
The Petra Archeological Authority has recently developed the ‘Care for Petra’ campaign urging all visitors to Think Before You Act by not touching or standing on the monuments; to Think Before You Buy, especially from the children who were everywhere hoping to sell a sealed pack of 14 postcards for only 1JD, ($1.40) which keeps them out of school where they belong; and finally Think Before You Ride as animals may look strong but have limits just like humans. The silhouette in the brochure showed a rotund ‘John’ who should have considered whether the animal can take comfortably take his weight. We were constantly reminded of the last ‘rule’ as we sadly saw many very plump Americans riding the small donkeys all the way up to the Monastery. We had never seen such a brochure and just wish that it was publicized a thousand times better than it was at Petra and that a similar brochure be adapted for other sites around the world. Sorry, that was my rant for the day!
Interesting seeing this whitest of white rocks which was unlike any we’d seen that size.

Steven on Step 2 of over 800. I wonder if he’ll look quite so perky once he reaches the top!

 Polish girl: another very unusual bench photo for Pat! This metal one was really bent in the middle!

It was quite disheartening seeing how many donkeys were abused by their handlers, being kicked and hit with sticks repeatedly. If the thought of ever riding a donkey for any distance ever entered my mind, it immediately disappeared after witnessing such inhumane treatment.
Once we finally got to the top, the Monastery was -  what can I say that I’ve not already said so many times already in these many posts – beautiful, breathtaking, awe inspiring, you name it and every superlative would aptly describe the fantastic view in front of us. It has a massive fa├žade almost 50m square, carved from a chunk of mountain nearly an hour’s climb and 220 m above the elevation of the visitors’ center. 

We sat our weary bones down on the fairly comfortable padded benches mesmerized by the view in front of us as we snacked on raisins, apples and soft, sweet dates I had bought at the big market in Jerusalem several days before.

Guess who!
As we ate, we noticed a man had somehow climbed to very near the top of the Monastery in, what appeared to be to any sane person, a certain death wish. Nobody knew whether to keep watching or avert their eyes. Somehow, the idiot did manage to safely get down though.

Walking to the Monastery or anyplace in Petra always entails having to run through a gauntlet not only of donkey or camel handlers, young children selling the postcards, but also coming face to face with almost exclusively older women selling pashminas; the Arab keffiyeh or head covering first familiar to Westerners when it was worn by Yasser Arafat and available not only in the traditional red check but also in other colors; plus jewelry of every shape, form and description. These stalls, or really shacks if I’m being honest here, were located every 30 or 40 feet as you climbed up to the Monastery and likewise yesterday as we ascended the High Place of Sacrifice. Upon approaching them, the women would plead with us, in almost perfect English, to look at what they had and please buy from them. They knew that few tourists would want to buy anything on the long way up to the Monastery, so they said “We remember you on the way down.” Little wonder that the 800 plus steps took longer than it ‘needed’ as it was impossible for us to ignore ALL their pleas! Only one way down, i.e. the same way we had come up, so we couldn’t help but seeing the sellers again who again gave us their sales pitch, saying that the number of tourists was drastically down due to the war in neighboring Syria and its spillover effect in Jordan.

An unusual garage!

Instead of just returning to the visitors’ center, we decided to detour via the impressive Royal Tombs that were carved to house the tombs of Nabatean dignitaries. Steven climbed up to get a much better view of them but I decided to give it a pass and meet him back at the Treasury.

My last carriage shot at Petra – I was sad but Steven was thrilled not having to wait one more moment for me to get the ‘perfect shot.’

After so many hard slogs up and down mountains and zillions of steps the last few days, we enjoyed sitting down to a delicious meal in town before returning to the hotel. Jane, the manager, told us she’s from New Zealand but had left there years ago to live in the West Bank until moving to Jordan several years ago. She explained that the recent influx of Syrian refugees has caused Jordan to be the second driest country in the world based on the amount of accessible water per capita – something neither Steven nor I had realized. She also told us that Jordan’s economy is based on tourism first, mining of phosphates and lastly medical services. She said that people come from all over the Middle East for medical care in Jordan.

It was sad saying ‘goodbye’ to Petra as we had a wonderful time visiting the ruins of the ancient Nabatean civilization for the last two days. We were looking forward, though, to going to Jordan’s capital city of Amman early the next day as it hopefully meant we’d not have to do ANY more climbing of steps and mountains!