Madaba and our first day in Petra

Due to the short amount of time we have to explore Jordan (nine days), and due to the fact that I have to get to the Israeli consulate before we return to Israel, our days have rarely had more than an hour free (not including time spent sleeping).

On our first day in Madaba, we visited numerous churches and archaeological sites. We began by visiting St. George’s Church, in which the oldest existing map of Palestine can be found – all done in mosaic. As the place names were written in what seemed to be Greek, we had a look at the life-sized copy outside that pointed us to the important points on the site: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Mount Sinai, Jericho and the tombs of various prophets. It was wonderful once we knew what we were looking at, and even more magnificent considering the age of the mosaic: made in 560 A.D.

Following the magnificent mosaic, we headed to the Madaba Archaeological Park, where we were let in by a little old man and we explored various ruins and some interesting and pretty (but not extraordinary) mosaics. We then ambled through town back to the Church of St. John the Baptist, where we had listened to the baroque concert the night before, and visited its small photo museum and looked, once again, at another wonderful mosaic – this time a reproduction. We also headed down, beneath some buildings, into some cavernous rooms that made up the old church that the new one was built upon. We were then taken down to an ancient well from which water was drawn for the church. The lovely man who showed us in then opened the door to the bell-tower for us and let us climb to the top, where we had a wonderful panoramic view of Madaba.

Our final destination inside Madaba was the Madaba Museum. This was our first unpleasant interaction in Jordan, where the man at the ticket office tried to sell us tickets to three locations, one being the Madaba Archaeological Park. When we told him we had already been and that we had tipped the man, he told us that he would open up the museum for us – unofficially – and take us around. He then took his place as impromptu tour guide, interrupting my mother when she would read from the book, stating “I am tour guide” but saying nothing more than “this is original.” I was unable to fully enjoy the museum because of his demeanour and, in fact, was rushing a little to get out. There were, however, some mildly interesting displays of pottery and folk art. For me, the most interesting part was the small room that showed the different traditional attire of people from around Jordan. We all left feeling that our experience had been marred a little bit by his behaviour, and I was especially offended by the fact that he had stroked my mother’s cheek and tried to grope her.

However, the day ended well, with a short drive and walk to Mount Nebo, where we looked at the view over the Palestinian West Bank and Israel. Unfortunately there was some fog, but we enjoyed ourselves and met a very nice young man and his wife who spoke to us a little bit about Jordan and their lives here. We then watched the sunset from our car in a parking lot near Mount Nebo that was littered with broken glass. There were a number of Jordanian families watching the sunset and making small barbecues, but we remained in the car so my parents could enjoy a beer without causing offense.

We ate in a charming little restaurant, Adonis, where the mezze was very good and the brick walls made for a lovely atmosphere. It was really a wonderful end to a wonderful day.

The following morning, we were up bright and early to hop into our car and head to Petra. We decided to take a slightly longer route, via the Desert Highway instead of the King’s Highway, to see a little bit more of the country. As we almost always do on our holidays, we parked our car over an incredible view of some gorges and sat down for a little picnic. Unlike in Indonesia, there were some children nearby who left us alone to enjoy our meal, which was very pleasant. The one visitor we received was merely curious and wanted to know where we were from, but he quickly left.

The road wound through Wadi Jadid, Wadi Hidan, Wadi Mujib, Wadi bin-Hamad, Wadi Hassa, the Dana Nature Reserve and Wadi Ghuweir. The views were stupendous, but we didn’t stop very often as we wanted to arrive in Petra at a decent hour. At one of our stops, a man kindly came offering us Bedouin tea flavoured with cinnamon and cardamom, and his brother (the owner of the Grand Canyon who we are sure he called) drove up and began speaking to us. He was a very sweet, friendly, funny guy who ensured that his brother continued to ply us with tea and coffee and provided us with some very entertaining conversation. By the end, he insisted that I pick a bracelet that he claimed was made by disabled people from a community nearby, but I pointed out that it had a Chinese stamp in it. “No, the stamp must be from the mould! It’s real silver made by disabled people!” he insisted. “It’s not Chinese, it’s Arabic!” my mother affirmed (although I remained skeptical), so we ended up paying a whopping 15 Jordanian dinars for the bracelet and the tea. Of course, when we arrived at our hotel in Wadi Musa (near Petra) and checked, it was a Chinese stamp and there was no silver stamp. However, despite being ripped off there were no hard feelings – it was a learning experience and everything happened with a big smile.

In Wadi Musa, we moved into a large room at the Petra Moon hotel and watched the sunset from the roof. We then ambled to the near-by restaurant strip looking for somewhere to eat and were sorely disappointed. We sat first at the Sandstone Restaurant, but we couldn’t stay because the tables and the menu were so filthy. We finally settled on The Red Cave, where the atmosphere seemed nicest and the menu seemed to have the most interesting vegetarian options. However, food was mediocre and the price was higher than in Madaba.

This morning, we were up bright and early and headed down to the entrance of Petra at 9:00am. We bought 3-day tickets and walked through the Siq, which was magnificent, to the Treasury. Walking down through the gorges took our breath away and we couldn’t stop exclaiming about the colours of the stone and snapping one-hundred-and-one photos of the same rock. Seeing the Treasury for the first time was awe-inspiring, and we craned our necks to get pictures that showed the entire structure in an attempt to capture its magnificence. We then headed around the Treasury past numerous tombs with magnificent facades and up a slightly strenuous route to the High Place of Sacrifice. The view from above was breathtaking, with vistas across the mountains and most of Petra and from where we could see numerous facades that we probably will not manage to visit.

We decided that the cliff on the High Place of Sacrifice was the perfect place for a picnic and had a wonderful, hour-long break.We then headed down an equally strenuous route on the other side of the mountain to the Garden Hall, which we reached with my legs shaking.

We wandered through more gorges and along more dirt paths, stopping occasionally to play with cats, until we reached the City Center. Tired and a little bored, we didn’t explore the area and headed instead down to where we were able to hire some donkeys and mules to take us up to the Monastery. It’s no secret that I love donkeys, so when I was finally able to clamber onto one and was told that her name is Laila (one of my favourite names), I was borderline ecstatic. My mother laughed most of the way up because she said my comments (“Good girl Laila!” “Laila you’re so smart!” “Donkeys are the best animals ever!”) and my elation were reminiscent of a twelve year old girl. At the top, we were once again astounded by the magnificent work on the facade of the Monastery, as well as the view from the nearby cliffs which signs proudly proclaimed to be the “top of the world” and the “best view in Petra.”

Our guide with the animals, Suleiman, was a very interesting and lovely Bedouin man who peppered our ascent and descent with anecdotes about tourists, lessons on camel training, and occasional outbursts of song. He told us about an American girl who had come to Petra for a day, uninterested in speaking to any of the local people, and ended up staying with his family for two months; he showed us numerous caves in which Bedouin families still reside, inside Petra; he told us about the agreements that the Bedouin and the government had come to about housing twenty odd years ago; and he gave my mother a lesson on horse posture (which she already knew) and my father a lesson on capturing and training camels. Finally, he arranged that we end our evening with a beautiful ride to a nearby Bedouin village, instead of back to the Treasury.

We set off when it was still light, but eventually were riding through the dark, witnessing the colours in the sky change against the rocks.

The village was absolutely unlike what we’d expected when we heard “Bedouin village” – we expected tents and the like, Orientalist assumptions – and arrived in a village with big houses, mini markets and perfectly paved roads. Suleiman then arranged for a driver to take us back to our hotel in Wadi Musa for five dinars, and so ended our wonderful first day in Petra.

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