Petra and Wadi Rum

This country is, as Suleiman said, mocking the English, “fabulous.” The people are so very kind and helpful – even the cops – and of course, the scenery is beautiful. Our fifth day here began early, as usual, and with a walk down to the entrance of the Siq in Petra. Instead of going through it and walking to the Treasury, however, we took a right turn – despite pleas, shouts and warnings of dire flash floods from Bedouin working in the area – and walked under the Nabataean Tunnel into Wadi Muthlim.

We hiked through the Wadi, through gorges and along the dried riverbeds, all alone. Some busloads of tourists had arrived in Petra earlier but no one headed along the same path as us. After about 45 minutes or an hour, we reached a T-junction in the gorge and turned left through the narrow Wadi Mataha. The path here was a little more strenuous, with us having to navigate our way down a couple of 2-meter drops. The narrow winding path led us to a magical little square of ancient Petra with rock carvings on the walls where we paused to take in the beauty. A few meters later, we reluctantly emerged from our magnificent hike into the wide spaces of ancient Petra.

We visited numerous tombs – often confused and thinking we were seeing one thing when it was in fact another. We scrambled over rocks and up the sides of rocky hills to get to the tombs, almost always before or after the streams of tourists.

It’s difficult to explain the magnificence of the tombs and structures in Petra. These giant facades, carved into the rock face in such intricate detail, over 2000 years old, with magnificent swirling colours in the stone. Honestly, we were rendered speechless and attempted to capture the magnificence of this part of the ancient world in pictures. It is only because descriptions are inadequate that I feel incapable of properly describing the Tomb of Sextius Florentinus or the Royal Tombs (consisting of the Urn Tomb, Silk Tomb, Corinthian Tomb and Palace Tomb) with a giant stone urn topping off the magnificent set of tombs, the expansive terrace in front of them, and the steps going up the sides where you come across yet another royal tomb and are presented with a brilliant view of Old Petra and can – with a bit of imagination – picture the people riding donkeys and camels on the ancient Nabataean roads below as people from a bygone era.

My brother and I reluctantly headed down from the Royal Tombs to join my parents for a short visit to the Colonnaded Street and the Great Temple (we had briefly visited the day before). We directed some American tourists to a donkey ride with the young boy who had accompanied us with Suleiman the previous day, and then headed to Kasr al-Bint, one of the few free-standing structures in ancient Petra and an important temple and holy place on the outskirts of the city.

We ended our final, incredible day with a brief sojourn up to the Petra Church, where we took in the stunning ancient mosaic on the floor surrounding the church. For the most part, it featured animals and some floral patterns with the occasional presence of a hunter or, our favourite, a woman with a breast hanging out (modesty in the early church!). We then walked towards the exit, stopping to have a cup of tea in front of the magnificent Amphitheater. While we were taking in the view (and my father and mother were joking around with the young Bedouin man whose jokes about me made me slightly uncomfortable), Suleiman rode up on his mule. We called on him to have a cup of tea with us and enjoyed a lovely cuppa with the sunset. When we went to pay, we were told that Suleiman already had (he was holding to his promise the previous day, he insisted) and we parted ways, walking through the gorge back to the magnificent Treasury that cannot be described in words, it necessitates a visit.

We took our final goodbye pictures in Petra at the Treasury, where we had taken our “hello Petra” photos. Both times we were very lucky and had the place almost to ourselves. We then ambled out through the Siq, emerging in darkness and returning to the mundane questions of daily life: “where can we get a beer?”, “where should we eat?”

The following morning, up bright and early (that means around 9:30am), we drove to Wadi Rum via the King’s Highway. On arrival, we headed quickly to a hotel we liked the sound of (Bayt Ali) and arranged for a four-wheel-drive pick-up truck to take us on a four hour tour of the desert as we had to leave early the following morning.

The first landmark we saw was the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, seven natural pillar-like formations in a free-standing rock emerging from nowhere in the desert. We then drove a short distance to the foot of the rocky hill where Laurence’s Spring can be found. Our guide wasn’t very clear, so we thought the troughs the camels were drinking from were the concrete form of what was once the spring and contented ourselves with viewing some nearby Nabataean graffiti. We were climbing back into our pick-up truck when some other tourists told us that the spring was, in fact, up the rocky hill. We climbed back out and proceeded to make our way up. I had assumed we would only be sitting in the car, so I had to do the climb slowly and painfully in a pair of high-heeled boots. When we got to the top, we found a romantic little area with much more greenery and a stunning view of the desert, but the spring itself was more of a stagnant pool with protruding pipes taking the water directly from the spring down to the tank near the camel troughs.

After some painful scrambling down, we got back in the pick-up truck and drove through the desert some more. Now, I’ve seen a lot of deserts in my (short) time – the rolling red dunes of Namibia, the scrubby stony Sahara in Morocco, the wide spaces of dune and stone in Rajasthan – but this one was different. What was impressive about Wadi Rum that we had not seen before was that it was this large, flat expanse of stone and sand with these huge limestone rocks emerging from out of nowhere and dotting the landscape. There were some sand dunes emerging from nowhere too; free-standing dunes. We climbed one of these dunes (I had discarded my boots) – I always forget what a struggle it is to climb a sand dune – and the view from the top was lovely. The best part, however, was the way down where I ran, jumped, skipped and squealed the entire time.

Our driver then took as to the Khazali Canyon which, like everything else, appeared to emerge from nowhere. We ambled through the canyon for a short while – it wasn’t very deep – exclaiming at the steep rock walls (somehow, no matter how many gorges you walk through, they do not cease to be incredible. I mean, you’re walking between walls of rock!) and looking  at old Nabataean rock carvings.

To end the evening, we headed to the little rock bridge which is, well, a natural little rock bridge that has formed, due to erosion, on/in a bigger rock. We then headed to the sunset point, where we clambered up more rocks and enjoyed a view of the desert while the sun went down. Although the colours from the viewpoint were not that spectacular, the drive back was magnificent. My brother and I lay back against the truck and watched the desert move away from us as we drove. Then, the sunset was incredible.


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