Fri, 20 Jun 2008 13:48:53 +0000

Amman to Petra Index Israel

Man, that was a terrible night last night. There's no air-conditioning or fan. It was OK when I first went to sleep around nine, but around eleven I woke up sweating horribly. I discarded the sheet, but that brought the second problem: mosquitoes. After a night of alternately tossing and turning to allow the sweaty side to cool off, and then lying perfectly still to try and mimise muscular heat, I found that I had dozens of mosquito bites. No fun.

Anyway, despite that I still got up a bit after five, showered and got ready for my trip to Petra. Dead on six I was at breakfast, and when I was done the guy drove me to the gates. So at least it was an efficient morning.

There's quite a lot to Petra. First you go on a walk through the siq, which is a narrow natural fissure that runs for about a kilometre and a half through the rock. It's a pretty remarkable geological formation. More remarkable is that the Nabateans carved aqueducts out of the rock walls all the way down to the city.

So then you round the corner to be confronted by the treasury, every bit as impressive as the Nabateans must have intended it to be. Its naturally sheltered position and the desert climate really have done a superb job of preserving it.

Then you carry on past lots and lots of tombs, some being caves carved into the rocks at all levels. At this point I noticed the path leading up to the "high place of sacrifice", and decided that I'd give that a shot. It was quite an exhausting walk, and I took at least one wrong turn that had me ready to abandon the effort. But I think I eventually got to the right place. Certainly I found the two obelisks, and a square carving in the ground that looked like it could have been for sacrifices. But I didn't find the circular sacrificial areas I had seen photos of, and I didn't see the promised view of the city. Maybe I had to go further for those, but I felt I'd had enough climbing for a while. I went back down.

Next up was the ampitheatre, which I wasn't really expecting. I didn't think Greco-Roman influence would be so strong out here. In fact, it was extended by the Romans when they occupied the area, but it was originally Nabatean. There's a long collonade, unfortunately very much ruined, that leads to a big temple which apparently was only discovered in the 90s. It's huge, and I can only guess how it must have been covered in sand to have gone unnoticed so long. There was still some excavation work going on when I was there.

After some more temples and tombs it was time for another long walk to the monastery. I had an easier time on this walk because I could just follow the other tourists, who were starting to appear a little more thickly by this stage. I was also passed by quite a few donkeys, one in particular labouring under a load of bottled water and other goodies for the tourists to buy at the other end. It did seem like a very heavy load for the poor creature.

The monastery is the biggest of the lot, and human figures look tiny by comparison. A Norwegian guy asked me to take a picture of him in front of the monument, but his camera stubbornly refused to reproduce what was on the viewfinder, and I kept cutting his legs off. So I got tired of photographing the monastery pretty quickly, sat down, and had some lunch.

Walking back I went over some of the tombs a bit more thoroughly. After a while they pretty much become an endless sequence of "yet another tomb". But one high up on the hill did have an unusually large space excavated inside, and on the ceiling were the most amazing patterns of colour from minerals seeping out of the rock.

By this stage I was completely exhausted, and I started making my way back. The place was full of tourists by this stage, and I was glad to be leaving them all behind. The sun was directly overhead and I had to use my umbrella for shade. I kept finding my elbows sticking out into the sun, and ended up having to clutch my arms to myself to keep them protected. I thought I'd walk back to the hotel instead of taking a taxi, and I'm not sure that was such a great idea. It was a sweltering walk, uphill all the way. But I made it, and flopped down onto my bed.

It turned out that I'd been quite badly sunburnt on my arms and neck. I'd been wearing sunscreen, but I suspect that the sunscreen I bought in Syria, which is supposed to be 60+, is actually fake. Either that or the sun was far stronger than I'd guessed.

I did a little shopping, used the Internet, and then went out for dinner. I went to the same place as before, since it was pretty good, and ordered "Arabic Kebab". This turned out to be rather like small skinless sausages, and was delicious. The fries were pretty awful, but the kebabs more than made up for that.

So I think I have given Petra a pretty thorough go, and I'll leave tomorrow well satisfied with my effort.

Amman to Petra Index Israel