Petra, Jordan was on my bucket list before I had ever heard of a bucket list When I was a young teenager, maybe 13-14 years old, I went to an exhibition called “Petra” at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. The exhibition detailed the discovery of Petra and displayed beautiful stone monolithic carvings and artifacts; I was completely enthralled in the story of the Bedouin tribes who built and occupied Petra hundreds of years ago. The allure of the ancient world was too much and I told my Mom that someday I would go there, I think she just kind of nodded her head and agreed that it was an incredible dream. I have no idea if she truly thought I would ever make it there but based on her support of me as a vagabond, I believe she wanted it to be true.
Some 12 or so years later, I made the decision to move to the UAE and with it came the realization that I would be so close to Petra. My first long weekend (5 days) for Eid, came approximately 2 months after the move, so I seized the chance to go to Jordan. I boarded the Royal Jordan Air flight to Amman with a set itinerary of where I would stay and what I would do; it would be my first lesson in travel…don’t plan too hard, shit will get fucked up.Art Hotel, it looked pretty nice from the outside. The front desk guy was very accommodating, he let me check in right then and there. After a few hours of sleep I set out on a massive city walkabout. The highlight of the day was definitely the Roman Theatre and the Za’atar guy across the street; both discoveries left me feeling excited to discover more of what Amman had to offer. I decided to head up hill…like all the way up, to the ancient Citadel; it took a bit of trial and error to find the way but I spent a lovely hour or two appreciating the ruins and the view of Amman. The whole city is built on the sides of several hills, with buildings not much more than 5 stories high, you feel the whole city is laid out for you to see. The rest of the day was spent wandering through the city, appreciating street art, trying to avoid cages of giant roosters in the market, feeling very awkward when the whole marketplace dropped for the call to prayer and trying to dodge my way out through maze of stalls and the faithful.
Living in a country that goes dry during religious holidays I thought it was prudent to bring along some vodka in case Jordan did the same… they do not. Jordan is majority Muslim but they also have a sizeable Christian community and a more lax view on drinking laws. We went to my hotel room, drank said vodka, mixed a couple water bottle beverages and then set out on an adventure which took us through the market to the Roman Theatre. Inexplicably this person had been in Amman 5 months and had never seen either, I’d been there 5 hours and seen the whole downtown extravaganza. We sat there drinking vodka and talking to everyone, discovered we liked each other very much and made out for awhile, amidst all the people in Jordan…not very classy and certainly not culturally sensitive but you know…vodka! Eventually that led us back to my hotel room, unfortunately the night staff were not so impressed with us and refused to let him up to my hotel room. The next morning with a fierce vodka hangover, I proceeded to figure out how to get to Petra, since I had missed the coach bus there. I went to the minibus station, and somehow managed to find and negotiate a ride to Petra. The thing about minibuses though is that they only leave when full, which can take awhile. The 3 other foreigners on the bus had negotiated with the driver that we would pay double fare…about 5$ if he left sooner. Thankfully he did and we spent a fairly pleasant few hours on a bus to Petra.
I was to leave my bags at The Rocky Mountain Hotel in Wadi Musa (The town around Petra) and they would be picked up and brought the Bedouin Camp where I would spend the night. Standing on the side of the road where the bus had dropped me off, looking for a taxi, a truck full of young men pulled up and proceeded to offer me a ride. I was not totally comfortable with this and hesitated at which point a legitimate taxi pulled up but when I got in, the men from the truck jumped out and started yelling at my taxi driver and tried to refuse to let him to leave…it was a little intense but the driver handled it like a pro. He waited for me to drop my stuff and then took me to the entrance of Petra.
The whole town surrounding Petra is built on a hill so walking around there requires some strong legs; although that is the norm for most of Jordan, it’s a very hilly country. 90 Dinar later I was at last inside Petra, I started walking the route, stunned by the colour and patterns in the rock, the carvings and the rudimentary dwellings. Petra is a major tourist attraction but still very raw in many ways, for example the horses that the Beduoin men use to offer tourists rides are ill kept and look like they are near death. I wondered very strongly about the tourists who paid for these rides considering the condition of the animals, they must know they are supporting the men directly and thus the mistreatment of the animals.
I ran into the 3 men from the bus, 1 Spaniard travelling randomly, 1 German travelling habitually, and 1 American who was teaching in Oman. With our half day in Petra we climbed up to the High Place of Sacrifice. The scenery is stark, not much vegetation, but the textures and silhouettes from the rocks, cliffs, and mountains were very dramatic.
My new friends went off to their hotel in Wadi Musa, while I waited outside Petra to be picked up to go to 7 Wonders Bedouin Camp a little ways away. While I was waiting, a young Bedouin guy came up to me, trying to talk me up for awhile, I was entertaining him while I waited because I didn’t want to be rude. He asked the usual “are you married”, “why not” kinda questions to which I replied “No” and “because I haven’t found the right person” kinda answers. He asked if he could see me later and it was very awkward because I was still waiting for my ride and no one else was around, so I mumbled something non-committal. At the Bedouin camp, I was shown to a Bedouin style tent that had two beds inside and a lamp. They served a delicious dinner of fatuous, hummus and chicken grilled under the sand. After dinner I drank tea while they serenaded us with their acoustic guitars around a fire, under the stars in the desert with a thousand candles burning on the hillside. I was surprised at how cold the desert actually got at night but they were prepared and brought out the warmest and most luxurious blankets I’ve experienced to date. I promptly fell asleep listening their acoustic music, at some point the head of the camp came and said there was a young guy asking for me and did I want him to come in…of course fucking not, and they sent him away with a look that suggested that this sort of thing happened frequently.
After a very cold shower I headed back to Petra to climb the 8-900 steps to the monastery. Part way up my camera battery died and so did I a little; also my phone camera was shit. Trying to be positive, I climbed, relishing in the fact that at least I would have the memory but when I got to the top and saw the monastery I knew I needed a photo. I began to ask if anyone could swap batteries for a moment just so I could take one photo. Eventually I found a compatible camera battery and the couple were very understanding, so they let me take a few photos and then took a few of me. Sitting down at the little café facing the monastery, I was very thankful for the kindness of strangers and also lemon mint juice.
I could spend a week at Petra exploring the ancient city. I had heard someone, somewhere say that they found Petra less impressive than they expected and I assumed this was the same kind of person who thinks the Pyramids of Giza are nothing special. This kind of person is probably a checklist traveller who has little to no historical knowledge; when one does not appreciate such historically significant places one must not understand the technological feat it would have taken to build these sites thousands of years ago; a concept I frequently have to explain to my Grade 3 students but grown-ass adults should know better. It’s baffling that you would spend a ton of money to visit a place and have no interest in learning about it beforehand.
Taking some time away from everyone in an area all to myself, I sat on a rock and tried to visualize what Petra would have looked like when it was a living, bustling city full of people, food, animals. I saw colour, the colours that were on my scarf I had bought, the movement of the animals, the way people relaxed in certain areas, people interacting, doing business, going about the business of sustaining their existence, it was transcendent. One thing that was hard to imagine was where the hell they got water from; Jordan being one of the driest countries in the world, I could not see a viable source of water. I was also so, so thirsty, I drank so much water throughout the day but almost never had to pee…where did it go…so weird.
Instead of rushing to get the bus back to Amman, I chose to stay in charming Wadi Musa for the night, the German and Spaniard had invited me to hang out that night so I got a room at their hotel and went for dinner. I had the front desk guy call a driver I had met that day to confirm the time for pick up the next day to take me to the Dead Sea. The front desk guy told me there were 2 other Canadian women looking to get to the Dead Sea and as it turned out the same resort, which worked out so well since the ride was 60 dinar (haggled down from 75).
The 5 hour drive from Wadi Musa to the Dead Sea takes you through a sometimes desolate and dusty countryside but most times through mountains where stray roadside apple-like fruit can be found and eaten, the most delicious hot falafels can be bought, and vistas that alarm, overwhelm and induce awe can be passed and photographed.
“Sorry ma’am, your reservation was for yesterday.” This is where I learned to fervently quadruple check the date on every reservation I ever make because a 130-dinar mistake was no joke. The front desk guy was pretty sympathetic though and offered me dinner on the house, which was great because being nearly out of cash and no ATM’s in the vicinity (and not having a credit card), I would have been a tad hungry. By the time I finally got into my room, it was too late to go to the Dead Sea so I went to the pool, which had been overtaken by mutant sized house flies and splashing, screaming children. Can we all just go ahead and agree that the bar end of a hotel pool should be a child free zone? The resort was boring for a solo traveller; I went to the bar after dinner but there weren’t many people about. Between drinks I went to the bathroom and promptly dropped my phone in the toilet rendering it useless, but thankfully this was one of the only trips where I had brought my tablet with me, so I was not totally alone. Upon returning to Abu Dhabi I immediately forgot my tablet in a taxi and a week later, broke my glasses…October, 2015 was a bit of a rough time for me.
Bright and early I walked down to the Dead Sea shore shivering, slathered on some cold as a dead body mud and waded out into the lowest point on earth. You can’t sink in the Dead Sea but you can drown if you try to go face first in the water, so just lean back and float effortlessly, blissfully. I had stumbled on a blog post about Jordan before going that stated explicitly “DO NOT SHAVE YOUR LEGS, THEY WILL BURN!!!!” or something to that effect so I gladly obliged by leaving my razor at home, but the 2 women I rode from Petra with had not read the same article and that was rather unfortunate situation for them.
My skin was the softest and most wonderful it had ever been for weeks after. I purchased some bags of mud to take home for gifts and for myself. Every few weeks I would cover myself in mud before settling into a lovely bath, and every time I did that I regretted it instantly because my bathroom then looked as though someone had slaughtered a mud demon.
My recommendations for a trip to Jordan:
-Buses are fine to get from Amman to Petra but a driver is necessary from Petra to the Dead Sea so rent a car if you can
-Don’t splurge on a Dead Sea Resort-not worth it at all but from what I hear the public beach sucks so buy a day pass for a resort instead.
-Spend at least 11/2 days in Petra
-Stay at a Bedouin Camp but bring warm clothes
-Eat all the hummus, za’ater, falafels, and pita you can find
-Spend a full day in Amman
-Don’t shave your legs before entering the Dead Sea
-Read about Petra before you go so you can fully appreciate the place
-Don’t ride an animal unless necessary
-If you don’t exercise, do at least start walking up escalators so that you can enjoy the climb to the monastery.
– Bring a spare camera battery.