When we were thinking about where to go this summer, the overwhelming urge to go to the Middle East was spurred on by our desire to visit Petra. We had seen it on shows such as An Idiot Abroad and Departures, and that only fueled our interest. Despite some less-than-glowing reactions from friends and family who were nervous for our personal safety, we had made up our mind – we were going to Jordan and the Middle East. (I’ll explain just how safe the Middle East can be – depending on your destination – in another post.)
The city of Petra is an incredible sprawl of buildings and carvings built into rock walls by the Nabateans, a great civilization of traders in Arabia and the Levant (basically meaning the Middle East). Petra was established as early as the 300s B.C.E., and was the capital city and a trading hub of the Nabateans. Petra was unknown to the Western world until Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt “discovered” it. (“Discovered” is in quotes because Westerners like to think that they are the first ones to find everything that everyone else has been onto for years.) Despite not having the widespread fame of the architectural wonders of ancient Greece and Rome, the city of Petra is likely the most remarkable man-made structure that I have ever witnessed.
Staying within the town (or just outside, in a Bedouin-style lodge) of Wadi Musa is the best way to experience Petra. We would recommend at least two days to fully appreciate the wonder and to enjoy some of the hikes. If you purchase the Jordan Pass (highly recommended as well – you save money on the entrance visa as well as the historical sites in Jordan), you can select an itinerary of one, two, or three days in Petra at a reduced rate from what you’d pay at the ticket window. When you enter Petra, it is about a 30-minute walk from the entrance gate to the Treasury, which is the most famous site on the grounds. Along the way, people will be trying to sell you camel rides, donkey rides, trinkets, and more. If you’re not interested in buying from them, be firm in declining their offers. They will try to butter you up by asking you about yourself, where you’re from, and how long you’ve been in Jordan. And this will happen constantly. And they will walk with you for a minute or more, insisting that you purchase something. Since we were being bombarded left and right by vendors trying to hawk their wares, I decided to have some fun with it rather than being frustrated. So instead of declining, I began to reply with ridiculous responses. For example:
- Vendor: Where are you from?
- Me: I don’t speak English (in English).
- Vendor: What language do you speak?
- Me: Nabatean.
- Vendor: Sir, I have a camel, walk this way.
- Me: (starts singing “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith)
Usually, these kind of responses drew a chuckle from the hawker and best of all, it completely threw them off their sales pitch, because my answers were sometimes so bizarre that they did not know how to respond, and they gave up.
The narrow passage through the slot canyon on the way to the Treasury is called the Siq, and it’s gorgeous in its own right.
Then, there’s that breathtaking moment when you first catch sight of the Treasury.
All that anticipation was worth it. I couldn’t believe that we were finally here! What an incredible experience. It’s truly surreal, from the perspective of an American, to be standing in a place so foreign, so exotic, compared to what we’re used to. We are truly fortunate to have had the chance to set foot here.
It was approaching late afternoon when we arrived at Petra on our first day, so we didn’t do much hiking, aside from seeing several other sites within a few hundred meters of the Treasury, down the Street of Facades.
Since it was already late in the afternoon, we decided to stick around for Petra by Night. While the admission cost is a bit high (17JD) for a short speech on the history of Petra and a (too-brief) traditional musical performance, seeing Petra lit up by candles is incredible. If you are interested in photography at all, do not miss this opportunity to photograph Petra at night. (Bring your tripod.)
Tomorrow, we’re going to continue to explore the wonders of Petra. We’ll be taking a hike to the Monastery, the second-most famous structure in Petra. Until then, shukran for joining us on our adventure!