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Petra and Aqaba

(Journal entry from October 31.)

We arrived today in Bedouin Garden Village south of Aqaba, and I am looking out from the balcony to the beach, across the road that leads from Aqaba to the Saudi border. The sea is blue and flecked by white tips of foam and the mountains on the other side are visible through the haze. It's fairly quiet here and the beach opposite is almost empty. A Jordanian flag flaps crazily in the wind that comes from the north. We left this morning from Petra taking a taxi - about an hour and twenty minutes. The road from Petra to the Amman highway passes through the villages of Taibeh and Rajef (sp.?) and has fine views over the Arava. The Amman-Aqaba highway is a wide road in good condition - the driver said that the whole journey between Aqaba and Amman takes about 3.5 hours.

The driver was a friendly guy that we met on the journey from Wadi Ram to Petra. He claims that his father used to live in the caves of Petra, but a Bedouin we met while in Petra said that his family name made this unlikely.

In Petra we had a great time, scrambling through the wadis and among the monuments, walking from early morning till sundown. Despite the crowds of people we found many moments of tranquility. As soon as you get off the main tourist beats, you are completely alone, and if you get going early in the morning you also can avoid the crowds. On the first day, we got up at 6.00, headed through the Siq and then, from the Outer Siq took the steps leading up to Jebel Attuf, the "high place of sacrifice". From there, there is a magnificent view over the whole area of Petra. But this proved to be the first of many other such magnificent views, since all of the hills surrounding the valley face down into Petra. From Jebel Attuf we took the way down through Wadi Farasa, seeing the Garden Tomb, the Tomb of the Roman Soldier and other sites. Then we walked through to the other side of the valley that passes the "Pharaoh's Obelisk", and reaching the crusader castle of El Habis, which we climbed almost to the top, though this took a little bit of courage in some places. Descending again, we went around the back of the castle, following the way that begins a little above Wadi Siyagh and then joins the wadi that leads to the museum area. There are several pretty tombs along the way, with the beautiful, almost psychedelic colours that characterize the stone in the area - reds, ochre, yellow, grey, blue, white and black all represented in swirls and daubs, as if they were painted by a hippy artist. We visited the tiny museum, itself in a cave, but spent very little time in the area. Instead we followed our steps back through the wadi, but this time keeping to the wadi floor. After rejoining Wadi Siyagh we ate lunch and read about the possibility to see painted houses, a little further on. This proved illusory as we didn’t find them. Instead we walked along the right side of the wadi, following a path that grew progressively steeper, along and up the side of the canyon. Eventually, after realizing that we had missed the painted houses and, feeling unsettled by the dizzying height that we had attained, I told Dorit it was enough for me, though I am sure she would have had no difficulty with continuing. Later (the next day) we realized that it would have been possible, perhaps, to continue on that path and reach al Deir (the monastery), although Bedouins at the restaurant said that it was only possible to do this with a local guide.

Returning we looked again for the painted houses, but failed to find them. We followed the floor of Wadi Assaigh back to the main valley of Petra and then ascended back through the Siq, enjoying the late afternoon colours along the way. Going back to the room, we showered, rested and ate at the Red Cave restaurant, before joining the Petra By Night program, which leaves three times a week from the Visitor Centre. Several hundred visitors joined it too. The instructions were that we should descend along the Siq in silence, following a single file. Dorit was amused that the instructions sounded very similar to the ones given in [Plum Village->http://www.plumvillage.org/] (a Buddhist community) for the silent walks there. In fact many people - especially the Italians - had some difficulty with the rules, but when we put a little distance between ourselves and the noisier ones, we enjoyed it. Along the way, and then inside the courtyard fronting the 'Treasury' some 1,500 candles are lit, placed in plastic bags and spaced at something like 2 or 3 meter intervals. In the courtyard before the Treasury, the visitors sit in a circle and some music is played. First there was the one-stringed Bedouin instrument, the {rababa}, accompanied by singing, then a flute. The music wasn't particularly inspiring - it sounded a little ridiculous at first. The flute was better. Then there were some words by the guide, which were also mildly inane. Dorit said they could improve the program and make it look more professional, such as by having a proper musical performance. But in general, tourism has not been developed very professionally as yet.

On the second day in Petra we tried to see things that we hadn't yet caught on the first day. The main site was the Monastery (el Deir), with its 800-step climb. But before that we went to see the important tombs on the right (The "Royal Tombs"), as one leaves the Outer Siq.

The way up to the Monastery (like most of the names in Petra, this is just a moniker) was not too strenuous after the previous walks we had made, and the view of the edifice rewarded us, as did the views from the summit, out across the Wadi Arabah. We chose a place behind the main tourist area to stop to eat our sandwich and vegetable lunch. Dorit spent some time breaking coloured stones so that she would have some more manageable ones to bring home as souvenirs. (These are the same stones that children try to sell to tourists: "Just one Dinar, mister - have a look!")

After walking down, following the same path as that of our ascent, we took a side trip into the Wadi Turkmeniya, in order to look for the tomb of the same name. But in this we failed. Probably we did not continue along the road for far enough. Instead we scrambled around another tomb, then walked back into the main valley of Petra. We looked at the enormous temple complex (more than 7,000 square metres). The complex has been only recently unearthed and partially restored. To save time and additional muscle fatigue we took a horse and trap back. In the evening we went into the ugly upper town for a cash machine, then went down to eat a light dinner in the ornate oriental style bar of the Movenpick. Their salads and pizza were good, and not too expensive. Then we headed back to our hotel - the Petra Moon, whose main advantage is the closeness to the visitor's centre. But at 30 Dinars (about 30 Euro) for a double room, it was pleasant and clean.

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(Clicking on a photo leads to the album in Picasa Web, where photos usually have a maximum lateral dimension of 1600 pixels.)