Petra

We were embarking on the 5th day of our trip, but I felt like I’d already seen a month’s worth of sites. The days were jam-packed with touring and learning, and they were flying by at lightning speed. By this time I’d begun to bond with some of my fellow travelers; these were folks who went to my church back home, but that I didn’t know at all before this trip. When I see them now, a year later, it feels like we’re old soldiers who’ve gone through boot camp together.

There were two things that we wanted to accomplish today, which was to be our final day in Jordan: a) swim in the Dead Sea, and b) visit Petra. The problem was that it was a four hour bus ride – one way – to Petra.

So the night before we took a vote, and decided that instead of choosing one over the other, we would do both. Our plan was to get up early and have breakfast at the hotel, take about an hour or so to swim in the Dead Sea, and then make the drive to Petra and back. We estimated that it would be a really long day – we wouldn’t get back to the hotel (and dinner) until around 10:00 PM – but this was what the group wanted to do.

The Dead Sea area is beautiful, but it’s a sad, barren sort of beauty. I found it to be mesmerizing, and would have been content to sit in a chair all day here, and just meditate and pray.

I chose not to swim, but lots of folks from our group decided to jump in and experience the feeling of almost total weightlessness that the Dead Sea is known for.

I could’ve spent a lot more time here.

But no, we had to hit the road. The next four hours were spent looking through the bus window at scenes like this:

And this:

Or this:

Occasionally broken up with a minaret:

You get the idea. We were in the middle of the desert, people.

Eventually, after stopping for a restroom break at the Jordanian equivalent of Buckee’s (if you’re from Texas you’ll get that one), we finally arrived at the mysterious Petra.

Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is fascinating. The introduction on the UNESCO pagegives a summary of Petra:

Inhabited since prehistoric times, this Nabataean caravan-city, situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, was an important crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. Petra is half-built, half-carved into the rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges. It is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, where ancient Eastern traditions blend with Hellenistic architecture.

Of course UNESCO is leaving out something critical; Petra was also featured in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. (Okay, so it was only for about 5 minutes. But still, there’s your pop culture for the day.)

The fact is, it’s a really interesting place. There are Bedouins living in the caves of Petra still, to this day. Of course they literally had cars parked in the caves, but nonetheless, they are there, inhabiting the place.

The carvings were mind-blowing. And not just the large-scale carvings. There were remnants left of smaller carvings, too, that would have depicted fantastic caravans, and other scenes of everyday life. The geology was amazing to look at as well.

The walk down to the main area took us around 45 minutes.

Of course not everyone walked.

With every curve in the winding path there was something fascinating to see.

The path was quite narrow in some places.

And in others, the rocks around us closed in over our heads:

Petra is a very ghostly, sort of “other-worldly” place, with remnants from millennia past hiding around every corner. I got the feeling that I wouldn’t want to be in here after dark.

Do you see the elephants?

And the camels?

Nope. Not in Texas anymore.

Eventually we made it to the bottom of the trail, and could see the carving known as “the Treasury” come in to view.

Yes, you could rent a camel here. And I did.

Camels are surprisingly photogenic.

I think I may have seen Captain Jack Sparrow.

Some of the more interesting rock carvings:

Petra was an amazing place. I felt that it was totally worth the grueling 8 hour (round-trip) bus ride to get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience it.

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