Friday, March 8, 2013

International Adventures: Petra, Part Two

Post #101: This was originally part of one very long post (it took almost 6 hours to write, though a good part of that was waiting for the many pictures to upload). I guess the file was too large for blogspot to deal with as it would not publish the whole thing as one piece. Consequently, I have split it in two. Please read Part One first. It'll make much more sense if you do.

The Bedouin tribes used to live in these caves. In the late 1980s, early 1990s the Jordanian government built a settlement on a ridge above Petra and moved all of the people to those houses. Electricity and running water and warm enclosed spaces are a major upgrade, but I can understand why they didn't want to go. This valley is magical.

The Bedouin occupied the many caves in Petra up until that time. Here are a couple photos that give some idea of how they might have looked.

 The picture above was taken in the Cave Museum. No need to paint the walls when God's creative geology gives you a surface like that! Just work it smooth and leave it at that. The interior of the Cave Museum held lots of pottery shards, coins, and statues taken from the surrounding area, which were interesting but the thing that impressed me most were the rooms themselves; large, high ceilinged spaces with real windows and doors. What a brilliant place.

Here is a view of the Bedouin's new settlement on the ridge above Petra.

The Bedouin still inhabit Petra in their own way. They are there every day, manning the many souvenir shops and cafes. Sometimes they manufacture souvenirs on site, like this enterprising little girl. She was pounding at some particularly colorful rocks she had found to bring out their natural beauty (and to sell them to a tourist for a couple of dinars).

Here, a couple of the Bedouin men engage in a thoroughly modern pursuit, checking their smartphones. I was amazed that I got a signal on my phone and that I had email delivered to it while we were in the valley.

 Here are a couple of 'Nabatean soldiers' taking a break from photo duty.

The other major offering of the Bedouin is what might loosely be called 'transportation services' All up and down the valley there are offers of camel, doney, horse, and donkey-drawn cart rides. The drivers are persistent and pleasant. When we repeatedly say, "No, thank you." They responded, "Well, maybe tomorrow, maybe on your way out."

"Hey, buddy. How about taking a ride?"

There were many young boys with donkeys offering rides. They skip (or drop out of) school for the short term gain of making up to 300 dinars (about $420 US) a month from the tourist trade. Carolyn and I spoke with one of the older sellers and he lamented that they were making that choice because they were exchanging the long-term benefit of education for easy money. "But will they want to be donkey taxi drivers all their life? I don't think so. The government should do something to prevent it.", he added.

The interesting thing is that I heard these boys, often 10-12 years old offering rides in English, German, and Spanish (and I don't doubt they know other languages as well). Their English was entertaining and colloquially correct.  Knowing multiple languages is often seen as the mark of an educated person, so they are educated, after a fashion. I too worry about their long term outlook, as I don't think they'll be so happy with the 300 JD per month in 10 years and will have closed off an avenue of opportunity by that point.

When that same souvenir seller was lamenting their choice, which had been his 10-15 years before, I said, "Well, it's never to late to get an education." He replied,"Yes, that's true. But going to school costs money that I can't afford." And, I'd imagine he has a family to feed as well, so it truly makes a difficult choice.

One of the ships of the desert in front of the Treasury.

Enjoying a rest in the shade before going to work. The Bedouin take good care of their animals.

These donkeys are pretty sure footed as this one navigated the rock slope and stairs fairly easily, though I would not have wanted to be aboard as he did so.

I think this guy was actually asleep atop his camel!

These guys are taking a break at the end of the day. The long, black hair and pork-pie hat is quite the look.

Petra was initially developed by the Nabateans starting around 100 B.C. and continuing for the next several hundred years. Eventually the site passed into the hands of whatever group had power at the time; Romans, Muslims, Crudaders, Ottoman Turks to name the major ones.

While the Romans ruled in Petra they made a number of constructions that are still in evidence. One of those was an amphitheater carved out of the mountain.

They also added a major street, shops, roads, and a temple complex in the valley. The temple has been the subject of extensive archeological excavations on the part of Brown University

The Great Temple at Petra is huge. These pictures are mostly detail shots, though the last one, taken from farther away, gives some idea of the scale.

I loved these hexagonal pavers. They're each about 18 - 20" across and fitted together quite well. Remember, this flooring is almost 2,000 years old and has been out in the weather for most of that time.

These columns all fell over during one of Petra's many major earthquakes. I know that at least three of them occurred, but there may have been more. Stacked stone buildings don't fare too well in an earthquake.

One unusual feature of the Great Temple is the 'elephant head' capitals of the columns; an artistic variation on the standard Corinthian capital. Here's one at the top of a column, you can see the elephant head projecting out.

A little while later, in a small archaeological museum, I was able to get a close up shot of one of those elephant head capitals.

That's some pretty cool carving.

The Great Temple in its entirety can be seen here. As well, at the base of the Temple area is the remnants of the Roman road and the huge gate at its end (left center of the picture, more or less).

As faithful readers of my blog will remember, I have a great interest in stone; building dry walls with it is one of my avocations. I notice stone and geologic features all the time. Petra was the most amazing collection of stone. The variety of colors was astounding. Here are some samples of what I mean by that last statement.

  You can see just how soft the rock is by the way it has weathered over the years.

 The colors, the reds, blues, whites, ochres, are quite amazing when seen close up.

  The texture of the stone and the ribbing in it was very cool. It seems that the ribs were a bit harder than the intervening material, so they stood out a bit.

Those last two shots were taken outside the Cave Museum. I took one more that did not seem like a natural feature. It appeared that someone had shaped the rock into the jaw and nose of a camel.

See what I mean?

Mixed in with all the people and other animals was a collection of cats, dogs and birds. Here are a couple of representative samples.

Oddly enough, though I am much more of a 'cat person' than a 'dog person' and there were plenty of cats around (some of them obviously well fed and cared for), I took no pictures of the cats of Petra.

Sparrows searching donkey dung for food they can make use of.

Plant life has a hard time in a desert environment. Several of the hillsides were beginning to sprout plants that seems like lilies or some other plant emerging from an underground bulb. I only know they come from a bulb because I saw some of them dug up and for sale on one of the souvenir tables.

Plants will grow wherever they find a water source. This old fig tree was growing out of a crack in the rock part way down the Siq.

I loved the contrast between the softness of this plant and the rock behind it.

Carolyn and I explored a good portion of Petra on Saturday afternoon. John joined us toward the end.

On Sunday morning the three of us walked Petra together.

Carolyn and John, thank you for sharing the exploration of Petra with me. It was great to share the discovery of one of the wonders of the world with you.

You leave Petra the same way you come in, via the Siq, a cleft in the rock hiding an amazing valley of treasures.

The four of us had dinner together in a restaurant at the Movenpick on Saturday and Sunday, Diane rousing herself long enough for an enjoyable dinner together. The rest actually did her quite a bit of good as she looked and sounded much better at the end of the trip than at the beginning.

On Monday morning after a very ample buffet breakfast, we packed up the car and headed north. We stopped in Madaba for lunch and a short driving tour of AUM. After that I drove Carolyn, John and Diane to the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge border crossing into Israel. Once I dropped them off, I drove back to Madaba and a resumption of my workday existence.

International Adventures: Petra, Part One

Well, this post is a semi-historic occasion. It is my 100th post since starting this blog on November 20, 2008. Lots of writing in there about raising fish (we successfully released another 70,000 coho this week), what I'm reading and listening to, basketball, car related stuff, and lately, my international adventures.

My latest adventure was a trip to Petra with Diane and two new friends, Carolyn and John. I've wanted to go to Petra every since Diane and Gwynedd went a couple of years ago. Since coming to live in Jordan in October 2012, I've been itching to get there. The occasion for going finally arrived last weekend.

On Friday, March 1, I picked up Diane at the Sheikh Hussein Border crossing from Israel up in the north of Jordan near Irbid. We made our way back to Madaba and had lunch at Adonis, a very pleasant restaurant near my parish church. I then showed Diane AUM. Unfortunately, the gates were closed and we couldn't go in, but I'm sure she'll be back some time and we can take the tour then. She got a chance to see my apartment and then we checked in at the Hotel Mariam. My apartment is adequate for my needs, but only has a single bed, hence the hotel stay. We had dinner at Haret Jdoudna, my favorite restaurant in Madaba, then retired for the evening. I had checked out directions to the Four Seasons hotel in Amman where John and Carolyn were staying and was confident that I would be able to navigate there without the Garmin.

Saturday morning after breakfast, packing up and checking out we got in the car and headed north to Amman. I felt very satisfied that I navigated straight to the Four Seasons without a wrong turn. Quite a change from my earliest forays into Amman! We collected Carolyn, John, and their luggage, fired up the Garmin and headed south out of Amman aiming for the Desert Highway. After one wrong turn near the airport (construction details didn't match the Garmin and I became confused) and a bit of back tracking, we finally hit the Desert Highway and settled in for the longish drive south to Petra.

Driving through the desert and coming upon a small settlement, I was struck by the thought that I have often had when driving in the US and coming upon a house that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. "What must it be like to live here? How would you live? What would you do? What are evenings like here at the edge of beyond?" I am definitely not wired for that sort of isolation. I don't mind living alone, but I like having lots of people around and the services that having lots of people around engenders.

We arrived in Wadi Musa, the town at the gates of Petra, around 1pm and checked in at the Hotel Movenpick. John wanted a nap and Diane was battling a nasty upper respiratory infection (that battle would last the entire trip and keep her confined to the hotel room, which sucked for Diane, but she had seen Petra before), so Carolyn and I arranged to meet around 3 pm and walk down into Petra to see what we could see.

The walk down into Petra is literally all down hill. I knew that would make the walk home a challenge, but that's the way the land is shaped so it's best just to know that and be prepared. The geology of the area reminded me quite strongly of the Canyonlands area of Utah.

As you walk down toward the Siq, you come upon the Djinn Blocks, huge stones carved by the Nabateans to represent their gods.

Once past the Djinn Blocks, you come to the entrance to the Siq, a narrow cleft in the rock often no more than a few meters across that is the main entrance to Petra. It's easy to see why Petra was such a secure site for the Nabateans as it was so easily defended. There were a couple of guys dressed in costume standing at the entrance to improve the ambiance (and hopefully siphon a few dinars our of tourists wallets for a photo opportunity).

The walk down through the Siq is amazing. There are carvings all along the walls. Sometimes it's hard to tell if the rock has been deliberately worked or if it is just the effect of eons of wind and sand on the naturally soft (relatively speaking) sandstone the mountains are made of. Other times it's pretty easy to tell that something has been carved.

The interplay of light and shadow on the stone as you walk along the Siq is incredible.

Because it was relatively late in the day, most of the tourists were headed uphill and out of Petra as we were going in. This gave us the added benefit of being able to see and photograph without  a ton of people in the viewfinder.

At one point in the Siq, I came upon this carving.

When I stepped back a little, I saw that this was the lower half of a man holding a camel's bridle. If you look closely you can see the camel's feet as well as the vague outlines of the camel's upper body, neck and head where they are not quite completely worn off. The carving is at a right angle turn in the Siq, so gets buffeted by wind and sand. 2,000 years of that is enough to wear many of the details away!

There are actually several camels in the train. A plaque nearby says that there are actually two trains of camels carved in bas relief, representing one entering and one leaving Petra; an artistic memorial of Petra's place as a major stop on the trade routes. I couldn't see any evidence of the leaving camel train, so will take it on faith that it was there at one time.

We continued our walk in the Siq, eventually coming to the end with a view of one of the most spectacular funerary monuments in Petra, the Treasury.

The Treasury monument should be familiar to anyone who has seen the Indiana Jones movies, as it was in some scenes in one of them. It is truly astonishing. The columns are round, cylindrical and straight. The walls are smooth and plumb. The corners meet at right angles. The level of carving is astounding. Then I was struck by this thought: who was that first guy who thought, "Hey, you know what we could do with this big piece of mountain right here?" What must have been the reception of that thought!

John had finished his nap and joined us, which is why he is now in some of these pictures.

As we walked further down into Petra and the views widened out we began to see more and more of the funerary monuments for which this site is famous.

The skill level of these carvers is simply amazing given the primitive tools which they had to work with.

Many of the larger monuments are named. This one is called the Palace Tomb.

This next shot gives you an idea of just how much of the mountain they carved away to get what they wanted. I also find it interesting that they used the natural variations in the rock for some of the architectural features. Take a look at the way those ribs of rock on the right continue on and become the tops of the ledges in the building.

I love the interplay between the carving and the colors of the rock underneath. I took several closeups of the rock itself. You'll get the opportunity to see those in a bit.

This is a view of many of those monuments taken from across the valley. The area at the far right at about the middle of the picture shows the ridge where Mohammad and Marguerite lived when they were in Petra. (See my post, Readin': Married to a Bedouin, if that reference makes little sense.)

These are the things that interest me. If any of them are of interest to you, great. Read along


About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.