Friday, March 8, 2013

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.)

1 comment:

mmcra2 said...

I've only ever seen the usual pictures of Petra like the Treasury so to see the rest of the valley was very cool. There's so much more there, so much more life.

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.