GUEST ARTICLE: Our first stop in Jordan was to the Dead Sea where we spent 2 wonderful nights floating in the very salty water. Afterwards we drove to the ancient city of Petra. I can see why Petra is dubbed one of the top places to see before you die. We are so glad that we did. It was a wonderful experience and one we will never ever forget. Maybe one day we can venture back to explore some more … Inshallah (god willing).
We left the Dead Sea early and headed south on the Kings Highway on a road trip in our rental car. There are 2 roads you can take to get to Petra (the other is the Desert Highway) but this coastal road was by far the more scenic way to go. It takes a bit longer but it’s worth the drive, the roads were in good condition and fairly deserted.
The views along the way were spectacular and we spotted a few other tourist spots worth a revisit if possible one day (like the Mujib Reserve). The highway had beautiful rugged mountains on one side and the Dead Sea on the other. A bright salty white crust lined the edge of the sea. The starkness of it against the deep blue water was stunning.
We drove for about an hour and a half before taking the Dilagha and Abo Khushayba exit. Not long after that we had to go through an armed security checkpoint. After checking our passports we were warmly waved on. (We encountered the Jordanian Army a few times on a road trip of Jordan. They were always very nice to us and very tourist friendly.)
At first we weren’t sure if we had taken the right road. It was a really windy narrow road that meandered through some pretty deserted but beautiful countryside. The air was extremely hot and arid and we didn’t see a living soul for quite some time. Then way out in the middle of nowhere as we entered a deep valley we came upon a lone man dressed in a deep green velvet suit, khaki pants and native head wear. He didn’t even bat us an eye and kept on his merry way…strange?! We supposed that he must have come from one of the local Bedouin tribes that reside in the surrounding desert and mountains.
The signage wasn’t so great in those parts but the locals we saw in the next little town were really friendly and helpful. Before we knew it we were driving into the famous town of Petra. We had done some research on Petra before going so we knew the best possible place to stay at was at the Movenpick Hotel which was located directly across from Petra’s gates.
The hotel was really beautiful inside and had an exquisite courtyard located in the centre that was brilliantly decorated in native design and décor. Since we had only given ourselves one day in Petra we quickly dropped off our bags, put on our runners, some much needed sunscreen and hats and were on our way.
The heat was really intense so we readied ourselves for the hard trek ahead. After paying our 50JD ($67AUD) we began our long awaited walk to the great carved out monuments. On the way we passed locals trying to sell donkey, camel and horse rides.
We chose to go the ol’ ankle express route to really take in the scenery and also to give the poor animals a break. Along the way we passed some remarkable roughly carved out rocks called the Djinn Blocks and after about a kilometer we entered the Siq.
The Siq is the main entrance to the ancient city of Petra. It is a deep narrow gorge that runs for just over a kilometer. The towering rock walls on either side have beautiful sandstone patterns and there are some nice carvings as well. Back in the 1st century BC the Siq was considered sacred to the Nabatean people and used as a Grand Caravan entrance.
The dirt path through the Siq was fairly smooth but sometimes there were spots of rough cobblestone, and I mean rough! I saw a little old lady who opted for the donkey and cart ride holding on for dear life while almost getting knocked out of her seat while her driver was trying to maneuver over them. Somehow I don’t think a moderately fast clip clop on wooden wheels over big rough rocks while being pulled by a stubborn ass really mix!?! It was a pretty funny sight…for me anyway lol!
After that humorous incident we continued on our merry way meandering through the giant walls of beautifully colored red rock. This area was nice and cool in some spots with the wind winding its way through it sure was a nice reprieve from the harsh open desert. One thing that we thought was really interesting were the traces of old carved out water channels that ran along the bottom of this pathway. The work that it must have taken even just to do that!
As we rounded a corner we got our first glimpse of one of Petra’s most famous structures shining out between the rocks – The Treasury. The Siq walls parted and we emerged before one of the most incredible sights we have ever seen. Just standing there before such an amazing spectacle was rather humbling to say the least.
The Treasury (Al Khazneh) was built between 60BC – 50AD. The size of it is jaw-dropping, standing at an impressive 39.5 meters and to think that this whole structure was carved out of one piece of solid sandstone rock. The excruciating hours and painstaking delicate detailed labor that went into this boggles my mind. We had seen glimpses of The Treasury in some movies but when you’re there in the flesh seeing it with your own eyes it’s a totally different thing.
Afterwards we continued along the path and came upon some more wondrous sights. A really incredible one was the amphitheater that was also carved entirely in rock and could seat up to 6,000 people. Along the way there were a few carved tombs that we were allowed to venture into. The patterns ingrained throughout the rock were fantastic! Next we climbed to the Urn Tomb. Another magnificent structure carved out of the whole face of the mountain.
Fortunately there are a few little cafes in that area so we went in for a cool down before heading on an even bigger trek than what we’d just been on. We were heading to our last sightsee – The Monastery (Ad Dayr) 85BC – 110AD. This ‘little’ trek was going to take us up the mountain on about 800 rock-carved steps. I saw some tourists heading back on donkeys which I thought looked rather humorous but they all looked at me and said that’d I’d soon be a donkey lover too…mmm…what did we get ourselves into?!
There were a lot of local boys trying to get you to ride their donkeys to the top saying how hard the 1-hour walk was going to be. No worries I thought at the time so we stuck to our guns and under the glare of the fierce sun we took our first step. About halfway through I was seriously beginning to doubt myself and the torture I was putting my legs through. I had already run out of liquid gold (aka. water) and was seriously starting to get crazy eyed for the stuff.
It was late afternoon when we made this journey so all of the little makeshift local Bedouin shops along the way (yes shops believe it or not) were closed down for the day. Thankfully there was one shop still open near the top selling ice-cold drinks.
Seeing the shop above me with about another 50 steps to climb was excruciating. I seriously thought I was going to start chewing on my own tongue that was if I didn’t hyperventilate first! Those first frantic gulps felt like heaven and so did the next two bottles after that. My previous thoughts about stupid thirst quenching commercials went out the window ~ I was a believer man!
After another 100 steps or so we finally reached the Monastery. Was it worth it? Oh yeah! Every last painstaking step my friends. The Monastery dates back to the 1st Century AD and is Petra’s largest carved monument and was like icing on the cake for the trip. The building under the glow of the afternoon sun made the warm colors of the sandstone stand out even more.
We thought we’d reached the top but we soon saw a sign pointing up saying ‘The Best View in Petra.’ Well we couldn’t pass it up so we climbed another little mountain and I figure we did get the best panoramic view of Petra and to top it off there was another little Bedouin shop situated right at the top!! What the … ?
Going down was somewhat easier but seeing some of those poor donkeys getting whipped on the way down wasn’t so pleasant. We hate seeing animal abuse like that and we even tried to step in to tell the kids not to treat the animals that way but such is life there I guess. I think that they are trying to do a better job with the animal situation there but from what we saw it is what it is, hopefully it will change in the future. (For some of the way down I was speaking to this very nice Bedouin girl. She was very sweet … until she hit her donkey in the head with a brick when he didn’t go the way she wanted!!)
There are so many nooks and crannies to explore in Petra and it would probably be best to do so over a couple of days if you want to take your time. The history is really incredible. We didn’t hire a guide for this one but we seemed to do alright with the posted signs at each monument. Therefore we wouldn’t recommend it. Take your time and explore on your own – just make sure to wear some good walking gear, bring some cash for drinks and say goodbye to your runners afterwards!
This travel diary has been written by Rob Gower, a friend who enjoys taking roads less traveled!