The city of Petra is an adventurer’s dream. Hidden in the mountains of Jordan, it brings visitors back in time to a simple life easily imagined. When trekking to the ancient city of Petra through the long and narrow walkway known as the Siq, the walls almost reverberate with the whispered voices of those who have lived and visited there over the centuries.
It’s a peaceful walk surrounded by the spectacularly high mountains of rock from which the Siq was carved. The tranquility is periodically broken by the clatter of hooves as horses and donkeys pass by bringing tourists into the settlement hidden in the mountains.
The 1200-metre stroll spills visitors onto a plaza which feels like a Hollywood movie set…which it was in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” with Harrison Ford. The first building you see as you enter Petra is the Pharoah’s Treasury which was the backdrop of one of the scenes in the film.
It’s definitely a step back in time and the locals, a few who still live in Petra and others who have moved out into government built housing, still hawk their wares to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit each year. According to the Petra Tourism and Development Region Authority, 209,000 people visited during the first quarter of 2010.
Getting Around Petra
The biggest money-maker are the “taxis” that take you to the most popular sites in the settlement, some which are horrendously difficult to reach and take time, stamina and lots of water to get to. To save wear and tear on footwear and the body, there’s a choice of type of taxi: horse, donkey or camel. Some pull carriage-style carts that tourists sit in (but they can’t reach some of the more out of the way spots). So, the majority choose the donkey that can get to the highest places, through the narrowest pathways and up the steepest inclines. It can be a bit hair-raising though so many bite the bullet and go on foot.
The High Place of Sacrifice
Getting to the High Place of Sacrifice is a challenging hike straight up. It’s worth the trip as it awards the more hearty hiker with the most coveted view of the day. Overlooking the Street of Facades in the distance, visitors can imagine the religious ceremonies that were held in this sacred place that honored the Nabataean gods. It was also the site used for funeral rites.
An even more difficult hike, not as steep but much longer, is the trek to the Monastery which involves walking up 500 steps carved into the side of the breathtaking rainbow sandstone mountains. It’s good advice to wait until the sun has dipped below the mountain before making this journey and also to bring lots of water.
Taking it slow is also advised. Enjoy the scenery and stop for a cup of tea with the local Bedouin women and have a look at the jewelry they’re selling, from camel bone necklaces to ancient amulets dug up in the ruins (so they say). Some of these women are still living the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors. They live in the mountains in tents in the winter and in the caves, which are cooler, in the summer. The tents are typically much further up in the mountains and only the most intrepid explorer will get a glimpse. However, there are many rugged little shops and kiosks along the more traveled tracks, where souvenirs, tea, coffee, snacks and soft drinks are sold. The most welcoming one is at the site of the Monastery where a canteen is set up inside a very large cave, which offers cool respite after a long trek.
Married to a Bedouin
The most accurate depiction of Bedouin life in Petra is shared in a book called “Married to a Bedouin,” an autobiographical tale written by New Zealander Marguerite van Geldermalsen. Published in 2006, it tells her story of trekking in the mountains of Petra as a young woman, meeting a Bedouin man, falling in love, marrying him, moving into his cave (literally) and…living happily ever after.