After exploring Kerak Castle, we are back on the road and heading into Petra. Petra is the most popular and most important site in all of Jordan. It hit over 1 million visitors in 2019, thanks in part to me! Haha. Experts believe it was first settled in 7,000 BC by the Nabateans – nomadic Arabs that established Petra as a major trading hub. They were great at agriculture, harvesting water and surviving in barren deserts, so the city of Petra flourished. Then those crazy Romans arrived and took over the city, but its trade importance declined due to sea trade routes that emerged. It was also damaged by an earthquake, a possible flood, and declined further before it was abandoned and then rediscovered in 1812. Can you imagine finding this place? Jackpot!!
We arrive and check into Edom Hotel- I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s a bit fancy, but like old school fancy with outdated décor.
The elevators don’t work properly, which is a nightmare when you’re on the 5th floor. I get stuck in one – it just doesn’t move so when the door finally opens I decide to just lug my suitcase up the stairs.
The room is fine for 1 night, but there is no WiFi included. Only for an extra cost. Come on!!! The main reason I’d even recommend this hotel is because it is a 5-minute walk from the entrance gate to Petra. Can’t get better than that! And there are lots of restaurants along the street in front of the hotel for convenience.
Ian and I grab a quick dinner of crappy falafel sandwiches – as I mentioned in a previous blog, I was spoiled by the most amazing falafel sandwich in Amman so nothing else compares. Ian is nice enough to buy me a ticket to Petra By Night, and we start the long half hour walk in the dark through the Siq which leads to the most famous sight here, the Treasury. The Siq is a 1.2 km long gorge; even in the dark you can see the large rock towering above. It is lit up with candles in paper bags, but a cell phone light or flashlight also comes in handy. We finally get to the entryway to The Treasury, and my first glimpse of it is….just wow!
Colorful lights shine onto it, and we find a spot on the floor mats and sit while Bedouin men serve us tea (even though I’m sitting on a mat, I still get my black jumpsuit very dusty).
This is where Ian goes off to take a ton of photos, and I relax and take in the atmosphere with the Treasury standing tall before me. The show begins; there is a guy playing some kind of flute and a another one playing a guitar. One guy starts to tell a story, and then there is a woman shrieking off to the side. I think it’s part of the show but it isn’t. Now she’s yelling, is there a doctor here? The show stops and people are rushing over to help. I’m still not sure what has happened and because of all of this, they cancel tonight’s show. I feel bad for whomever had the medical emergency of course, but I’m pretty disappointed that I don’t get to see the show.
There are some shops set up in the Treasury area, so I have a look inside. There’s a Bedouin guy working there that looks like Jack Sparrow and I think he does this on purpose. Haha. He’s pretty hot though. I then start the long walk back through the Siq and I’m feeling a bit dizzy…maybe it’s from straining my eyes in the dark, maybe I’m a bit dehydrated and tired. Or I’m hungry, since I didn’t have much for lunch. I find a late-night place that serves pizza, and it hits the spot.
After a decent night’s sleep, we make the long trek (as a group) through the Siq…but this time we have Khalid as our guide. Yay! Haha.
He stops many times along the way to talk about water systems and drawings on the walls, etc. and again I’m only half paying attention. But his talk definitely makes the walk much less boring. A horse and carriage ride into the Treasury is included in the price of the ticket, but the guys will expect a large tip or try to make you pay – I’m assuming it’s in case one doesn’t realize its included so they can make more money.
We do not take these carriages, and continue on with our walk. Walking through the Siq in the daytime feels like being on another planet – the rock walls tower above, there are small carvings in the rocks along the way; the coloring of the rocks is just beautiful.
There are orange and pink hues, and cool variations depending on where the sun is hitting the rocks. Petra is also called the Rose City, because of the pink colors of the stone that make up the rock cut architecture.
Petra was considered a rich city, and it is pretty amazing how they carved everything from the stone. The Nabateans were also were masters at controlling water and had a very intricate system to bring in water from nearby, store it and control any floods with dams.
And then we finally arrive at the Treasury; it’s so exciting to finally see it in daylight. Nothing short of stunning.
The Treasury is one of the most elaborate temples in Petra, carved into the sandstone rock. It is believed to be the mausoleum of King Aretas IV, a Nabatean king. The reason behind calling it a treasury is because the Bedouins thought there were treasures inside and even tried to shoot at the urn that sits on one of the higher levels in hopes that treasure would spill out.
You can still see the bullet holes today. But the joke was on them – it was just solid sandstone. The Treasury is pretty well-preserved, but its surface is starting to recede from people touching it.
It’s pretty hectic in here; so many tourists running about and taking pics. I am approached by a guy named Ali, whom I’d met last night at the shop with Jack Sparrow. He wants to take me to climb up the rocks on the other side for a really cool viewpoint of the Treasury. I tell him I don’t have any money (I actually don’t – I needed to borrow some notes from Ian), and he says don’t worry you can take out more when you buy something at the shop after. Ummm no, I already bought stuff from you last night! But he grabs my hand and takes me over to the path worn into the rocks. It’s not a super hard climb, but I would have had difficulty doing it on my own. He’s really nice; we have a chat along the way up. The view is really great from up here; I snap a few pics and head down since the group will be moving on soon.
He doesn’t ask for money but I decide to give him a few dinar for his guidance and company. Well, he basically refuses to take it and not because he’s being kind – he scoffs in my face and tells me he doesn’t do that climb for less than 10 dinar. Alright then! I know these guys need to make a living out here, but he needs to be more upfront about his charges, or take what he’s given(or nothing). And he’s not going to guilt me into paying him more. Now it’s time to continue on exploring Petra with Khalid and the group….
As we wander out to the Treasury into the next area, there are so many donkeys around to hire for rides. And this brings us to a brief discussion about animal cruelty here in Petra. After PETA exposed the abuse taking place here, there has been some changes made. I didn’t see any abuse personally, but I’m sure it does still happen on some level.
I don’t know how well they are being watered and fed. I don’t know for how long they are put to work. A popular hike up to the monastery of Petra is a challenge with the eroded steps so you can hire a donkey to do the work. I don’t think that’s a good scenario for the donkey so I will not be doing this (and I decide that the climb will be too strenuous in my knees, and it’s way too damn hot. No thanks!).
We are now exploring the street of facades, where the gorge widens through the outer Siq from the Treasury.
There is a large theatre, and tombs carved into the rocks high above.
You can climb up to explore them closer, but we are on a bit of a time constraint and as I mentioned, I don’t want to exert myself too much in this heat. But there are also many tombs at ground level so we have a look inside.
One of the girls in my group points out the souvenir stand belonging to Marguerite Van Geldermalsen, who visited Petra in the late 70’s and fell in love with a Bedouin man. She wrote a book called Married to a Bedouin; she is the only Western woman to have lived in a Petra cave. With the emergence of Petra being a massive tourist site, the Bedouins were resettled in nearby areas. At Marguerite’s shop you can purchase her handmade jewelry and signed copies of her book. She is not here today, but her son is and he has a chat with curious visitors.
We grab some water and ice cream at a nearby stall, and continue on. Luckily there are many places to buy water here so don’t worry about becoming dehydrated!
Now we’re walking along what was once a main road into the city centre, and I climb up the stairs into the ruins of The Great Temple.
Historians are still not sure if it was a religious or administrative complex. It’s a lot of empty space, with only stumps of columns left standing. There are two large cisterns here, that feed into an underground system that joins the citywide system and possibly all the way to the main water source off in the distance.
Back down the old stone road and through the remains of the Hadrian Gate, we make a final stop at the Qasr al-Bint, the main temple.
It’s now time for lunch and Khalid takes us to one of the only restaurants in Petra. Nothing looks appealing to me and it’s quite expensive as you’d imagine so I decide to skip it and keep exploring since it’s now free time for the next few hours. Ian makes the trek up to the monastery, and I wish I had the stamina to go with him.
A young boy is asking me if I want a ride on his donkey (at this time I didn’t know about the issues of animal abuse here), so I try to offer him a fair price. Some local guy overhears this and barks that nothing is worth doing for less than 10 dinar (converts to $20CAD). I find a lot of the locals that work here come across as really snobby and greedy, which is really off-putting. Of course the boy wants more, but I tell him it’s either he takes that or I just walk back to the Treasury. No problem! He accepts my price, and I hop on the donkey. Riding on a donkey isn’t easy; it’s kind of a wobbly ride. And my donkey just walks right into people that aren’t paying attention. It’s pretty funny. And I have to yell out hey, excuse us! Haha. The boy’s name is Ali, and he wants to be in the police or military and wants to marry a local, not a foreigner. We arrive back at the Treasury (and my donkey almost bails over this poor older woman – yikes!), and I give him the agreed amount plus an extra tip because he is such a sweetheart and seemed to treat his donkey well. I walk very quickly through the Treasury area, so that the other Ali guy doesn’t see me and demand money for that climb he took me on a few hours ago. It’s ok, he’s probably working on ripping off other tourists! I wander back through the Siq, and stop at a souvenir shop to have a look around. The guy is super nice, and shows me petty much everything in the shop and serves me hot tea. I buy a few things, including a pretty Bedouin scarf which he properly ties around my head.
As if I wasn’t getting enough looks already, I become even more of a target now with the scarf. I’m bombarded by guys wanting me to ride in their horse carriage back to the entrance gates. No, no NO. Haha. Because I skipped the lunch earlier, I’m pretty hungry now so I stop at a place called Red Cave, find a seat outside and finally try the traditional Jordanian dish of mansaf. It’s supposed to be with lamb, but I cheat and order it with chicken instead. Not a huge fan of lamb!
The chicken is cooked in a fermented dried yogurt and served over rice. It also comes with this other sauce on the side that I pour over the dish. And then I shove all that into pita and voila. It is delicious the best meal I’ve had in Jordan so far. I wash it down with one of those lemony minty drinks and then head back to the hotel to meet the group so we can head off to the next destination.
Petra is pretty much the main thing you’d come to Jordan to see. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a New7Wonders of the world. Petra faces such threats as structure collapse, erosion from flooding, salt upwelling/weathering and over tourism. Hopefully it will be around for many more years to come. If you want to learn more, I found a couple of cool documentaries called Lost City of Stone from the TV series Nova and The Hidden Glory of Petra from the History Channel. You can watch them on YouTube. And you also subscribe to my YouTube channel – Everywhere on Earth with Erin Travel Channel.