Thursday, 16 May 2019

Petra day two

We had breakfast in the dining room of the hotel and then got ready to head out. I bought a large bottle of water (0.75JD) and then we went to the visitor’s centre but found that you need your passport (or some other form of photo ID) if you want to buy tickets to enter the site. So we headed back to the hotel to get the right documents. By the time we had organised ourselves correctly and paid (using a credit card, which was convenient) it was 10.30am when we entered the site and started walking. We would be walking still after eight hours and there would be no lunch just countless bottles of water and cans of soft drink. The wind blew steadily at about five knots from the west during the day.

We stopped for refreshments as soon as we got inside and bought an ice cream then got talking with Saad, who was staffing the kiosk. He told us that Chinese tourists don’t buy anything in Jordan but that they do buy things in Israel. This kind of story seems to be commonplace in Jordan. The main enemy is always in sight for them. A pair of fake soldiers turned up when we were sitting in the shade at the kiosk and we had pictures taken with them. I tipped them (at their request) 1JD each and we headed further into the sandstone valley.

When we got to the “Treasury” we stopped of course to take photos. This part of the site is called this because legend had it that the pharaoh had hidden treasure in the urn at the top of the carving. But the monument probably had other uses and there are tombs below it. Tombs are everywhere in the valley of Petra as well as ruined buildings and fabulous ancient carvings in the reddish stone.

The Treasury exhibits influences in its designs from Egypt, Rome and Greece as well as some carvings that originate with the Nabataean culture native to Jordan. So it is a hybrid. The Jordan Museum calls it “multicultural”, and based on the fact that the civilisation that created it become wealthy through its location on trade routes, that seems like a reasonable claim. A bit further on I bought a can of Coke for 2JD.

A shop in the complex at this point named Why Not Shop is indicative of the mercantile habits of the Bedouin who are the people you find throughout the site doing business, selling things, steering horse-drawn carriages, leading donkeys or camels, or asking people if they want to go on tours. They are usually young men but some children as young as eight or so are involved, as well as old women and women of a marriageable age. They all have this in common: if they can they will earn money from you. As a tourist you are an available resource. When we talked later on with a 12-year-old girl named Raida it was evident that the Bedouin who do business in Petra do not often even go to Wadi Musa, which services the site. Rarely they get as far as Amman.

Taking photos as we went, we passed some flowering aloes and stopped again for refreshments, this time a Lipton tea and some freshly-squeezed orange juice (5JD total). A group of women all of whom were aged in their fifties or sixties, and all of whom were either from Brazil or Portugal, were sitting in the shade as well. There were Germans, English people, Italians and French people around as well. Even Americans come this far to do the pilgrimage to the top of the mountain.

In the kiosk we found ourselves in at this point in the journey you pay when you leave. Outside, a young boy named Mohammed on a donkey offered us a ride on Shakira and Karolim, but we declined. Many people do go up to the “Monastery” on these poor animals regardless of the weight of the human involved. When we stopped to rest further up the mountain a young woman who might have been Italian said that she would never take a ride on one of these beasts because, she said, it would be cruel to do so.

At 1.25pm we arrived at the Crown Plaza Hotel which is just before the steps taking you up to the top of the site. We ducked into the restaurant hoping to get a feed but the man near the door said that the space inside was only for the use of tour groups. We would have to sit outside. But there were too many flies around so we left immediately.

At 2.05pm we stopped in a shelter where there were chairs to rest, and drank some water. I had carried the bottle with me for this purpose. A man on a donkey asked us if we wanted a ride but we politely declined. He was persistent though and said we might reconsider later. If we did, he went on, we should try to find him. “My name is Mohammed with the gold tooth,” he said with a wide smile, pointing with his finger at the relevant canine. Further up we had two Cokes in the shade and a man named Solomon who spoke fluent Italian introduced us to Raida who, he said, didn’t have an email address because she was too young. Solomon told a group of Italians who stopped by that during the high season 6000 or 7000 tourists come through the valley of Petra and up the mountain every day. We took photos with Raida and then carried on like pilgrims, determined to get to the top but suffering immoderately for the sake of our grand ambition.

At 3pm we arrived at the top and I bought a Coke and a chocolate-covered wafer (3JD for both) but the confection didn’t get eaten and ended up back in the hotel room, melted. I also bought some more water at the same kiosk at the top (2JD) and at 4.15pm after taking an inordinate number of photos, we started our descent; we would not get to the visitor’s centre until 6.10pm.

On the way down we met with Raida again. She was talking with a young woman who promptly tried to sell us some of the things that were hanging on the display frame she was seated next to. Raida offered to take us to see another carving but I was too tired and sat down, so my travelling companion went off with her to see it. While they were away the woman who remained managed to coerce me out of 20JD in exchange for a scarf. She said any money I gave her would go toward helping her people. She also gave me a bracelet that she asked me to choose from the items on the stand, for nothing. When my friend came back my friend took out some lipstick and applied it to Raida’s face; the two of them were getting along swimmingly.

With the ringing voice of Raida’s companion in our ears we managed to extricate ourselves from the pair and continue on down the mountain, step by painful step. But Raida was in pursuit and came up to us as we were negotiating the flatter part before the gorge swallows tourists up like a prop in an Indiana Jones movie (one film in the franchise was actually shot here in the 80s). The three of us walked along companionably for a while, talking, and Raida gave me a blue bracelet to give to my daughter. Raida was voluble, as her people tend to be, but would clam up depending on what was said to her, or even pretend not to understand if she was unhappy with the direction the conversation was taking. This kind of dealing was a welcome change however to the endless touting and the cheeky comments that usually come from the men.

Raida was a superb communicator and told us many things some of which were probably not true. If she went to school it would have been evident in the accomplished English she used during our conversations. But she also said she was helping her parents, who stayed at home and did not work. Her young brother, she went on, was at school and she was helping to pay for it. The king of Jordan moved the Bedouin out of the caves of Petra in 1985, we later learned, and put them in houses. But the lifestyle persists in the way that the people use the ruins to their advantage.

Raida eventually left us to meet with a friend, a young girl. And as we got closer to the exit the exhortations to take a ride of one type or another got more and more frequent. 30JD was suggested for a ride in one of the buggies (or carriages) that ply the route from the entrance to the Treasury. We kept on declining until we got back to the hotel, got our keys, and made our way to our rooms, where we collapsed.

For a few hours anyway. We later got our act together long enough to go out and get food; we had eaten nothing since about 9am. The Sandstone Restaurant seemed decent and sitting on the front balcony was the young woman who had told us her feelings earlier in the day about donkey rides in Petra. Her hair was down this time and I didn’t recognise her at first. She was sitting with a young man and we soon left them and ordered a mansaf (lamb with rice) and a vegetarian dish which also came with rice. With it we had fresh orange juice. In total it came to 26JD and the waiter brought us some sweets at the end so I tipped the staff 1JD after paying.

On the way back to the hotel we were waylaid by the operator of a store named Lawrence of Arabia, who told us many things about the Bedouin that we didn’t know before. His English was perfect and I thought he was Australian at first. But he was Bedouin and he said that when he was young his people would move to different places and live in tents during the harvest (wheat and barley). They also, as is more commonly known, run sheep and goats; there had been goats up at the top of the mountain when we were coming down, in our exhausted state. The store owner gave us some delicious tea and then (unsurprisingly) tried to get us interested in some tours he could organise for us if we wanted. We declined and after I bought a large bottle of water (1JD), the two of us headed back to the refuge of the hotel where we knew no-one would try to sell us anything.

Above: Some of the caves in the sandstone at Petra.

Above: A more ornate cave at Petra.

Above: A large group of German tourists.

Above: A horse and buggy. The man walking alongside the conveyance is the Bedouin who operates it.

Above: The gorge and the "Treasury".

Above: Me in front of the "Treasury".

Above: A group of tourists and some more caves.

Above: The "Monastery" at the top of the mountain.

Above: The descent. You go down the same way you go up. Clearly, going down is a lot easier than going up.

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