At long last, I made it to Petra.
Petra is a place that’s intrigued me since before I even knew its name – since I first saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a young child. Could a place so magnificent really exist? Nah, couldn’t be – it must just be a fake Hollywood set.
Oh, take my word for it. It exists. And it’s…incredible.
Let me try to describe what it feels like to approach Petra for the first time.
It’s just after dawn and you’re walking quietly through the Siq, a 1.2 kilometer long crack in a massive stone block that was ripped open by tectonic forces many thousands of years ago. Sometimes the Siq’s walls join so close together that you can touch both sides just by extending your arms, and sometimes it grows as wide as a two-lane highway. Looking straight up, the towering rock walls are so massive you can barely see to the top; you wouldn’t even be able to tell how tall they are if not for a tiny sliver of blue morning sky peeking in from above.
Twisting and winding onwards, you wonder if the monstrous chasm will open up to reveal an endless desert or simply come to a dead-end, running into another of those sheer sandstone cliffs. But something tells you it’s worth continuing – old rock carvings and small shrines cut into the sandstone on either side prove that you’re not the first human to explore this mystical place.
Then, just as you think the canyon will never end, you round one last corner. Brilliant sunlight pours in, and for a moment you’re blinded. But slowly, your eyes adjust.
You see something that stops you in your tracks.
It’s the Treasury of Petra. A massive stone structure large enough to rival any modern wonder of engineering, yet it’s over two thousand years old. As you continue to venture forwards your view gradually expands and you realize that the Treasury is not a building at all, but a facade carved right out of the iron-laden sandstone cliff. You wonder how many decades it must’ve taken to complete.
Then, at last, you’re out in the open once again. Above you towers one of the seven wonders of the new world. And it’s even more incomprehensible than you ever imagined.
But the Treasury is just the beginning.
After waking up just sometime around 6am, Peder and I spent nearly 13 hours hiking through and exploring the sprawling city of Petra.
What most people don’t realize is that the Rose City is far more than a single building, but an ancient metropolis, covering a massive area with tombs, amphitheaters, and promenades, all carved into the impressive Jordanian sandstone cliffs.
Walking from one end to the other could easily take hours, depending on where you define the “ends” to be – for as long as we walked we never stopped seeing what were obviously manmade dwellings and carvings.
During our 13 hours in Petra the two of us climbed countless hundreds of stone-cut staircases, stood atop the towering High Place of Sacrifice and scrambled up the Temple of the Winged Lions.
We befriended donkey-riding locals, stopped to share a cup of tea with several groups of Bedouin merchants, and witnessed one man climb to the top of the towering Al-Deir (Monastary) where he stood upright in the desert winds dancing and playing a small flute (totally insane).
By the time our day was coming to an end and we had to turn back towards our hotel in Wadi Musa, there was no doubt in our minds as to whether or not Petra deserved to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
You simply have to see it to believe it.
When Peder bought his ticket to Israel from Turkey, he had a very specific list of things he wanted to see. On this list was Petra, the Dead Sea, and a night in a Bedouin Camp. But we were running out of time – his flight back left in just one day – and it looked like something would have to be cut.
We decided to skip the Bedouin experience (which I’d already done on Birthright anyway, and was less than impressed with its touristiness), spend one last night in Petra, and leave on the first bus to Amman at sunrise.
Things went smoothly until we reached the capital city itself – but luckily, the ever-friendly Jordanians came through once again.
As we stood on a street corner attempting to communicate to a cab driver our desire to visit first the Dead Sea then to be dropped at the border crossing to Israel, a black Mercedes with tinted windows pulled up in front of us. Out stepped a tall man in a general’s uniform, totally covered with medals. He was Jordanian, but spoke perfect English in a British accent.
At first we thought we were in some sort of trouble – a nearby police officer had also noticed our long, distressed discussion with the cab driver and come over to investigate, but seemed to give up when he realized we couldn’t speak Arabic (okay, so not EVERYONE speaks English).
This was not the case at all. Once we explained our situation, the general first tried to translate our intentions to the driver. Then when he told us the price, we recoiled. He noticed. “You know what? Here, just hop in – I’ll give you a lift to the bus station.”
We talked the whole way there about how he wished Westerners knew more about the Muslim world, and how it’s not as bad as we all seem to think it is: most people here are really good-hearted.
I couldn’t agree more.
But when we reached the central bus station another problem presented itself: the bus to the Dead Sea had just left, and here, buses don’t depart until they’re full.
Again we called for help – an American expat I noticed standing nearby thankfully came and translated. The result?
Peder and I chartered the entire bus to drive us to the water, wait while Peder took a quick dip, then drive us to the crossing at King Hussein’s Bridge.
We made it to the border right on schedule, crossed twenty or so security checkpoints, and entered…
The West Bank.