Breakfast in Petra
There is more to Petra than the famous Treasury edifice cut into the native mountain. There is a Little Petra too and well worth a visit to get you excited about the "big" Petra. Beyond the Treasury there are many more tombs worth visiting. Be warned that the site it huge and covering it all would take days of hard, hot hiking.
We were up and walking down the street towards the entrance to Petra predawn. It was cold and we could feel the cold in our t-shirts as there was no point in wearing anything more since we knew the afternoon sun would bring more than 30C later in the day. It was also very dark except for the rare street light. As we walked along the street we observed an odd occurrence. In the darkness you could see that the shops that lined the street still had their wares on display. The trinkets that you would need to barter hard for during the day were out on the same tables, totally unguarded. There were even more useful items like bottled water on racks at the curbside. Obviously the local folk were a very honourable and trustworthy group. We've always been of the opinion that those who trust are trustworthy themselves and throughout our travels in Jordan the Jordanian people displayed how honourable they were on so many levels.
The gate to Petra opened at 6:00 and we were the second couple to pass through it. It was a 3ish kilometre walk to the actual Petra site.
As we set out the anticipation began to build because we got a taste of what to expect the previous day when we visited Little Petra. We had no idea that there was such a thing as little Petra before we found ourselves exploring it. It was only after visiting Petra that you could appreciate Little Petra's remarkable resemblance. You enter Little Petra through a short, but narrow passage through the rocks you come upon the first carved rock edifice. As you continue, there are more and still more buildings carved in the rock. Some are merely one story high while others are multi story. About a kilometre down the canyon, you come to a dead end, sort of... There appears to be a stairs cut into the rock. The 'staircase' is steep, highly eroded and crooked. It appears to be semi-impassable. The intriguing part was the hand written cardboard sign hanging on a rock at the base that read "The most beautiful view on earth" with an arrow pointing up the apparent stair case. Unable to resist the temptation we climbed the tricky and precarious climb. At the top there were some Bedouin merchants and the opportunity to climb even higher, which we did of course. The view was worth the risky climb. After a few choice photos we descended back part way to share a cold Diet Coke with the Bedouin host and learn a little more about the area. Little Petra was well worth the visit!
Back at “big” Petra, twilight began to sink in as we made our way down towards the Siq. There were already carved rock tombs that came into focus from out of the darkness. It was impossible to pass by them without taking a photo. The path then came up against a rock face with only a narrow passage through it to continue: the Siq. The Siq was a natural feature created when an earthquake fractured the rock creating a 1200 metre long corridor only a few metres wide and up to 200 metres deep. The Siq subtly twists and turns so you cannot anticipate what waits around the next corner as you make your way down it. There are some carvings in the rock walls to keep your attention and channels that once flowed water to the city. It seems to go on forever until you get your first glimpse of the Treasury. You feel like Indiana Jones when the Treasury comes into view. Wow. It is impossible to appreciate the scale of the monument's 140 foot height unless you're standing in front of it.
Leaving predawn, you arrive at the Treasury just in time for sunrise when the desert chill begins to fade. It seems that many of the bus tours end there, but there is so, so much more to Petra. There are over 500 other tombs to explore along with the ancient city centre and an impressive amphitheater cut out of the native rock. The trick is that you need to keep walking for a few more kilometres to see them. The site is massive, hot, dusty and the necessary rock climbing is somewhat challenging and precarious.
Having walked past the Treasury, our goal was to climb to one of Petra's high points to enjoy a bird's eye view of the site and eat the breakfast our hotel had packed for us.
Up we went. Higher and higher on a foot path of steps carved from the native sandstone rock. Some steps were in good shape while others were badly eroded. When you thought you saw the top to the path, there was another switch back to take you even higher. At the summit there was an ancient sacrificial altar cut into the native stone, complete with a system for draining the blood away. One hundred metres beyond that, there was a rock where you could sit, eat your breakfast and overlook the entire Petra site. It was well worth the effort. That point also provided a spot for the local Bedouin to offer refreshments for those you dared to search it out. We enjoyed a mint tea with our fruit and pastries as we took in the view. It was an awesome experience that we will never forget.
We descended the back side of the mountain which provided an opportunity to see tombs that are less visited. Our trail led us down to the ancient city centre where we explored each of the ruined buildings in turn in what had become the heat of the day. The Nabatean edifices offered some unique architectural styles. They seemed to be a fusion of Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern styles and definitely different than anything we had encountered before.
Exhausted, we started to make our way back to our hotel by midafternoon. We guessed that we had walked more than ten kilometres that day.
The next morning, we again made our way down the Siq predawn to visit the Royal Tombs for we had saved that area for the following morning. All alone, we found ourselves just outside one of the tombs sitting on a bench carved from the native sandstone. The sun was just rising, setting the valley on fire, when we tied into our second breakfast in Petra. Awesome.