Petra is hands-down the biggest tourist attraction in Jordan. As one of the new seven wonders of the world it has been segmented as a must-see place for any tourist with respect for him- or herself.
Most come in large buses from neighbouring Israel and Egypt. Lonely Planets edition for Israel and the Palestinian Territories even has a chapter on Petra.
They arrive for a two hour visit during which they have the time to walk the winding road of the Siq until it opens up to the iconic view of the Treasury.
They might have time for walking to some of the graves and the Amphitheatre, but as much as they will be in awe of the grandness of the place, they haven’t even scratched the surface of why Petra is a new yet old wonder of the world.
After advise from my friend in Amman, my boyfriend and I decided to have two complete days in Wadi Musa. Wadi Musa is the valley where Petra lies and has given name to the town that has sprung up around the entrance to Petra since its discovery in 1812.
Wadi Musa is built on the tourist industry connected to Petra and stretches from the entrance to the sights and up the steep hill beyond. High heels is a no-go due to the elevation of the streets and walking home can feel like climbing Mount Everest.
The not so luxurious hotel
Unfortunately, due to Google Maps lack of correct topographical and geographical information we had already booked a hotel almost as far from the entrance and as far up the mountain side as possible.
It was a new hotel with all the obvious issues which lack of routine brings with it, and while we had hoped to spend two days at a hotel much fancier than what we were used to, we ended up no better off than what we have experienced so far.
The swimming pool which was in constant shadows and therefore icy in the desert heat was filled with dead flies on the surface, while the restaurant was disorganised and the chain of command in the reception unsure.
However, we didn’t come to Wadi Musa for the hotel
Sightseeing in Wadi Musa
As the restaurant at the hotel seemed a rather risky business, we decided to head down to the centre of Wadi Musa for dinner. After a ten minutes’ walk straight down we ended up at a crossroad which seemed to be a small centre of Wadi Musa and where the main attraction was a restaurant offering the standard Jordanian variety of food.
At the entrance sat a large man at a grill handing out shiish kebab. The place seemed to be a favourite for locals, who stood in the doorway chatting away. Half of them were customers – the other half were staff. I counted ten people working in the small restaurant, many of whom were cleaning where it was already clean or standing in line ready to help the customers.
It seems to me so very far from the pressure of Danish society where everyone is under constant pressure to increase production and decrease the costs, all the time thinking in profit and efficiency. In Jordan you do not fire someone to increase your profit – you hire someone as soon as the profit allows it. I have been told that the philosophy behind it is that everyone should have a possibility to provide for their families.
While it most certainly has consequences in regards to the Jordanian economy and the modernisation of Jordan, I liked it. Every system has its pro’s and con’s and as an outsider who do not care to analyse the cost-benefit effect of a society while on vacation I simply took joy in the solidarity which the Jordanians have.
I ended up spending a good deal of time enjoying the atmosphere while attempting to forget that I had to climb up the steep hill to return to the hotel.
The following day we walked the long and winding road down to the entrance of Petra. The entrance itself is nowhere near the Siq. A long and travelled road led from the entrance to where the Siq began. While most people run through or take a horse or wagon, the road in itself is rather interesting and pleasant, offering a sample of magnificent graves, leading your thoughts to the White City of Gondor.
The Siq itself is extraordinary and Mother Nature has certainly outdone herself in creating this natural entrance to the Nabataean city of Petra. For 30 minutes you walk down the narrow walk which the Siq creates, marvelling at the natural formations of the rock and the many shades of red and orange which make up the colourful display.
At the very end of the Siq it opens up onto the Treasury. The view is an iconic and well-known image, not unlike the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids of Giza or the Great Wall of China. It is one of those places where you stop up and remind yourself to not stop breathing.
It is however also a very narrow corridor filled with tourists. Thus, photo opportunities are rare to come by, if you like me are allergic to large amounts of other tourists.
So not getting it…
Overall Petra is a hot and crowded place and though beautiful, we were simply not feeling it. Part of it was our own fault. We had not thought of lunch and the options in Petra were nasty at best.
Moreover, too many locals vied for our attention wanting to offer all sorts of items and services, from selling jewellery to braiding your hair. It was all just too much, and the heat was merciless.
After walking past the Amphitheatre and beyond, we reached the end of the Colonnaded Street which leads to the Temple. While local donkey owners attempted to get us to join them for the Temple we had been fed up with the constant demand for attention from locals and were in no way interested in making the trip.
However, neither were we interested in walking the long way back through the Colonnaded Street and onwards.
Fortunately, my boyfriend often decides to go explore the less travelled road and after having split a banana and stocked up on overpriced water, we took a turn to the right on our way back, which we would not come to regret.
So getting it…
We began by walking on a wide open space reaching the side of the mountain which was dotted with man-made caves, some of them in use. In one cave we saw an old car, while doors closed off to other caves. We seemed to have entered the inhabited parts of Petra.
The road ahead of us was flat and open, and it didn’t take me long to question what we were doing. But as the road narrowed in a gorge into the mountain we began to encounter monuments and signs which were described in our dusty Lonely Planet guide, and as we reached the Roman Soldier’s Tomb and the Garden Triclinium we knew that we were on the path towards the High Place of Sacrifice.
From the open landscape ending suddenly in the gorge we were at a loss about how to continue, and it took us a while to discover a steep and well hidden staircase cut into the mountainside.
The stairway to the High Place of Sacrifice
For the next 45 minutes or an hour we climbed. If I had had my music collection at hands, I would have put on Led Zeppelin’s Stairways to Heaven, because that was the path we followed – constantly climbing higher, never able to see the top. Sometimes the path was wide and open, and at others it was only a stair of a few feet wide.
While red faced and exhausted from the climb, we had both forgotten our previous ill feelings about Petra and our lack of a proper meal. We were completely lost in our awe of the desolate place and the magnificent view.
We ended up finally reaching the majestic obelisk of the High Place of Sacrifice, where we stopped to enjoy the view and the very feeling of being on the top of the world.
Afterwards there was only one way and that was down. Through endless amounts of stairs we almost ran down the steep side of the mountain as the sun slowly descended into the west. We were so much in a hurry to reach the ground before the sun did that at points we almost glided off the side of the mountain as the stairs took a sharp invisible turn.
When we were almost at the bottom standing above the Amphitheatre we got a view of what truly makes Petra so extraordinary as the descending sun lid up the Royal Tombs and the Street of Facades, creating an astonishing effect.
Riding into the night
As we reached the Treasury and the beginning of the Siq almost all the tourists had disappeared and there was no one near the entrance of the Siq, giving us ample opportunity to take pictures of the iconic entrance to the Treasury Square.
After moving quickly through the long and now dark Siq, we were persuaded by locals to ride back to the entrance area and Wadi Musa on horseback. If you have read my blogs from Georgia you will know that I am not very good on horseback.
This time however my only job was to sit tight as the local guide walked the horse slowly back to the entrance. My boyfriend had gotten on a horse with another local who had two horses and before I could blink they were galloping into the darkness. Thankfully I was able to catch most of the crazy ride on video, and I’m already dreaming up ways in which to make it useful.
After leaving behind Petra, we had a large and long awaited meal at a restaurant close to the entrance, tasting Mansaf for the first time. For some unknown reason we decided after hours walking in the sun and climbing all the way to the High Place of Sacrifice that it would be easy-peasy to walk up to our hotel. When we finally made it home, I was so dead tired that I crashed immediately.
Petra by Night
The following day we decided to do nothing, but read and write and enjoy the confusion at our hotel. We booked spots on Petra by Night and ordered a taxi to drive us back and forth since I am in no way walking through Wadi Musa again.
The event was by all means strange. 200 people walked through the Siq in almost complete darkness and ended up in front of the Treasury where we drank tea and listened to a rather weird show of local musical traditions.
The space in front of the Treasury was lit with hundreds of little candles and a fat red cat wondered through them unconcerned with the hundreds of people attempting to take pictures in the dark.
I have enjoyed Petra though my legs will be happy to leave. Tomorrow we will be driving to Madaba with a stop in Kerak. I am more than pleased at the prospect of sitting in a car for most of the day.