Published: April 6th 2008March 24th 2008
Well here we are. Wadi Musa. Home to the famous ‘Lost City of Petra’
As mentioned, we found Wadi Musa to be a bit of a sad place. Compared to other parts of the country, people are pushy and not as friendly. There are two distinct parts. The lower part is where the big multinational resorts are, and the upper bit where we stayed (oh yes, we really went budget in Wadi Musa!)
Tourist fatigue really seems to have set in here as the people try their hardest to get a bit of money from the thousands of tourists who make a whirlwind stop in their town before thundering off down the road to the next attraction.
We have taken heaps of photos here. There are four pages of them on this blog. To see them all, just click the grey numbers 1 - 4.
For us, this has been a once in a lifetime visit. We have both wanted to visit Petra for many years. We first saw it on television quite a few years ago when it was on an early episode of the New Zealand travel show called ‘Intrepid Journeys’
I remember being
absolutely blown away after seeing the huge façade of The
Treasury appearing out of nowhere and dwarfing the presenter. Since then, it has been very close to the top of our ‘MUST DO’ list.
For those who haven’t heard of it, Petra is an ancient city that was carved out of sandstone in the 3rd century BC. It is mentioned in the Old Testament and is supposedly near the mountain where Moses struck a rock and water gushed out.
Petra’s prime location between Egypt, Syria and Arabia meant that it was used as a caravan route for traders. Over the years, Petra grew very wealthy from this trade route. The Nabateans charged the traders taxes and in return, provided them with safe passage through the area and a place to do business. The Nabateans were also very clever with water engineering and managed to create drains, pipes and even fountains - a fertile place in the middle of a dry land. At it’s prime, the city would have been teaming with merchants who came to trade goods such as copper, iron, spices, sugar, cotton and many other products that would have been distributed all over the Middle East.
This empire didn’t last forever. Over the years, many traders began to use the sea for transport while others opted to use new trade routes through Egypt. Over the centuries, Petra fell into gradual decline and was abandoned. It was also hit by two earthquakes; one in 363 and 749. It wasn’t ‘discovered’ by the Western world until 1812.
The entrance to Petra is through a long narrow gorge or passageway called the Siq.
It was formed by thousands of years of floods and is 1200m long. The cliffs tower 150 metres above your head and at some places there is only a space of a few metres where the sun shines down through the gaps. Awesome!
Petra is now well and truly discovered and we had a feeling that it was going to get a little hectic in the ‘lost city’
For this reason, we filled our backpacks with lunch and 5 litres of water and made our way to the ticket office just after 6am. This turned out to be our best move as most people seem to be visiting Petra on coach tours and don’t turn up until 8:30 or 9am. If you
are visiting Petra independently, get there just after opening time! It makes walking down the Siq a magical experience.
As we entered the Siq, I felt like a little kid, we were both so excited. Walking almost the entire length of the Siq alone made it a hundred times more special and allowed us to photograph in peace. As we rounded the last corner we got into a bit of a photo frenzy as two camels sat in front of the looming Treasury,
perfectly positioned between the gap in the rocks. Silly us - I’m sure those camels were positioned exactly in that spot. The owners obviously know that is the exact photo opportunity that everyone dreams of!
After getting over our excitement of the ‘deserted Treasury / camel viewing experience’ we set off up to the ‘Place of High Sacrifice’
up in the hills.
This was an awesome walk. From the top we could see for miles and we began to get an appreciation for how big the area actually is.
The ‘High Place’ itself would have been a place for worship and offerings. At the top there was a flat surface and two giant obelisks.
Entrance to the Siq
Get up at 5:30 am and you be one of the first into the Siq
There is also the remains of a pool with drainage channels and alters where animals and possibly even children were sacrificed. Freaky stuff!
On the way back down we followed the route down the beautiful Wadi Farasa (Butterfly Valley)
which still remains the highlight of my trip. The garden tomb was fantastic and we were able to go inside many of the ancient buildings. We saw hardly any other people during this walk except for a few souvenir sellers setting up their stalls, a shepherd on his way to check his goats and a young flute playing guy sitting in the shade next to his two camels. He was a real character and tried to tell us that his camel’s name was ‘Bob Marley’ - no woman no cry… ha - bet he says that to all the girls…
We spent the rest of the day checking out many of the other tombs, highlights being the Silk Tomb
and the Palace Tomb
- an impressive 5 storeys high! We found a nice shady place for lunch and sat for an hour watching the big noisy tour groups begin to roll into the valley.
After exploring more of
the valley and walking up to a great lookout above The East Cliff, we decided to set off and explore some more of the outlying tombs before leaving via the alternative exit called The Wadi Muthlim
It turned out to be a real adventure as we walked past the entrance and would have ended up miles off course if a local Bedouin on his donkey hadn’t seen us wandering off into the distance. A nice Dutch family was also attempting the route ahead so it was good to know that someone else was also on the same track as us.
Chris absolutely loved this route but it really freaked me out! The wadi is prone to flash floods so you can’t do it if there has been any rain and water snakes supposedly lurk in the pools so it wasn’t exactly high on my ‘To Do’ list! Luckily the risk of flooding was nil but parts of the path were still blocked with debris from previous floods. We had to do heaps of scrambling and some parts were so skinny, the sun was blocked out above our heads. It felt as if we were in twisting and
curving cave rather than a wadi. Looking back on it, it really was a beautiful natural wonder but for once, I wouldn’t even stop for photos, instead telling Chris to “hurry up and get me the @#$%# out of here!”
The next day we decided to start out early again, beating the fiercest heat of the day. Our first aim was to tackle the walk up to The Monastery.
This was another great uphill walk. I’m really glad we decided to do it early in the day as we had to sit down once or twice and re-hydrate.
The reward of getting to The Monastery early was having the whole place to ourselves for half an hour before anyone else. The building is amazing. It has been quite sheltered by its position so it is quite well preserved. In the photos it doesn’t look so big until you spot a person standing next to the doorway. This thing is HUGE!
There are some absolutely amazing viewpoints behind the Monastery where we sat and drank tea from the Bedouin while looking out towards Israel. We met a great guy and spent a good half hour getting advice for
our upcoming 7 week trip in Northern India. The breeze from the high position made this a very good place to hang out before heading back down the track.
This is the end our lovely time in Petra. It really is an amazing place but the rest of this blog is a bit of a moan sorry! We must be getting old and opinionated. Read on if you want - there are always two sides to traveling.
By now the sun was getting powerful and a steady stream of tourists were making their way up the steep path. Now heaps of little donkeys began to make an appearance. There was no shortage of tourists who couldn’t manage the climb but they were more than willing to ride a tiny donkey up the 800 steps.
Some of the tourists clearly didn’t give a damn about the weight they were making these little animals carry. Grown men and woman, some weighing more than 80 or 90 kilograms - riding little (about 10 or 11hh!) donkeys in 30 degree heat. The walk is challenging, 800 rocky steps straight up to the top. Didn’t they just feel a little bit …
Inside the Garden Triclinium
well … guilty... or embarrassed? And all this too, after bargaining the handler down a few JD? It just didn’t seem right. I also felt a bit sick watching the way many of the handlers controlled the donkeys by whipping them about the head and neck. Surely donkeys need access to shade and water instead of being tied to a wire fence in the burning midday sun…?
By this time we decided it was time to finish our Petra visit, so we made the walk back the Siq to exit. On the way we passed tourists filling their pockets with the broken remains of old pottery. I guess all the historical stuff has been removed but it still seems a bit odd that this is allowed to happen.. I’m not too sure how we would feel about tourists coming to New Zealand and leaving with a pocket full of artefacts from a Maori Village.
By this time the whole place was absolutely teaming with people (guys with their shirts off, high heels and hotpants… hmm.. I was worried that my naff hiking shorts were a bit culturally insensitive!) straining to keep up with their flag flying
tour leaders. The ‘lost city’ had become a total circus.
Now the carriage drivers were out in force, offering tourists the chace to ride in a horse drawn carriage through the Siq to the entrance.
Many of these horses were clearly lame, heads bobbing right down towards the ground, some so exhausted they were weaving and swaying while cantering over the concrete hard ground. These were small locally breed horses - not purposely breed carriage horses and the loads were excessive for this size and breed. Many had visible chaffing from poor fitting gear while some had raw and bloody wounds on their sweat soaked stomachs. Scarred and underweight, they worked tirelessly. Up and down the Siq they went - breathing through wide-open mouths while being whipped and urged on to pick up the next lot of tired tourists.
I’m obviously too much of a softie but no one else seemed to notice. After all this we decided to make a visit to the Brooke animal hospital. This is a British welfare charity that has been set up to help the working horses and donkeys in Petra. We were welcomed and talked to the manager about the
problems in Petra. Obviously the horses provide income to the locals but we all agreed it is still possible for the people to make a good living while considering the animal’s welfare.
It is a long process and tourists also need to change their behaviour. These are the guidelines provided by the Brooke. What you can do to help
Don’t overload a carriage. Two people is enough.
Don’t let the driver trot or canter the horse or donkey. It is very challenging for the animal and could put yourself at risk.
Never ride more than one on the back of a horse or donkey. Consider your own weight before riding a horse or donkey, and match your size to the size and strength of your animal.
If the owner persuades you to overload the carriage or animal, please walk away. You can always choose another horse or donkey that is in better condition.
If the owner is treating the animal badly - riding it hard, whipping - we urge you to refuse to use the animal and tell him why.
Never whip, beat or ride an animal aggressively.
give a fair price for the ride. Undercutting only devalues the work of the animals and means the people must work even harder to earn enough for that day. If the animal is well looked after, praise the owner and tell him why you have chosen his animal.
If you are concerned about the condition of any horse or donkey in Petra, seek out someone at the Brooke clinic or call 03 215 6379
By now, these guidelines and a feedback form should be in every hotel in Wadi Musa. If they are not, please ask why and go visit the people at the Brooke Hospital. It is right next to the Petra gate. I managed to take a few photos of carriage horses that were tied up away from the tourist view. They are out of focus because I was afraid of getting into trouble. I wish I had have been braver!
Anyway, that is enough of a moan from me. Hopefully I haven’t been too depressing because Petra really is amazing! In time, I hope this issue will be improved and everyone will be able to leave Petra
with the feelings of awe that are inspired by such a stunning place.
There are more photos below