I‘ve just managed to fall asleep when I feel a gentle tap on my arm. Issy says that she doesn’t think she’ll be able to find the camp toilet in the dark so she wants me to show her the way. In a half daze I remind her about the torch on her phone, and I’m asleep again before she’s left the tent. I awake to the dawn, and she's nowhere to be seen. I panic. I decide that she must have got lost on the way to the toilet and is now wandering around lost in the desert. I wonder what I’m going to tell our offspring, and worse still her Mum. I throw on some clothes, and am very relieved to find her sitting in the communal tent watching a caravan of wild camels stroll casually by. They are very cute.
We climb into the back of a four wheel drive with some of our fellow campers and head off back towards civilisation. We are sitting opposite three Irish girls, and two of them tell us that they are in the middle of a two year stint teaching English in Oman. We share notes about what we all
agree is a wonderful country. One of the Irish girls was very sick with food poisoning last night, and her guide had to drive her into the village where they hooked her up to a drip. She says that she thinks she had a dodgy hamburger when she went to Petra. I make a mental note not to eat anything at Petra. The Irish girls have very strong accents, so much so that the Hungarian medical student sitting next to me asks me in perfect English what language they're speaking.
We reach the Wadi Rum park entrance and rejoin Fadi for the drive to Petra. He tells us to forgive him if he gets a bit shaky. He says he gave up smoking three days ago after twenty seven years, and is finding it very hard. We ask him if he’s ever tried to give up before. He says that he did several years ago, for an hour.
We stop on a hill overlooking Petra, where we can see canyons snaking between barren rocky outcrops. Fadi points out the tomb of Aaron, Moses’ brother, on one of the highest hills. He tells us that Aaron died here in
Petra on the way from Egypt to the Promised Land.
We read that Petra is believed to have been settled around 9,000 BC and became the Nabatean capital in around 4,000 BC. The Nabateans were nomadic Arabs, and settled the city here because it was close to trade routes. It then came under Roman control in the first century AD. An earthquake in 363 AD destroyed many of its buildings and it was eventually virtually abandoned. It only became known again to the European world in 1812 when the Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhart heard some rumours about its existence and was then led into it by a local guide.
We start our long trek through the massive site. We opt to walk but there’s no shortage of offers to ride camels and donkey drawn buggies. Signs say that you are only eligible to ride in a buggy if you’re incapable of walking. If the numbers of people in the buggies are anything to go by, a disproportionately large number of today’s visitors don’t have use of their legs. We enter the site along the 1.2 kilometre long Siq which is a narrow canyon between hundred metre high
cliffs. It feels like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, and it is - apparently big chunks of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" were filmed here. Near the end of the Siq we get our first glimpse of the Treasury, the site’s most famous structure. We both get goosebumps. We walk through to the more open part of the site where there are structures cut into all the surrounding rock faces. It is spectacular.
We’re hungry. We know that we shouldn’t eat here, but hunger has got the better of us. I should say it’s got the better of me. Issy opts for the safety of an ice cream, while I go for the only substantial food on offer which is a buffet. To say that the buffet is not very appetising is being very kind. I start to wonder whether I might get food poisoning just by looking at it. I take a few small mouthfuls and then hand it over to the small army of cats who’ve gathered on the table and around my feet in the hope of getting a few leftovers. I start to feel guilty. I love cats. I hope I
don’t give any of them food poisoning.
I tell Issy that I’m going to attempt the 850 step climb up to the site’s famous Monastery. She declines to join me. The climb is brutal, but worth it in the end. I trudge down the same 850 steps and rejoin Issy for the long uphill trek back to the site entrance. We were warned by all and sundry that we’d need to do a lot of walking today, and they weren’t kidding.
We start the long drive back to Amman. It’s been a long and tiring day, and in Issy’s mind at least the worst is yet to come. She‘s still trying to fathom what was going on in my mind when I decided it would be a good idea to hire a car and drive here, in a land where the traffic is horrendous, the roads are bad, and the drivers all appear to be insane. Fadi drops us at the airport and we collect our car. The car is a wreck; the diagram on the sheet of paper we need to sign showing all the dents and scratches is almost completely coloured in. Everyone we’ve asked has
told us that the route from the Airport to our destination, the Dead Sea, is well sign posted and easy to follow. Just to be sure, we decide to rely instead on the ever reliable Google Maps. We soon find ourselves in the backstreets of a small village, and then on narrow backroads through dusty paddocks. We narrowly avoid a collision with a large herd of goats, before swerving to miss a donkey. We’ve yet to see any signs pointing to anything that might be even vaguely suggestive of the Dead Sea. To make matters worse it’s proving a bit hard to see anything as we’re driving straight into the setting sun, and the wiper blades are too damaged to clean the windscreen. We press on regardless. Just when all seems lost we cross the crest of a hill and are greeted by a stunning panorama of the Dead Sea deep in the valley below us, set against the setting sun. Our faith in Google Maps is restored.
We drive down and down and down into the valley. Lots of people have been reminding us that we’re going to the lowest point on the planet, and it feels like
it. The road is a continuous series of tight hairpin bends. Everything in the car seems to be a wreck so if that includes the brakes at least it’s good to see that there are lots of emergency escape ramps. Issy says that it looks like someone’s tried to drive over the end of one of them. I wonder if they got their car from the same rental company that we did.
Security at our hotel is intense. The complex is surrounded by a steel fence, and security guards at the gate check our names off before lowering a large steel barrier so that we can get in the front gate. We then need to walk through a scanner to get into reception, and another security guard then unpacks everything we’re carrying and carefully examines the contents.
Our enormous room with its equally enormous balcony overlooking the Dead Sea is about as far removed from last night’s small tent as it’s possible to get. We’re too exhausted to move, so Issy soaks in a bath and room service becomes the order of the evening.
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