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Published: March 25th 2011
Just as majestuous as Petra isSome people say that patience is always rewarded… While experiencing Petra with a local Bedouin met along the way, I truly felt just how true this say is…
Local Bedouin in Petra, Jordan
Read lots of blogs before the first few tentative and ended up going there just when I was in a way not planning to.
It all started with a long week end in Amman away from Baghdad and two days before flying over Iraq I felt in the mood to go to Petra. So, I just had enough time to get the bus ticket and hotel booking sorted out. The lack of planning gave me the chance to simply follow my instinct, be surprised at every curve & color of majestic Petra, never too sure what to expect next & meet great people along the way which gave an other dimension to this touristic visit.
The day started early with the 6am JETT bus from Amman to Petra, perfect to catch some sleep & arrive not too late onsite. By 9.30 am I was already checking into the Amra Palace Hotel which is an excellent value for money hotel uphill next to the Mosque (the Turkish bath and heated
swimming pool/ Jacuzzi is just what you need after a day in Petra). After a short taxi drive I was back to the entrance of Petra ok not without stopping first to get some of the local break with zatar (great bakery near the hotel) and plenty of water!
Petra, guess the word “stunning” would do!
Walking through the Defile is already an experience in itself, narrow at time, wider at other with an entire palette of colors from black to gold, pink or red at time, always in a way mysterious as you never know what lies behind the next curve…
The sight of the treasury at the end of the defile, under the morning light truly feels like discovering some kind of treasure and this even more when you get to walk through the defile with very little tourists around (unfortunately for the local economy, the current events in the middle east dramatically reduced the number of visitors in Jordan).
After a short break and some improvised lunch in front of the Treasury and guess very much linked to the fact that I had not planned this trip at all I was
not so sure where to go next so I simply followed the few tourists who were walking to the next sites.
Guess that’s when I realized just how big the place was (and indeed with over 800 sites you could literally spend a week exploring the area…)
Meeting with new friends & experiencing Petra Bedouin style
Bedouins, descendants of the Nabataeans who settled there around 6th century BC, are in the way the guardians of Petra. They now live on the other side of Petra (at the opposite of the small city where you will find hotels & shops for the tourists) & are for most of them living from the tourism, might they be selling souvenirs, necklace or a tour on a camel, donkey, horse or mule.
With very little tourists, none less to say that I was more or less approached every five minutes by different Bedouins offering their services but always with the smile and lots of humor.
I said no until one of them offered to go on his mule to climb the 800 steps leading to the monastery. Still today, I am not too sure what made me say yes, it
might have been that I slowly started to realize that I was on for a long day or that I had a very good contact with this person, but after a few minutes on the back of the mule I was!
The rock cut path is like everything else in Petra, stunning, strenuous & revealing itself at every turn!
While chatting with my newly found guide, I couldn’t stop to be amazed by how self confident the mule was, slowly but surely climbing steep steps without any hesitation, while I was myself simply trying to remain on it (which at time when the climb was really steep was not as simple as it seems)
By the time we reached the Monastery, I was fully trusting the mule (at least for the way up) but in the same time I was glad to come down and walk on my own for a little while! My guide who I got to further get to know as we were climbing up to the Monastery decided to join a few of his friends smoking Chicha (oriental tobacco pipe) in front of the legendary monument while I went on for some exploration and
Pictures from the place above the Monastery and through the little cave are some of my favorites and by walking further up to what is referred to as “the highest view point of Petra” you get a breathtaking view over the Wadi Araba and the Jebel Aroun.
At that time of the year, touch of green here and there can be seen and it gives a beautiful contrast with the gold/ pink color rock formations.
Back to my guide who was still smoking chicha with his local friends and on for a relax chat/ smoke while enjoying the afternoon sunshine on the Monastery. Guess that’s when this short tour became an invitation for discovering Petra local style and the relationship became more of a friend to friend type.
Another foreigner joined the group and at first (guess it still has to do with the absolute lack of preparation which literally followed me during the entire trip…) I was just surprise by her level of Arabic and the respect the other Bedouins were showing her. Until my friend explained me that she was Marguerite, the foreign backpacker who arrived in Petra thirty years ago, married a Bedouin and
never left! Yes, I had heard the story but the last person I was expecting to meet was her.
This surprise encounter & the small chat we had made me understood that I could in a way trust the person I was with and say yes to his offer to visit the Bedouin Petra. Didn’t realized it then, but the day was only starting!
Re discovering Petra through the eye of my newly found Bedouin friend
His excitement when he was starting to tell me how and where we would go next (still on the mule obviously) was becoming contagious. Joking, smiling, counting stories, I had became his guest and he was very much decided to show me Petra his way.
Back on the mule, downhill this time and on my own, my newly found friend having declared that I was riding just like a Bedouin women so there was no need for his help anymore.
Ok, this got me quite a few fears as the mule was mostly doing what it wanted to do, going slow at time and at others starting to accelerate downhill along deep ravine, but that was lots of fun!
We were now back at the colonnade street, admiring from bellow the royal tombs which the afternoon sun turns into bright gold. Pointing a finger up at a point above the tombs, my friend was explaining me that indeed we were on for another ascent, following the classic stone carved path (more steps) and then going for some off the beaten track hike and a stop by one of his friend cave for some tea.
Lots of steps indeed but the view is just stunning and so are the tombs, but guess my favorite part started when we went off the beaten track up and down on what was clearly not a path anymore.
We then reached his friend’s cave, alone on a little plateau, a few mattresses on the ground, a wooden fire going on and young kids playing. Our host, an old men who still live in the cave had eyes in which you could see happiness and laugh. Living a very simple life with not much more than the few basic things which could be seen in the cave, he welcomed us as a friend would do, preparing tea on the fire, adding lots of sugar
in it (which is in Middle East a real treat…), asking questions in Arabic for my friend to translate (my Arabic still being “shuia shuia”). The kids shy at first then started to join us in the cave and they were lot of fun! A bit intimidated by this “blond hair foreign lady” seated next to their father but the few tricks and games which we could play together were enough to break the ice, after these there were lots of laughs, smiles and more tea!
We were then back on the mule, still very much off the beaten track and this time going downward. After a little while we had to tied up the mule to a tree and keep going on foot to what my friend referred to as the surprise. And wow…after a bit of climbing, trying not to lose balance jumping from one large stone to another, the Treasury was just below us, a bird view, that makes you slightly dizzy (especially if you are afraid of heights as I am) but which is so overwhelming that you quickly put your fears on the side and approach from the edge.
We stayed there for
quite a while, enjoying the change of lights on the rocks above the Treasury. The place was quiet, very little people could be seen by the Treasury so it felt like we had to place just for us. Guess I was absorbed into the contemplation of the place when the sound of a flute made me turn around.
Made of a deep blue metallic broken walking stick left behind by a tourist, the flute added a feel to the whole place. My friend was in the mood to play so he did just that. The echoes of the flute above the Treasury could be heard bouncing back to us, and the whole moment was simply magic.
The sun was by then starting to come down so it was time to head back but instead of the classic way, we went once again back on the off beaten track crossing the Wadi Mataha, enjoying the sunset and heading to the Bedouin village of Umm Sayhoun.
More chatting and tea, and my friend had found a car for me to go back to the hotel for the Turkish bath I had booked in the morning, not before inviting me to come
back for some wood fire improvised dinner under the stars.
Petra at night
While crossing once more the Wadi Mataha on the mule, in this night blindness I couldn’t help but be hoping that the mule knew indeed the way as there was no real path whatsoever , rocks rolling downwards as we were further moving forward and plenty of obstacles along the way. Well, it seems that the mule has either an excellent eye sight (personally, I couldn’t see a thing…) or very good memory (or might actually be both!) as she managed to bring us at a great spot far from the lights of the Wadi Musa and Umm Sayhoun village and back !
My friend then started to prepare the wood fire, showing me how to spot and cut the right bush and then turning these into the perfect base for barbecue before adding some coal.
His mother had prepared a local dish and we had a few veggies and meat balls which we all roll into aluminum foil before throwing these on the glowing ember. Needless to say that this was a memorable dinner under the stars! Chatted most of the night
until the exhaustion got the most of me, time to head back on the mule to the village and then by car to the hotel.
Literally slept like a baby and the next morning swim in the hotel pool was about the only thing which could calm down the muscle soreness which had taken over my whole body! Guess the 10 hours spent on the mule the day before had something to do with this!
The next day was spent once more exploring Petra, but felt quite funny as I kept meeting again the same Bedouins as the day before, young and old, except that they were calling me by my name, chatting & laughing as if we were old friends.
I left in the afternoon, not without having promised over and over that indeed I will visit again and thanking them for their hospitality. The Bedouins and more precisely this new friend had turned my unplanned trip to Petra into a fascinating door to their life and an uncommon way to discover the magnificent Petra.
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