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Published: June 26th 2017
The breakfast at the Amman Airport hotel was a variety of breads, pastries, cereals, meats cheeses yogurts and the usual assortment of hot dishes that could pass as the quintessential English 'fry up'.
The plan today is to pick up our hire car and drive down to Wadi Musa, the town that serves the historical UNESCO world heritage site of Petra. We took the hotel shuttle back to the airport and found the car hire stand without any difficulty. The assistant was very efficient and the charges were exactly as we had already calculated with no hidden ‘nasties' or pushy salesman technique. Roisin asked if there was an additional charge of an extra driver. ‘No madam. As you are married there is no extra charge'.
He then added, quite out of character forcing a wry smile: ‘see, there is a benefit to marriage after all!!'
We were shown to the car by a young assistant who took us around the exterior pointing out the bumps and scrapes. The only hidden ‘nasty' we can now reveal is that the car we had been allocated was a Nissan Micra!!! Anyone who knows Roisin will know her thoughts on Nissan Micras and I
make no apology to anyone reading this who may own a Nissan Micra. You should all be ashamed!!! 5 minutes later, we had buckled up and we were on our way. The airport ‘feeder' road took us to the main artery of Jordan that runs from North to South, known as the Desert Highway. This is route 15. There are 3 highways in Jordan that all run from the capital Amman in the North, down to the South of the Country. The desert highway is by far the fastest route but probably the least inspiring as it's not called the desert highway for nothing. If Glen Frey and Don Henley were cruising down this ‘dark desert highway', one of their most famous songs may never have been penned!!
The journey from Amman to Petra is about 3 hours. After about ½ hour in to our journey, up ahead in the distance I saw a shimmering light
(Maybe the inspiration is here after all!!) This happened to be the blinking of a police light together with a uniformed officer standing in the road with a reflective bat, beckoning us to pull over. Roisin, parked up behind a slightly larger car
that had also been pulled over. The police officer had a good command of English and asked politely for the driving licence and the car registration card. Both were passed to the officer who inspected them closely. He asked where we were going to. Satisfied with Roisin's answer, he waved us on
We noticed that the car in front, had a green car registration plate, as did ours. In Jordan, foreign nationals are not permitted to drive a car with a white registration plate (residents only). A green plate indicates a public service vehicle so buses, taxis and in our case, hire cars all have green plates. Other colours include yellow for diplomats and red for state owned vehicles.
One thing we immediately noticed was the quality of the road surfaces. The highway asphalt is as good as the surface of any road in the UK. Even the main roads as we experienced later, somewhere in between our A and B roads, were well maintained. The other life saver is that everywhere is well sign posted using the international colour coding of blue (motorway sign postings), brown for tourist attractions etc. All road destination signs were in English
as well as Arabic.
Despite having a road map (as we used to back in the day before sat nav), this was not required as we just followed the signs for Petra and sure enough, just on 3 hours after leaving our airport hotel we were driving in to Wadi Musa.
The Rocky Mountain Hotel is a very rustic and charming establishment. The décor is simplistic with traditional Jordanian/Bedouin items displayed through the hotel. There is a terrace restaurant up top, decked out in a Bedouin style tent, where breakfast and meals are served along with free tea and coffee any time of the day or night. The hotel is owned by Jane, a Kiwi but born in Devon, UK. She original came over to the Middle East to study in the West Bank (Palestine) but decided to stay and make Jordan her home. We were also introduced to Boo, the resident cat who was abandoned by his mother several years ago and has remained at the hotel ever since.
Tonight we planned on visiting Petra by candle light and tomorrow a full day in Petra. We are probably doing this the wrong way around but the
night time visits are only available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. As today is Thursday, this was our only chance to experience this remarkable opportunity.
After eating a traditional Jordanian meal of Chicken, eggplant, potato, carrots, onion and a variety of spices served with rice and flatbread in a restaurant called the Red Cave, we headed across to the Petra visitors centre to purchase our tickets and wait for the guide to appear and lead the way.
At 8:30 the guide led about 40 of us down the open path that leads to the entrance of the Siq. This is a narrow ravine that is flanked by sheer rock climbing 80 metres above the Siq floor. It was pitch black except for the candles every 10 yards or so, either side, marking the path. The Siq is 1.2 km long and, except for the occasional whispering by fellow visitors, the ½ hour or so it took us to walk the length was conducted in an eerie silence as if we were walking though some vast ecclesiastical cavern. If it wasn't for the fact that someone told a few of the more boisterous visitors to ‘Be quiet', I would
have said the silence was due to the respect of this wonder of the modern world rather than the fear of being shouted at again!!!
And then, as we rounded a final bend, through a narrow split, we saw not a few candles marking the way but hundreds of candles laid out on the ground. The Siq opened out. We had come face to face with Al-Khazeh, the pride and joy of Petra, otherwise known as the Treasury.
There are 1800 candles that contribute to the serene atmosphere of Petra by night. Roisin commented, in a whisper: ‘I don't envy the poor sod who has to go around and light all these candles' ‘Never mind him',
I replied. ‘Give a thought to the poor sod who has to go around afterwards and blow them all out!!'
We were all directed to sit down in front of the candles but some of us chose to sit on a nearby bench whilst the guide set about explaining a spiritual connection with Petra before a couple of musicians treated us to a recital of traditional Jordanian folk tunes (there is a hint of sarcasm there if you look hard
enough!!) The instruments of choice consisted of a flute (although I would call it a penny whistle) and an instrument which was described as of the violin family but with 3 of the strings missing!! About 15 minutes of dis-chord that is associated with the harmonics and root of ALL Arabian music, Mr Violin man decided that what really would be a crowd pleaser would be to enchant us with his limited vocal range. (more sarcasm?) I'm sure our other two Jordanian hosts thought our one stringed violist playing vocalist was on to a winner but to the untrained western ear, Frank Sinatra it wasn't!! And then, as quickly as the music had started, it ended. Everyone gave a polite round of applause. This petered out as the sound of a herd of animal, possibly sheep or goats started to bleat from somewhere around about. This was shortly followed by horses' hooves galloping in the distance becoming clearer and louder as they neared our location. As the horses faded out, the sounds of excited murmurings of a mass crowd faded in. It could be the sounds you'd expect to hear from the hustle and bustle of a busy market place.
Was this experience the echoes of a long lost civilisation? In front of our very eyes, the Treasury then began to illuminate. Only slight at first, so much so, it was hardly noticeable. Soon, our recent entertainment forgotten, this was the main event as all eyes fell on this majestic sight. Hundreds of candles burned in the foreground as the breathtaking pride of a world long since extinct gave off its strange but beautiful glow. It is easy to feel dwarfed by the huge size of the façade measuring a staggering 30m wide and 43m high. The façade, like many of the buildings in Petra is carved out of solid rock. I've used the adjective once already but I'll use it again. The sight was so breathtaking that no amount of prose or photos can do it justice.We were then given free time to wander amongst the candles. Our guide made it clear that when he shouted: ‘Good night!'
it is time to head back up the Siq. We were ahead of the game on that one and started back before the signal was given. The trek back was hard going as the Siq is on a slight incline. ‘We're
definitely getting a horse and cart back up the Siq tomorrow!' wheezed Roisin as we neared the exit gate. The whole experience lasted just over 2 hours and is highly recommended to anyone who is lucky enough to find themselves in this part of the world.
Now to find our way back to the hotel. It was dark but the streets remained well illuminated. On our way down from the hotel, part of the road became one way. We failed to identify the one way system that would take us back to our hotel. We drove as far as a small roundabout but no route seemed to head in the direction we wanted to go. We tried several different roads that either led us down a dirt track or to a dead end or in one instance down a dirt track AND a dead end!! Panic was beginning to set in. The frustration was not because we couldn't get back but because we were advised of a curfew that comes in to force at midnight and therefore the hotel locked its doors. It was 11:02pm. Roisin pulled up outside a small store where I got out and asked the
proprietor for directions back up the hill. His English was passable but he couldn't grasp the issue I was trying to convey. He had never heard of the Rocky Mountain Hotel. He translated this in to Arabic then proceeded to google it – with no results. He asked me for land marks. I mentioned a police station opposite. He just stared at me blankly and shrugged his shoulders: ‘No Rocky Mountain Hotel.' ‘It is opposite a Police Station'
I said in the hope that there was only one constabulary in the area. No such luck!! ‘Big Police station or little police station!!'
It was 11:25pm
He was still pondering over the Rocky Mountain hotel. ‘Forget this!'
I said (or maybe I screamed at this stage)
‘Seven Wonders hotel?'
My Great Jordanian Hope queried. ‘Yes, that will do!'
I exclaimed trying not to lose my patience.
‘Ah! Seven Wonders Hotel. Top by circle'
(he meant roundabout but at this stage I was in no state to be judgemental!!) ‘Right to Amman. Left to Amman then upstairs'
(he meant up a hill!) ‘At top, Seven Wonders Hotel' T
hanking him profusely I shook his hand and
before dashing off and conveying my news to Roisin. This was the only route we had not taken as it looked to be heading in completely the wrong direction. It was 11:40.
Nissan Micras are not renowned for their hill climbing and in 2nd
gear our hire car was labouring as it strived to creep ‘upstairs'!! ‘C'mon, you worthless piece of junk',
Roisin cussed to herself. ‘Nearly there'.
Luckily at this time of night, the roads were pretty empty. A few minutes later, Roisin swung the car into a parking space adjacent to the Rocky Mountain Hotel. Unheard of in these parts apparently despite the 7 foot letters on the side of the hotel that could probably be seen from the moon!! The time: 11:46. Tomorrow we intend to spend a full day in Petra. No matter what happens at least we won't be late back!!
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