Day 13, Our Final Day: Petra, One of the New Seven Wonders of the World

The final day of our trip was also the finest.  Sara and I awoke before the sunrise in a small town just outside of one of the recently named New Seven Wonders of the World:  Petra.  We were in Wadi Musa, Jordan, staying at a hotel recommended by our taxi driver from the night before.

The previous day, before crossing into Israel, we had found a little hole in the wall in which to eat lunch.  After looking at the options, I chose to eat crackers and cookies that I purchased at a nearby shop, whereas Sara opted for chicken, rice and bread.  I warned her that we were both getting over our earlier battle with 'King Tut's Revenge', but she claimed to be famished.

Now, flash forward to this morning's debate:  should Sara take our last two remaining Imodiums, or take one now and save the other for later?  Yes, King Tut was back!

The sun was just coming up when we joined Mike and Maya in the dining room and all four of us looked as if we had been run over by something large and fast.  The hotel provided breakfast for us and what a feast it was.  We had a buffet which consisted of a very large bowl of watery yogurt, boiled eggs, bread and sliced fresh cucumbers (?!).

After breakfast, we headed over to Petra.  Our hotel was within walking distance to the entrance, so there was no need for a taxi.  However, we would need a taxi later that evening to get to Amman and our flight home, so Mike began the long process of haggling.  He found a taxi driver and talked him into 45 Jordanian dinars for the trip.  The Lonely Planet suggested 80 was a fair price, so Mike was in top form.  The driver agreed to meet us outside the entrance to the park later that afternoon.

For those of you who cannot quite place what Petra is, remember back to the third Indiana Jones movie, the one with Sean Connery.  Do you remember the final big scene where they ride their horses down a long slot canyon and end at a temple carved in the rock?  That is Petra.  The slot canyon is called the Siq and the temple is called the Treasury.  The whole site is known as Petra and it turned out to be a lot more interesting than we had expected.

Mike had a guide book which detailed several less popular paths that we could take to explore the park without all of the tourists.  Sara was more into just walking down the Siq, checking out the Treasury and a few other sites and then calling it a day.  She reluctantly agreed however that we would follow along and see Mike's sites.

A few hundred yards into the park, Mike found the trail that he wanted to follow.  Instead of walking downhill with all of the other sheep, we followed a nearly unmarked trail up and over a hill to our right.  The terrain was very rocky, with little vegetation, not extremely difficult, but definitely the road less traveled.  As we crested the hill, we became the only ones in the park.  The isolation was almost immediate and complete.  Mike was referencing his book and as we scrambled over and around huge boulders, we felt sure that we were lost.  He kept assuring us that we were most likely going the right way and, it turns out, we stumbled upon a slot canyon that was on the map.  It was the long way around to see the Treasury, but it was definitely free of tourists.

We had the perfect day for our hike through this desert:  highs in the upper 80's, bright and sunny, but enough of a breeze to keep us cool.  The slot canyon had steep, sheer walls that also kept us in the shade for most of the way.  As we walked, we saw evidence of flash floods, trash and debris pressed up against rocks creating barriers for us to traverse, and I couldn't help but wonder what I would do if a ten foot wall of water suddenly appeared in front of me.  There really was no escape, the canyon stretched for miles and we were in the dead middle of it.  It was only two or three feet wide in places, so there was no where to run.

A couple of miles into the canyon, we reached an impasse:  the path was knee deep in water and the only way around was to climb a ledge that was seven or eight feet up and then jump across to another ledge, past the water.  Ordinarily I am not too scared of a puddle of water, but this particular puddle had a certain look about it.  It was a bright green, not mossy or algae infested, but nuclear, like a big puddle of lime Gatorade.  I could just hear my doctor now, "Remember when I told you guys about Hepatitis?  Remember when I said not to go in to any questionable swimming holes?  Well guess what..."

So, we only had two options, go up and over, or go back.  Unfortunately, I suffer from the same affliction that almost every other man has:  I will not go back and retrace my steps unless I am utterly and hopelessly lost, and even then it is a huge battle.  Up and over it was.

We lifted Mike up to the ledge and he scouted ahead to determine that we probably could make it, so next we lifted Maya and then Sara.  Uh oh.  Looks like I was on my own.  After trying to climb it with no luck, Mike was able to lean far enough over to grab my hand.  He pulled and I climbed and somehow I made it up.  We walked along the narrow ledge and jumped the chasm to the other side.

After another mile, the canyon opened up into a valley and we were treated to an incredible desert scene.  We were surrounded by cliffs and in the cliffs were dozens of man-made caves.  Apparently, we had stumbled upon the dwellings of the people that had lived at Petra:  the Nabataeans.

The Nabataeans built Petra along a major trade route starting around 100 BC, although there were settlements there dating back to the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt (around 1500 BC) and it is even referred to in the Bible.  They mastered the art of water conservation and were able to live easily and freely in the desert, even selling their water to travelers.  We witnessed several of their elaborate cisterns used to collect and store water, and some of them did have water even today (along with empty bags of potato chips, Coke cans and such).  Roman influence can also be seen throughout the park, as they eventually extended their empire to include this area.

We had brought along some lunch, and we picked an incredible spot in which to eat it.  We had to climb some stairs carved into the rock to a large platform outside a huge man-made cave with various rooms dug out inside.  There was a large cistern that was carved out of the rock and covered by an arch.  The arch had a two foot diameter hole in it and channels leading to it from different directions, all to gather as much water as possible for the cistern.  It was brilliant in its design.

Sara, Maya and I ate our lunch, but Mike disappeared further up the cliff.  After a while, Maya went to find him.  When she didn't come back, I climbed up to see where they had gone.  I walked along a path cut into the rock, high above the valley floor, rounded a corner and found Mike and Maya hanging out on what can only be described as a throne, also cut into the rock.  When I sat on the throne, I had a commanding view of the entire valley, even seeing dozens of other caves carved into the cliffs on the opposite side.  It was breathtaking and I had to get Sara to come see it.

After lunch, we made our way in to the more touristy areas of Petra.  By this point, we were not as impressed with the caves, as we had seen dozens already, but Mike kept telling us of the Monastery, a must-see.  Already pretty tired, we agreed to go.  It didn't look too far away on the map, but it was getting hot and it had already been a long day.  As we progressed down the trail to the Monastery, we got our second wind.  Then we came to the stairs.

It was difficult to tell how far up the stairs went because they wound around the cliffs.  We started climbing, and climbing and climbing.  We had been going up for at least a half an hour when Sara pulled off to the side.  "I need a rest.  I'm not really sure I can go much further."  Sara was wearing walking sandals with no back, so her shoes were giving her problems.

As we sat there and Sara was facing an internal struggle about whether or not to go on, a very large, red-faced woman chugged by us, going up.  "There's your competition," was all Mike had to say.  Sara took off her shoes, a defiant look on her face, and promptly marched on, barefoot, no more complaints were heard from her.

On another rest stop, we were greeted by a local boy who desperately wanted the remains of the soda in the bottle I had been carrying all morning.  I gave it to him, feeling very Peace Corpsish, and he promptly dumped it into the dirt so he could make mud.

850 steps to the top of the mountain.  It is not the furthest anyone has ever climbed, but it was a good feeling to get to the top.  Until, of course, we saw all of the people already up there...and the restaurant/convenience store which, to keep stocked, required people to regularly not only hike up all of those stairs, but to do it with boxes and boxes of food and drinks.  Oh well, I bought a Coke and some Doritos and enjoyed the view.

Just as we were getting settled in, the crowd looking at the Monastery was starting to get excited.  We looked and saw a man on top of the building, looking as if he was going to jump. The edifice is over 150 feet high, so he was quite a ways up.  Suddenly, he was doing acrobatics, jumping from one rooftop to another, hanging over empty space and walking on his hands.  One wrong move and he was toast (or maybe a pancake), but he was very graceful, as strong and lithe as any gymnast you'll see, and he made it back down without a hitch.  Apparently, he is a local and does this regularly.

On the way back down the stairs, Sara twisted her ankle.  Her shoes had gotten tangled up under her again, so she removed them for the rest of the way down, limping and leaning on me at times.  We got to the bottom and it was time to head out.  We still had not seen the Treasury, but it was on the way.

Once we reached it, we immediately understood why this was one of the New Wonders.  It was absolutely incredible.  The detail was still evident even after 2000 years.  We could only look inside, but it was surprisingly plain.  We didn't find the Holy Grail, but were impressed nonetheless.

We made our way out of the park, grabbed a bite to eat and then met our taxi driver for the three hour ride to Amman.  There was an attempt at renegotiation by the driver, but Mike would have none of it, so we set off.  Almost as soon as we left, the driver lit up a cigarette.  Sara suffers from asthma, so smoking in a small car is not an option.  The driver thought we were kidding when we asked him to put it out, then told him to put it out, but eventually he complied.  About an hour into the trip he tried to light up again, claiming he could just roll down the window.  We fought him off once again, so he decided to pull off at a restaurant to have a smoke.  He went inside while the four of us sat in his car and waited...and waited.  He stayed in for a half an hour before emerging to continue the trip.

We finally arrived in Amman and the plan was to find a hotel for Mike and Maya, eat another quick dinner and then Sara and I would grab another taxi to the airport for our midnight flights.  Unfortunately, our knuckleheaded driver could not find the hotel.  We went around the same half-mile circle six or eight times, stopping to ask directions periodically, having the person asked point in a new direction that we had not yet tried and then continuing on in the same direction that we had already been a half dozen times already.  It got to the point that even I (who doesn't speak a lick of Arabic) knew where the hotel was, but the doofus driving our taxi still could not figure it out.

We finally found the hotel, and after some hard negotiation by Mike on their rate, walked to get some food.  Our final meal in Jordan was at an outstanding Armenian pizza shop.  We said our goodbyes to Mike and Maya and flagged down a taxi.  On the way to the airport, we passed a McDonald's, but there wasn't time to stop.  So now I have to go back.  I officially have eaten at McDonald's in every country I have visited except Ecuador and Jordan (also substituting McPollo's in Colombia, a Golden Arches knockoff located right next to Bennie's, which looked exactly like Ben & Jerry's).

The airport security at Queen Alia airport was fairly tight, and since Sara and I were on different flights an hour apart, we were not allowed to check in together.  Sara went first, while I sat in a waiting area.  Just enough time for one more attempted scam.  I was approached by an airport employee who offered to "get me in".  Of course, at this point, I was wise to the tricks:  once I "got in", I would owe him a nice tip.  Seeing as I only needed to wait another half an hour and I would see Sara again, I politely declined.

We met up again for a few minutes before Sara boarded.  We were both quiet.  I'm sure part of it was because we were tired from such a long day, but most of it was because we both knew that we had to return to civilization and responsibility.  Normally I am happy and a bit excited to return home after a trip, but this time was different.  If I could have, I would have kept going, perhaps South, further into Africa, perhaps East, or maybe back to join Mike and Maya as they continued on into Israel.  I still had the dirt of Petra on my feet and that comforted me.  Finally, my flight was called and I boarded...and slept.

Author's Note: We hope you have enjoyed reading about our exploits in Egypt, Israel and Jordan.  Please check back soon as we are about to visit Japan and Taiwan (next week)!  Also, please recommend us to your friends.  We are trying to build up a following and will be expanding the blog to include more photos and videos.  If you are still reading at this point, thank you!

  • Stuart

    Great article and a fantastic read. I am a traveler at heart and find the more times i go away the less interested in returning i become. It was good to see some of the difficulties you had and I am sure this will help me in October when we do a similar trip. My wife and I are going to Egypt, Jordan and Syria for our next adventure. I hope you enjoy your tip to Asia. Our adventures in south east asia last year were stories we will remember for a life time…..I look forward to reading about it.

  • Lina M

    Wow nice pictures of Petra hope you enjoyed it , am from Jordan for that am so happy to see people come to Jordan and like it … Thats all i want to say 🙂 hope you came again .

    • Flip

      Hi Lina:

      You have a beautiful country! We hope to get back there sometime soon. We liked it so much that we’ve actually talked about moving to Amman for a couple of months in the future sometime.

      Thanks for reading our blog!

  • Pingback: Photos That Inspire – The Royal Tombs, Petra, Jordan | Flying Coach()

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