Five camels dressed in geometric patterns wait next to Petra's Treasury - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Five camels dressed in geometric patterns wait next to Petra’s Treasury – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – http://www.MissMaps.com

 

Five minutes from hotels, restaurants and taxis eager to offer their services sits a corral of Arabian horses. As you walk past, the ‘real world’ still fresh in your mind, taxi drivers suddenly turn from uniformed men guiding their steel chariots over paved streets to those of a more natural appearance. Unlike their licensed counterparts, these men range in age from as young as twelve to as old as eighty, offering to share their own taxi in the form of four-legged friends who trot along as their leaders encourage them down cobblestone streets laid by Ancient Romans.

The suspense builds as you weave through rose-hued canyons and peer into dark caves, forever damp and musty. The cobblestone clashes with the gallant trots of Arabian horses and the slower steps of donkeys well-worked. As time passes, your sight becomes more refined and you begin to notice details previously masked by the canal’s grandiose appearance. A rock decorated with windows, doors, and columns takes on the appearance of a building likened to the White House. A shadow cleverly hides a carving that seems to resemble a mermaid (or maybe that’s your mind and extreme liking for the beings that creates the image). Four mounds no larger than your purse and one taller figure are at eye level. The four mounds are feet, and the taller figure, the bottom half of a man. Together, they represent what is left from a camel caravan and its shepherd once crafted into the rocks as part of a story older than you can fathom.

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A short distance away stands a religious site where couples would stand, hold hands, and gaze into each others eyes; this quick succession of events locking them into eternal matrimony. A couple pauses to dip into the small inlets, then unknowingly performs the ceremony under guidance of their tour leader. They laugh and joke with each other “If only it had been that easy!” You share in the laugh and stop for a few moments to listen to their Venezuelan love story.

Continuing through the Siq, the naturally formed pathway that Indiana Jones himself once raced along, you twist and turn and admire and wonder, ‘When will it appear? Is it really here?’

Then it happens. The cliffs suddenly become dark as Al Khazneh appears. Through a vertical crack extending sky-high, you see before you a smooth slate reflecting the sun’s early morning light. The iconic camel is indeed sitting in the foreground, its legs outstretched and double humps adorned in bright carpets to make an eager tourist’s ride less bumpy and more comfy. Just a few more steps and you are forcibly stopped. No way can you walk any closer as a structure so grandiose looms in front of you. The Treasury. It is exactly how you pictured but nothing like you imagined. In your mind, this is Petra. A narrow path leading to a cul-de-sac where a large carved-out building has sat since 400 B.C.

My, my, mind. How wrong you were. The Treasury itself is a monument well worth the hours you drove from Amman and the half hour you just spent walking from the entrance and through the Siq. Yet the true treasure is still to come.

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After pausing to regain your composure and admire those colorfully decorated camels standing beside their donkey friends, you continue walking into a world you never before knew existed. Beyond the tourist stands and Bedouin tea huts stands a mountain range of caves both natural and hand carved. The Roman influence is shown in not only the streets but also the towering columns marking entrances into some of the most exquisite buildings the Nabatean Empire ever did see.
Centuries old steps lead to the highest peaks, from which you can see how expansive and detailed the previous colonies were when they piece-by-piece built their homes. There are statues and mountain gardens, an amphitheater and church. At the far end of the day’s path you find a daunting stairway, 800 steps tall. The weary traveler may ask for a donkey or horse to carry him up but you opt to walk, keeping in mind that if your own legs don’t want to carry your body weight, another animal surely would not delight in that possibility. Hiking up the seemingly never-ending stairs is the best decision you’ve made all day, for at the top stands a building that could crush your memories of The Treasury. It’s bigger and badder and …wow…

The Monastery greets you with a huge smile and you reply with wide eyes and a mouth hung slightly open in disbelief. As a reward for all your hard efforts, you sit down to a steaming cup of Bedouin tea and gaze at the Monastery, along with its neighboring view: one that extends past desert rose mountains stretching far enough to become one with the sky. Being nestled into high mountains, Petra’s main attractions see an early sunset. You make your way down the steps and explore even more caverns and caves which decorate the rocks. Just as you reach the bottom, Bedouins encourage you to travel once more to high grounds. This time, to watch as the shadows begin to play with the red rocks and the sun begins to hide in a distant corner. After a full day of hearing these same voices requesting ‘Donkey? Taxi? Ferrari?’, you’ve learned to ignore their calls. Unlike the other suggestions, this encouragement to head back up and catch the sunset should not be taken lightly.

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Fifteen minutes of easy climbing (remembering that you just climbed up and down 800 steps makes anything  seem easy at this point) leads you to a perch in front of another beautiful tomb. Here you will find a large platform sprinkled with a handful of tourists who also took the advice of Petra’s own community members. If you’re open to a conversation you’ll get to hear a backstory of their Yemenis roots, learn of the relationships between each of them, and the process in which they secure the goods and knowledge shared within Petra’s gates.

You plaster on a sincere smile and prepare to meet Mohammed of the Mountain, a man well into his sixties clothed in a traditional dishdasha. The eldest of seventeen children, he is ready to tease about taking you in as his wife. You gracefully decline than grimace with other tourists as he coerces them into his same master plan. The marriage arrangements are quickly made and it is decided which cave they will live in and with what his new wife will find to occupy her time during the day. Your new pals decide upon a mountain-top ceremony in celebration. It will be a barbecue style ceremony overlooking Petra’s Treasury. Just as the blushing subsides you hear him whisper to the man in his twenties sitting beside you, “Now don’t let this reach home.”

You all breathe a sigh of relief as the whisper confirms that he’s already got a leading lady waiting for him at home. Quick clears the picture they had painted in your mind of wearing animal hides, riding donkeys into town, and turning those fuzzy locks into more manageable dreads. In his comedic mannerisms worthy of Hollywood spotlights, Mohammed of the Mountain assures you that Lost, the twenty seven year old man seated next to you, will take you to the mountain-top barbecue despite lack of a ring or commitment to stay in Jordan for the rest of forever.

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Lost, Mohammed of the Mountain’s much younger brother, is incredibly giggly and social. Alongside his brothers and cousins, the mountains are used as their home and their school. They are some of the most insightful, well educated young men you will meet on this journey. They know the land inside and out, the history, the layout, the hidden caverns, and ‘shortcuts’.

Repeatedly, they will assure they they are not your friend because they want to have your money as a parting gift. They are your friend because they are in love with their home and hope you will leave feeling the same passion for Petra.

If you are truly dedicated to this adventure and are looking to learn what’s hidden beyond the pages of a book and past Indiana Jones’s iconic Treasury scenes, you will be amazed at what you find. Petra’s winding valleys and caverns swirling with golden rose hues are enough to transport you to another dimension, even if only for a day or two. Listen to the locals. Learn more, see more, hear more. And be sure to come back, as tomorrow promises yet another cliff-scrambling surprise as you climb to the highest heights to view The Treasury from above.

Petra Treasury and Tourists from above - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Petra Treasury and Tourists from above – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – http://www.MissMaps.com

 

Sitting on a cliff overlooking Petra's Treasury - the best view in Jordan - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com

5 Comments

    1. Hey Lauren, thank you so much! The first time I went I came from Amman (arriving there by plane) and this second trip we came from Israel via Eliat/Aqaba. I just posted a video of that adventure at: https://missmaps.com/2016/01/18/petra-jordan-the-video-twice-in-a-lifetime/ For length, I’d recommend a two day pass which is 55JOD compared to a one day pass at 50JOD (only 5JOD more for the second day) – it’ll give you clearance in case the weather isn’t so great or, hopefully, in case you want to explore deeper. Check out the video and let me know if there are questions left unanswered- I’m happy to answer whatever you’re curious about!

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