The day after we visited the desert castles, the three of us packed up to do a long drive down to Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, as well as Wadi Rum (famous for its ties to Lawrence of Arabia, as well as its amazing climbing possibilities). It was indeed a long drive to Petra, but we stopped at several sites along the way, which made it feel both longer, but less tortuous.
The first place we stopped to stretch our legs was the Dead Sea – the lowest place on Earth! As a runner from 6,000 feet, my friend joked that this was indeed very helpful to my running training. While we were able to see the Sea (hah!), we weren’t able to go down and put our feet in (it apparently costs 20 dinars to do so, although the validity of that is unknown to me). This was a bit disappointing, but we moved on into the Grand Canyon of Jordan, and any thoughts beyond awe at the geology quickly disappeared. Again, having been in a basalt desert for thirty days, one tends to lose track of the reality that there are other, incredible rock formations (I’m the daughter of a geologist, what can I say?); seeing this area of Jordan was therefore extremely fun for me.
After our quick stop at the Dead Sea, we headed back up into the
hills mountains to Mt. Nebo, the site where Moses may have died. The site itself is actually very minimal, and, unsurprisingly, was overrun with tourists. The area is similar to the region near Lake Tiberius, in that it is very Mediterranean, and very beautiful. I was probably more distracted by the trees and the pretty plants than I was by the importance of site itself. The site does have some beautiful mosaic floors, however (see a theme?), and that was very enjoyable to see. From Mt. Nebo, we piled back into the car and drove into Madaba, which is a 50/50 mix of Christians and Muslims, and has a number of (you guessed it!) beautiful mosaics. We started in the visitor’s center in Madaba, which had several buildings with both mosaic floors and mosaic walls which were in various states of restoration. We also visited the Church of St. George, or the Church of the Map. The entire floor was once covered in a mosaic that depicted a map of most of the Middle East. The parts that are preserved are incredible, and very beautiful. The church itself is also very nice – it’s a small, Greek Orthodox church, and while I’m not a particularly religious person, there is something soothing to me about being in a church.
In Madaba itself, we enjoyed the company of a carpet merchant (an acquaintance of Gary’s who is Jordanian, but worked in Germany while Gary taught there). As is typical, I burned my tongue on the tea that was offered, because Gary can drink it down so fast, and I felt obligated to do so as well (which is terribly poor manners, as far as I can tell, but…what can you do). We had a very tasty lunch again (we ate very similar food everywhere we went, but it was not only delicious, but slightly different everywhere we went, and therefore never got boring). From Madaba, we drove almost directly south until we reached Wadi Mousa, the town built outside of the archaeological site of Petra. We stayed in the Edom Hotel, which was very nice and also very reasonable. They serve a nice continental breakfast, and it is an option to eat dinner there as well, which was a tasty buffet of Arabic food (you do have to pay extra for this). Before we even settled into our hotel, however, Gary took us to Little Petra, which is an extension of the Nabatean city of Petra. While it is undoubtedly less glorious than the architecture of Petra, we were unable to even get out of the parking lot before cameras were out and shooting pictures of the amazing geology. It is all reddish sandstone, and especially in the late afternoon light, everything looked phenomenal. We slowly made our way into Little Petra, which has several smaller tombs, and a number of small carvings. The tombs themselves are beautiful, as is the geology all around. I have not been to either Arches or the Grand Canyon, but I can’t even imagine that they compare to the beauty of the geology at Petra. After walking around Little Petra, we took a short walk to a Neolithic site, which was interesting, but nothing compared to what we had just seen. We were accompanied by a young Bedouin boy, however, and he was very friendly and entertaining.
The next morning, bright and early, we set out for the site of Petra. The benefit to our hotel was that we could walk directly into Petra. Inside Petra, it is optional to ride horses or donkeys to the sites. If you can, I highly, highly recommend walking (and doing it when the sun is low is incredible both in terms of lighting, but is also important to beat the heat). Walking allows you to explore at your own pace and to take as many pictures as you desire (or not, if you don’t want to…). We headed down the Siq, the main pathway into Petra, which has a number of small carvings. These include depictions of a camel caravan, of gods, and also includes two water troughs or channels, which were used to bring moisture down into the city itself. As I said, being the daughter of the geologist, I was most struck by the intense beauty of the narrow rock walls above us, although I was not immune to the beauty of the early carvings we were seeing. As we came out of the Siq, however, it was immediately apparent that we hadn’t seen anything yet. At the end of the Siq, you can peek through and see the Treasury, which is one of the most (if not the most) photographed tomb in Petra. Called the Treasury because it was originally thought to contain gold, it is actually an old tomb, which has unbelievable Nabatean columns. The entire building is carved out of the sandstone, and carved back into the mountain to allow a chamber for the tomb. It was truly one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.
As we continued down through the City of the Dead, we saw more tombs that were exquisite, but none that quite compared to the Treasury. Finally, we reached the stairs to climb to the High Place, which gives you an incredible view of the entire wadi. We slowly climbed stair after stair (proving at least to me how out of shape I was) until we reached what we thought was the top, which undoubtedly had an incredible view. After some looking around, we climbed a little higher, and ultimately scrambled up to the actual High Place, which did yield an incredible view. We climbed back down, and headed into the City of the Living, which showed a greater Roman influence, as it was occupied by the Romans for a time. We progressed down through the City of the Living and turned off to go climb up to the Monastery, which is the other very notable structure in Petra. A slightly longer climb, we were feeling very tired by the time we reached the top. We suddenly turned a corner, and in front of us was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen – the Monastery, in all its glory. It was not only well worth the climb, but it was indubitably awe-inspiring. I was literally speechless and shocked at how amazing it was, which generally summed up my entire experience in Petra.
After climbing down from the Monastery, we ate lunch before heading to see the Petra church, which also has some incredible mosaic flooring. We finished up by seeing more tombs within Petra, each of which was lovely and incredible. Some of them had sandstone that had formed in a number of different colors (which I’d never seen, and am incredibly curious about), which was astonishingly beautiful. We walked back out of the Siq very slowly, as it was hot, and we were tired and out of water. Generally, tourists don’t do both the High Place and the Monastery in one day, and while it is certainly doable, it might almost be more exciting to do them on different days. Nonetheless, our experience was incredibly positive.
The next morning we packed up again and drove a short ways to Wadi Rum. This is another place of incredible geologic beautiful, although it is different structurally from Petra (which is what makes it possible to climb). It has a bedrock of granite, then a layer of red sandstone, and a final layer of white sandstone. These layers make it an incredible place to see. We took a Jeep tour to see the fabulous rock art, which included humans as well as animals, and included some very interesting carvings of feet. We also took a camel tour to Lawrence’s Spring. I have wanted to ride a camel for quite a while now, and I highly recommend it. It’s very different from riding a horse, since camels are gaited (they move both feet on one side at the same time), which makes for a very rolling movement. It is very fun though, and I really enjoyed it.
After leaving Wadi Rum, we drove to Aqaba for lunch, where we were able to see the Red Sea! Again, it was very beautiful, although again we didn’t have time for me to stick my toes in. From there we made the long trek back to Amman. At one point, Ian got to drive so that Gary could take a nap – after everything I’ve said about Jordanian drivers, needless to say I was happy I wasn’t the driver. Everything went very well, however, and we arrived safely back in Amman.