And from the desert, onto Petra.
(I promise I’ll keep this next bit of info succinct). (Though this entire post is a little longer – apologies!).
So Petra: built by the Nabatean people a good 2000 years ago in the heart of the Shara Mountains, the “rose-red city” (colour of the rocks, especially at sunset) prospered massively in the first centuries BC and AD (mainly riches in frankincense, myrrh and spices) – likened to a present day Dubai. Later on it ‘twas annexed to the Roman Empire, and in 363 AD a hefty earthquake led to the downfall of the city and it being abandoned – and pretty much fully forgotten – lost to all but the local Bedouin of the area.
In 1812 a Swiss explorer lad named Johannes Burckhardt decided he wanted to rediscover Petra; donning the dress of an Arab, he convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city. As a result, the place became increasingly known in the West and starting attracting a tourist trade.
Today, intricate facades sculpted into the sandstone cliffs are still able to be observed, as are the tombs carved out of the mountains sides where the ancient people placed their dead, temples, an amphitheater, a dam (small, but still a dam – the people are actually quite renowned for their forward-thinking water sorting) and a colonnaded street.
“Petra” also translates to “rock” in Greek – very fitting (and also made me think of Dwayne Johnson whenever anyone’s said it).
We headed towards it – about three hours drive. After drop off of bags at our hotel, we met at the lobby for the group venture in.
Osama took us the first two km in guided, filling us in on info and stopping at significant parts to elaborate. (I kept thinking he was saying “shipping stations” and thought I was all out of whack with my timeline of when things were invented, until I realised he was saying worshipping). One of these was the point of marriage in ancient times, where I “wed” a lad from our tour called Mark (please now refer to me as Poppy Lee). Then we had a prolonged pause at The Treasury – in Arabic the Al-Khazneh, it is believed to have been the mausoleum of the Nabatean King Aretas IV in the 1st century AD; again, the entire structure was carved out of a sandstone rockface. (I thought it was called the Treasury because it had been a bank, but it was actually named so as it was believed to have homed a vast array of treasures).
Osama then left us to our own devices to decide what to do; Stace, myself and a guy from our tour called Scott hustled up the 840 steps to The Monastery – a lot like The Treasury, just a little bigger and a little less grand. (Both actually we’re dead ringers for Gringotts Bank – made me wonder if J.K had paid a visit there when writing HP). It was a bit of a hike going up (lots of people opted for donkeys mid way) but we made it to the top sweaty and slightly sunburnt and happy to pay two dinar for a freshly squeezed orange juice (served warm).
The whole area felt like being on the moon – minus the little pockets of people here and there, the oxygen and the shop seeking ice blocks.
After the bit-further-on to the viewpoint of the Arabian desert, we headed back (again, a long trek) to the hotel for 5.15pm. Refresh, then time for a bath.
So by bath, I mean a Hammam – that meaning the steam, wash and massage of your bod. Five of us were in – four girls and Scott, who went to a seperate male area – and on arrival we were told to take off all bar our bottoms, and head to the steam room (given a scarf-like towel thing for coverage).
Far out it was hot. And so steamy you couldn’t see. We were to be in there for ten to 15 minutes, we were told, and giving a little glass of water while we sweated our – very exposed – tits off.
After ten, a lady came to collect one of the girls. Then another five min, and another lady came to collect two more. As the two remaining girls were good friends I told them to go together and I would wait, so I lay on the cool (as in temp, though the print was rad too) block table thing and waited.
And waited. And waited.
I started getting a touch concerned; steam was swirling all about me and all I could think about was being gased, and my body was starting to take on the form of a Chinese steam bun. I told myself to take deep breaths – taking my mind away from thoughts that they’d locked me in and we’re going to do awful things – and lay there for another ten or so. Then I told myself to count to 100, and if no one came to get up and go out.
At about 49 a woman in a scrub cap came in giggling and announced, “We forgot you!”
I was then taken to another cool slab (this time I do mean purely in temp; no print on it) (tried not to think about the hygiene of the practice or how many other bodies had laid their heads on the towelling pillow) where the woman poured just-past lukewarm water all over me. She then set to scrubbing my whole body with what looked like a Bondi Sands tanning mitt, then took out a loofah – made with camel hairs, apparently – and exfoliated me down. Face, arms, legs, bum, feet, the lot. What followed was a sort of kneading massage everywhere, then another pour down before I was taken to the adjacent room for a standing pour down followed by cold water to splash on my face (my lady was quite funny and pretended to slosh the cold all over my body too).
Even though the whole process had been described rather in-depth to me, I still didn’t expect it to be quite so bathy.
Having been in the bathe-room on my own as all the other girls had finished, I was chuffed to see the two friends had waited for me. I was given a plastic bag to put my wet bottoms in, then I dressed and the three of us set back for the hotel, wet undies at the ready.
Osama had said I was to look five years younger after the treatment (“Combined with the five years that’ll come off with the Dead Sea tomorrow, I’m going to look like five-years-old!” I had replied. Terrible maths, because I’m most definitely not 15). And I have to say while my skin did feel slightly softer, I don’t think it peeled any age off me (thought I think it did take a tad of my tan).
Dinner with the crew, then bed.
In the morning Scott, Stace, myself and another girl called Jojo set off for The Lookout – another hike up to a cliff top in Petra, this time to overlook The Treasury. About a two-or-so-hour return trip, over time there has been another path made, the “illegal” one which takes about a quarter of the time. We collectively decided to do it properly; not an actual path, the “illegal” one – that many people did do, by the way – was said to damage the structure and we didn’t want to be responsible for any harm.
Slightly steeper than the day before, lots of the others from our group had opted to go as early as the ancient city opened – 6am. I was stoked we decided to wait; we got the famous ledge for photos pretty much to ourselves. (A Bedouin group had set a tent at the top of which you had to pass through and buy and drink to get to the point – very hustle of business, I thought).
11am depart (with “Za’atar” for lunch on the bus that Osama hustled for all of us at one dinar each; bread with olive oil and thyme on it fresh from the oven. Whoever knew that bread was so delicious!) to the Dead Sea.
Along the way Osama pointed out the hills of Jerusalem and Jericho across the water (hello, Jesus! Felt very guilty to my Catholic schooling to not have gone to visit when I was this close).
So, Dead Sea; not actually a sea, but a 600km2 lake at 400m below sea level. Named thus on account of the 30 per cent of salt (higher than any ocean, with that being 18) leading to no life in there.
At first I was a bit gutted when Osama said only half an hour in there – I was hoping for a good hour or so float around. But once in I was glad; there was stinging going on in places no one had ever said it would. (One girl called out, “Is anyone else’s vaginas stinging?” to which a chorus repsonded, “YES!!”). I was a bit one-eyed as well, as salt had made its way into my right one and no amount of rubbing eased it up (actually made it worse).
It was pretty insane how buoyant I was; on first getting in, I slightly leaned back and all of a sudden my legs popped out in front and I was on my back. I could also “stand” bobbing along without my feet on the ground. I think I managed about 22 minutes, then it was out for a swim in the pools above (I bypassed covering myself in mud; multiple experiences of being insanely itchy and rashing up when doing so had me decide it was a no-go).
(Another insanity; there were women floating about in the burkas. Literally fabric flowing about them, with nothing seen but their eyes and ridge of their nose between).
An hour to Amman, dinner with some of the crew at the hotel and then – again – bed.
And the very last day on tour; a walking visit through the Sugar Market (fruit, meat, what not), a visit to the amphitheatre (constructed under Roman rule – seating 6000, with an adjacent mini for the parliamentary officials. Always reminds me of cake tins), a visit to the Citadel (I was expecting a church and instead found myself at a big historical site with partially destroyed temples, a museum and what not) (again lots of Opa’s biscuits about the walls), a driving tour around the richer part of Amman city (very Laguna Beach, OC-esque) then a few hours free time before a goodbye group dinner at a local restaurant (not serving alcohol; a predominantly Muslim country, at first this non-beer allowed surprised me then it didn’t).
To tit bits!
⁃ I was so sad seeing all the horses and donkeys and at Petra, being made to lug people up and down all day. The only thing that made me feel a bit more heartened was that as the owners’ points of income, they would have to really look after these animals and feed them well to enable money making.
⁃ The expense of Jordan was something I really didn’t expect; while you can find a cheap falafel wrap for 60cents, buying and doing things is pretty dear. Going to another hotel to use their pool had a few of 20 dinar pp ($43NZD); taxi transfer to the airport had a price tag of 30 for a 30-minute drive ($65NZD) and souvenirs were pretty expensive. One thing is for sure – the Jordanian dinar is strong.
⁃ Smoking is still so seen – lots and lots and lots of the people light up, both locals and people on my tour. It really shocked me with what we now know about what nicotine does.
⁃ Osama was so cute; always dressed from pretty much neck to toe in Under Armour (funnily enough, never his hat). I also really appreciated his humour; he’d always rock out with jokes with you were least expecting it, and described the depiction as one of the gods as looking like Spongebob Squarepants.
⁃ The Muslim people must prayer five times a day; shops shut down at midday for them to head to the mosque. During free time we had gone to the supermarket during the hour, and had to wait for ages for everyone to return.
⁃ At the museum at the Citadel I was looking amongst all the unearthed things and reading the accompanying captions; imagine being an archeologist in 1967 and discovering a piece of pottery from BC. Just imagine that excitement.
So Jordan is now ticked off too; with a 9pm departure, I have the day to do as I wish (gym, breakfast, writing this, then a wander with the only other girl left).
I’ve really loved it here, much more so than Egypt. I hadn’t really thought much about how it would be, so it’s been really pleasant to find I really enjoyed it. Less hassle, less people trying to take your money, cleaner, more safe.
And for one of the first times, I’m ready to go home. Almost five weeks is up and I’m satisfied. I’m ready to go and put my new duvet on my bed (thanks for washing it, Mummy Deb. Very, very strategic getting it delivered to her house). Ready to unpack and organise and get back into life. Ready to get ready for The Pedaller to come home and to get our new puppy.
Travel and exploring will always be one of my greatest joys, but it seems slowly but surely a love for being settled with someone I really feel strongly about has taken priority.
Over and out from the other side of the world.