Tuesday, 24 April 2012

... Jordan: ...And Don't Call Me Junior!

My alarm went off at 430am. I had had a huge 3hrs of sleep and yet the alarm had been deliberately set. As you can see jetlag is kicking me firmly up the backside and you might wonder if the alarm had been set in a delirious state. Alas no.

At 6am I was walking downhill through Bab-as-Siq with just a small group of people. This in itself was exciting because, somewhat surprisingly, we were the only people there. Finally I was about to witness the wonder of the world that is Petra in all its daylight glory. I was, however, armed with my trusty travel hat, lots of sunscreen & water, 2 cameras and 2 lenses as opposed to a sable fedora and a bullwhip. I also didn't have my dad with me continually calling me Junior.

Petra actually means "stone". Pretty easy to work out why. It was established sometime around 6 BC by the Nabataeans, the ancient people of Jordan. However, it remained unknown to the Western world until the early 1800s when it was introduced by a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. A UNESCO heritage site, it was chosen by the BBC as one of the 40 places you have to visit before you die". Quite a sobering thought. Let us hope that is still a ways away for me. Excavations, which are still ongoing, have uncovered sites which will blow you mind and up to press there are over 800 registered which includes 500 tombs.

As you walk down towards the entrance to the Siq, on the left the sandstone Obelisk tomb gives you a taste of what lies ahead. Despite the worry of the potential crowds not far behind, I had to stop and marvel at it. It is believed that the 4 obelisks together with an eroded human figure represent 5 people buried within. The infamous and utterly impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a 1.2km dark, narrow gorge. This is the Siq (meaning "shaft"). It is actually a natural geological feature formed from a split (tectonic forces) in the sandstone. At one point it opens to reveal a square tomb and a lone fig tree but it soon closes in again, shutting out most of the light save for a few beautiful rays. You can feel the anticipation building as you eagerly await what is about to take your breath away.

Nothing quite prepares you as the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) comes into view. And even better for me, we we the only people there with no signs of anyone following us. Fantastic. Have to admit I did not want Bob from Maine in my 50 million photos. The craftsmanship, grandeur and sheer scale of this beast are indescribable. Standing at 43m high and about 30m wide, the iron-laden sandstone façade is astonishing. I had a few pictures taken with me in front of it and I look like the size of a sand castle in comparison. Although meant to be a tomb for a Nabataean king, Areta III, the name actually comes from a story that an Egyptian Pharaoh hid his treasure here in the urn which you can see in the middle of the level. Some people apparently believed this to be true for the urn is pockmarked with bullet holes, an unsuccessful attempt to break it open.

 We were to spend 9hrs at Petra, which I initially scoffed at.  I mean how on earth was I going to stay here for 9hrs. By 3pm my belief had changed as I dragged my incredibly tired behind onto the bus. I had trekked around this huge ancient city and still not seen everything. Highlights however include:

*The Theatre, originally built by the Nabataeans but renovated and enlarged by the Romans
*Trekking up to the cliff face that houses the  Royal tombs, which includes the distinctive Urn tomb, the beautiful pink/white/yellow veined rock of the Silk tomb, the huge Palace tomb and the damaged Hellenistic- Nabataean hybrid Corinthian tomb
*A long uphill hike in the heat to view the Monastery (Al-Deir) with a further trek to a view point which overlooks Wadi Araba towards Israel and Palestine
*An even longer and higher uphill hike to the High Place of Sacrifice, a suitable name to be sure and my quads certainly felt it. Here the are two obelisks that are impressive for the fact they were carved out of the rock face and not built upon.

The biggest highlight of the day for me was hiking to a small flattened plateau. The only unfortunate thing about it was the fact that a). There was barely enough room to swing a cat and b). It was right above a vertical cliff. I crawled as close to the edge as my brain would allow on my stomach and looked down.... There was the mighty Treasury in all it's glory with little ant-like people moving about in front of it.  Shaking somewhat I took out my camera and managed to get a few shots. Then my brain said "enough" and I shuffled my way to a safer spot as far away from the edge as possible, even thoughh it was probably only about a metre, until it was time to scramble back down.

By the time I made my weary way back to the entrance gate I had consumed over 3L of water. This was further increased with a 1.5L bottle and some strawberry sorbet before actually leaving the site. One might think that I should avoid all sharp objects for risk of bursting. My kidneys had no need to worry. I sweated it all out. My thimble sized bladder heaved a sigh of relief.

After all that hiking my tired body needed some R n' R. What better way to reward oneself (and especially since I also found out I had aced my neuro exam via email) than with a visit to the hamman? Otherwise known as a Turkish bath, some of the best baths are in Wadi Musa. 20JOD for transport there & back, a steam, exfoliation, hot stones and massage? Hellz yeah!!!! I started with about 20 minutes in the marbled steam room. My poor body eagerly lapped it all up. Next you lie on a heated marble slab with your legs raised against a marble wall. Whilst you relax even further contrast hydrotherapy is applied. And just how good did that feel even when that water felt like ice. I started giggling mostly in shock when cold water was poured all over my head after what was to be the initial exfoliation. The fluffy white towels lure you into a false sense of security however, which you quickly realize as you are taken to a small room with a marble slab. "Remove robe" I was requested by the tiny female. Huh? And then she scrubbed me. Naked. All over. With olive oil soap. I can how say I have witnessed first hand their talent of extreme exfoliation. You have parts of the body removed that I suspect you might not have know you had. Then came the massage. She was smaller than me but quite possibly wrestled for some Communist Olympic team or something. The massage wasn't long but she hit all the right spots... Quite literally. But this is by no means a complaint. It was awesome. Truly awesome. Just what I had needed. I left there after a few cups of tea minus a few layers of skin feeling fan-bloody-tastic, totally chillaxed and may be a tiny bit violated. I highly recommend it if you ever get the opportunity.

After some traditional Jordanian dishes, fish and... chips for dinner followed by an über tasty dairy-free coconut dessert all washed down with a refreshing lemon & mint drink, I think it's time to hit the sack. It's not even 830pm but I can barely keep my eyes open. The life of an adventurer is tiring!

However, I still firmly believe Indiana Jones would be impressed.

- Posted Using BlogPress from Nic's iPad

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