We trudge for two and a half miles through the dramatic Siq, leading to the ancient Nabataean town of Petra. A narrow passage through the rock.
Mohamed urges us from one talking point to another, barely waiting for stragglers before starting his spiel.
The Treasury appears, rose-red between the rocks. Awesome. Photographs cannot do it justice… nor words describe.
The locals ply a great trade with horses, carriages, donkeys, mules and camels up and down the pathway, kicking up red dust, and creating a bustle with their bargaining.
We come to the Theatre, and the Colonnaded Street. Intriguing caves, and rock tombs look down on us. I don’t have the energy to explore up there; I know I won’t be able to face the laborious uphill slope back to the entrance. Towards the end, a young lad latches onto me, offering his grey donkey for the return journey.
“Shouldn’t you be at school?” I ask.
No, school closed at 3 o’clock, he says, avoiding my eyes.
I negotiate 5 dinars for the ride back to the Treasury, but I need to rest, and he isn’t to harass me further.
He is true to his word, and waiting while I sip a cold drink.
“Would you like to ride up to the tombs?” he asks.
But my mind is set on reaching the end, and I do not have the energy for more bargaining.
He stops before we come to the Treasury. I have a feeling he needs to avoid the officials. I wander back up the Siq.
At last, the starting point for the horses. They come with the price of our entrance ticket, but our guide said they would expect a tip of 2 dinar, and he does not recommend them, as no hard hats are provided. I decide to take the risk, and succumb to the first approach. My grey animal has seen better days. A man leading a striking well-fed mule comes up and I am sorely tempted, but am not allowed to change my mind. We walk sedately up the loose rubble while others gallop past in clouds of dust.
Although I’d dearly love to climb to the Monastery tomorrow, I know I cannot.
I go to the roof to watch the sun rise over the hills of Petra, and sit in the restaurant all morning, writing post cards. I saunter down to the Post Office. A couple of taxi drivers sit on plastic chairs overlooking the entrance to Petra, and offer me one.
I eat my lunch, and watch through binoculars as the horses are made to strut their stuff before the tourists.
We go on a special tour of Little Petra that afternoon. This Siq is only 300 metres long. We learn how the ancient aqueducts worked, and peer into an enormous cistern deep in the rock. We pause inside an important family chamber, with adjacent kitchens, which doubled as a tomb when the time came. Centered in the main room is a circle for a fire, there are ledges for sitting on, and stone hooks in the walls for hanging candles.
We climb precarious steps to marvel at a unique ceiling painting beautifully detailed, in soft colours. The rockscape is formed of weird rounded knobbles, the product of wind, sand and rain storms.
Old Petra, the Bayda Neolithic Village flourished around 7000 – 6500 BC, with some archaeological finds dating to the 10th millennia BC. It was a town of little people, for its stone rooms (in the foreground) are tiny. Beyond is a harrowed field, ready for planting barley when the winter rains come.
We enjoy sweet sage tea (the perfect rejuvenating refreshment) in a Bedouin tent with a shy elderly lady who, we are told, has countless children to care for. And I manage to catch a photo of some goats before she shushes them away.
I’ll leave you now – for I am off to hibernate in the sunny warmth of Kenya once again.
See you in the Spring!
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