We clamber across Petra and Wadi Rum
24.05.2012 - 28.05.2012
Every year thousands of people flock into Jordan and swarm across the ruins of Petra, like so many ants searching for food. Unfortunately, many of these people enter the country for this one site, often crossing from Egypt or Israel, and are gone nearly as quickly as they arrived. They only catch the smallest glimpse of Jordan, but there is much more to this tiny desert nation than just the ruins of Petra. With an extensive network of national parks and some amazing natural sites, Jordan is a dream for travellers who love the outdoors. With a sturdy pair of hiking boots, we were ready to walk our way through Jordan.
We crossed into Jordan on the daily ferry from Egypt, a slow and cumbersome affair, but safer than braving the Egyptian long distance bus network. After a night in the port town of Aqaba, we caught a taxi to Wadi Rum National Park. Wadi Rum was immortalised by T. E. Lawrance (a.k.a Lawrence of Arabia) in his book 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom'. The desert landscape of the park provided the setting for the Arab struggle against the Ottoman Turks during the First World War. Nowadays, Wadi Rum is inhabited by a small community of Bedouins, caretakers and tour guides of the vast wilderness. The vast expanse of Wadi Rum feels far removed from the modern world. The sands of the desert roll on in all directions, far beyond the borders of the national park and out into Saudi Arabia. But what makes the area so spectacular are the rock formations, huge sandstone monoliths, rising steeply out of the yellow sand. Carved by the wind and rain, the steep rock cliffs resemble the hulls of giant ships, cutting through the sand sea. Our experience in Wadi Rum lasted for two days, sleeping at a Bedouin camp-site. The heat of the day only allowed a small window to explore the desert, climbing sand dunes and hiking through rock gorges. By 3pm we would arrive back at our camp and perch ourselves on a high rock ledge, enjoying the desert wind and some respite from the sun. As the sun set over the camp the desert sands were turned a vivid red. At night the oppressive heat of the day was quickly replaced by the cold chill of the cloudless night, the heat of the day almost forgotten. Such conditions would be truly formidable for any army, making the exploits of Lawrence and his companions all the more impressive. Although we only stayed in Wadi Rum for a couple of days, it felt more like weeks. The complete calm and silence of the desert seeps into your body, slowing you down until you are almost as laid back as the Bedouins who call the desert home.
One of the great things about visiting Jordan is the country's small size. Travelling from one side of the country to the other takes only a few hours. From Wadi Rum, it took us only an hour and a half to reach our next destination, Wadi Musa, the staging point for the ancient city of Petra. Although the countries surrounding the Mediterranean have no shortage of ancient remains, the extensive ruins of Petra are something completely different. The city was an ancient trading hub, run by the Nabataeans. With few written records remaining, not a great deal is known of these ancient people, but what is sure is that they were magnificent architects. The famous entrance to the city is through the narrow winding valley of 'The Siq'. Once the path of the Wadi Musa river, the Nebateans diverted the river to run in narrow channels along the walls of the valley. 'The Siq' continues on for a kilometre, twisting and turning but always heading downwards. Then suddenly, as you turn another corner, you catch your first sight of the city through the narrow walls of the canyon. The first building at the end of the Siq, and probably the most recognisable building in Petra, is 'The Treasury'. Although the name brings to mind towering piles of gold (locals once believed the Nabataean king hid treasure in the carved urn atop the structure) 'The Treasury' is actually a tomb. The building is immense, carved in beautiful shades of red and white. Of course 'The Treasury' is only the tip of the iceberg. Walking further into the city every cliff is carved with a tomb, reaching far up into the hills on all sides. Every valley, every hill and every staircase leads you to a new discovery, a tomb or temple thousands of years old. We took the time to explore the city thoroughly, devoting three full days. We hiked the 800 steps to the magnificent 'Monastery', and climbed over the cliffs to visit the deserted 'Soldier's Tomb'. Still, no matter how far we walked, in the distance we could see more and more tombs. The city seems to stretch on forever into the desert. Gazing down across the ruins from atop the surrounding hills it is hard to comprehend just how immense this great city might have been in its heydey. Now there is nothing left but mysteries.
Exploring the expanses of Petra provides an incredible glimpse into the history of the Mediterranean area. Although the ruins of the ancient Romans and Greeks are well known, the area has been inhabited for so long that nations such as the Nabataeans can leave behind immense cities and yet still remain in relative obscurity. We continued our journey, heading north, to explore the rest of what Jordan had to offer.
Some observations from Southern Jordan:
1. Spend 3 days in Petra, you won't regret it!
2. You don't need a donkey to get you up all those steps, you can do it!
3. Just because you don't see animals in the desert, doesn't mean they're not there.
Next stop...Northern Jordan