November 4, 2012
We gathered back in one stateroom last night to discuss our common experience of going to Petra, a first for all of us. We seemed to have to witness to each other that we had all seen the treasury, gone inside one of the tombs, listened to the stories of the guides, seen the sun reflect off of the rose-red granite, smelled the camels, watched the horses pull tired travellers back to the top of the canyon, and kept our heads down so that we didn’t trip on the changing terrain (alternately coarse sands, pebbles, cobble stones and fine sand, so fine that when I stepped powder would drift up each time I put my foot down).
I determined to find some black shoe polish to bring my walking shoes new life. Wyona was over this morning telling me that only a full wash of the orthotics, the shoe laces and the outer leather could bring respectability to the footwear again.
The walk into the valley took an hour and a half. The guide stopped along the way, pointing out the drainage system, the different styles of tombs, the caper bush growing out of the sandstone, and telling stories about the olive trees rooted in the cracks of the granite. “The biggest mistake these people made is that they left no records,” the guide began. “We are going to walk around and guess. Then you will decide,” he said as he started to point out the Assyrian, Greek, Roman and Egyptian influences, just on the facade of the Treasury.
Everything he mentioned was holy – the olive tree because it appears in the Bible, and then he told about its health benefits as food, as ointment to the skin, as wood to be used, as a product to be sold – ending of course with Biblical references to the tree, which to him, proved the tree is sacred.
He reminded us of the difference between the Promised Land and the Holy Land. The Promised Land was an area promised to the Jews. The Holy Land included not just Palestine, but Jordon, where he reasoned Christianity began because Jesus was baptized there in the river Jordon. He added Syria, Lebanon and Egypt to lands that comprise “The Holy Land”. I loved his spin – mostly because he is a 3rd generation displaced Palestinian, who calls himself a Jordanian. The following Biblical references spilled out during the tour lecture: Moses’s 40 year journey in the desert; striking a stone and water flowing out of it; Samaria, the setting for the Parable of the Good Samaritan; women at the well; sepulchures full of dead men’s bones. And I was told Moses’s brother, Aaron, was buried there in Petra. Who knew?
A number of times I hear guides say – this is where T.E. Lawrence rode his camels. You know, Lawrence of Arabia. Having just seen the film in a biopic class, I was familiar with it again – a good way to travel the desert – in the comfort of a theatre.
I am rich with what I bring to this trip. When I was married and had a large family and finally found myself able to attend Sunday School without bouncing a child on my knee, and when the subject matter for the year was the old Testament, I used to go to the public library, and bring home all of the books from the religion section that I could find about the chapters we would be studying for the week. I would have them read before I went to class on Sunday. Of course, that is making me laugh now. No keener instinct in me. I could probably have taught the Sunday School class or a beginning university class – but I didn’t know that at the time. Anyway, lucky me, now, to have seen Petra, breathed the air, felt the heat, touched the rose red granite, seen the tombs. And on the point of tombs, we went into a sepulchure that had fourteen spaces just the right side to lie down in, probably only 2 feet deep. “A tomb for a family of 14 persons,” the guide said. “I want that one right there,” I thought ,but must have said out loud, for the woman beside me said, “Just what I was thinking, too. It is long enough.”
The camels in front of the treasury brought the sounds of the past to mind, for though much has changed, their characteristic sound filled the square – at one point the camel trying to lift a 350 pound man into the air. Greg said it was a disaster waiting to happen, the man’s wife trying to steady him as the camel rose, the man slipping off the saddle, unable to stay perpendicular, and four by-standers rushing forward to catch him. Having just tried a camel ride a few days before, I felt for the man. I think they need to have a wooden stationary mechanical unit there for people to get the feel of being thrown forward, backward, forward – rocking sideways at the same time. Better than a ride at the stampede.
Other animals made noises in the square. Tabby-coloured felines padding along raised walk-ways, donkeys braying, decorated with yellow and red decorations on their harnesses – one with a huge white dahlia between its ears, being moved down the rocky slope to where some tourist, no longer able to walk another step, would get on their back for a ride to another area of Petra. The horse drawn chariots were offered to people who were walking down to the site. No takers. Everyone keeping their money in their wallets. One smart hawker offered his book of Petra (2012), plus a special edition pamphlet, plus a DVD for $15, but he suggested tourists buy it on their return from the valley.
Did people want rides when they came to the end of the trail? Yes, plenty of people wanted that ride back up when facing the steeper incline. The horses were so tired by mid afternoon, that even when they were whipped, they wouldn’t go forward. I saw one horse being whipped, and it was actually going in reverse each time it was struck!
“The whipping doesn’t really hurt them,” one man said to his companion when she was wincing and calling out to the driver, “No, no, don’t hit the horse.” When that carriage finally got going, I noticed that the little Bedouin boy whose job it was to put his foot on the axel of the wheel when the carriage had to do a U-turn in the middle of a tight space, ... that child ran behind the carriage going back up the hill. When he finally caught up with the carriage after doing his job, he leaped on the back of it, his body splayed out like an X on the back of it, his feet firmly on the back and his hands holding high onto the carriage top.
One day in Petra is not enough. “It would take a week to do the sites, here,” our guide told us. “And this is not even the best old ruin in Jordon. My own personal favorite place is a little known and perfectly preserved Roman settlement.”
Wyona must have felt the same way about Jordon, for she has already been out on the internet, searching for cruises that begin or end in Aqaba – telling us at dinner that they are hard to find. At each stop I want to buy the beautiful coffee table books that are for sale, and alternately, the ones that are packed with historical information. I am only prevented by the fact that Air Canada only lets us have 50 pounds per suit case. Books weigh so heavy – especially when I want to buy 2 or 3 weighty volumes at every site.