Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Tuesday 20 November 2007 - A Camel Ride

Knowing it was a 5 am start (so much for the ‘routine’ I explained yesterday!), we were awake at 4.45! Only as we were getting dressed did it get light. After we’d quickly breakfasted and packed our bags, the camels arrived at camp. 13 out of the 15 of us then had a couple of hours of fun riding around the mountain we were camped next to, about 5 km back to the road. David and Barbara walked beside us but were pretty knackered by the end as the camels’ stride pattern was longer than theirs! The camels came in various sizes and a couple were white. Some of my preconceptions were found to be wrong. None of them spat at us and their breath was no worse than most other animals I’ve come across. They were in fact rather furry and cute! The padded saddles were comfy and had wooden posts to hang onto and hang your rucksack on; the posts were particularly needed when the camel got up or sat down. The morning was cloudy, with a cool wind.
We joined another private bus after reaching the road. This took us to Petra in about 2 hours. A stop to buy fresh (unwashed) dates may in retrospect have been a mistake, but they were recommended by Mahmoud and were indeed delicious.
Next, a Turkish Bath, opened specially for our group, to most effectively remove the accumulation of dirt from Wadi Rum! Phil, Martin and I went in one way, and seven of the women went the other way. We had one masseur and they had three, but first we steamed, initially quite pleasantly, but as the room hotted up we could hardly see beyond the ends of our arms. It was a relief to gain the respite of a cool marble bench before exfoliation with a rough mitt of the type used to clean the average bath. The masseurs proudly showed us all the grime and dead skin they were removing. I’d never before experienced this, but it was really quite pleasant, as was the subsequent soaping, massage front and back, and massaging hair wash.
After a final showering down it was time to be wrapped in towels and re-hydrate with sweet tea in an ante room.
And so to Petra, a dusty place. Mahmoud got us tickets, as always, using the $120 “local currency” we had each given him at the start of the trip. Then just beyond the entrance we enjoyed a picnic lunch before proceeding down the Siq – the narrow gorge that leads to the ancient city built into the rock some 2200 years ago by the Nabataeans. I won’t bore you with the full history here, but as usual Wikipedia has an informative summary.
We continued down the Siq, with the remains of ancient water conduits on either side, and under an impressive collapsed arch. There were carvings of camels being led up and down the Siq, in the rocks of the gorge. Finally, after 1200 metres, we arrived at the stunning highlight of Petra, the Treasury – a 1st Century BC tomb some 43 metres high, carved into the rock.

In its heyday on a main trade route, the city ‘housed’ some 30,000 people, but later changes in trade routes, and devastating earthquakes, led to its gradual decline. The site was unknown to Europeans after the Middle Ages before being discovered by a Swiss traveller in 1812. Beyond the Treasury are a 4000 seat amphitheatre and a recently excavated colonnaded street. Over hundreds of years nearly all the city’s free standing buildings have been destroyed, and flash floods have resulted in the whole area being covered in deep rubble. Archaeologist Mahmoud believes 90% of the remains of the city remain uncovered.
After this brief introduction to Petra we enjoyed a two hour walk, in the company of pigeons and crows, up a side valley to our new camp. The route passed through a narrow defile with the remains of a high wall. This would have been a pedestrian entrance to the city, camel trains entering and exiting via the Siq.
It was good to relax in our spot sheltered from the cool wind after our long and packed day.
We have a long Bedouin tent as a bedroom, and a second tent split half into the kitchen and half into our dining area. The dining area has mats around the edge with mattresses on top, and a fire in the middle – where a huge juniper log burns smokily in a metal drum buried in the sand. This makes our eyes water somewhat, even after creating a ‘window’ using giant needles. Dinner was soup, then rice and very tender lamb, veg, etc, and the usual ‘Greek-style’ sweets with nuts and honey, to conclude.
Sue headed for bed at 7.15 due to the smoke, whilst four of us stuck it out until 8 pm. For some, blankets were welcome tonight.

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