Back to the 7 am reveille, breakfast of pitta bread, jam, cheese, eggs, halva, spices with olive oil, mixed veg, and very sweet tea or coffee, then away by 8 am along a surprisingly entertaining path which at times resembled the Lower Cycle Track (aka Sentiero Osvaldo Orsi) in the Brenta Dolomites above Molveno.
Views stretched out west towards Wadi Araba and the Dead Sea, with the Mediterranean beyond that. But it was cloudy, so we couldn’t actually really see as far as Israel. Goats adorned the hillsides with their Bedouin minders. Some of our party found the path a bit hard, but the rock was firm and Mahmoud helped where necessary. On one of the ledges some enterprising folk, no doubt primed by Mahmoud, had set up a mobile ‘café’ where tea was supplied for 1 Dinar (70 pence).
After about three hours we emerged at Ad-Deir, the Monastery (pictured above), another massive edifice carved into the rock. We clambered inside to explore the 8 metre cube (not much to see there) before heading into the hustle and bustle of modern day Petra – a tourist trap par excellence. It’s supposedly 900 steps down to the main street, but we didn’t count; we were too busy dodging donkeys hauling overweight tourists up the hill, or rushing down to collect more.
Once down, we were allowed a few hours of ‘free time’. Some of us gravitated for lunch on the steps of the only freestanding building in Petra to have survived over 2000 years of earthquakes and floods, the massive Qasr al-Bint temple. Then we visited the recently restored church, where papyrus scrolls from ancient times have been found. It is covered by a tent structure supported by six columns, to protect an ancient mosaic. On Sue’s previous visit 10 years ago this church had hardly been discovered.
By the time we reached the Royal Tombs, which form the eastern boundary of the site, it was a very hot afternoon. We admired the wonderful, if seriously eroded, facades, before embarking on the first of many dashes to the loo for Sue during the course of the next two days.
We saw doves, rose finches, mourning wheatears, winter wrens, etc.
The time flew past, and after a visit to see artefacts in the new museum we reconvened at 2.30 for the stroll back up to camp by a different route to the top, then via an ancient wine press and a reservoir that we had passed on the way down. We were accompanied by the 10 year old son of Mahmoud’s brother-in-law. Allah stuck it out all the way to camp, where his persistence bore fruit and he did a good trade in postcards. Even this 10 year old was happy to accept payment in £, $ or €, as well as Dinars, as was our general experience in Jordan.
Very little beer was consumed tonight due to a bout of loose bowels, but after chicken and rice with the usual accompaniments we did manage to consume all the sweets on offer, and over half of us managed to sustain our battle against the smoke until well after 8 pm, a big improvement on last night!
You could spend many days exploring Petra, so our visit was definitely in the ‘taster’ category - nevertheless very worthwhile; it’s a fascinating place.