Petra: 29th Sept
La il-laha illa Allah Mohammed rasul Allah (There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet) – the call to prayer, or part of it, was how we were awoken at 5am this morning. The temple or rather mosque sounded as though it was on our balcony it was so blooming loud which meant of course that I was not going to get back to sleep again. I must have dozed a little more than I thought as I was not awaiting the alarm at 7:30am when it went off. We showered and headed down for breakfast where some of the others were. The coffee was gross and the selection was frankly nothing special. There was flatbread which I put my apricot jam on. I was not too sure that I really wanted to attempt the pre-cut tomatoes and cucumber in case they had not been washed and heaven only knows how long they had been sitting out. Didn’t want a tummie bug on the first day really!
The bonus about sharing a room with someone was that we could check that we had everything and check on what we were wearing and so on, so we headed down to the foyer where we plastered ourselves in suncream and sorted out the insurance forms with Hazim and gave him our local payment and we were all ready to head off. It was not far at all from our hotel (The Edom Hotel) to the visitor centre where we got our tickets for the next two days entrance to the sight. Near to here there were loads of stalls selling tourist bits and pieces and most important of all the bottle of water. There was obviously one called The Indiana Jones Store and one called the Titanic Stop. Some of us borrowed money off Hazim to get water for the journey and I let on about my little alcoholic stash that I had brought with me and I informed everyone, jokingly, that they were not to worry as I was not an alcoholic – to which a lady stood next to me said – ‘oh I am!’ OMG ground open up and swallow me moment or what to put it mildly! With headress on some – others of us had caps etc – Martyn looked like a bride having his put on, it was quite funny!
So after a photo request of the rest of the group we made our way into the Bab as Siq (Gateway to the Siq) Just inside the entrance to the left is the horse and donkey sanctuary where you could take horse rides from down to the Siq itself. There were 3 enormous monuments in this section which are called Djinn (spirit) blocks that were built by the Nabateans. It is not known for certain exactly what they were built for they could have been tombs (or built as dedications) to their God Dushara.
Along from these there are four pyramidal obelisks which were built by the Nabateans on the 1st century BC. There is an eroded human figure on the top and with the 4 pyramid type things they are thought to represent the 5 people that are buried in the tomb. The scenery was really open at this point but you could see that the scenery was about to change. It was about 34degrees which was quite hot enough to put it mildly! The ground was quite rocky underfoot and you had to watch were you were walking quite a bit. I was always snapping away like a Japanese tourist but I didn’t care what I looked like or how much I held the others back – I was here to get my monies worth no matter what! We had hardly seen anything but I had a grin on my face like a Cheshire Cat and was as happy as larry in a place that I had been dying to see for such a long time.
Just before the entrance to the Siq you can clearly see where the Wadi Musa itself is actually blocked by a dam and it is pretty much int he same place as it was built by the Nabateans in 50AD to divert the flood waters away from the Siq. You can see on the righthand side and 8m high tunnel which was guarded by another god block.
The path then dropped away and was far smoother with a bit of sand over a concrete pathway. The stone was rather pale and almost white, thank god I actually got some sunglasses before I left. The path was originally framed by an ornamental arch which collapsed in 1896 but the last few rocks at each side seem to have survived. All the was along the left hand side of the Siq a Nabataean rock-cut water channel and then further down on the right hand side you can see the remains of a terracotta pipe for water which probably was built at the same time as the Nabataean Dam.
The Siq was formed when tectonic forces split the mountain in two. Walking through the Siq is the most surreal experience being surrounded by these huge rock walls that are about 150m high and the path between them ranges from about 2 – 11 metres wide. Along the way the path turned into cobbles which made the photography and walking at the same time rather tricky! I nearly fell arse over tit ona couple of occasions! There were some small votive niches with Greek styles and some Greek inscriptions too. There was a small shrine carved into a freestanding rock in a part of the Siq that was quite a bit wider than in most parts. The colours of the sandstone rock on the walls of the Siq were amazing, I could come back at a variety of times of the day and each time I have a feeling tha the colours will still be spectacular and such a range again but just totally different.
You can see the carving of a camel and a merchant in an Egyptian style headress in the wall just before a bend but most of the legs seem to have gone as workers knocked right through them to hold the water channel – how can they possibly be quite so thoughtless? The Siq becomes narrower again and darker but with a bright light at what looked like the end of the Siq and my heart flew into my mouth – this was it, this was what I have been working towards seeing. This was my target I suppose. Even though I had booked this trip before I headed back to Dr B-J to be rediagnosed with depression I saw this as my target to work towards to be feeling more stable by. It took me a little longer than the others to arrive at the Treasury I suppose that I was really just wanting to savour the moment – enjoy it in my own time.
The most amazing thing about it is taht it is over 200 years old and was designed to impress then and it still does now. It has been protected from the wond and rain from day 1 because of its positioning. The Treasury itself is mainly a facade that is fourty by thirty metres. The name was given by the Bedouin of Wadi Musa who were unaware of classical history and believed that it was the work of Pharoh, Lord of Black Magic.
The legend goes that in pursuit of the Israelites after the Exodus the phaoroh was slowed down by having to carry all of his treasure so he created the Treasury and deposited his riches in the urn at the very top of the facade – out of human reach. For centuries after it was abandoned Bedouin marksmen tried to shater the urn, and so release the treasure, but to no avail – all they managed to do was to blast off chunks of the solid urn. At the base of the facade some recent excvations (which are viewable through a grille) revealed that the Treasury was carved above a line of older facades also probably tombs. Hazim also said that this was a third story to the Treasury.
Inside the Treasury doorway there is just a blank chamber with smaller rooms coming off it – you can see the archways. In the entrance portico there are archways to rooms which have unusual round windows above the doorway. You can’t actually go right into the rooms but Jan and I stuck our noses in!
We sat on teh benches at the back of the opening to the Treasury looking at the facade itself as Hazim went into some of the history with pictures of what it looked like many years ago – amazing really, to think how intact it still is compared to most building of its age. I can imagine that in high tourist season it would not feel quite so magical with a bustle of people at the bottom of it. We obviously came at just the right time as apart from a few locals it really felt as though it had been opened just for us!!
We went and looked in a tomb to our right as we were sat down the colours on the interior from the sandstone were quite quite beautiful. There were lots of dug out holes and little alcoves and Hazim explained to us that the Nabataeans used to just lay the deceased in the shallowish hole adnd that a tomb like the one that we were standing in would have been for an entire family. The doorway is sealed, the bodies are left there and that’s that! We started moving on down passing through the outer Siq passing the Tomb of the 17 Graves but just before that we saw a row of tombs which all seemed to be atdifferent heights because of the floor level rising during the Nabataean occupation of Petra.
Then came the street of facades but just before this we stopped at a sand art shop where a gentleman was creating these amazing pictures in the layered sand. The different colours of sand area ll from the area which made them so amazing. We were shown how he created the pictures – predominantly camels- which was by using a whole array of pokers and fillers pushing the black sand down the side of the layered sand already in the bottle. As they were made in glass containers I was a little dubious in case it shattered whilst carrying it around and so I didnt get one. I really wish I had now!
Next to the sand art was another little stall that was selling some jewellery and little creatures made out of sandstone. The most amusing thing about this little store was the gentleman who was minding it. He had never properly learnt English in school, only from tourists coming through and some of the things that he was coming out with was hilarious – Jan and I were in absoloute stitches. ‘This is not Primark – but Primark price’, ‘Asda Price Ping Ping!’ ‘Buy one get one free – BOGOFF’ That was just the best. Jan and I referred to him as Bogoff man from then on and the mere mention of him had us both in stitches. He was also putting on a hilariously bad cockney accent.
The heat was beginning to set in as we must have been at about mid-day now and we were all a little pink to put it mildly! After walking through the street of facades which is loads of facades carved side by side out of the rock on at least four different levels.
We had our rest stop and re-feulled and re-lotinoed ready to head off again, nearly. We had a joke from Hazim which we then proceeded to hear on fairly regular occasions on a daily basis, the main line of it was ‘I have some gooide news and some baddie news’. . . .
From our rest stop we headed on down passing the theatre which has been dated from the first century AD. As many as 8,500 people could be accomodated in the seating and what makes it so impressive is that the entire edifice was carved out of the mountainside. Then over to the right in the distance we could see the Royal Tombs on the east cliff with the likes of the Urn Tomb, the Silk and Corinthian tombs and the Palace tomb. You can walk right up to them I thinkbut we didnt really have that much time to be able to do that and thinking about it too, Hazim didnt actually tell us about all of them.
We paused under one of the few trees in the ‘city centre’ which is a pistachio tree that stands over the Nymphaeum and had a bit of a chat with a camel that was quite close to us before we continued down the final part of the city centre.
We walked down the Collunaded Street which had the same flagstones in place on the floor since the Romans put them in place. Quite mind blowing to think that I was walking over the same stones that the Romans and all of those that followed hadwalked on too. By this stage I was so hungry, hot, tired and in need of a rest in the shade that I hardly listened to the info about the buildings that led down to the courtyard in front of Qaer al-Bint. I know that we passed through the Monumental Gate (which sadly no longer has the arches in tact) and by such places as the South Temple, The Temple of the Winged Lions and of course Qasr al-bint.
We were given the choice of going to the 5* restaurant or the one run by the Bedouin locals and therefore benefits them directly. The food would be the same in both and Hazim saung his praises for the local Bedouin one and so we all went there. There was quite a large group of other tourists who were German. It was actually quite nice only hearing the babble of our own English voices.
I was a little dubious as it was an all you can eat style of buffet – something that the guidebook strongly advised against having as you never know how long it has been sitting there and just how well the salad had been washed and so on – and there was no way that I was going to be hovering over a loo for the rest of the holiday – particularly as the night in the desert was still to come.
We had a sort of incrediblyy smooth bean hommus and a vairty of salad and some little bits of meat – I hate to think what they actually were, but they tasted delicious. I had some watermelon for pudding which, I have to say was incredibly refreshing. We all looked totally whacked and scarlet in the face from the heat but only a few seemed to have actually got sunburnt. Of course all of the waiters and the other Bedouins in the area were not eating because it it Ramadan and of course Muslims are not allowed to eat between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Hazim had to break it though because he needed water whilst guiding and informed us that he would be fasting for a few days after Ramadan to make up for the days that he missed.
We went to the little museum where I got some postcards in the tiny gift shop which had some finds in it that dated from all periods of occupation at Petra – we were whisked in and out pretty quickly which was a bit of a pity really as I never finished reading all of the boards. Outside the museum we spent a little while trying to work out what to do. Emily was very keen to head up to the Monestary then but the rest of us were not quite so keen to do so at this point as we were all a little exhauseted. I reassured her that I would go with ehr in the morning as did Alex and we decided to start heading back to the hotel to get ready for the Turkish Bath that we had booked for the evening.
We went via the Petra Church on the way home which is Byzantine in style – pretty unoriginal name I thought. It was built in the late 5th century. There is a modern shelter which covers the site to protect it was built in 1997. The mosaics in it were spectacular down the aisles which depicted the bounty of creation. We spotted a rather large gecho – our only bit of wildlife apart from the goats and of course camels, donkies and horses that we saw being used as transport for the tourists.
We walked back towards BOGOFF gentleman where Jan did some bargining and got a couple of pieces. We managed to loose the rest of the group somehow but caught up with them again in the Treasury opening by which time Jan and I had decided that it would be hilarious to take a horse or donkey back up to the entrance to the Siq. We wanted to leave the camel to our trekking in the Wadi Rum.
Jan managed to find us two donkies. It took us quite a while and a lot of effort to get on the saddle as we were drained of all energy. Eventually we were both mounted and off we went with the two donkey cavers. Apparently my donkey was called Whiskey and Jan’s was called Jack. We did nothing but giggle all of the way down pretending that we were Indiana Jones and so on. I had my rucksack on my back and so I couldnt get to my camera but Jan had hers to hand and took the most hilarious one of me on my donkey with the donkey handler on the back. He was saying some eyeopening things which I seriously wonder whether he knew what they meant or indeed where he had heard them from.
You have beautiful eyes, they are just like the Japanese – not sure if that was a compliment but seeing as my sunnies were on and there is no way that he could have seen my eyes it had Jan and I in giggles. Once you’ve had black you’ll never go back was another one that one of them kept coming out with. They told us that they dont actually go to school and that they live at the place of High Sacrifice – Hazim told us that that can’t be true as no one lives on the site anymore.
We passed all of the others on the way back up and we both thought that Hazim looked really annoyed with us. Jan explained that it was probably because it was not a part of his agenda and that Arabs are not that used to Western women who are independent and speak thier mind. Well he had his hands full with us two together!
We paused at the top for the others to join us before we all alighted horses before heading back up to the entrance gate. I really didnt think that I would feel as safe as I am usually pretty nervous around horses but I was fine. We only walked back up to the top so it actually felt ok which I was very proud of! Jan took a photo of me on a horse for Mum but it came out really wierdly with these black lines all over them. We spent ages tryin g to work out what had happened . . . it turns out, we think, that she must have taken the photo before the shutters had opened.
Once back at the hotel we all went to our rooms to get ready for the Turkish bath. I was looking forward to this – after our long hot walk I was really looking forward to the opportunity to relax but I had no idea what to expect. Our fleet of taxis arrived and off we headed.
It was still quite light when we arraived at Salome Turkish Bath. We left our valuables in lockers and were then shown to the changing rooms. Those that did not have a costume were given a sarong type of thing to put on. Once in our Turkish Bath attire we all alighted, with the flip flops that we had borrowed, into the rooms. (I am not quite sure how hygenic they were) and a sort of mitt that we were given to apparently rub ourselves with, it was not really an exfoliator but more like sandpaper.
We had to sit in this sauna type room after having cold water thrown after us. For some reason I managed to make it in there as one of the last and there were a couple of spaces left to sit on. As soon as I walked in though the heat of the steam felt like I was doing an inhilation. I sat down next to Margie and lept back up again the marble slab must have had the heat under where I was and my bottom illed! I tried perching on one cheek which was slightly more successful but I was also half purched on Margie as well which became incredibly uncomfortable and so I sat with Anne just olutside which was still pretty warm. She was outside as not only did she too find it too hot but also she is not good inconfimed spaces. So we chatted outside whilst scrubbing ourselves with the mits to get off all of the dead skin. Every so often someone would come out and splash cold water or warm water over themselves more often than not it came our way too. I had to keep reminding people that I had my contacts in.
We stayed in that sectino for a what felt like hours. Sweat was pouring down our faces and in fact all over my entire body but I suppose that was the whole point as that was all of the impurities coming out – Christ I clearly had laods. I just kept thinking about quite how surreal the whole situation was! Anne and Janet went in to have their massage and once they were done Ronnie and I went in.
The people that were doing it in there were men which frankly surprised me greatly int he first place. They were in bermuda shorts and I was asked to get up onto the marble slab and lie face down with my head on a cold hotwater bottle covered in a cloth. I was scrubbed with the mitt all over after being doused in tepid water. They certainly weren’t gentl with thier scrubbing, it really felt like the first layer of skin was being taken off my entire body. Oh god let this be over and done with soon is all I kept thinking!
It was indicated to me that I needed to take the straps off my shoulders but clearly that was not good enough as the straps were then yanked down to my waist. Ummmmnnn HELLO??!!!!! Didn’t feel at all akward, luckily Ronnie was kind of in the same room as I felt SO uncomfortable and could see all these images of me being assaulted by this man that there and then I wanted to pull my costume up and getting the hell out of there. So I was lathered up on my back and arms and the scrubbing continued and I started to get the giggles at the current situation and the absurdity of it.
The moment of hell came when ‘TURN!’ was shouted at me. Dear God NOOOOO!! Not only was the marble slate so slippery by now I seriously felt like I was going to come flying off it and landing in a heap on the floor. I was trying to retain my dignity and covering myself up amd was given a tiny piece of cloth to cover my boobs with – yeah, hardly covered my nipples it was so small and trying to cover myself whilst turning over so that nothing popped out that was not meant to!! God I felt embaressed. I felt prudish too. I am pretty sure that I would have been way less body concious if I had known what the ‘massage’ actually involved!
I had one arm holding on for dear life to the tiny bit of cloth and the other was being pummled and then when the other arm needed to be done it was a case of swapping the arms over very gently so again nothing spills out. Once that was done he crossed my arms over one way and then the other and then put all of his weight on – blimey I didn’t half hear my back click and again when he did it the other way. I had visions of me being unable to walk after this. Then with my legs being pushed back to my knees which again clicked really loudly. Yet more scrubbing and assaging with yet more embaressment when my behind was subjected to the scrubbing massaging and so on – I thought that it was cleverly hidden away by my swimming costume but that did not seem to bother the getleman in the slightest. Good god I felt used and abused to put it mildly! Worst of all Hazim came in part way through to check that we were all ok – he would have got more than the eeful that he had bargined for!! The whole experience ended with being doused in wateragain and off I slipped – quite literally having pulled my costume back up – it has some suppot/stapping on th interior which made everyhing skewif but by this stage I was past caring. I had to shower and used what I now believe to be handwash to wash my hair – oh well!
Having dried myself off and got changed back into my clothes Iand collected my valuables from the locker I sat with Janet and Anne and Ronnie – it was very quiet to begin with as I guess that we were all soaking in what we had just been through. I was not too sure that I really wanted to share the frankly horrendous and embaressing experience that I had just endured. I mean what on earth do you say to ‘So, did you enjoy that?’ We were all shiffling in our seats drinking our complimentary tea (which was delicious I have to say!) not quite sure what to say to each other it was SO British it was most amusing. Somehow the conversation adventually got around to it and we had thankfully all had the same experience apart from Ronnie who had a bikini on and did not have to remove the top half – the lucky cow! Anne however had one of the sarong things on. Oh how we laughed – God if I had problems with my swimsuit how in hell did she cope?! – god we didn’t half get the giggles then reinacting how we had each coped. The most amusing this from then on for us was watching everyones faces when they came out and then watching them fidgit until someone mentinoed it and then the reflief on thier faces that it was not only them that had been through it!! The MOST hilarious was Martyn and Alex when they came out – Alex said that the gentleman went to palces that made him feel most uncomfortable. So we all sat around drinking the complementary tea which was apparently Liptons but with some other herbs in it that he had put in it – it also tasted like it had honey in it. We had to wait for about 20-30 mins after we had paid as all of the taxis were not in service because they had not finished eating their meal as it was past sunset.
We got back to the hotel where I had a half of one of the mini bottles of wine whilst changing before meeting with all of the others downstairs ready to head out to supper at the Red Cave Restaurant. We had a variety of starters there but of course I had to be really careful with the peppers. The main meal was either lamb or chicken with rice – the same sauce – we all had a bit of both. The worst thing for all of us was that there was no alcohol allowed as they were not licensed to sell it.
We then went on to the Cave bar – well Alex, Jan, Janet, Ronnie and Emily with me of course and Hazim. It was stunning I have to say but sadly it was not serving alcohol during Ramadan and so we turned around and walked out – we all craved a beer like mad! Not that we are alcoholics of course! So we headed to the roof terrace of the Movenpick Hotel where we could get alcohol! We sat on the traditinoal cushions on the floor with a low table just how I had imagined the high class Bedouin Tents.
After one drink all left bar Jan and I who were both shattered but as we both said – what the hell, we are on holiday! So we stayed for another drink – only a small beer mind – that large one that we had started with semed to go to all of our heads it was really quite hilarious!
Hazim seemed to have a cousin who was staying int he hotel and so he came and joined us ad turned out to be very good company. He too had been a guide for Explore! but now he worked for A & K and Saga and another company too I think but I can’t remember what it was called.
Hazim ordered a hubbke bubble – one of those smoke pipe things – that was cherry flavoured. You see them in lots of Arabic countries. Jan tried some but everytime she inhaled I made her laugh and so she almost choked o it – god we were giggly!!
We got tired really quite quickly, I think that our long day began to catch up with us really quickly and we walked back to the hotel and then headed to bed., I had decided not to try the monestary in the morning and head to the Moevenpick for breakfast with Jan instead – oooh I was exhausted.