The treats keep a coming.
Today is Petra – the lost city – well I wouldn’t know where to find it. We berthed in Aqaba.
Aqaba in the early morning – another port in a bay shrouded by mountains, a port of refuge and commerce that is a gateway to the inner wonders of Jordan – Petra and Wadi Rhum – and just down the road is Syria and Iraq – what fun! It is certainly strange skirting round the hot spots!
We set off at a more reasonable hour but had a long way to travel. Our driver, Ayrton Senna, took us up through the barren rocks of the dun coloured mountains to the giddy heights of the inner realm with views to die for, or in, if you chose to jump or forgot your water. Ayrton was looking to set a new record and took us round the hairpin bends at such speed that he succeeded in creating centrifugal forces that forced you to the side of the coach, catching glimpses of Bedouin tents with the odd man or woman herding their goats and sheep and a blur of barren countryside.
We stopped for a pee break at a shop/café that sold Jordanian delicacies, like delicious honey drenched buns, and colourful trinkets for tourists. We admired the superb chairs but could not see how we could get one back to the ship. The café served coffee and provided a panoramic view over the incredible mountains and cliffs, though it was misty and the view was obscured to an extent.
Then we arrived at Petra.
Walking down the path towards the cleft as the sequence of wonders begin to build – the colourful horses and carts, all done out in coloured blankets and tassles, dubiously thundered past, ridden by proud Jordanian lads, showing off. We were not impressed with the whipping, or the way the horses were made to run in the heat, and were worried by the slipping of their hooves on the concrete and rock, so we walked. That was best. We could slowly take in the huge rocks carved out into Nabataean homes, the colours and the trees incongruously growing out of rock. Then we were in the majesty of the cleft – sheer walls of rock on both sides – easy to defend, striations, colours, changing hues, like a split of some shattering earthquake, meandering and revealing, tantalising, with carved shrines, eroded camel trains, water channels and the sun penetrating with its shards of shadows.
Finally the last bend revealed a chink of sun-blessed rose-coloured architecture – just a bright splinter – sufficient to tease. Walking out we were confronted with the full grandeur of the treasury carved into the pink sandstone rock, intending to impress and succeeding magnificently.
This was Petra – the focus of both the Silk route and Spice trail – constructed, like most religious buildings, to intimidate and create a feeling of awe. One can imagine those old camel train merchants being ushered in to the presence of such power and prestige, to be brow-beaten and overawed. What deals were struck? What armies and brigands were dissuaded from trying it on by this show of strength and lavish prosperity?
The walls of the treasury were scarred with bullet holes. Up high the central figure had been completely destroyed by bullets either for Bedouin target practice or Islamic intolerance of any art/religion that depicts human form.
In front of the treasury an army of tourists were standing hushed. The old power still held its sway. In among them the Arabs, the present day merchants, plied their trade – men and boys with silver bracelets, postcards and necklaces – all with the wiles, gab and innocence of well-practiced years – camels were available for rent, or donkeys, horses or horse and carts for the less adventurous.
We walked round to the carved tombs and the large amphitheatre. One could only wonder at what spectacles might have taken place here? Religious ceremonies, music, plays, dancing? Probably all and more.
The greatest splendour for me was to be found in the many caves. They weren’t off bounds and we were still able to clamber up and walk through these caves – some natural and some carved out as homes with blackened ceilings from generations of cooking fires. The incredible pillars of eroded sandstone created the most organically beautiful windows and doorways that I am sure must have inspired Gaudi in his designs in Barcelona. The rich colours of the striations of limestone were amazing – rich yellows, orange and deep reds flowed like psychedelic layers of tiramisu. I was knocked out as much as I was the first time round.
The long walk out of Petra seemed further than it had on the way in, but though we were tired we were sated with the multitude of splendours. We had not seen it all – there was no time to walk up to the sacrificial area or Monastery. But our eyes had taken in enough and our brains were replete with images. It was our second visit, as good as the first, with more than enough room for a future third.