Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Leaving Abu Dhabi (again)

“This Abu Dhabi adventure has lasted longer than we expected, hasn’t it?”
I posed this question to Mark yesterday as we were driving from mall to mall doing some errands, and he nodded. There is more of a sense of finality as we prepare to leave this time. But still … the door remains open. Mark will probably be back, maybe an 80% chance. For me, it’s more like 50%. But those are pretty good odds. People are always leaving. Then they come back.
We’ve been here for 10 weeks, living in a small hotel room on the 7th floor of Traders. It’s weird living in a hotel; like living on a boat, kind of. You learn how to keep out of each other’s way. We have a bit of water view  from the balcony, if I lean out. It’s a little place to call home, for a while.

Mark is at work during the day, so I have the room to myself. Except when the housekeeper, usually Sidath, a tiny, charming Sri Lankan man, comes daily to refresh the room.  He is always watching, and he’ll pop in while I’m gone somewhere. When I come back the bed is made, towels and water bottles replenished, and any strewn clothes neatly folded. Including underwear … which I try not to let happen. The second week, he asked if we like animals and when I told him we like elephants, he made an elephant with towels.


This ten-week trip has not turned out as we expected, mainly because Mark worked much longer hours than we anticipated. A project came up, and he’s been working overtime on the base, and even most weekends. We weren’t able to take any day trips. Whenever he’s been off work, he’s been exhausted. Usually, if he wants to go out at all it’s to the mall to look expensive watches …
… or cars.
So I’ve been on my own a lot. People at work have been asking Mark, ”How is your wife doing?” They felt sorry. But the answer is, I’ve been having a great time! The people I met when we lived here before – the ones who are still here, living at the Shangri-La, who haven’t left yet – are great friends. Girlfriends. I haven’t had this many girlfriends since I was in high school!
Whereas I was a bit isolated when we lived in the Al Seef apartment compound, living here at the Traders/Shangi-La complex means I have neighbors that I know, and there is always something to do: golfing, silk painting, coffee at Starbuck’s, canasta at Traders, handbag shopping ... and parties, especially Halloween and Thanksgiving.
It’s a group. The Real Housewives of Shangri La. You don’t have to live there to get in. But you do have to be there, sometimes.
This trip back to Abu Dhabi was, for me, all about realizing how connected I feel to this place, and the people I met here. After three and a half years, since we first became aware of the UAE, it’s grown on us. Changes happen so fast here, it’s like watching a kid grow up. When did that building get so tall? All finished, already? Or, finally?
But it’s the people, mainly for me the huge expat community, that make this place so dynamic.
We’ve been looking forward to going home since the day we got here. Ten weeks is a long time to live in a hotel. But now that we’re down to the last two days, it’s feeling very bittersweet. We’ll be home for Christmas, the family is coming to our house in Nevada, there will be snow – at least up in the mountains – and I’ll be enjoying all the improvements that have been made to the house while we’ve been gone.
But I now know that this connection to Abu Dhabi is permanent. There is blood in my veins, and water … and now, sand.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jordan Day 3 –Petra

After our relatively late arrival the previous day, Donnette and I explored the hotel grounds a bit after breakfast. The views from the Petra Marriott of the rugged Jibal as Sharah mountains are stunning. Even as jaded as I am, having driven through so many amazing mountain ranges, I was impressed, and wished that we could have savored the drive more than we did.
About 9:00 a.m. we drove down the hill, winding our way through the narrow, crowded streets of the town of  Wadi Musa – or “Moses Valley,” so named because it is near the place where Moses struck water from a rock. The Visitor Center and entrance to Petra is in Wadi Musa.
We paid our 50JD (about $70 US) entry fee, which is high, but includes an optional horseback ride – a carriage is another option for those who prefer to ride. As we emerged from the visitor center onto the long path into Petra, we were besieged by horsemen following us, cajoling us to take them up on offers for a ride to the entrance to the Siq: “It’s included in the price!” Being conditioned to distrust, we didn’t believe it until we checked our tickets; it’s true. Of course, there is the obligatory tip at the end – so if you plan to take the ride, be sure you have some small bills.

We were tempted, but finally declined. Donnette’s back was feeling delicate, the mid-morning November weather was sunny but still cool, and we wanted to enjoy the walk. I was reluctant to even take a photo, and only shot from a distance, because it would invite another round of solicitations. Even so, they were like eagles! They would always spot me as I turned to focus on them, and gallop toward us.


After saying “No, thank you, thank you, no,” about four dozen times, we were left to make our way, marveling again at the massive sandstone djinn blocks and caves.

After about 30 minutes of walking, the path seems to end at a rock face. You walk through an opening and suddenly, the walls of the Siq rise up and close in.
The clatter of horses’ hooves and the rumbling of carriages rang off of the walls, and I thought of my silly comment the night before, that the sound effects were too loud. No! It was exactly the same volume.
Everywhere along the Siq were carvings and remnants of the falaj, or aqueduct, eroded over the centuries by powerful flood waters charging through the canyon.
This larger than life-sized camel caravan relief is dated 100-50 BC. The falaj runs below and behind the figure.
Springs, along with flash flood waters captured during torrential rains, were used by the Nabataean people to create an artificial oasis in the sandstone and limestone of Petra. Throughout our travels, I’ve been intrigued by the ancient aqueduct systems we’ve seen, some in ruins and some in remote villages, still in use.

Throughout Petra, Jordan, Nabataean engineers took advantage of every natural spring and every winter downpour to channel water where it was needed. They constructed aqueducts and piping systems that allowed water to flow across mountains, through gorges and into the temples, homes and gardens of Petra’s citizens. Walking through the Siq, one can easily spot the remains of channels that directed water to the city center, as well as durable retention dams that kept powerful flood waters at bay. (Wikipedia)

There is a lot to see along the 30-minute walk through the Siq. Stone steps carved into the rock lead to alcoves or caves.

For over two thousand years, people have been awestruck by their first glimpse of the Treasury as they enter Petra through the Siq. No matter how prepared you think you are, the sight of it will make you catch your breath.
It almost seems that you are not so much emerging from the Siq, as the Treasury is unfolding before you. First a glimpse, then a sliver, and then suddenly there it is – too much to comprehend in one glance, too much to capture in one photo. And it’s not a building, but a façade, ingeniously carved from a massive sandstone face with no added structural support, and just a few small cave-rooms dug out behind it.
DSC01417 Stitch
In the book Married to a Bedouin, which I read just before I moved to the Middle East, Marguerite van Geldermalsen, the only white woman to ever live in Petra, tells the story of how she went traveling as a young woman, struck up a romance with a Bedouin souvenir seller named Mohammed in Petra, married him, and lived with him in a cave from 1978 until 1985, when they were provided with government housing where they raised their three children. That book made me want to go to Petra. Now, three years later, I was finally seeing it.
There’s a lot more to Petra than the Treasury. It’s almost like, if you can forgive the terrible analogy, the Flintstones meet Disneyland. There are lots of souvenir vendors, there are rides – albeit on camel, or donkey, or horse – and there is so much to see. The site is a huge, ancient, multilayered city.
A city of caves and tombs …

… and Roman ruins, complete with Roman soldiers to pose with.

Many people had guides. Local Bedouins, handsome young men colorfully dressed, eyes lined with black kohl (they reminded me of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean) approached us for a donkey or camel ride, or to guide us off the beaten path to see the views from the High Place of Sacrifice.

I was aching to photograph their faces but resisted, thinking that if I did we would never be rid of them. That may be untrue and maybe even unkind, but perhaps I’ve become a bit weary of some aspects of being a tourist with money in my pockets. Everything costs money, and your first offer is never enough. And Donnette’s and my blonde heads stood out a little, even among the tourists; if we even looked at a man with a horse or camel or donkey, he would be following us for a kilometer or more, saying “Excuse me! Excuse me!!!”
Instead, I brought an Approach Guide on my iPad – Temples and Tombs of Petra, by David and Jennifer Raezer, with an overview of Petra and detailed information about the most important sites. I’d read it beforehand and, as Donnette and I progressed along, we read aloud. It was a great way to appreciate our self-guided tour. And again, not to be unkind, but as a seasoned traveler I now know that sometimes guides can be exhausting. They want you to participate when you just want to contemplate, and – now please forgive me – often, I can only understand a fraction of what they are saying, even thoughtthey are speaking English. Why can’t I understand? Because they pronounce vowels differently, they use unfamiliar vocabulary, and they speak very fast.

The two monuments in Petra that are most famous, the Treasury and the Monastery, are quite far from each other. This map below shows all of the places we visited in Petra. The darker color is the high ground, and the light color is the lower dry river bed, or wadi, where the flash floods come through during the rains. Unfortunately there is no scale, but you can gauge walking times by the fact that the walk from the Visitor Center to the Treasury is about one hour. Dotted lines are uphill – the Siq is quite gradual, but from the Museum to the Monastery is 800 quite steep steps. So you can figure it’s three hours in and three hours out, plus stops. We did it in seven hours, and we walked 12 miles.

Well, almost 12 miles. Except for the donkey ride up to the Monastery.
Donnette had hurt her back lifting a golf bag (doh!) ten days before our trip. She didn’t want to be bouncing on a tall horse. But a slow little donkey was a different story, right? And when we arrived at the museum, where the long uphill slog to the Monastery begins, I wondered if she would make it climbing all the way to the top.
At the same time, I realized that the large tour group that was staying at our hotel had arrived at the same time, and their guide was arranging donkeys for everyone. I sidled over to a gentleman and asked, “How much are you paying?” The answer, 10 Jordanian dinar, seemed reasonable.
Then I realized that the tour guide was negotiating with a handsome Bedouin named Mahmood, who had introduced himself to us earlier. I liked Mahmood. I could see that he was mature; he was the leader. I trusted him. I turned to Donnette.
“I think we should do the donkey ride. It’s a long climb up, and then we have to come back down.” It was getting late.We were OK with not seeing the views from the High Place, but we were not going to miss the Monastery. Donnette said, “I’m game.”


So we saddled up – after a fashion – and headed up with the group. It wasn’t long before I realized how well-deserved is the donkey ride’s reputation for being terrifying. The path is part steps, and part slope worn slick by thousands of years of flood water. It winds, it skirts precipices, it’s steep in places, the donkeys slip here, they balk there. All the time the Bedouin guides, many just young boys, hustle them on.

I was carrying my camera, attached to a tripod, around my neck. That, along with the large handbag that kept falling off my shoulder, meant that I could only hold on with one hand. Added to that, the blanket that was functioning as a saddle was slipping sideways. Fortunately, the donkey I was on was not tall. My guide kept telling me to lean forward as the little donkey struggled uphill. It wasn’t easy!

Finally the boy stopped me, and while the others continued on up, he had me dismount while he adjusted and retied the blanket – breaking the flimsy tie not once, but twice. Donnette passed by and said, “You’re not leaving me, are you!?”

She was waiting at the top with her camera ready as we triumphantly arrived. I didn’t find out until later how truly terrified she was during the donkey ride. I’m still not sure if she’s glad that we did it, but I loved it. We did it!

There was a short walk up to the Monastery after the donkey drop-off point – perhaps a poor choice of words – which is lined with souvenir sellers, many of them women. We were drawn in to have tea with a mother and her grown daughter. Afterward, Donnette and I each picked out a bracelet and necklace to buy. Amazingly, we both chose the exact same ones! We’re like soul sisters.

The Monastery – which was given that name by archaeologists even though it has nothing to do with religion – did not disappoint.
It’s massive, and it represents the highest and most refined example of the Nabataean architectural style.

We had a lunch of fresh, cold juice and a bag of chips before making our way back down the 800 steep steps. I was fine being on the donkey on the way up, but I did NOT want to ride back down. Just looking down was too scary!

It was getting late, but we had just enough time to pass by the Royal Tombs, which we had missed on our way in. This row of edifices represents a sort of “workshop” in which the Nabataeans experimented with architectural styles and techniques before eventually creating the masterpiece that is the Monastery.



By the time we reached the end of the long walk back to the visitor’s center, all we could think about was finding a beer. Suddenly we remembered that our friend Terry had told us to be sure and go to the Cave bar. And like magic, there it was! And there we were.

Once our thirst was quenched, we realized we were starving. Passing by the places with the proprietors standing outside waving discount leaflets at us, we arrived at Three Steps restaurant at 6:00 p.m., just as he was opening. Another Abu Dhabi friend who had recently been there had recommended, “Order whatever is the special.” So we did, and it was mensef, the traditional Bedouin wedding dish. We could choose beef or lamb, which was simmered in goat milk yogurt and served over a bed of rice mixed with parsley and covered with shraak, a tissue-thin bread. It was simple, elegant, perfectly delicious. But first, we were served a mezze of three dips with bread. And afterward, tea and a sweet which was a still-warm Arabic pastry stuffed with cheese, which was delivered fresh from the bakery just as we were finishing our main course.
It was a perfect day, perfect weather, and we were perfectly exhausted by the time we got back to our room. Too exhausted to drink the complimentary bottle of wine provided by Marriott.
It’s amazing to realize that Petra was largely forgotten, except among local Bedouins, for centuries until 1812, when it was described by Swiss geographer Johann Burckhardt. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, and in 2007 became one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Petra siq in 1947 (left) compared with the same location in 2013 (Wikipedia)
We didn’t meet Marguerite van Geldermalsen, but that wasn’t really a goal of mine, although I can’t exactly explain why. I kind of wish I’d met her, but at the time we were so overwhelmed by our day, it just didn’t seem to matter. I saw a large image of the book cover at one of the souvenir places; that must have been her shop. But I guess I was so exhausted I didn’t make the connection.
I was thinking about how impossible it seemed that all of the people selling souvenirs there live outside of Petra, especially the ones up by the Monastery. What a commute! And how do they safeguard their merchandise? I suspected that some of them still live in caves. So I did a little research, and discovered this interesting story about the locals, along with a follow-up on Marguerite:
Life in Petra doesn’t look easy. We were told that the crowds have thinned – perhaps people are avoiding Jordan because of the troubles in Syria. Petra is in the southern part of Jordan, far from Syria, but people think of the entire Middle East as dangerous. So the locals are struggling to make their income. And maybe that’s why we felt so much pressure to ride and buy.
But no matter how many souvenirs or donkey rides they try to sell you, the fact is that Petra occupies unique place in human history, and nothing can overshadow its magnificence. You realize how gifted the Nabataeans were, that they ruled the trade routes and that they were amazing engineers. You appreciate the forces of nature that they tamed and the unique architectural style they developed, blending Greek, Roman, and Arab elements to arrive at their own classic Nabataean style.
Now , without the Nabataeans to maintain it, nature, aided by the impact of hordes of visitors, is reclaiming Petra. I don’t know exactly what is being done currently to mitigate the natural and human-caused erosion. But in the long run there isn’t much we can do to stop water, wind, and the salty airborne sands of time from reconfiguring the land.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jordan–Day 2

Dead Sea mud treatment, Jordan River baptism site, and Petra at Night

20141112_094735Early in the morning, with the sun yet to climb above the mountains to the east, Donnette and I were down on the shore of the Dead Sea slathering black mud onto each other. Dead Sea mud, and the highly concentrated salts and minerals in the sea water, are said to help relieve arthritis and allergic skin conditions, as well as slow the effects of aging by reducing wrinkling and cellulite.





The mud was cool, and very slippery and slimy; it was a little weird to be spreading it all over ourselves – but also fun, and sensual. Here we were, outdoors in the sunlight, coating ourselves with mud.  The sun was still weak, but we knew the water was warm, having tested it the night before.







When we tested the water, we also did a taste test. The water looked so clean and clear, we wanted to compare it to the Arabian Gulf, which seems very salty, especially in hot weather when there is a lot of evaporation. Knowing this was probably a mistake, Donnette and I both took the tiniest of tongue tips to our fingers and … YECCCHHH! SPIT! It burned and tasted awful!

The salt content of the Dead Sea is 33.7%, compared to 3.5% average in the ocean and 4% to 5% in the Arabian Gulf – although with the desalinization plants releasing brine, Gulf salinity is increasing. The Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, ranges from 5% to 27% depending on location and lake level.


As we waited for the mud to dry, we walked up and down the little private beach belonging to the Marriott. On either side, the shoreline was lined with glistening, salt-coated rocks. How did the Dead Sea get so salty? I knew there was no outlet – we have similar bodies of water in Nevada, called terminal lakes, where water evaporates and leaves behind minerals. The Great Salt Lake is a remnant of ancient Lake Bonneville, which covers part of Nevada. .

Dead Sea geology plate map


But those were freshwater lakes, remnants of the ice age. The Dead Sea is different, in that it was formed by tectonic forces – the moving plates of Earth’s crust. As I understand it, the Dead Sea is part of a greater rift formed by the African and Arabian plates moving apart. Almost 4 million years ago, the rift was flooded with Mediterranean Sea water. For the next 2 million years, similar floods came and went until, through tectonic forces, the surrounding land was uplifted enough to prevent further inundation by the Mediterranean.



Now the Dead Sea continues to sink as the rift grows and the surrounding plates rise, making it the lowest place on Earth. Because there are few water sources (the Jordan River being the main one,) very little rainfall, and no outlet other than evaporation, the salt and minerals in the Dead Sea are concentrated and the water level continues to drop.





We were running out of interesting rocks to look at, the mud began to crack and itch, and we couldn’t stand it any more. It was time to rinse off in the sea. Donnette reminded me not to get any of the water in my eyes, but the first thing that happened was I accidentally splashed a drop – just one drop – into one of my eyes. Oh, the pain! Unable to stop myself, I tried to wipe it out, getting water into the other eye as well. Thus, I was blinded until Donnette came to rescue me with a towel wetted with fresh water.Then I remembered that I’d brought two pairs of swim goggles. Better late than never.




The Dead Sea is famous for being so salty that you float effortlessly. If you can relax, and not worry about getting water in your eyes or mouth, it’s like floating on an inflatable mattress.




DSC01287As we floated, we noticed a woman on the shore, methodically spreading mud from the pot onto herself . Donnette tried to strike up a conversation, but she wasn’t interested. Either she didn’t speak English, or she was too focused on the business at hand – probably both. She covered herself with mud and then proceeded to scrub, and scrub, and scrub. It looked like this was something she did on a regular basis. I wonder how many hundreds of generations of local women have used this beauty treatment, a favorite of Cleopatra, over the millennia?




A couple of hours later, we checked out of the hotel and headed north. Petra was south, but we were taking a last-minute detour to the site on the Jordan River where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. I was raised Catholic, which means that I don’t remember my baptism because I was a baby. But Donnette, being Southern Baptist, clearly remembers her baptism at the age of 15, and going there would have a special meaning for her.


It did for me, too. Neither of us, a few years ago, imagined visiting the Holy Land. Sometimes, visiting a place is as much an internal pilgrimage as it is a sightseeing tour. As a Catholic, I think about what I learned and remember from the stories of the Bible. What meaning did I take from them? What did they teach me? How did they help to form my character?

DSC01307 Stitch


These days, my thoughts and feelings about faith, religion, and spirituality are something that I don’t like to talk about. For me, it’s private and personal. Live and let live – and believe. But with or without an abiding faith, whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, just being there, visiting the places where events in the Bible happened, had a profound effect – one that I can’t articulate.




20141112_132552The authenticated baptism site was identified by comparing its description in the Bible and other ancient records with features on the ground; it has been recognized by all major Christian churches. During the first several hundred years AD (or CE), churches were built near the site to memorialize the event, and believers made and recorded pilgrimages. Over the centuries, it was forgotten.



St. George Greek Orthodox Churcxh

The discovery in 1897 of the Madaba map depicting the Holy Land led to a renewed interest in its location, but conflicts throughout the 20th century – two World Wars and the fall of the Ottoman Empire – prevented archaeological activity until after the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. A very good synopsis of the history and rediscovery is at this link on the Baptism Site of Jesus Christ website.



Jesus baptism site

The actual baptism site is on a dry floodplain several meters away from the river. The sinuous Jordan was long ago dammed upstream, so it’s no mystery that the floodplain is dry.


This place is, really, out in the middle of nowhere. From the Visitor Center, which is just a small, plain building which serves as an office, a shuttle bus drove us out onto the floodplain, past an armed guard station, to a plateau where we viewed new memorial churches that were built on distant ridges after the rediscovery, and the place where Pope John Paul II said Catholic mass in 2000.

DSC01302Our first view of the storied river was unimpressive; it was just a muddy looking creek, not even as wide as the Carson River, in Nevada. The Jordan River forms the border between Jordan and Israel; it was hard to believe that this was it - we could literally have crossed over in just a few steps!






From the baptism site, we walked along a path which took us to St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. Here the river was wider, and flowing, and we could see people on the Israeli side.






Our attention was caught by a couple across the river, dressed in white shifts, who were getting ready to enter the water. They were with a guide, who was giving them information and instructions while an armed guard hovered nearby. It was an odd scene. As they waded in, the woman began to gasp at the cold water and then she seemed to lose her footing and almost floated off downstream.




She regained her foothold and composure and, after a couple of minutes, she and her partner climbed out of the river, crossing themselves several times. As they emerged we realized that, of course, they were wearing nothing under their thin cotton shifts, which were now clinging wetly to their skin! Thinking of the modesty that we are now used to in the Middle East, it was a bit of a shock.




The Baptism Site only took a couple of hours from our day, and then we were on our way to Petra. We decided to take the Dead Sea Highway – which Mark’s Jordanian colleague, Muhammad Alshawakfeh, had counseled against – too mountainous. Too mountainous!? There is no such thing!


But first, we needed fuel. We had just under a half tank and  I didn’t know what the prospects were for gas on the road ahead. So now …

The Parable of Petrol Pricing.

Two lovely, intelligent, experienced American women rented a car in a foreign country and didn’t do their homework regarding the price of fuel or the size of their vehicle’s fuel tank. They pulled into a lonely petrol station near the Dead Sea, where the Attendant directed them, indicating that they should pull forward, and yet more forward, until they could no longer see the display on the pump. The Driver, who sometimes doesn’t think things through until later, requested: “Fill, with regular.” The Attendant started the pump, which stopped within a few seconds, and then he came to the window saying, “15JD (Jordanian dinar, about $21 US.) Driver handed over the money but, when she started the engine she saw that the tank was not full. So the Attendant put in more, until the tank was full. Then he returned to the window, requesting another 25JD ($35.) The Navigator, who was wise, said “No! That’s too much!” They were, after all, in the Middle East where they were used to gas prices that were cheaper than in the US. But they didn’t exactly know what the price should be, and the Attendant knew this because they were obviously tourists, and rich. After some haggling and accusation, head shaking, and arguing in two incompatible languages, another 10JD was accepted by the Attendant and they drove off.

We were sure that we’d been cheated, but we didn’t know just how much. (Muhammad has since told Mark that the gas stations in Jordan are all run by Egyptians – and they, unlike Jordanians, are cheats.) Moral of the story: Know the price of fuel, how much your vehicle holds, and specify how much money’s worth to put in – not just “fill.” Also – be sure you can see the pump.


Shake it off! It was time to hit the road, and we were feeling like Thelma and Louise (only older, and with more money.) Donnette had brought the music and we sang along to the Eagles (have I mentioned that we both graduated from high school in 1975?) driving along the Dead Sea until we made a left-hand turn into the mountains. But not before stopping for pics of the receding shoreline.




It was supposed to be a drive of about 3-1/2 hours, and we went up, up, up, to dizzyingly beautiful heights. Donnette was a little freaked out, I could tell, but I was reminded of so many other drives: California, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Oman, Sri Lanka … mountains, villages, black Bedouin tents, curvy roads, up and down. The hardest part was that Carmen, the Garmin, didn’t know the latest road changes and once or twice she led us down a rabbit hole.

I was really glad we’d stopped for gas, cheated or not. The sun was getting low, there wasn’t a good place to pull over for photos, and there was no place to stop and pee. We were on a mission to find our hotel, and soon!!



We reached the Marriott in Petra just as the sun set, around 5:30 p.m., in time to check in and grab dinner before heading out to Petra at Night. Our hotel was way at the top of the ridge above Petra, with great views of the mountains we had just crossed on one side and the town below on the other. They brought us a bottle of wine – again, the Marriott Gold advantage – but with no time to drink it, we were on our way back downhill to the Visitor Center. We had two nights and wanted to do Petra at Night first, and then a full next day exploring.







We arrived at the Petra visitor center at 8:00 p.m. and joined the procession along the path to the legendary Siq, or entrance to Petra. The Siq is a passageway to Petra through impossibly high rock faces, carved by thousands of years of flash flooding.








The entire pathway, which which begins well before the entrance to the Siq, was much longer than I thought it would be and was lit by hundreds of luminerias– paper bags containing lit candles. All along the path were lit caves and carved “djinn blocks,” which the Nabataeans believed were the homes of invisible, human-like beings – essentially, genies.


The Nabataeans were an incredibly gifted and skilled people from the Arabian peninsula who established their capital in Petra some 2200 years ago. They were successful traders who lived in caves and drew upon Greek, Hashemite and Roman traditions to develop their own architectural style, carving unbelievably complex facades into the stone cliffs, most of which are thought to be tombs.


And then suddenly, magically, there it was, and there we were, looking at the Treasury, which was never a treasury at all, but was given the name, like all the other misleading names in Petra, by archaeologists.




Petra at Night is not a nighttime tour of the city, but just a walk through the Siq to the Treasury to hear a program, and then the long trek back out. We sat on the ground in rows with all of the other guests, were served the traditional Bedouin sweet tea …





… listened to traditional Bedouin music played on a rebab, then and poetic singing …









Then we heard taped sounds of donkeys braying, horses galloping and carriages clattering while the Treasury façade lit up in colors. I had my camera set up on a tripod and was able to get some night shots including one “selfie” of Donnette and me.


Afterwards, as we were getting ready to make the trek out, a young man stopped us and asked how we liked the program. I said the taped sounds seemed too loud to me – little did I know that, in the Siq, they really are that loud as they bounce off of the walls! – and I was surprised at the light show because I’d read reviews that said the Treasury was not well lit. He told us that they had just started the light show about two weeks before, and they were working to add more elements to the program.


I enjoyed the walk out as much as anything that night. Donnette  was very patient while I kept stopping and trying shots.

Next: a very full day in Petra.

Thanks for reading!


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