In 1989 I went to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with my then boyfriend. When I saw the scenes shot in Petra, Jordan, I knew that one day I had to visit there. Yesterday and today saw that dream come true.
Petra is a magical place. It’s not known exactly when it was built, but the city prospered as the capital of the Nabataean people from the 1st century BC. The Nabataean became wealthy as traders of fine spices — particularly Frankincense and Myrhh. They built a huge, beautiful city as fit their station in life.
The city was annexed to the Roman Empire and thrived until it was severely damaged in a huge earthquake in 363AD (or rather a series of large earthquakes that hit on 18 and 19 May 363). After the earthquakes, the city was largely abandoned and was left to the desert. The local Bedouin knew of it’s existence, but the rest of the world only found out about it in 1812 when an Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt dressed as an Arab and tricked his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city.
Since then, more than 60 square kilometres have been ‘discovered’ with ruins scattered through canyons, up mountains and along river beds. The Nabataens buried their dead in huge, intricate tombs carved out of the mountain sides. The city had temples, a theatre and after the Romans took over, a colonnaded street and churches. The buildings that still exist are huge. The most famous of course is The Treasury, never built to be a treasury but as a King’s Tomb. It is almost 40 metres high.
It is The Treasury that features in that Indiana Jones movie I saw all those years ago and my breath was taken away yesterday as I emerged from a kilometre walk down the Siq (narrow gorge) to find myself standing in front of The Treasury. I had left my hotel at 5.50am in order to beat the crowds and I’m so glad I did. It is impressive anytime, but to be there in the early dawn with very few others is very special indeed.
I spent quite a bit of time yesterday sitting and observing before eventually moving off and hiking all over Petra. I ascended a steep, half an hour climb from the Theatre to the High Place of Sacrifice. The paths and staircases along the way are part of the original Nabataean processional way and led up through amazing mountain scenery until I reached the flat summit and incredible views across Petra.
From there I descended through the beautiful Farasa valley, past the Garden Tomb, the Lion Fountain and the Renaissance Tomb.
Once I had a bit of lunch I decided to tackle the Monastery trail which is not for the faint of heart. It involves more than 800 steep stone steps while the sun is beating down on you. But the view from each step is incredible and there really isn’t any way you can can get lost as you are just heading up one staircase the entire time.
The Monastery is one of the largest monuments in Petra. It measures 47m wide by 48.3m high. It was used as a biclinium for the meetings of religious associations. It dates to the early 2nd century AD.
By the time I had done both of these hikes, plus the Main Trail back to my hotel, I had seen a good share of the site and was absolutely exhausted.
Being that tired meant an early bedtime which then meant that I woke up early this morning. I decided to enter the park at 6am again and do the hike up to The Treasury viewpoint.
All started well. No one was around as I walked through the Siq and only two or three people were at The Treasury as I passed it. I headed down the Main Trail, past the Theatre (the only theatre in the world that is carved into rock instead of being built by rock – and it seats 4000 people).
Next I passed the Royal Tombs. I hadn’t explored the tombs yesterday and decided that I might as well have a look now while no one was around. I climbed to the top of the stairs and was astonished as I had a birds eye view out across the major sites of Petra. A few donkeys and a camel or two dotted the main trail but for the most part it felt as if I had the world to myself. The sun was just coming up and lit the mountains in the distance. It was magical.
After taking many photos, I dragged myself away to get onto the Al Kubtha Trail to the Treasury viewpoint. The Petra guidebook says this is a trail of 4-5 hour duration and that it is graded hard (as opposed to moderate or easy). I had a few tour guides (who hang out by The Treasury) volunteer to guide me on the trail but I was quite confident I could do it on my own.
I started up. It was wide, stone stairs. No problem. Except for the fact that they were steep and not at all even. And I had hiked and rock scrambled for 9 and a half hours yesterday. Every muscle in my legs was hurting. I had a bottle of water and kept stopping for breaks. About 1/3 of the way up (not that I knew I was 1/3 of the way up at that point) a Bedouin guy came past me on a donkey. That was a bit rough to take. But he encouraged me to keep going.
So keep going, I did.
And I started to think about how this trail is kind of a metaphor for life. Sometimes it’s just a straight slog upwards as you work towards a goal. Sometimes it evens out for a short while, kind of plateauing and giving you a break. Sometimes the steps are uneven, or missing and you might even slide backwards a bit. The path kept twisting and turning as I followed the side of the mountain. That’s like life too. Always twisting and turning.
About halfway up, I heard bells above me. I looked and saw a herd of goats using the steps to move up the mountain. They left urine and poo behind and as I came up behind them, I thought that’s kind of like life too. Sometimes you come across someone else’s shit you’d rather not. Sometimes you can clean it up. Sometimes it’s not worth it.
Still I kept climbing.
Finally, just when I thought, this is ridiculous, it must stop soon, it did. I came to a plateau and a viewpoint where I could see out to the Theatre and could see how far I had come. I suffer from vertigo when I look down from such heights and had to sit down since I scared myself badly. There are no barriers up on any of the mountains and if you don’t pay attention you can easily get too close to the edge. That’s a bit like life too. You need to pay attention or sometimes you end up too close to the edge.
From the Theatre viewpoint there was a sign with an an arrow to The Treasury viewpoint. But within 50m I couldn’t find a trail. No more stairs. No beaten track. Just flat rock in front of me.
I started to head in the direction I thought I should go. I’m usually pretty good at directions. But after hiking 5 minutes, scrambling up rocks to try to get an idea of where the trail was, I returned to the sign. I tried another way. No luck. And I chuckled. I had come so far and yet, had no idea of where to go from here. A bit like my life at the moment.
I hadn’t seen another person on this whole trail other than the Bedouin guy on his donkey. And he had disappeared ages ago.
Hmmm. What to do?
Just then, a French woman appeared on a rock cliff above me. She shouted down to me and asked if I knew where I was going. I told her I didn’t. ‘Shit!’, was her reply. ‘I was hoping you knew.’
I laughed. At least there were two of us lost together. That made me feel better. And again, isn’t that true in life too? Sometimes it’s ok to be lost, as long as someone else is there with you.
We ruled out going the way I had just gone. She suggested a different way and I was happy to follow. Sometimes on the trail and in life, we all need a little help from someone to get where we are going.
She was right. She found the real trail and we followed that for another 10 minutes. Finally, we came out to The Treasury viewpoint. My Bedouin friend (and his donkey) ran a coffee shack/tent at the viewpoint. He invited me in where I found 20 other people (!) all sitting on various rock ledges waiting for the sunshine to hit The Treasury fully.
I was grateful I had made it. Grateful my French friend showed up when she did. Grateful that I had spent an hour and a bit hiking on my own. Grateful that my Bedouin friend made good Turkish coffee. And grateful that I was reminded of a few life lessons in such a short space of time this morning in such an amazing place.