Sunday, October 30, 2011

10/28/11: The Country That Shares My Name (Part 2): Petra

The City Of Petra 
And so, with descriptions of the most beautiful deserts, mysterious caves, and hidden cities, my stories from Jordan continue. At 7:30 in the morning we said goodbye to the bustling capital city of Amman, and headed down to the South of Jordan to see the red, rose city of Petra. Because it was so early in the morning, and because most of us didn't sleep much the night before, many of us capitalized on the 3 hour bus ride to get a little bit more rest before our day filled with hiking and walking around the lost city of Petra. Periodically, when Abu thought it unnecessary for us to sleep, he would get on his mike and tell us wonderful stories about the land we were driving through. His mind was filled with fascinating facts and dates, and we were so lucky to be able to learn about this beautiful country from him. 

After about 3 hours of driving through mainly deserted, desert lands (which, interestingly enough, resembled the drive on the I-5 freeway in California), we finally arrived in the awe inspiring city of Petra. I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like this city in my whole life. I was completely blown away by the quaint little town set in front of the gigantic rock mountains of the hidden city. 

View From Above Of The City and The Rock Mountains 

When we arrived at our hotel, only minutes away from the gate to the Old City, were greeted by a very friendly staff who checked us in and then served delicious bread and Bedouin tea. It was quite cold outside so the sweat tea was very comforting and soothing. We were given a few minutes to get settled in to our rooms, change into whatever clothes we thought would be the most comfortable to walk around all day in, and then we were to meet downstairs and head off towards the entrance gate to Petra's rocky city. Severely misjudging the weather I changed into jeans and a short sleeved shirt because I thought walking around in the Sun would be quite warm... Little did I know that most of the walk was in the shade of the windy canyons. Luckily I thought to take my scarf just in case (but a sweater would have been even better!). 

When we first entered the city all you could see were these astoundingly fascinating rock formations, hollowed out caves, and tombs set in the stones. To say that I felt like I was dropped in the middle of a movie would be a gross understatement. The surroundings didn't feel real they were so unbelievably amazing. I truly felt like I was on a Hollywood lot where great minds fabricate beauty this profound. But no, in all of it's glory this city was as real as I am. After every few feet that we walked Abu would call to us "Ya Habibis, come this way come this way", and would tell us interesting fact after fact about the city we were seeing. 

Stone Caves And Tombs At The Entrance To Petra  
Amazing Stone Formations 

Tomb In The Rock 

Our Amazing Abu!!!!! 

As we continued on our walk we came to an open area filled with shops, horses, camels, donkeys, local bedouins offering various rides, and so on. It was a vibrant spot that led to the entrances of the narrow canyons of Petra through which we had to walk to get to the lost city in the middle of this desert land. My friend Alina and I saw a lone horse that was just calling out for us to pet him, so we decided to break off from the group, for just a second, to go say hello! As we were petting the horse, the local bedouin man who owned him came over, allowed us to take more pictures, and even let us up on the horse, free of charge, for a photo opportunity. I asked him "how much for a ride" in Arabic, to which he replied "you speak Arabic? I had a feeling you were Arab!" I wasn't going to argue since I take that as the utmost compliment! We told him we had to go but that we would be back on our way out of the city. He was very kind and would later significantly contribute to my amazing time in the city. 

Unbeknownst To Me, This Horse Would Later Take Me On Quite An Adventure 

When the photo shoot was over, we ran to catch back up with Abu and the other Habibis! They had very patiently waited for us and a few other students buying food and water at a little shop near the entrance to the Canyons. Looking at the walls of the rocks in front of me was like looking into a whole new world. I didn't know what I would find inside the canyons, or on the other side, but I was ready to thoroughly explore what lied ahead of me. 

Entrance To The Canyons  
Here We Go!!! 

The rocks that formed these canyons were some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Color after color could be found in these enchanting stones, and each one told a story. There was the stone that was supposedly struck by Moses to give water to the Israelites, other stones were hollowed out for caves and tombs, and each more fascinating and beautiful than the one before it. It is so amazing to think that we were walking through a channel that served as a pathway to one of the richest, ancient cities in the world. A pathway that was passionately protected by the Nabateans so that no outsider could discover the secrets to their hidden city, until one man posed as a Muslim pilgrim thus unlocking the treasures of Petra for the rest of the world. I was completely overwhelmed by the natural beauty; well, that is,  the natural beauty, the animals riding through the streets, and the local bedouins trying to sell their various products. It was like being in an ancient meets kind of modern day trade market. 

View From The Canyon 

Beautiful Rock Coloration 

Banchi and Me Enjoying The Beauty 

A Natural Wonder 

Beginning To See The City Behind The Canyons 

As we progressed deeper into the canyons the colors of the rocks began to change from dark browns to pinks, reds, and light browns. Though there was no direct sunlight, the atmosphere was very bright and colorful. This deep in the canyon I began to notice not only the beautiful colors of the various rocks, but also the fascinating rock shapes formed from the natural erosion of both time and the outside elements. We continued on a ways through more twists and turns, came upon more enormous rock structures, and began to make our way towards the opening of the lost city! At this point I was starting to realize that the combination of no sun plus the wind in the canyons plus the fact that it was late October, made for a very chilly walk to the city. 

Enormous Rock Structures 

My Little Fishy 

Breathtaking Beauty Right Before The Lost City 

A True Natural Wonder 

At the turn of the last corner Abu stopped us, had us look at a rock in the distance, distracted us for a moment, and then had us turn around to reveal one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. Peaking out from a crack in the canyon was the opening to a vibrant city hidden from the world; the red city of ancient, Nabatean Petra. 

The Lost City  
So Excited To Be At The Gateway To The City 

Unfathomable Beauty 

We had finally arrived! We were in the lost city of Petra. The ancient city that brought such vast wealth and culture to the Nabatean people, and we were standing at the entrance to it all. The gorgeous temple that stood in front of us was the treasury thought to have held the wealth of the Pharos of Egypt, and the open grounds were filled with camels, bedouins, tourists, shop sellers, and vendors. Unlike the quite, calm of the canyons, the open city was full of life and excitement.  The local bedouins were taking full advantage of the many tourists from all of the world, while the tourists were busy giving camels drinks from their water bottles (which is a sight to see if you have never witnessed a camel drinking from a water bottle), taking pictures in front of the temple, riding camels, donkeys, and carriages around the grounds, making friends with the local bedouins, and exploring the wonder of this city. Though I wanted to ride a camel, I wanted to save my funds for the horse ride I promised to my bedouin friend at the beginning of my visit. Abu collected all of us Habibis at the front of the Temple and began to explain a little about the city and the local population. 

At The Temple Treasury 

Local Residents! 

Truly In The Desert 

Taking a Photo Break From Abu's Story 

Gorgeous Temple 

No words... 

They Are So Ugly They Are Cute 

As we walked on from the temple, towards the center of town, the amphitheater, church ruins, and the local bedouin village, we received fantastic exposure to the everyday lives of the local bedouins. We saw them conducting their business, saw where they lived inside of the walls of the city (there are about 4,000 local bedouins living inside of Old Petra), ate with them, talked with them, shopped from them, and so on. It was amazing to experience this ancient culture that is still alive and flourishing today. Along with continuing to see the beautiful rock formations and ancient ruins, I loved seeing local life. From the animals that were roaming free in the city (camels, donkeys, horses, dogs) to the bedouin tents filled with food, jewelry, souvenirs, and so on.  My personal favorite was seeing the dogs ride with their owners on the donkeys! That was something I had never seen in my life :-). 

Even Bedouin Dogs Need A Lift :-) 

We Just Can't Resist The Dogs! 

Tombs Inside The City 

Gorgeous Carvings 

Deep In The Heart Of The City 

Fascinating Caves 

As we continued on our journey through the old city of Petra, we stopped at a bedouin tent for a picnic lunch consisting of fruit, yogurt, pita, meat, cheese, and bedouin tea. After a long day of walking so far, the rest was very much appreciated. Inside the tent were the most gorgeous layouts and displays of jewelry and various other souvenirs, and then, all of a sudden, as we were admiring the splendor of our surroundings, we heard puppies crying... Not knowing where the sounds were coming from we all investigated, and then, when we were not making any leeway in finding the source of the crying, we see a mom and her 4 puppies come out from under one of the display tables. I almost died!!! After we were warned to handle the puppies gently around the mother (since they were only 1 month old), 4 of us rushed in, picked a puppy, and I spent the next 30 minutes with my little guy in my arms. I was in heaven, and after he got over the fear of being away from mom, he fell asleep on my chest. I never wanted to put him down and was seriously considering putting him in my bag and sneaking him across the Israeli border! 

Me and My Baby Sukkar!  
I'm Being Such A Good Mommy! 

With great reluctance I gave Sukkar back to his real mommy, finished up my meal, and then headed out with the group deeper into the city. We had finally reached our end point some 6km inside of  Petra, and that put us at the ruins of a Christian city where there was a church, traditional Roman columns and architecture, the Petra museum, and behind it all was the modern bedouin city which is home to about 4,000 residents. I took this time to take in the scenery, photograph local life, and preserve one brief moment with all of the students from my program who were enjoying this amazing city with me. 

Beautiful Ruins  
At Least I Had The Scarf To Protect Me From The Cold 

Local Bedouins 

Poor Lil' Lone Donkey 

Ancient Roman City Within Petra 

Local Bedouin Village 

MAMES 2012 Enjoying Petra 

More Fascinating Ruins 

After we had spent about 20 minutes taking in the sights, it was time for us to head back. At this point we were allowed to break off and go out on our own if we did so wish. Some students went to the museum, some started walking back, and I was on my way to find my Bedouin horse driver. I was walking back with two friends, and we made it as far as the horses together before we all went our separate ways. I was so cold at this point that I decided to wrap my head in my scarf and have it cover my shoulders and neck. This was actually a brilliant move on my part because on the way back I hardly got accosted to buy anything. When one person did come up to me she was quickly told that I was Arab and to not waste her time. I was so happy at this point! No matter what anyone says I really am a Jewish Arab :-) and feel almost as connected to the Arab culture as I do to my Jewish religion. I took a few more pictures with the beautiful scenery and then it was off to have, what would become, my last big adventure in this city. 

Saying Goodbye To Petra  
Add caption

Last Picture Outside Of The Temple 

As we made our way out of the city and back through the canyons, we finally came to the entrance where they offer horse rides back up to the gate of the city. My friend Zach and I decided to take advantage of this service, and I was lucky enough to find the bedouin man who had been so kind to me earlier in the day. He looked very happy to see me again, invited me over to his horse, talked to me in Arabic for a little bit, and then invited me to have a ride. I asked him how much it would cost and he said he would take whatever I wanted to pay. This was definitely something I had never heard before in my life. Usually I have to spend at least 10 minutes arguing for a better price, and here I was being able to pay whatever I wanted. I went to my wallet and was immediately stopped by him. He didn't want the money before, and he told me I could take care of it when I had finished my ride... His kindness was truly wonderful. 

As we began to ride he told me I looked very comfortable on the horse, and asked why this was. I told him that my Uncle has a farm and owns horses, and when I was younger I rode once or twice. I guess to him this meant it was ok to shake things up a bit, so he asked me if I had a strong heart. I was a little confused at this question but answered that I was in very good health to which he replied "Of course you are, Arab women have the strongest hearts". After this conversational exchange he yelled a command at the horse and we were off RUNNING! Not trotting or cantering, but RUNNING. I used every muscle I had in my legs not to fall off the horse but I had the best time. I wasn't scared, but was thoroughly enjoying the ride. Every now and then we would stop, but then we would take off again. My Uncle would be so proud of how good my riding was :-) 

The bedouin men were looking at me with great interest at this point since I was the only tourist on a horse that was sprinting up the road. That combined with the fact that I'm female must have been quite a sight. I don't think they see that too often, and  I think they were very entertained! When we had reached the spot where the tourists are let off, my bedouin guide asked me where my hotel was and told me he would take me, on horseback, most of the way up the big hill that led to my hotel. This was above and beyond his call of duty and I was so excited to get more riding time. Along with the special treatment, he asked for my camera and was kind enough to take pictures of me on the horse. I got a photo shoot, running time, and an extra long ride, all for whatever I wanted to pay. It was the royal treatment and it made the end of the trip so special. He even tied a traditional bedouin scarf on my head, put me back on the horse, and took pictures of me looking like an authentic bedouin! I was a pleasure for me to spend my money on something like this, and I was sure to tip him very well for his time and kindness. As I got off the horse, he gave me a kiss on the cheek and sent me on my way to the hotel. 

What A Ride 
So Much Fun 

On The Way To The Hotel 

When I finally got back to the Hotel most of the students had already returned. They wondered what had taken me so long, I explained my story, and then went right upstairs to shower and take a nap before the nighttime activity. Since we were all exhausted we decided to have dinner at the hotel, and then go to a local hookah bar and just relax afterwards. We had some great laughs that night and really enjoyed one another's company. Abu decided he would join us for both dinner and hookah and we loved having him with us! We were telling jokes, recounting the day, getting in some good laughs, and then it was time to get back to the hotel for a good night sleep. We had walked so much, I had endured an intense horse ride, and I was very ready for a good night sleep. 

It was an enchanting day in Jordan and made me fall even more deeply in love with the country. Granted  I wouldn't feel like it was home until the next day, I was well on my way to never wanting to leave. From the people to the scenery, everything was so brilliant and magical. 

Stay tuned for my last post on Madaba, Mount Nebo, and my reflections on the trip :-) 

Ma As-salame <3,
Jordana Simone

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