Touring Petra and Wadi Rum

Going back a few days into last week I mentioned that I had found a tour operator and made arrangements to head south from Amman, Jordan to the ancient city of Petra. I will leave the major tourist info for you to Google. This way it will not be second or third hand info. But I will give you my impressions of these two wonderful sites that I highly recommend visiting.

Being a happy wanderer has many advantages, mainly that I can set my own schedule an change it at will when something of major interest comes along. I hired a private car with driver and headed south from Amman on Friday morning, 7 Jan, 2011.

This is where I’m going to add a paragraph about driving…or being driven…on the streets and roads of the Middle East. It reflects my own perception of driving in general and no specific driver is meant to be depicted here. This is a wide paintbrush of the area and it’s drivers. If paragraphs were titled, this one would be “I’m gonna die, I know I’m gonna die!”. This is written with all due respect to my personal driver, who has not hurt me nor hit anything. Left lane, left lane, going fast, lots of traffic all around, left lane, BAM..right turn! Arrghh! Right lane, right lane, goin’ fast, lots of traffic, WHAK..left turn! Awaak! I sit sheepishly with head lowered. A prayer may well have slipped out now and then. I think you get the picture. These guys all go to Boston and New York when they grow up. Having said all of the above, the drive on the national highways is quite sedate. Why?Checkpoint after checkpoint with speed guns (radar) at each. Often backed up with quite manly machine guns as well, especially on the Dead Sea Highway. You may well know that the Dead Sea is disputed territory and Israel is very visible a few miles across the way. So the drive on these highways, especially by professional drivers who want to keep their licenses, is very sedate compared to city driving.

Back to Petra. Driving south from Amman after an hour or so, we stop at a “tourisitc” shop. As we wanderers have learned, each driver or tour operator has a friend or cousin who has a shop that we must see. There is a cousin on every road in the drivers country.A turkish coffee and the purchase of a trinket and we are on our way southbound again. It’s a beautiful cloudless day and life is good. After all, I arrived in this country by Staggerwing. It may be the first Staggerwing to ever touch Jordanian soil but I do not make that claim since I do not know if it is fact.

We arrive in the town of Al-Batra, also known as Petra, find the hotel where I have a reservation, drop the bags, and off we go to the Visitors Center of Petra. There we meet my guide for the day. On to a pony for a ride down the trail to the entrance of the wadi, or canyon, that leads to the famous “Lost City of Petra”. Half way down the trail I have a flash of clarity…should have saved this pony ride to go UP the hill upon my return and not DOWN the hill as I am doing. I’m just a farmboy from Michigan. :) Off the pony and a long, interesting descending walk through the wadi with numerous ancient markings, carvings, and remnants of the water transfer system are exposed.

Now fade back with me about 65 years or so. I’m in a movie theater in Michigan back in the days when we got our visual news from the newsreels prior to the beginning of the movie. All black and white movies at that time of course. The famous commentator, Lowell Thomas, is describing in his most distinctive voice the first film release of Petra to the western world. The movie camera, a massive thing in those days, was being rolled down the trail through the wadi. Then, accompanied with very dramatic music, the camera captures the sight that I am now seeing first hand after all these years. It still makes the hair stand on the back of my neck. That first sight is of the famous Treasury of Petra.

For the next several hours my guide shows me the rest of the ancient city, all of which are rooms carved deep into the walls of the valley. The Treasury, which it turns out, was not a Treasury at all but a tomb, is the most famous of the rooms. This was a very moving day for me, having had the memory of the film seen so many years ago buried on my memory chip for so long. I leave the rest to your own Google search.

The next morning another ride southbound to Wadi Rum. This area is reminiscent of Monument Valley in the US…but with a different flavor. A ride out into the valley with a local guide in a well worn pickup, I have tea with a well weathered Bedouin in his camp tent. Then off further into the valley made famous by Lawrence of Arabia to wander into another wadi with an active stream. This one was a bit of a challenge but well worth the climb back into it’s recesses. The valley is a magificent, humbling place, full of color and textures.

Wadi Rum is another destination that is well worth a visit There is a hotel near the entrance to the valley with distinctive architecture, including tents if one desires to be adventurous and live the Arabian Nights experience. I leave this area to your own Google search if you care to learn more.

Enough for this entry. The next will cover the flight from Amman, Jordan to Paphos, Cyprus…the long way ’round.

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