Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A post with plenty of pleasant pictures from Petra

Petra - the site of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Two weekends ago, Caroline and I went on our biggest excursion for the Israel portion of our trip, taking a long weekend to travel to Petra, Jordan. There are probably a ba-zillion blog posts out there from people who have done this trip, but I'll add our own version. I'm pretty sure that 50% of these posts begin with the exact same Indiana Jones picture that I started with.

But I bet that most of them don't follow that up with a photo of a toilet! Caroline snapped this photo when we stopped at a highway-side rest stop on the bus ride from Amman to Jordan.

This is the same kind of toilet we saw in India a lot of times.
We stayed at a hostel in the town of Wadi Musa, near to Petra. It's not quite one of those towns that solely exists to support tourists, but it is certainly a very tourist-centric town. Our hostel, the Saba'a Hotel, was a great choice and we'd recommend it to anyone. Clean, well-located, a pretty good breakfast and very friendly staff.

We arrived in the evening, so after we got settled we went to a nearby restaurant to grab dinner. There seemed to be a real mix of Jordanians and tourists there, but it actually wasn't such good food anyway. It did have some funny translations on the menu, featuring such items as: potato ships, questioner yogurt and burger sandwich.
The food itself was only ok. Jordanian bread is not as good as Israeli pita. It's much drier and flatter.
The next morning we set off to Petra. We took hundreds of pictures, so I will try to make a slideshow with many highlights to share another time, and just post a few here.
When you first enter, you walk through this long canyon with very high walls, called the siq.
The main structure is called the Treasury. You get your first glimpse of it through the crack in the canyon, so it is very dramatic.
Here we are!
The Treasury is very cool to see, because it is actually carved out of the stone rather than built up. The effect is very impressive, but what you don't realize at first is that the stone here is very soft and crumbly. It actually would have been very poor stone for building, and it was probably relatively easy to carve.

I had come to Petra when I was around 13 with my family, and because we had some young kids in the group at that time, I remember seeing just the Treasury and not much more. I hadn't even realized that there was much more to see, but this time we really hiked around and saw a lot. Some of the coolest parts were on these hikes.

One of the really spectacular things about Petra is the swirls of color in the stone. It seems like layers and layers of different materials were deposited over millennia to form these strata.

There are Bedouin families living in the desert in Petra, and many of them make their livelihood selling trinkets to passing tourists, or offering donkey, horse or camel rides to tired tourists. The donkeys are surprisingly good at going both up and down the zillions of stairs. Unfortunately, we'd heard the the animals aren't treated well, so we didn't do a ride. Still it was pretty crazy to see people on these very narrow and steep paths trusting their lives to the donkey's surefootedness!
Though the Bedouins definitely tried to sell us things, they weren't nearly as pushy as touts we had experienced in other places. And after we said no thank you, they were still friendly and seemed happy to exchange a few words. They would often tell us "halfway there" or "5 more minutes" as we hiked up seemingly endless stairs.

It was especially interesting to interact with the children. There were kids as young as 5 or 6 running and climbing all over, seemingly fearless. At one point when we were up near the top of a peak, we couldn't quite find the trail to get to the lookout point, and two young kids saw us from a distance and started shouting "this way!" and running to us to guide us (I was pretty terrified that they could fall off an edge!).

During lunch time, we found a nice spot in a shady, cool cave where we decided to eat our sandwiches. There was a young Bedouin girl sitting near us in the cave, and she approached us to sell us a pack of postcards. We said no, so then she just sat with us and we talked with her about the topics that she could manage in English: family, where she lives, where she goes to school and so on. The conversation was frequently interrupted by attempts to sell us the postcards.

She was also really interested in playing with our Kindle and our digital camera. It was sort of adorable how kids in every culture seem to love gadgets and can figure out how to use them so quickly. She took a picture of us, during which we were just hoping that she didn't turn and run with the camera. Fortunately she had no such plans, so here is the picture:

There's really a lot more to tell from the trip, since we had so many experiences and met such interesting people, but this post seems long enough. I'll try to do another post with more stories and definitely will share an album with more pictures sometime soon.

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