Petra day one
After an 11 hour day in Petra I felt disgusting. Good, well earned disgusting. Lots of fine walking and high places. Impressive buildings carved out of cliff face; shocking not for the amount of rock used to create them but for the amount taken away. What made the day was something else though. It was tea with a Bedouin. He was a lute player and he lived amidst his souvenirs on top of the world. And, through his simple hospitality, he restored my faith in people. He chose us over others at the viewpoint, inviting us in for tea, which he refused any money for, thus he felt more like a friend. He showed us such quiet warmth of a kind I feel very rarely from complete strangers. He serenaded us as we sat on cushions sipping sweet tea in the shade. A breeze blew through which scattered any flies. The view encompassed Jordan, the Negev desert of Israel, perhaps even Saudi Arabia on a clear day. Most of the tourists had dispersed as the afternoon light grew golden.
There are some moments which grip me utterly and absolutely. Not for their tension or excitement, just for their completeness. I breathe softly. I make no sudden movements. Breathtakingly peaceful. Each piece fits into it’s place exactly, and holds each other in its arms.
I walked back down the mountain steps in a daze as the last light crawled up over the kings’ tombs carved out of the rock face. The tourists were gone. The Bedouin had packed away their stalls and sat around in groups, drinking tea, tending to their donkeys. The walk back out the siq felt 3 or 4 times longer than when we had arrived full of energy. We ended the day with a beer in the cave bar (real cave). Deliciously grimy with sand, dust and sweat I sat in what claims to be the oldest bar in the world – est. 1st century B.C. – as my mind drifted from high places to hot showers.
An aside on touts
The thing that really gets to me, that weighs me down, is the realisation that I have become suspicious of, even hostile towards, friendly and welcoming gestures. In Jordan there has not been the aggression of, say, Luxor in Egypt, but still I brace myself at the words “Welcome … where are you from?” and I hate myself for it. I have met some lovely people (like Bedouin lute players) but for every person genuine in their interest there have been taxi drivers, felucca captains, stall holders and tour guides pushing their services onto me and into my face. Some of them, once I have refused once, accept and remain friendly, some walk away. Others won’t take no and action on my part is needed: stronger refusal or something more inventive such as choosing “Alba” and “Gaelic” for country and language thus dissuading even the best Arab linguists. Whichever of these, it becomes easier at times to ignore even a service I might be interested in than chance a glance. It toughens me and wears me down. Well what can I do? I suppose this. I can walk away from the pushy, I can smile at the crazies, and I can try to still stay open for real friendliness, whenever it comes my way.
Petra day two
We rode out on horses. Gemma wanted an Indiana Jones moment – riding out of this magnificent site. Due to a miscommunication, it became quite a ride indeed. Most people are led out on an ambling horse if they wish. Gemma spoke to a horse guide and told him “I can ride myself, is it possible not to be led?” he agreed and showed her to a “gentle” horse whilst waving me over to a “strong” one. I really should have confirmed with the guide that I have no idea what I am doing on a horse, but I did not. It was one of those times: he assumed I could ride this beast (despite him having to remind me to put my feet in the stirrups and pick up the reins!), I had no idea, and the path was set for (mis)adventure ahead. For a few metres he walked his horse alongside us as mine walked. All good. Then he started shouting encouragement and we broke into a canter. Ok. It was exciting and I was still more or less in control, albeit bouncing rather wildly. I was enjoying the ride and even humming the theme tune “dum da da dum, dum de dum”. Then, due I believe to a holler from the guide and a slap to the horse’s ass, we galloped. It was wonderful and terrifying. As I felt my hat be taken inch by inch from my head by the wind I thought about freeing a hand to save it, but decided against the idea, wisely I imagine. We were (quickly) approaching a horse-drawn carriage, the horse in front looking left, it’s head blocking the rest of the path on the left side. I pulled up at the reigns. Nothing changed. (I now know that apparently one pulls down at reigns to slow a horse.) I thought ok, my horse will know what to do. I mean Someone must be in control… Come on beast, to the right of the carriage! We went left. I thought ok, these animals aren’t stupid, either we will slow down or carriage horse will move. Nope. We ploughed at full stream into the neck of the horse. Tourists in the carriage screamed (for a second I imagined it was the horse). I had horrible images of a decapitated horse – the power with which we ploughed through it felt tremendous. I don’t know what happened to it. We kept on going. I pulled with more desperation. Perhaps my steed felt it and felt sorry for me, the sack of potatoes on it’s back. Perhaps it decided not to plough through the next obstacle – a group of about 10 horses and guides blocking the path. It slowed to a walking pace just in time for me to start an uncontrollable slide to it’s right flank, which ended with me in the dirt, being untangled from stirrups and shouted at by the group of horse guides, angry and amazed. I was trying to recover as the disgruntled owner of my horse rode up to return my hat. The horse looked vaguely bored, as if wild rampages into other horses were a daily occurrence. I don’t know, perhaps for him they were. I was still shaking as I climbed into the car some 20 minutes later.
It was a slightly painful, fully exhilarating end to Petra, the once-lost wonder of the world.