JORDAN (JUL 2008)
If you have ever been to Petra in Jordan you will understand & appreciate this one, we decided to hire a car in Jordan which was a job in itself if you don’t speak Arabic which we don’t, with the intention of driving around the country in a clockwise direction, we started going up to the northern border with Syria, and then proceeded down the Jordan valley to the Dead Sea, meandering in & out, up and down the mountain ranges and points of interests along the way, with one of our prime destinations being the ancient Petra Archaeological Park, where the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people in centuries past had sculptured & carved out tombs, alters, temples, streets, and even a 3,000 seat roman style theatre from the solid rock walls & floors of the surrounding mountains & valleys several thousand years ago!.
Anyway, we arrived at the gates of Petra the evening before we intended to visit the historic site, so we stayed at the Movenpic Hotel which just happens to be about one hundred meters from the front gate of the Petra Archaeological Park, as I was aware that I would need to be there first thing if I wanted to get photos of the site without other people in them, so the following morning we got up early and went the entry gate to be first in line, which we were, the gate/ticket office was signed to open at 6.00am however it did not open until much later, during which time we had decided to go and have some breakfast, upon our return the park was opened and people everywhere, I was not happy, because I thought that my photo opportunities had just been taken away, anyway we bought the ticket and proceeded through the gates into the park, people everywhere, we knew that there was a several kilometre walk to the first site being the “Treasury” through the canyon walls, called the Siq, so I though the best way to get to the front of the crowd was to hire a couple of the horse & carriage’s to get there a bit quicker than the rest.
After some negotiations, we managed to hire two of these horse & carriages, and away we went, not at a trot, but at a steady gallop!!, the horse & drivers of these carriages were obviously well versed in the navigation of getting there, as they were missing the walls of the canyon by what seemed to be millimetres, however despite the close shaves we arrived safely at the “Treasury”, made famous by the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” starring actor Harrison Ford, what an amazing sight, a precision sculpture carved out of the raw rock walls of the mountains, inside the temple, the natural colours of the rock were amazing.
From here we ventured further into the park past the roman style theatre, along the ancient streets to the base of the long climb up the rock stairs to go to the “Monastery”, just as we were about to commence the climb of the 800 plus stairs a young Arab boy came out from one of the tombs, he spoke good basic English and offered us to hire one or more of his donkeys to ride up to the Monastery, the other two guys with me declined, however I decided to take him up on his offer, so I said to the other guys I’ll take the Donkey, see you up there, as they commenced the climb, the young lad saddled my donkey.
The young boy Muhammad, was nine years old, orphaned and had lived in the tombs all of his life as did his parents, apparently they were indigenes to the area, he had three donkeys and had taken over the donkey hire business from his dad, after he has passed away, he stated that he had been doing this trip up and down to the Monastery for as long as he could remember, and suggested that it had been since the age of three, his three donkeys all had names, the one he selected for me he had named “Jackson” after the singer (Michael), so once saddled we set off up the mountains to the Monastery.
I was surprised at the agility of the donkey, as well as his seemly disregard to danger, at some points the stairs that had been chiselled out of the bare rock were on the very extremities of the mountain without any rails or safety fences, perhaps only a meter wide which seems to be plenty wide enough, but when there is a straight drop down of hundred or more meters it seemed very narrow, the pathway up to the Monastery was probably several kilometres from where I had hire the donkey, there were apparently about 850 steps of various heights and as mentioned some of the pathway was on the outside of the mountain, some of which would “zigzag” up the side of the mountain
As I rode my trusty steed, along the pathway, you could hear the steady clippity-clop, clippity-clop of his hooves on the bare rock echoing through-out the canyons in the dense morning air, and when he would come to a point that caused him (the donkey) to change direction, he would stop & pause as if he had had enough of carrying this heavy load up the hill, and take in a big breath, and exhale whilst dropping his ears, it just reminded me of the donkey in the “Shrek” movies, he undoubtedly had a personality, anyway I arrived safely at the top of the Monastery before the others, fresh and ready to go, but I can’t say that for the other when they arrived, so take the donkey if you go, it was great.