Day 6: 800 Steps of Sightseeing
The next couple days marked a significant change in our press trip, where we became journalists who looked and felt rather than took notes. There were no more briefings or official meetings. This was our chance to get to now the country for ourselves, not through the eyes of officials or their official stance on the country’s issues.
Sure, we were to visit some of the most tourist-filled sites and landmarks of the country, but we were getting a feel for the land, hiking on its sandy and rocky surfaces and touching its rare and depleting water resources.
This particular day, we were visiting the one place I was told not to miss by every single person that knew about my trip to Jordan – Petra. Hidden among the shaded hills and rocky valleys, this ancient Nabatean village is not only one of the modern wonders of the world, but it is also a very good hike.
We began by walking by the horses and donkeys at the entrance to Petra, where locals try to lure tourists into a traditional ride on their carriages or saddles into the village. As poor and likely stingy journalists, we opted not to take the ride. After all, we needed the workout after days of lavish meals and sitting lazily taking notes on comfortable briefing halls. It was about time for a walk or maybe even a hike.
We walked along the entrance to the gorge, gazing in awe at the remains of the Nabatean arch and the intricate and sophisticated water piping system developed by the residents many years ago. The first part of the trip was not too much of a hike as we walked along the flat lands and looked at the first instances of the numerous tombs to come.
The moment every Petra tourist waits for is not so much amazing just in itself, but rather in its context and element of surprise. Walking through the dark, cave-like, gorge of the entrance to Petra, the breathtaking treasury is an unexpected surprise. Perhaps this is why the most famous shot of the treasury is from this very view. It is as if the first break of dawn that shines though a narrow crack in the wall. The view is beautiful and as you walk though the crack, you find yourself face to face with…
…a camel. Or maybe two. At the foot of the treasury, several camels await tourists who pay to have their picture taken on the camel as they ride around in front of the building. The treasury itself is nothing of the sort. Much like other buildings in the ancient Nabotean village, this is actually a tomb. Unfortunately, the British didn’t know that and shot at it quite a bit, only to realize that there was no treasure to be found.
After playing the traditional tourist role and taking a great number of pictures in front of the treasury, we continued our walk through the village and found an amphitheater, among many other smaller tombs. We also found several unruly and risk-taking local children climbing dangerously close to the edges of the various cliffs in the village. Their acrobatic movements and the abandoned donkey in one of the cave tombs told us that they spend quite a lot of time here, either trying to sell donkey rides or just, quite literally, living on the edge.
After a traditional Jordanian lunch near the treasury, we braced ourselves for the hike that was to come. About 800 rock-cut steps and a scorching-ly hot and dehydrating hour later, we found ourselves in front of another large tomb, much like the famed treasury but much much larger in size.
We took a deep breath and congratulated ourselves on our first and only major workout of the trip. Those who still had some energy or determination left, took the smaller hike even higher up to see the view of Wadi Araba, which might just put the Grand Canyon to shame.
A long and sandy shower later, we found out that not only did we have to hike today, but we were also cooking our very own dinner at a restaurant called Petra Kitchen. We were to cook traditional Jordanian food such as tabouleh salad (what I worked on) and other dishes like baba ghanoush, pita meat sandwiches and rice and meat dishes. What we didn’t know was that we were cooking our meal together with Brazilian soap stars, who, being the divas that they were, showed up about 2 hours late to cook and tape their cooking session for TV Globo. The show, called Viver a Vida, featured a main character who plays a travel guide and happened to be in Petra. The cooking show was a post-show add-on, where the viewers got to “cook with the stars” and well, we had to “wait for the stars.” The interesting outcome I got out of it was when I chatted with the star of the show, Thiago Lacerda, over a glass of wine and was interviewed for Brazilian television. I have yet to find out when or where I will be able to find my 5 minutes of fame, but as a family friend noted “that’s a lot of trouble to go to in order to pick up a girl.”
Here’s a link to the TV Globo video (you can see some of the people from our trip in the background): http://video.globo.com/Videos/Player/Entretenimento/0,,GIM1083300-7822-THIAGO+LACERDA+PREPARA+RECEITA+EM+RESTAURANTE+DA+JORDANIA,00.html
After the dinner, which, surprise surprise, we were finally able to eat about two hours later, we walked over to the Cave Bar, which is located in a Nabatean-like cave. We finally ordered some hookah for the first time on this trip, or as it is very technically called by many Jordanians, even, interestingly enough on receipts, hubbly-bubbly. In addition, the Cave Bar brought some much needed relaxed entertainment, where most of the members of our group took some time to dance around the restaurant, sometimes with the bar’s wait staff in tow, teaching their American counterparts the art of the “dabke,” a traditional Arabic dance.