Being a big Indiana Jones fan, I was very excited to visit Petra, the site of the last scenes from, Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. But it didn’t take long to find out there was much more to Petra than the Treasury – the facade carved out the face of a sandstone wall. One of many such carvings scattered throughout this ancient settlement by the Nabataean tribes some 2200 years ago.
I was quickly learning that getting to and from these national monuments in Jordan are a monumental task. The highway system, although fairly good roads, are minimal. We departed the Dead Sea around noon, with an anticipated three-hour drive into Petra. There is a high rugged rough mountain ridge that runs north and south through Jordan and my google map showed that road into Petra laid along that spine, with Petra sitting at its southern tip. The two major highways in Jordan run north and south along east and west sides of this ridge.
With my husband behind the wheel, and my daughter riding shotgun, we took the first main road we came upon, to take us up to that spine, where we came to a fork in the road. There were no signs. To the right was a very narrow two-lane windy paved road. A boy who looked about 10-years-old was on his donkey herding goats up that road that was strewed with rocks that had fallen from a roadside hill. To the left was most likely the road to the highway on the far side of the ridge that would be the longer way down and around to Petra. My iPhone map ap showed Petra down the right fork.
At the top of the first little hill was a blown-out shell of a house where a dozen Jordanian youngsters were talking and smoking. ‘Do we stop and ask if we are on the right road? Do they even speak English?’ At this point we felt it was worth our chances to ask – and they quickly responded by pointing down the road we were on and saying “Petra” over and over. Then they asked for more smokes with hand motions. Which we did not have. Note to self, pick up smokes for future “toll” roads.
For the next two hours we meandered through small town after small town, with our gutless wonder of a car whining fiercely up some of the higher passes. Eventually we came over a ridge and saw a sign to Petra, and wound our way down into a larger town and to our hotel that sat across the street from the entrance into the Petra monuments.
We were greeted in the lobby with a refreshing and very flavorful hibiscus juice, very common in Jordan. And something I have looked for but never found in the US. After unpacking and relaxing for a bit, we headed down the street a couple of blocks to a restaurant, the Petra Kitchen, where we would spend the next couple of hours learning how to make a traditional Jordanian meal. We were the only people signed up for that evening, so we had a good ratio of staff to our party of three creating a very hands on amazing experience. The kitchen soon was filled with the aromas of cardamom, cloves, mint, sumac, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon all emanating from dishes of Green Wheat Soup, Tahina Salad, Baba Ganuj, Fatoosh and Suiyat dijaj (oven-roasted chicken).
With a full belly and exhausted from a long day, we all slept well in our comfortable and very large room and awoke early to beat the crowds and the heat in viewing the Petra monuments. We were greeted with horse guides willing to take us to the mouth of ancient Petra, some 500 hundred yards away on horseback – for a minimal, somewhat mandatory tip. We figured we could walk that distance and wanted to slowly take in all that lay before us, so we passed on the offer.
We walked about 2 km along a well-groomed meandering path that at one point would have been the river bottom of an ancient river. With signs along the walls showing the different levels that water passed through over the centuries. The walk was serene and peaceful except for the little boys pleading with you to buy their packet of postcards. One little boy of no more than 10-years-old hit on my 23-year-old daughter, “Miss, I think you dropped something – my heart.” What a sales pitch!
At the end of the walkway you are greeted with the giant facade of the Treasury – what a sight. The smoothness and the perfection of cuts is amazing, and the size and stature mind-blowing. Sadly, it is riddled with bullet holes from Bedouins who have tried over the years to release treasures supposedly hidden within the ruins. There are camels available for rides, but I chose to use them as part of the local scene. And donkeys available to take you up to the higher monuments along tight switch-back stone paths.
We walked another 2 km along the river bottom that widened out, showcasing an amphitheater, multiple cave dwellings, and flights of stairs leading up to rock face after rock face carved into amazing facades, many only partially finished or greatly eroded over time. Around a bend sits the strewed remains of a Roman Empire existence. Pillars and stone walls are all that are left of that establishment.
Past this point is an area that is staked – “Enter at your own risk. Guides are recommended.” We decided to tread slowly ahead to see what the trouble was being alluded to. Apparently it is an area not secure, so bandits may approach you. The last stretch was a tricky path and too steep for my fear of heights, so my daughter and husband trudged on and were rewarded with one of the most amazing sights of our trip of a view of the Monastery – that I got to share through pictures.
Before the heat of the day became too much we made our way back out to the streets of Petra and rested before heading on to our next destination: Wadi Rum, where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed and T.E. Lawrence made his famous trek across a part of the Arabian Desert.
Check out the Global Gallery – Jordan: Petra for more amazing pictures from this ancient hidden city.