Another late start today, but we finally check out of the Palace Hotel in Amman around 10am, and by 11:00 we’re on the Desert Highway headed to Wadi Musa, the town next to Petra. Desert Highway is 1 of 3 major highways running north/south through Jordan, the other 2 being the King’s Highway and the lightly used Dead Sea Highway. The Desert Highway is the most direct to Petra, however, and actually a comfortable 2 ½ hour drive along smooth roads. The Jordan desert is dry, expansive, and barren as you’d imagine. Little to see, and few notable landmarks, save for the occasional herd of sheep or goats being led by a Bedouin man.
By 2:00 we’re in Wadi Musa, the town which has grown up around Petra. A classic tourist town, Wadi Musa boasts numerous hotels, eating establishments, internet cafes, and even bookstores that will burn your digital images onto DVDs. We’re staying at the Petra Palace Hotel, a 2 star posing as a 3 star, about a 10 minute walk from the Petra Visitor Center. And, of course, that requisite scourge of cultural tackiness, the “gift shop”, abounds the length of the path leading to the visitor center.
All tickets to enter Petra are sold at the visitor center, and prices vary depending on how many days you wish to enter the site; 21 JD for 1 day, 26 for 2, 31 for 3 days. 3 day passes in hand, we head in about 3:00, with about 4 hours to explore before sunset brings Petra to a close.
Even the 1200 meter walk in is a highlight of Petra, as the winding path and smooth, sheer rock walls of As-Siq dazzle with color and shape. Good photos will have to wait, however, as by late afternoon As-Siq is awash in shadows. But the beauty and magnitude of this narrow path through 80 meter high red rock walls impresses in a way that must be experienced to truly appreciate.
And then you see it… the Treasury. As-Siq breaks onto a small plain, with the spectacular Treasury carved into the flat red rock face just before you. This most famous of Petra monuments, the Treasury astonishes in a manner reserved for only the greatest of human architectural achievements. To understand this building (like all of Petra) was carved, not built, into solid rock boggles the mind and staggers the imagination. Far be it for me to meagerly endeavor to the eloquence of prose Petra, and the Treasury in particular, has inspired through the years. In the simplest terms, one must really see it to believe it.
Unfortunately, it is now my sad duty to report that other aspects of Petra are, in fact, all too believable. Specifically I’m referring to the trash strewn about in front of the Treasury and elsewhere on the paths through Petra. This must be cleaned up; there is no excuse to be waiting for a trash bag to blow out of the frame before taking a picture in Petra. And, at least as disturbing to my eye and sensibilities, the outrageous continuation of tacky souvenir stands located every few hundred feet through Petra. A rather large one sullies the view just opposite the Treasury, and these flimsy stands of crass commercialism multiply throughout the site, at least as far as the Urn Tomb, the furthest point we reached today.
Some may accuse me of being a cultural snob of sorts, unfeeling toward the locals whose livelihoods depend on Petra and the tourist dollars it attracts. While I find all such tourist traps an annoying eyesore, even those outside the main gates, I recognize the importance of such a site to the local economy. However, something about their inclusion in the heart of Petra really makes me cringe. Beyond tacky, I find it offensive to the sense of beauty and perseverance of will the ancients demonstrated in fashioning this city “half as old as time”. It is a true shame to me, and I’m afraid as much as I remember Petra, I will remember this as well.
Copyright ©2008 eric flohr