The Holy Grail

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Petra, Jordan

I have to admit that the first time I stood up and took note of that mystical rose cut facade in the rock was when it was shown in all its glory in the third Indian Jones film, The Last Crusade. It was the final resting point of “The Holy Grail” or the last cup that Jesus drank from. And although the movie was just that, a movie, it put Petra on the map for me when I was 9 years old. But 23 years later here we all were, back on the bus heading north west from Wadi Rum deeper into the red sandstone mountains and caverns to visit one of the seven wonders of the world, and this would mark off number six for Murray and I.

We had two days to explore this lost city with Faizal letting us know time and time again that the second day would be much more enjoyable, when we wouldn’t be rocking up at midday with the other 8,000 daily visitors and too many Russians. Anyway, our first look at the location of Petra or Wadi Musa was on top of the highland plain at a lookout point which gave you a birds eye view of the deep red rose rock with huge cracks and crevasses to which the ancient city was hiding. To foster some energy in what was going to be a long day again, we grabbed a shawerma from the town before slowly twisting and turning down the hillside in our big bus (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the 12 of us were transported by big bus and not minibus. We all had six seats each to the disgust of one of our fellow travelers adamant to make the point to Faizal over and over again that “this was against Intrepid policy!!” but we didn’t have a choice).

We checked into La Maison hotel and waited out in the foyer for 30 minutes so everyone could prepare themselves for a long day ahead, you know, the right shoes, sunscreen, hat and water. We then marched out of the hotel and 5 minutes around the corner to the entrance of Jordan’s key selling point. This is what we had all be waiting for. Touts lined the streets selling head scarfs, water and horse and cart rides down the 1km pass called the Siq to the start of the lost city. The sight was chaotic with a mess of horses galloping full steam while young Jordanian men adorned with charcoal eyeliner making them look truly Aladdin like pestered you for your business. If you didn’t want to ride a horse, donkey or camel there was always a horse and cart which squeezed through the Siq walls terrorising the walking tourists that feared for their lives. It becoming apparent very quickly that the carts were for all the fatties that couldn’t make the 1km trek in or out to the wonder and in my book, probably didn’t deserve to be their if their own feet couldn’t carry them (yes I know..harsh but true).

We walked the narrow gorge flanked both sides by that beautiful red rose sandstone that soared over 80 feet in height. You wound your way deeper inside this incredible pass before Faizal asked us all to stop and put our backs up to one side of the rocks. On his command we were to take three steps out and look to our left, and like a bunch of idiots we all did. “Can you see it..can you see it?” Faizal remarked. “See what?” was the collective response until I turned to my right side and there it was…peaking through the exit to the Siq was the facade of the Al-Kahzneh, the most famous structure of Petra, yes the Treasury.

We practically all burst through the main opening to see the sight in all its glory and even though we were standing their gawking with another million people plus a few camels, donkeys and fatties in carts, the site truly took your breath away. A massive facade 30 meters wide and 40 meters in height was carved right out of the sheer dusty pink rock face, dwarfing everything else around it. Here it hid from the rest of the world since the 1st century (that’s 2000 years ago) as a tomb for an important Nabataean king. Colonnades were perfectly cut into the rock where angels looked down from the top to the hollowed out door centre stage. But this was only one of the many sites that made up Petra to which the city at large kicked off around the 6th century BC by those very talented Nabataean Arabs, a nomadic tribe that settled in the area and laid these commercial foundations extending into Syria.

The entire site has had one wave of rulers after another and many wars fought which included; attempts by the Seleucid king Antigonus, the Roman emperor Pompey and Herod the Great all until about 100AD, when the Romans took over. Then they had enough and moved their empire to Constantinople before the The Crusaders had to have a piece of it in the 12th century. But they also soon withdrew, leaving Petra to the local people until the early 19th century when it was rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. Now Faizal did his best to explain some of this to us but his accent kinda confused things and his quirky sense of humor probably made it even worse so we all resorted to our LP guides and the **** tourist brochure we received with out entry tickets.

It was early afternoon and Faizal was now leaving us to retire to La Maison and we had the next day and a half to explore at our own will. I was embarrassed by the fact I kinda thought Petra was just that one off awesome looking building in the movie but turns out there was a bit more too it, like 260,000 square meters more! A little overwhelmed and tired from a restless night sleep with the Bedouins in the desert, Murray and I decided to take the afternoon off, follow Faizals lead to return to our comfy abode and shower off the sand which had entered every fold of skin. We would return fresh and early the next morning before the tour buses and the heat to explore at leisure. After a team dinner of Mansaf, the Jordanian national dish of lamb boiled in fermented yogurt and spices before being spread on rice (traditionally customary to eat the eye-balls) and a comfy night sleep in clean clean sheets, we were ready.

The following morning it was cool and overcast as we traversed through the Siq again and out in-front of the Treasury where this time, only a handful of people sat quietly. We entered the main valley where hundreds of elaborate rock cut tombs with intricate carvings remained through earthquakes and the like. On the side of a mountain was a Nabataean built Roman style theater which could seat over 3,000 people and we walked further through past obelisks, sacrificial altars, temples and colonnaded streets. We had decided to climb the 800 steps up through the mountain scape to Ad-Deir Monastery. One foot after another we clambered up the stairs to look back higher and higher over Wadi Musa and the mystical city. It was getting colder and colder as we climbed before nearing a corner to find the monumental Ad-Deir, The Monastery. This facade was built in the 1st century and measured 50 meters in height by 40 meters. It was truly beautiful. Opposite the site was a small tea house to which we sat with an Arabic coffee and tea with mint just to take in the sight in silence. Right behind us was a look out to which you could see Israel down below, we were right on the border. And the fact we were near but the only people around at the site, it felt like it was all ours, just for a moment.

But like all things our time at Petra had to come to an end. And although I was really looking forward to seeing where Indiana found that “Holy Grail” and rode through the Siq back out into the sunset, I have to say that in reality, Petra was a whole lot better then an awesome adventure movie. It really was a magnificent wonder standing for ages and ages, there long before us and hopefully long after us.

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