Saturday, December 20, 2008


The next two days of our Jordan trip took us to Petra. If you've seen the Indiana Jones movie The Last Crusade, then you will recognize some of these photos. Petra means "rock." Excavations in the 1950s unearthed a neolithic village at Al-Beidha which dates from about 7000 BC, and now only 5% of Petra has been excavated. The real stars of Petra were the Nabataeans, a nomadic tribe from western Arabia who settled in the area around the 6th century BC. They soon became rich by plundering and then by levying tolls on the trade caravans in the area. The temples and tombs are hewn from towering rock walls of multi-colored sandstone. The desert tribes who sculpted them cleverly hid their capital city from the outside world. It wasn't until Johann Ludwig Burckhardt of Switzerland, in the early 1800s on a long-planned expedition, who lived as a Bedouin and passed himself off as a Sheikh so he could obtain the trust of the local people, that the western world was finally allowed (unknowingly) into the legendary city.

We arrived in the modern city of Petra after the sun had already gone down, but we were in time to buy tickets to the Petra by Candlelight tour at 8:30 PM. It was beautiful to hike through the narrow canyon (the Siq) at night, especially with the path lined with paper bags with candles inside and a full moon in the sky. We were told by our guide that there are thousands of candles used for each candlelight tour. As we came out of the canyon after a short 2 kilometer hike, we were speechless. The Treasury is the first building on the hike, and it is the one featured in the Indiana Jones movie. There were candle bags across the steps of the building and it was a spectacular sight. Bedouin musicians were performing on ancient string instruments and singing haunting songs, and everyone sat down on rugs to watch. It was pretty cold that night, so we were all bundled up as much as possible. Compared to Utah this time of year, the temperature was balmy, but the wind was pretty nippy and Abbey got too cold and too tired before the festivities ended, so we left early and missed the Bedouin storytelling.

The next morning we were up and ready to see Petra with sunlight. At first we felt right at home, because the canyons in Southern Utah are much like Petra's rock formations. It was glorious and overwhelming to stand in front of these cliffs and think of the hands that carved the pillars, the statues, and the gorgons. The site was filled with people, camels, donkeys, and aggressive souvenir-sellers. We were quickly convinced that we needed a camel ride, so Brett and Abbey got on one and I got on another. It was surprisingly comfortable to ride around the square, but Abbey later accurately described it as a teeter totter ride. Camels are notoriously ornery and Brett's camel "Jack"quickly took liberties with the journey and tried to find his own route. My camel decided to reprimand Jack with a bite to the ear when we were posing for pictures.

As we explored the different buildings and sites, I learned that a writer I had been told about was there in Petra selling her book entitled Married to a Bedouin. Marguerite van Geldermalsen is a New Zealand-born nurse who was traveling in Jordan in 1978 with friends. When they were invited to stay the night in a local souvenir-seller's cave in Petra, they accepted and prepared for an adventure. Marguerite's adventure continued throughout her life, because she ended up marrying the kind Bedouin host and raising a family in a 2,000 year old cave. She became the resident nurse for the tribe there and learned to live like a Bedouin.

Sure enough, as we explored the various souvenir tables, we noticed Marguerite standing out with her red hair and freckle-faced complexion in a sea of Arabs. She was kind and signed one of her books for me. She answered a few questions and told us about her grown children who are very educated and accomplished. Her husband died a few years ago, but she still stays connected to Jordan and lives there as well as Australia. Marguerite then sold me some earrings made by the enterprise for local women that she supports. The Noor Al-Hussein Foundation provides training and marketing assistance to ventures which create needed jobs for women and revive traditional craftsmanship throughout Jordan. Marguerite has used her notoriety to bring attention and much needed sales to these ventures. I walked away from her with so many questions about how a very civilized woman could embrace such a seemingly backward culture. I will have to read her book to uncover that life-altering decision.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Brett went native on us and wore his Arab headgear all day in Petra. We had quite a few second glances with some Arab men commenting about what they thought of this obviously white western man wearing a traditional Arabic garment. Some of these comments were given with half smiles, some with less than friendly stares. Maybe it was a good thing we didn't know Arabic this time. All through Petra there are men and boys who are high pressure salesmen trying to convince all the visitors to hire their horse, or camel for the trip or to buy their handmade jewelry. As we were leaving Petra, another horse rider was pressuring us to hire his horse for the rest of the walk out. "For your daughter!" he would say to Brett. When he realized we weren't taking the bait, he yelled to Brett, "For YOU Lawrence of Arabia!" Brett is going to repeat that story a few thousand times. I think he liked that little comment, made in derision, but complimentary nonetheless.

Here is the inside of a tomb we explored.

The aggressive salespeople that filled Petra almost outnumbered the tourists the day we were there. Some of them were very charming, others not so much. I was amazed at the number of children there on a week day - school? One family caught our eye and we asked if we could take a picture of the mother with her three children. Two of the children ran off to play before I snapped the picture, but hopefully you can get some idea of the personality of this family. She was very kind, saw that I had bought Marguerite's book, and told me that she was a cousin of Marguerite's husband - a celebrity! When we left she said, "A gift for your daughter!" Then she wrapped a bead bracelet around Abbey's wrist. Brett promptly gave some money to one of the little girls. A generous heart can be found in all walks of life.

Abbey was a trooper through this whole adventure, so I must give her credit for not being the typical whiny kid on vacation. She was brave, patient, and tough, and she really enjoyed our trip. She is a lucky kid to be able to have these international experiences. As an eight year old I don't think I could have been as resilient as she is. Way to go Abbey!

The rest of our trip in Jordan was pretty much uneventful. We stayed in Amman the last night and then flew back to Doha. I never thought I would be happy to say I live in Doha, but after visiting such an impoverished country, I have a new appreciation for the thriving economy and the industrious people who care for their surroundings here. I guess oil money makes the difference, but there is also hope in Qatar with a ruler who puts his people and their growth high on his list of priorities.

I'm sorry if I got a little too detailed in this travel log. I had requests from Kristy and others to give details, so I did. Thanks for reading!


Amy said...

I absolutely love the travel logs, especially about places I will probably never have the chance to visit. I didn't know any of the history behind Petra. Watching the Indiana Jones film, I seriously thought it was a made up set! Great stories. Please say hi to Laurence for us!

Kristy said...

So awesome! You guys are so stinkin' cool. I love all the pictures, but especially the one of Abbey showing her muscles. Thanks for the details! It was just what I wanted!