Thursday, April 15, 2004


I am home again, and my body is all ache. We hiked for what seemed like forever in the hills surrounding Petra.

Petra--how to describe it. The famous "lost city" of the Nabotean Empire, built entirely from the red stone of the Jordanian Desert. To get into it, you must walk over a kilometer through the "siq," a narrow pathway forged between two sky-high cliffs. When you reach the end, the facade of the most impressive structure--the Treasury--is just visible between them. Then you step out into this rocky valley, and there it is, this massive tomb cut from the rock face, with huge corinthian columns and aging Hellenistic statues perched on impossibly delicate ledges. It is huge, bright coral-colored, and beautifully preserved, having been so well protected from the desert wind by the cliffs that encircle it.

From there you can continue on the length of the city, with eroding pillars and hundreds of tombs and temples and caves cut from stone. It is hard to imagine what it must have looked like in its prime--at one time Petra had a population of 30,000 people. Then it was abandoned for 1500 years, inhabited on and off by nomadic Bedouins, until its rediscovery in the 19th century. I have never seen anything like it.

For some of the higher hikes, we did the smart thing and hired some donkeys to take us up the steep steps. That felt a tad precarious, on the back of this wheezing beast as it tripped its way up these narrow rock stairways, with a gaping drop two inches from its hooves. But they got us safely up to the high place of sacrifice, where we saw the alter, complete with gutters for draining blood and sites for burning the bones of animals and the unfortunate virgins whose fathers gained prominence in the communtiy through their sacrifice. From there you could see the entire city, and the red valley spread out for miles.

After several hours in the sun, hiking through caves and ruins, we would eat huge Bedouin feasts of lamb and yogurt and rice and salad and bread, and drink non-alcoholic beer, as Muslim Petra does not serve alcohol in any establishment. Everywhere we went the people would welcome us and talk to us and ask us where we were from. They reacted with indifference to Germany, but every time I said I was American, their eyes would light up and they would say "Welcome! America and Jordan friends!" So perhaps not everyone hates us. Or perhaps it had more to do with the fact that I am an American woman that apparantly most Jordanian men found attractive, as evidenced by the fact that inevitably they asked if Bernt and I were married, if I was looking for a husband, and if I would marry a Bedouin. When I told them I had a boyfriend (and they were always surprised to find that it was not Bernt--why were we travelling together then?) they asked if maybe, since I was not married yet...

One man asked me if I would trade my boyfriend in for a Bedouin. When I said that Jef might not like that, he said "tell him I will give him 100 camels." Jef should be very proud, as 100 camels is quite a lot for just one wife. Hopefully he will not be too upset that I took the liberty of turning down the offer. Another man, who worked at our hotel, insisted on giving me tea and food every time he saw me, and we would have stilted conversations in sign language, in which he asked me several times, if I interpereted correctly, if I would marry him.

Last night Bernt and I were hoping to watch the sunset. We saw a particularly lovely perch on the roof of a hotel high above the city. When we went in and asked the proprieter if we might sit on his roof and order a cup of tea, he said "of course" and proceeded to carry two chairs and a table up to the roof. As we sat there, he brought up, in twenty minute intervals, the following: sweet tea, Arab coffee, mango juice, and cake. When we left a little later, after a spectacular sunset, we asked if we could pay him and he said no, everything was free, welcome to Jordan.

This morning, we sadly said goodbye to Petra, and began the long journey back to Jerusalem. Now I am resting, and planning my next visit to the Hashemite Kingdom.

No comments: