Filling the Bucket List – The Road to Petra

After our wonderful home hosted dinner, we were up early and loaded on to our bus.  We did have to make one quick stop on the way out of town…back at the home we had visited last night.  Why?  Well because my mother left her glasses there!  Yep, it was her.  Actually this wouldn’t be the last time we had an issue with her and her glasses! 

The ride from Amman to Petra is several hours long buy we had a couple of stops along the way so it did not seem that long, plus the bus had Wi-Fi so I was able to work for a bit. 

Our first stop was Mount Nebo, where Moses stood to view, but not enter, the Promised Land.  I will admit, the views from here  are stunning and expansive.  From the summit, if the day is clear, you could see the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jericho, Bethlehem, and a vast distance away, the hills of Jerusalem. 

Then in the 3rd or 4th century, a small church was built there and it became an important pilgrimage site.  In fact, the monks began showing pilgrims an empty “tomb of Moses.”  The church was expanded into a grand basilica with an amazing collection of Byzantine mosaics and an elaborate baptistry.  Little is left of this early building, but in the 1930’s the site was excavated and many of the mosaics were uncovered.  They are still mostly intact and they are breathtaking!

We then made a short drive to visit a shop where amazing mosaics are still produced by hand.  This shop is sponsored by the Noor Foundation as a Community Development Program.  It was a very interesting lesson and my goodness those workers are patient! 

After a  short time in the shop, where I was allowed to sit with some of the workers and they graciously shared a snack of ripe figs!  Yummy!! It did briefly cross my mind that taking fresh produce from random strangers in a mosaic shop in Jordan may not have been my smartest move, but not until after I had already eaten it…spoiler alert:  It didn’t kill me! 

We then headed to Madaba to visit the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George.  This church has an unbelievable mosaic map.  The map was created in 560 AD and discovered in 1884 during the excavation of what they thought was a modest Byzantine church.  This amazing work contained over two million pieces and it depicts all of the major biblical sites of the Middle East from Egypt to Palestine.  This picture of what remains is approximately 25% of the original map.

We then headed to lunch which was…wait for it…delicious!  All the standard fare for Jordan.  All very tasty. 

After lunch, we loaded back into the bus for the remainder of the ride to Petra.  We stopped for a photo opp at an old fortress along the Kings Highway before entering the city of Petra. 

Petra is where our tour guide and his family lived.  In fact, his mother invited us over for a snack on the way to the hotel!  It is a testament to our driver that he was able to navigate our big bus on these roads.  Up, down, around, back, these roads were meant for donkey carts, not a full size bus!  But he did it and we arrived at Mohammed’s home.  His mother and sister were there to greet us, and they are lovely!  Their home had a huge patio where we all sat and had snacks and tea.  They have a huge assortment of fruit trees on their property: Figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, grapes, apples. It was incredible to see!

We then headed to our hotel for the next two nights, the Petra Guest House.  This hotel is built into one of the mountains surrounding Wadi Musa. It is just steps from the entrance to the Siq which leads to the Treasury made so famous by Indiana Jones.  Another unique feature of this hotel is the Cave Bar.  Originally a Nabatean Tomb, it is now a super cool open air bar, the self proclaimed Oldest Bar in the World.  I am not positive on the validity of that but you know I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to drink in a tomb! 

The next morning, bright and early we headed for the Siq to begin our journey to the treasury.  It is not a short walk, and it is mostly downhill…which should have given me some warning about what walking back would be like, but nope.  In my defense, I was distracted by the amazing landscape all around me.  The Siq, the gorge that you walk in to get to the treasury is just about a mile in length and the whole way down you are aware of the awesomeness all around you.

The ancient Nabateans used the gorges to control the flash floods that affected the area as well as a way to store water to get through any droughts. 

There is no way to put into words the feeling of turning the final bend of the Siq and first catching sight of the treasury façade.  As you are walking, you can see a small sliver, but that is nothing compared to seeing the entire thing cut into the mountain.

And standing in front of it, looking up at this massive structure is nearly overwhelming.  You (and me) are not allowed in the structure at all, so I can neither confirm nor deny that the last Grail Knight is waiting inside for someone to choose a cup, but it is awesome none the less.

And if you thought that this was the destination, you wouldn’t be alone, I thought so too!  But no!  There is an entire ancient community around the side that honestly? I never even knew about.

This was where the Nabateans actually lived, worked, played, and died.  There are ancient market stalls, amphitheaters, homes, and tombs.  All built into the striking red sandstone.  The stone work is unbelievably intricate and if you think that they had to work from the top down rather than the ground up, it becomes an absolute feat of ancient architecture. 

We stopped to watch a sand art demonstration, then stopped for a rest and cold beverage at a local merchant.  This is where we learn about the next issue with my mothers glasses…sunglasses this time.  She left them somewhere.  Maybe at the sand artist tent, maybe at the rest stop.  We never found them.  Fortunately, I had brought two pairs so I was able to lend her one.  Sunglasses are important…Not much shade!

In fact, this was one of the only trees between entering the Siq and getting to the restaurant!  It is estimated to be nearly five hundred years old.  We enjoyed a buffet lunch and then it was time to head back, or take the additional hike to a monastery.  Mom had no desire to hike further away so we decided to head back…in fact, mom had no desire to hike at all so we hired alternate transportation back to the treasury.

Once back at the treasury, we decided to walk from there.  I mean, it was less than a mile, right?  Except remember at the beginning when I said the walk in was mostly downhill?  Well that would mean that the walk back was mostly uphill. Only now it was WAY hotter!  It took us quite a while as we stopped often to rest and watch those lucky folks in carriages get whisked up the hill to the air conditioning.  This is also where I received my first marriage proposal!  A Bedouin merchant was so impressed with my knowledge of soccer, he decided that would be a good basis for marriage.  And while I admit, there are worse reasons to get married, I respectfully declined and we settled on me just buying a Jordanian national team jersey to ease his broken heart (yes, I know it’s a ploy but I was going to buy the jersey anyway!).

We made it back to the hotel and the Cave Bar with its cold, refreshing Petra Amber was waiting with open arms.  I have never been happier to drink in a tomb in my life.  You know what tombs generally are?  Cool.  And shady. 

That night we had our final dinner in Jordan.  We had to be up super early in the morning to drive back to Amman to catch our flight to Cairo. 

My time in Jordan was an unforgettable experience and while it is not one of the places on my list of future places to live, I would go back in a heartbeat to visit. So this concludes the first week of my trip.  Next up? Cairo and the beginning of the Egypt portion of this adventure.

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