Posts Tagged ‘Petra’

Going indy in Petra

1 February, 2009 1 comment

This is the centre of Jordan’s tourist industry. To bastardise, “Petra is a foreign country, they do things differently there”.

Primarily, they charge a lot more and they have many more busloads of tourists. Last night I stepped into the different world for dinner at the 5* Movenpick. It was weird and left me feeling slightly sullied.

The town of Wadi Musa has, by local estimate, tripled in size in recent years. There is construction everywhere. Where the lonely planet says there are a handful of hammams, there are now eight. And despite the general Jordanian civility, you get the sense that if you’re going to get hustled anywhere, it’s here. The atmosphere is in no way threatening… it’s just more like all the other tourist places you’ve been, but in a country of such politeness, it stands out. In the 20 years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this place has really grabbed hold of its’ primary industry.

indiana_jones_pic_petraWhen you’re in the central areas of the Petra site there’s a 2:1 ratio of tourists to stall holders/guides/horses/camels and kids selling you postcards for 1 dinar. If you decline they switch tack to asking for a biscuit.

But as I say, this doesn’t denude the experience.  Not even annoying americans, overly-loud brits or jordanian teens who insist on having their phone playing tinny mp3s can detract.

Petra, like Tikal in Guatemala, has a scale and presence that inspires the imagination. Double the impact of Jerash.

The famous areas, like the Treasury, the theatre, the Siq, the royal tombs and the Monastery are wonderful feats of architecture. The rock formations and colours: delightful.

I met many people who were there for just a few hours – enough to do the main sites – but I was lucky enough to be able to spend 3 days exploring the area.

In particular, yesterday’s 10 mile hike up Jebel Haroun (1350m) was the peak (excuse me).  Aaron (brother of Moses) was buried up there 4,500 years ago, and in the 1300’s Saladdin built a shrine on top of the mountain. The views across Petra, west to the Rift Valley and around the area are stunning.

I got to the top just minutes ahead of Mohammed and Marinus. An unlikely pairing if ever there was one. Marinus is a dutch academic traveller and a pleasure to hike with – we met the day before up at the Monastery. Mohammed is a grizzled ex-commando who, 25 years ago injured himself in a parachute drop and so they shifted him to this job – the guardian of the shrine. He showed us the crypt of the mosque and the sealed entrance to the tomb. Over tea (no, not decaf) at his hut/temporary home we talk families (his 14 kids, 2 wives) and histories – we are the only guests he’s had in a month. He says things haven’t been so good for the Bedouin since they were moved out of living in Petra by the government around the time of Indy. Good for tourism and families involved in that – but Mohammed says the nearby Bedouin town means more bills to pay, more cars, more noise and less sleep.

But tourism is down even in Petra – last night I was the only guest in this hotel (no kid on tricycle thank god) – on the back of global economics, low season and, locals believe, the issues in israel/palestine. The weather is also topsy turvy – it may not be warm, but skies are clear when there should be snow. A strange winter, they say.

Up on the mountain, with incredible views down on Petra and out over the country, it is cold, fresh, bright and clear and peaceful and good.

Over recent days my mind has been shifting back towards London. Free wifi in my room means I’m back on twitter and arsebook which is good but bad. I think about family and friends, about a pint in the Shaston Arms, and I have an itching to get stuck into work… whatever it may be.

But with 10 days left I’m not rushing away from all this. When Mohammed finds I’m unemployed, he offers me a life swap. And I was tempted.

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