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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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Going dark-ish

18 November, 2008 Leave a comment

First post for a few days, and tomorrow probably going on a 5 day trip into the jungle. Apparently they don’t have any wifi there (yet – someone in brazil was developing self-sustaining solar-powered wifi pods which you can put on the top of trees and they daisy chain to each other using mesh tech).

Yesterday got into San Cristobal de las Casas at 0830 and spent the day mooching. Actually, spent the morning wandering around, talking to a local guide/tour company who offers me a range of trips, all touristy and says ‘unfortunately everyone wants to do something off the beaten track. but off the beaten track causes certain security and social issues’ (i paraphrase). In other words, don’t go hill walking on your own, and many of the local villages will take umbrage to tourists. so, had a snooze and spent the afternoon wondering what the hell i was doing in this cold, damp, one-pony town where there was nothing to see and little to do. Also wishing i was better at spanish. But then it all changes round so fast… a walk to the local Ecotourism Explora centre and suddenly there’s an interesting guided trek to do – pricey but good. On the way back I find Koniki, a funky little Salon de Te, record shop, cafe and independent cinema. with wifi. and i get chatting to Don (dallas) and his gf Caitlin (Pennsylvania) who are medics up on a break from their clinic in the middle of nowhere in El Salvador. Cue discussion of presidents, hope, travel, empires, central american poverty and revolution. Oh, and immigration/emigration. Fact: whereas an estimated 20-25m mexicans live in the US (a population of around 100m in MX itself), a whopping one third of the population of El Salvador lives in the US. It’s a country of 8m and another 2.5 live in the states. Very pleasant people.

Back to the hotel, in much better mood and with a plan for today. Early bed with lots of blankets (SC is at 2100m and the clouds came in yesterday afternoon so temperature is a modest 10degrees according to the ayersometer).

So, am currently in net cafe on a machine that has got 29 viruses and a trojan, but with quick access – and will spend the next hour researching flights from Guatemala to Santiago, and from Honduras to Santiago. The diving’s much better and cheaper in Honduras they say – and although the blue hole of Belize attracts me, not as much as trying out Honduras.

Expected rest of itinerary looking like: a week or so travelling to Bonampak, Yaxchilan, Palenque and then over into Guatemala to Flores and Tikal. Then, from there, it’s either over to Belize and head to the coast for diving and back to Antigua, Guatemala City and fly out to Santiago, or Tikal down to Antigua then fly to Honduras for some diving and from there on to Santiago. Unless, of course, i decide that Cuba is just too attractive. Decisions, decisions.

Either way, likely to be online a bit less, so ttfn.

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