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December 29, 2016

We awoke for our second day in Petra. We had another hike planned to the High Place of Sacrifice and through Wadi Farasa. Suman and Syreeta decided that they would rather spend a more leisurely time strolling around the theater and the Great Temple as we didn’t spend much time exploring them yesterday. Margaret and I opted for the hike that will lead us up above Petra for views down on the complex.

But first, we had to walk the long path and the Siq to the Treasury. We met Ramiz around 8am. He announced that this family from Australia would be joining us. This was a bit of shock given we booked a private tour. I think it was a shock to the Australians too, since they booked months ago as well. But none of us knew exactly what to say, so we just carried on slightly perplexed.
So, today we walked into Petra the way we left Petra yesterday. We passed by several tombs as horse carriages zoomed by before we entered the Siq. Again, the Siq was very narrow so that the Nabateans could easily protect their city. The Siq included a variety of carvings such as a soldier and camel, notches indicating the narrowing of the gorge, along with two slots where people stand to get married as they worship the carving on the wall across from them. An aqueduct lined almost the whole gorge and we passed by several dams.

We exited the Siq right in front of the Treasury. The Treasury is thought to be a temple or a place to store documents, but derives its name from a story that an Egyptian Pharaoh hid his treasure here while he was pursuing the Israelites. It is believed the Treasury took 50 years to build as indicated by the variety of decorations. Some of the carvings are Nabatean while others are Roman. There is a graveyard beneath the building and of course the facade was used in the filming of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

After snapping more photos of the Treasury, we parted ways with Suman and Syreeta and started our hike with the Australians to the High Place of Sacrifice. We took a long, gently inclining path of stairs up through a gorge before we made a few “S” turns as we climbed more and more stairs past two obelisks that represent the Nabatean’s two most important gods. Along the way, we had the option to purchase some souvenirs from a few merchants peppered the path, but we kept going to finally reached the top of Jebel Madbah. This cultic area is one of the most well preserved in the world. The mostly flat, rectangular courtyard included three benches, a table, an alter and a basin. Originally animals were sacrificed up here, but then the Nabatean’s felt the animals were important for their survival so they began sacrificing frankincense.

From atop the High Place of Sacrifice, we could see old homes that the Nabateans lived in along with enjoying an amazing view of Petra. We could see all the way from Qasr Al-Bint to the Royal Tombs! Of course, we couldn’t spot Suman or Syreeta. The people looked like ants.

From the High Place of Sacrifice, we followed a different path down through Wadi Farasa known as the processional route. The path was beautiful! Writings and figures were carved in the rocks which we certainly wouldn’t have noticed without Ramiz pointing them. A guide is worth every penny even if he did “double dip” and smokes while hiking.

Before we descended toward the monuments in the valley below, we stopped at the Lion Fountain which earned its name due to the Lion carved in the sandstone that spurted water from its mouth. The Nabateans were so creative with water which they considered sacred as proven by the alter for sacrifice carved in the rock across from the lion. In addition, they carved a channel above the lion’s head that received water from Ain Braq spring. It deposited the water in a basin at the Lion Fountain which then flowed to a large cistern at the foot of the mountain.

A large cistern may be an understatement. It was enormous! It had to be the size of a football field. Greenery grew on top of it! Not only did we have a view of the cistern from above, but also the Tomb of the Roman Soldier and the Garden Hall. The area in front of the Garden Hall used to be the gardens and must be that much more pretty in the spring time/summer when the wildflowers bloom as I felt this whole hike was lovely. The Garden Hall is home to another cistern (and lots of cats)!

From there we passed through the valley to the Tomb of the Roman Soldier. The Tomb of the Roman Soldier Tomb is the only structure that still has statues on its façade. The statues are of military officer, thus the name. Across from the tomb was the Colored Triclinium a striking chamber which is the only room in this funeral complex that has carved architectural decorations on its interior surface. It served as a funeral banquet hall.

We continued through the valley to a low ridge across from the Royal Tombs where we searched for gypsum and pottery pieces before we ended our half day tour. I asked Ramiz if he was going to take the Australians for the rest of the afternoon. He said, no. I thought it was ashame they wouldn’t see the Monastery, but he told me that most people don’t make it past the Treasury and Royal Tombs on tour. Wow, I felt fortunate we got to see all those structures and would have liked to do another hike that goes above the Treasury. To travel all the way to Jordan, Petra at least deserves a full day! I really enjoyed visiting the ancient city and our guide was a wealth of information, but it was time to move on. After a quick and tasty lunch at The Oriental, we piled into the car and headed to Wadi Rum (The Valley of the Moon), where we planned to spend two nights in the dessert with the Bedouins.

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The security check points continued along the way. As usual, they waved us on. Soon we arrived at the gates of the entrance to Wadi Rum. We were greeted by many friendly Bedouins. We were instructed to ask for Attallah who operated the Bedouin Lifestyle Camp. We were directed to his headquarters, a building in the small city where we were served tea with sugar (or should I say sugar with tea) while we waited for a few more visitors to arrive.

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Once we had enough people to fill up the back of a pick up truck with benches that lined each side and a canopy, we ventured into the desert. Before getting to camp, we stopped at some rocks to watch the sunset where we were served more tea. After sunset, we traveled just a little farther to our camp. Having done virtually no research on this trip and heavily relying on Suman, I pictured us staying tents at best. I thought the structures would be low and covered in tarps and blankets like the ones we passed on our hike the first day near petra. I assumed we’d be sleeping on cushions on the ground with warm blankets, thus when I saw our small, arched cottages made of warm wool material, I felt this was quite and upgrade.

We had two cots in our room with one bedside table, a door and a window. The walls were decorated in fancy cloth and the floor covered with a rug. Fayez, the young man who transported us to the camp, gathered blankets and doled them out. I took two in preparation for the cold night. One felt like it weighed 50 pounds. I could barely lift it.

After getting situated, we used headlamp to walk up the sand dune to the dining and entertainment hall. The hall was lined with cushions where we joined 20 other tourists who sat covered in blankets. Of course, we were offered more tea with sugar. Soon they played us traditional Bedouin songs. Then it was time for a traditional Bedouin dinner card Zarb that they cook beneath the sand in an underground oven. We were invited to go outside and watch them remove the food from the ground, but we opted for warmth instead.

They asked once more if we would like to join as most everyone else went outside, but we said we’d see it tomorrow. For some reason, we were still tired from our travels. The dinner included chicken, zucchini and potatoes along with a vegetarian dish, pita bread, rice, a few salads, and salty lentil soup. After enjoying dinner, we tried our best to stay up for music, dancing, and sheesha, but the dark communal room made our eyelids close involuntarily. During the dancing, we danced our way out to our cabin.

We were all pleased to find a wonderful bathroom facility with three sinks, three toilets, and hot showers! This was definitely glamping for me, and more like the tourist Bedouin lifestyle versus the real Bedouin lifestyle which included building tents, herding goats, and searching for water. Though for Syreeta, while a good sport, I think she would have liked at least a Holiday Inn Express! We signed off for the night and prepared for a day of 4×4 in the desert tomorrow. ETB

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