At Petra, January 2012

We arrived quite late to our hotel in Petra the Beit Zaman. This is a very nice hotel although it is a ten minute drive to the gates of Petra.  The hotel is a series of bungalow style rooms designed to look like the original village of Beit Zaman.  I found the beds comfortable and the food quite good.  The only problem is that the rooms are laid out like a maze with little (or no) signs to mark the correct path to your room.  Since all the rooms look alike, the directions “go out and to the left” sent our group on a hunt for their rooms.  To make matters worse, they were tired and hungry from the long drive down to Petra.  Eventually we found our rooms, got the luggage to the right rooms, had a late meal and got a great night’s sleep.  I slept right through the night, although I was awakened at 5:15 AM by the call to prayer.We planned to start our day at Petra at 9AM, so naturally it was about 9:20 before we heading to the gates.  For those of you who have visited Petra more than a year ago, the visitor center is still under construction, although it is getting close to finishing.  I talked to a shop owner who said he expected to be back in his regular place in six months.  The parks authority has raised the rates for Petra quite a bit in the last five years (now 50 dinars, it was 21 in 2009).  Hopefully all that money will result in a nice visitor’s center.  I also noticed that the donkey boys were more prominent than my other visits but perhaps that is the result of being here in January when there is no school.  (Although in my experience the children of Petra often skip school to sell in the park – this is another thing that needs to change since the children are missing their education and are being used to more or less beg from the tourists.)

Our guide Suliman did a great job explaining the major points of interest on the walk down to the Siq, stopping briefly to point out significant tombs or comment on the carving process.  Our whole group walked down together and everyone did a great job keeping up.  I have always enjoyed watching people as they finally get to the point where the Treasury is visible from the Siq – jaws drop then the cameras start (as if the cliffs are going to close up before a photograph can be taken!)

It looks like they have continued to dig around the front of the Treasury, although I have not read any kind of a report on what has been found in the lower rooms.  Since they are working in front of the building, the steps are now off-limits.  I think this is ultimately a good thing for the site since the human damage to the Treasury would only increase as visitors continue to arrive. We had a few brave souls who rode the camels for a few minutes, providing great photo opportunities! Joyce and Joan in particular seem born to ride a camel, but the Kemper clan has mastered the signal to make the camel kneel.

There seemed to be more Bedouin than tourists wen we arrived, although as we were leaving I noticed many more tour buses int he parking lot, even at 3PM they were still arriving and starting what must have been a very fast walk to the Treasury and  back again.  (Honestly, this is a disservice to the tourists since they pay a lot of money to visit the site, to hurry them through in less than 2 hours is ridiculous!)

After a “box lunch” (not the best I have had in Petra) the group split off into several directions.  A few went up to the Monastery, others to the High place, both offer spectacular views.  Karin blazed her own trail, winding around the site in a way that I did not think possible.  I wandered up to the Royal tombs, not the highest of the hikes possible, but I just happened to get there at a time when there was virtually no other person on the cliff sides.  This gave me the time to poke my nose into several tombs (one occupied by a donkey) and get several very nice photographs.

We had six full hours at Petra and saw only a tiny fraction of the site.  You can spend four days hiking to some of the more remote locations.  I think that our group had good experience and hopefully will all return in the future.  I was chatting with our guide about the drop-off in tourism due to recent word vents in Arab countries.  Jordan is by far the most stable Arab country to visit and has a great deal to offer.  You really could make a ten-day tour of just Jordan, our two days seems far too short.

Tomorrow we are off to the border for a last visit to Jerusalem then the long plane ride home.