"Harrah!" shouts the Arab at his dormant donkey. "Harrah!" I chime in, wedged tightly inside the cart beside George, a friend, and the enervated driver. With a sudden jerk, the donkey takes flight; immediately, I know that we are in big trouble. The cart bounces on uneven, rocky terrain. Ahead, we encounter huge cobblestones jutting without rhythm or remorse, bouncing us skyward like ad hoc fly balls at Blue Jays batting practice.
Worse than anything experienced at the C.N.E. or Disneyland, I suspect there must be wealthy orthopedic surgeons who reside here.
George and I cleverly split a $30 fee so as to save our strength on the long, hot route through the Sig, the entrance to Petra, a narrow gorge, flanked on either side by soaring, 80 metres high cliffs which open to the famed Treasury, carved into red sandstone
by Nabataeans who originated from Yemen over 2000 years ago. After incessant shake, rattle and roll, we finally arrive. Wow! I imagine caravans arriving here that accommodated silk, spice and other trade routes linking China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
"Oh my god; it's exquisite! Look at the colours," exclaims a tourist. I begin taking pictures. Jordan's greatest tourist attraction is justly nominated as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Camels are available for twenty-second photo ops; however, I
decline as they appear docile, thin and unimpressed with the Treasury's awe-inspiring, massive facade, 30 metres wide and 43 metres high, carved from the sheer, dusky-pink, rock-face, dwarfing all below.
Our group soon arrives and we wind our way along more amazing structures carved from myriad colours and formations, dazzling to the eye. We pass hundreds of elaborate tombs with intricate carvings, a massive Roman-style theatre seating 3,000, obelisks, temples,
sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets, and high above, overlooking the valley, the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery. There are two museums: the Petra Archaeological Museum and the Petra Nabataean Museum; one could spend days here.
Along the way, artisans from Wadi Musa and a nearby Bedouin settlement hawk local handicrafts, pottery, Bedouin jewelry and bottles of striated, coloured sand from their simple stalls.
For the return trip, George and I opt to ride donkeys (sans cart) at 3 dinars a piece. I manage to climb aboard with some help and hang on, desperately trying to maintain balance. The donkeys return us to the Treasury, and then it's back on the cart, compulsory training for
astronauts, wild bull riders, politicians and other professions where one's brains are subjected to an astronomical g force.
Entranced, the next night I attend "Petra by Night," this time walking to and fro in single file with 150 others guided by candles enclosed in paper bags, lining the Siq. We are asked not to talk, and the quiet mood turns solemn. Arriving at the Treasury, we are greeted by hundreds of candles illuminating the façade. A Bedouin in native dress provides sweet, hot tea as we sit on the ground listening to hypnotic, repetitive music filling the dark night. The melodies of flute or chabala and guitar or rababa reverberate
amidst cliff walls. A refreshing breeze pours through the narrow Siq to augment our spirits. I dream again of ancient caravans. It's a magical moment that reminds me of another celebrated long ago when a group of my students and I were invited to join a canoe instructor's graduation ceremony, weaving amidst random candles floating in glass jars on Halliburton's Bark Lake, classical music playing in the background as each canoe maneuvered in silence.
Petra is up against some steep competition for consideration as a new Wonder of the World. My spouse and I have been fortunate to observe some of the choices: Athens' Acropolis, Rome's Coliseum, Paris' Eiffel Tower, New York's Statue of Liberty, and Peru's Machu Picchu. Petra deserves the accolade.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Mike Keenan: Treasury, the Siq, Jordanian guard, camel, tombs, Petra at night, Mövenpick Resort.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/