Friday, March 16, 2012

Jordan Challenge 12.2: Petra for Morning People

For the last week, I’ve been hosting my friend/colleague/honorary cousin Paul who’s been visiting me from Vermont. We’ve had all kinds of fun adventures that I’ll write about in another post, but since one of the original challenges on my list was to visit Petra three times, and in three different ways, I decided to write about Petra separately. I went earlier this year with Chris, and the new element for me was taking the Petra at Night tour, which is an amazing visual experience. The one thing that was a bit disappointing about it was that it drew a major crowd, and so though it was wonderful, it was definitely, well, crowded. This time, I learned a valuable truth. If you want Petra to yourself, go in the morning.

Just outside the entrance to Petra, some of the shops are still capitalizing on the memorable scene that Harrison Ford filmed as Indiana Jones riding through the Siq and coming upon the Treasury.

In order to make the most of this trip, Paul and I took full advantage of the fact that we are morning people. We decided to go for two days, which means getting up really early to catch the 6:30 am bus on the first day. It’s a three to four hour bus ride from Amman, so when we arrived at Wadi Musa, the town that Petra was in, we first stopped by La Maison Hotel, where we’d be spending the night, and they obligingly let us check in early. From there, we did an early lunch and then headed into Petra for a day of exploring.

As I’ve mentioned in previously posts, one of the most amazing things about Petra is the Siq, which is a 2 kilometer long gorge that you walk through to get into the ancient city. It’s not like anything else I’ve ever walked through, and it’s all the more spectacular because it dumps you into a big open circle with a giant carved tomb (the Treasury) directly in front of you. Walking out from the Siq and facing the Treasury is surely one of the most visually stunning things a person can do, and probably one of the most-photographed moments in the world. This was my fourth trip to Petra, but it never loses that charm. We also, of course, hiked along the roads lined with tombs and later Roman ruins, and did the obligatory trudge up to the Monastery.

We had also resolved to try another highly-recommended Petra activity – visiting a Hammam. I had already visited one with my good friend and Fulbright explorer Elizabeth in Amman, but there’s something very enticing about ending a sweaty, tiring day of hiking in the desert with a Turkish bath. We took the hotel’s recommendation to go to the Nabatean Bath and were not disappointed.

Outside the Nabatean Hammam, which I cannot recommend enough as a night-time activity after a day of marching around the caves and cliffs of Petra.

Next day was the time to try out our theory that Petra in the early morning was the thing to do, and we were wildly happy that we had. If you want the Siq and Treasury to yourself, we learned, the time to be there is around 7 am. No one is around but a few Bedouin merchants starting their day and the camels and donkeys. The Siq and Treasury are always great, but to have them all to yourself is really an unforgettable experience.

Paul, enjoying the unusual experience of solitude walking through the Siq..

..and being able to sit all by himself on the steps of the Treasury.
We also hiked up to the High Place of Sacrifice, with virtually no fellow travelers.  There, we took advantage of having the place to ourselves to try to explore the actual slab where the Nabateans sacrificed the animals and also to let me do some of the burpees I needed to do to keep up with my 100 burpee challenge (it was day 78, I think). I only did a set or two there, but it's definitely the most memorable place I've done them (with the outside lobby of the Dead Sea Movenpick Hotel during the archeological dig with Elizabeth coming in second).
Sarah, our Fulbright exercise guru, will br proud to know that I didn't let my visit to Petra keep me from doing my daily burpees.  We had the place to ourselves and it was wonderfully flat and spacious.

They didn't actually ever sacrifice humans here in ancient times, but I asked Paul to do a bit of dramatic interpretation.

...and here he is in his second role -- Paul Olsen, yogi master.

Should anyone be planning a trip to Petra, here are the lessons I learned from Part II of my See Petra Three Ways Challenge:

• Get a two-day pass. It takes all the pressure off of having to see everything the first day.

• Hike hard the first day and hit a hammam in the evening for a fabulous experience.

• If you like to have a place to yourself, get up early and hit the trails. Unless you’re Bill Gates and can buy out the Park, this is the closest you will ever come to having your own private tour through the Siq and at the Treasury. Totally worth it.

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