On the road to Petra from the Dead Sea, with the shocked French lady still in my mind, I passed through Jordan’s rocky and scarce arable land. Olive trees spotted the deep valleys. We stopped at a scenic overview near Shobak to take pictures. To get the desired background, I stood so close to a ravine that my friends yelled “John, don’t, you’ll fall!” It surely looked like that on the picture:
Arriving in Petra, I quickly checked into the Moewenpick Hotel and walked to the prehistoric Petra site. On the dusty access road, a stunningly beautiful black Arabian horse said “hello” to me. As I am from a family of horseback riders and breeders, I patted the horse and a voice said, “I’m Mike”. A Bedouin boy, wearing a large black cape and red-check keffiyeh came from behind it. It was he who’d had spoken for the horse. Ahmed was his name. His English was minimal and I don’t know Arabic, but he understood my instant silly desire to ride Mike and we agreed on a price in Jordanian Dinars.
Before seeing Petra, I wanted to mount the rocky mountains and see it from above to have some oversight. Climbing the rocks would not be easy, but Ahmed said Mike did that all the time, so I shouldn’t have any problems. This, I should not have done. Midway uphill, the saddle began to shift because the horse’s girth underneath his belly wasn’t tightened enough. With my weight leaning left, Mike could not keep his balance while climbing the rocks and fell on his side, with me lying half under him. Doing this on a 45 degree angle, with hard rocks poking in my left and heavy Mike scurrying his legs in the air on my right, was not an ideal position. Ahmed had stumbled up the hill behind us and reached Mike to help him back on his hoofs. I also struggled back up, dusted off my pants, thinking hard about how to mount a horse on a 45 degree angle. I helped Ahmed fix the girth, looked for a big rock to stand on, and pulled Mike uphill to the rock, and climbed on it to get back in the saddle. I’m still not sure how, but we made it to the top. From there I had a splendid view of the conglomerate of rocks with holes carved into it, where the inhabitants, the Nabateans, used to live.
A women dressed in black garb offered me a welcome warm tea cooked on a stove in a hole in the rocks where she lived with her family. I could not take her picture as “her husband would kill her if I did.”
As I had lost time with the horse ride, it became clear I could not see Petra that same day. We took Mike down the hill, and I galloped to the exit – like the Bedouin riders did – eyed after in awe by tourists – with Ahmed hollering loudly behind me, jumped off and gave Mike a big pat on the neck. I had to get my suitcase out of the car before my friends drove off to Aqaba at the Red Sea where they had a retreat and I was not needed. I barely made it, as the car was about to leave.
The next day I visited Petra starting early in the morning. It was one of the most inspiring historical sites I have ever seen. The Nabatean society, which inhabited this area between the 3rd and 1st centuries B.C. must have been a class by themselves. They excavated their buildings, temples, tombs and living quarters from the rocks that remained their natural protection and obtained water from sources through elaborate supply systems that are still in tact today.
This space is too limited to show many pictures but a small selection follows.
Next time: driving ahead of a sand storm.