Dangerous, dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-skinned men ride horses up and down the length of Petra‘s Siq (the mile-long entrance to the ancient city), their white robes flying behind them. I don’t want a ride (their repeated solicitation is annoying) and I feel badly for the horses but I can’t help but notice that Jordanian men are very good-looking.
Walking through this dark, narrowing gorge I spy a patch of peach light. It grows as I approach to reveal a glimpse of the Treasury (Al Khazneh), one of two most iconic images (the other being the Petra Monastery) of not only this site but all of Jordan. I stop, scroll through my iTunes list for a song dramatic and significant enough to be worthy the approaching moment. I go with The Damned’s dramatically worthy History of the World (Part 1).
I get actual goosebumps approaching The Treasury as I imagine how the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt must have felt when he rediscovered the abandoned city (at age 27). He must have shat himself. It’s a pretty good story: he learned Arabic and studied Arabs for years in order to pass himself off as one of them, knowing that a Westerner would not be welcome in the region.
I walk the stretch of the archeological park, clambering up hills and and rocks for better views of the tombs, temples and monuments. The city is larger and more elaborate than I had imagined it would be. Wearing Fitflops was probably not the wisest decision today.
HIKE TO PETRA MONASTERY
The reward at the end of my shadeless walk is the grandiose Petra Monastery but there’s just one catch: it’s up 800 steps. I hate steps.
Suck it up. If men and women in their 70′s can endure the climb to the Petra Monastery — and they’re passing right by me — then what excuse do I have? The stairs are no joy and I stop often for water and to catch my breath but they’re not complete torture, either. They vary in size and are broken-up with enough turns and flat stretches that the hike is not entirely vertical. Makeshift “shops” — some no more than wares laid-out on a blanket — keep the going interesting.
Taking a bend, I look up at such a shop at least fifteen feet away and lock onto the most beautiful pair of eyes I’ve ever seen. I’m transfixed. The man has a friendly face.
I gesture to my camera, to him.
“Photo? You?” He’s game, looks right into the lens like a seasoned model.
I retrieve the photo, show it to him.
“That’s you!” I say. He’s amazed. I don’t know if he’s seen a photo of himself before.
“You. Very handsome.”
Friends now, he invites me to join him for tea (do you happen to have a cold beer?) and I decline. What will we talk about? Hell, we don’t even speak the same language.
The Petra Monastery is worth every single one of the 800 steps. Unbelievable.