Petra by Night – Petra, Jordan

I surveyed the countryside as we sped towards Petra. The mountains were less like serrated knives cutting the sky and more gently rounded spoons. Just big rocky ones that went on forever. I have to say there was not much green at all. It was brown and reddish sand, stone and rock though not much else. But against the crystal blue sky the shades of earth matched in perfect harmony.

On my right, Ruba gazed dreamily out the window, completely in her own world. To my left Fatimah was sleeping peacefully, empty chocolate bar wrapper still gripped in her tiny hands. I listened to Ban and Lana speaking softly in Arabic up front, trying to guess the context of the conversation. I was piecing together the occasional English word and would ask them when I thought I was on the right track. They seemed to be impressed with my eagerness to understand.

I thought it was interesting when we stopped to ask for directions at the police station and they invited us in for lunch. We politely declined but I did wonder what they would have served us, at the police station. I commented on how chivalrous men can be and one of the girls made the accurate observation that many of the male persuasion just like to “seem” that way.

We rounded many twists and turns finally coming upon the city of Petra. It wasn’t a modern town by any stretch of the imagination. The buildings were mostly made of cement and were stacked along the mountain side. There were herds of goats being guided by a boy with a stick right down the middle of the highway. We also passed a donkey who had his head poked into a cornerstore. I realized after I looked closer that the child who held the end of the rope was perusing inside.

We did a bit of exploration and finally decided that I would come with the girls to the Bedouin camp they had prebooked. Seven Wonders Camp was out of the town in the open desert near Little Petra. We had to go through quite a rough road but that was no problem for Ban, our excellent driver, who I had fondly dubbed Auto-Bahn.

Once we arrived, I was immediately enchanted by the people, the location, and the facilities. We each got our own charming little tents which were lined up side by side into something of a village. Inside there were well made beds complete with a white mozzie net which was useless in this season but pretty all the same. There was a small electric lantern and some candles which cast a romantic warm glow within the heavy canvas shelter. It was a cozy little camp and it didn’t take long to realize that we were some of the only guests that night. The other two happened to be two other women who were also traveling alone.

The seven of us drank tea in the tent while we warmed ourselves in front of the fire. Stories flew around and books were recommended. I suggested that we could have a very interesting book club between the few of us, the bookworms were were. Several of us happened to be writers as well so we all had more in common than we realized.

We ate a satisfying dinner of BBQ chicken, salads, veggies and pitas. The whole staff serving us and taking care of us seemed to be male. I flirted shamelessly with the little 6 and 10 year old brothers that were in charge of manning the buffet table. They giggled shyly and practiced their English with me giving me permission to practice my very limited Arabic right back.

After we were sufficiently stuffed, we jumped back in the SUV and headed to back to town to experience Petra by Night. The tickets were $12 JDs (Jordanian Dinars on par with the Euro right now) and we were to be there by 830pm. We scampered along to the gates and hurried down the long pathway towards the main attraction.

Now I know many people know what Petra (means “rock” in Greek) is but for some reason I didn’t. I had some idea that it was some mountain or some structure. I didn’t know it was a lost city. I had no clue that it would make such an impact on me. This was certainly a unique way to experience such grandeur.

There were hundreds if not thousands of candles stuck in sand bottomed paper bags lining the path all the way to the Treasury. Must have been miles and the glowing orange flickers were set about a meter apart the whole way. It was nothing short of spectacular and I was drunk on the romanticism of it all. The moon was full in the sky casting a ring of light in a perfect circle around itself. I noticed a jet must have just flown by because a trail shot through the very center making it look like Saturn.

The weather worn sky-high rocks sandwiched the pathway which seemed to be on an ever so gentle downward slope. The sandstone swirled in a whimsical way even Dr. Seuss would have felt at home. The moon and candles worked together to create mysterious shadows in the curvaceous rock formations. I pointed that fact to Ruba and she just looked at me with eyes pie wide requesting that I not talk to her about scary things. I chuckled to myself noting never to ask her to accompany me to any kind of supernatural thriller or horror movie.

When we finally arrived to the Treasury there were a gathering of a couple hundred people sitting quietly in stillness. Lana and I found an empty space at the front. We claimed one of the carefully set out mats trying not to disturb those around us. There were hundreds of candles set in front of the awesome monolith towering above us. There was a man seated on a stool in the very center singing in a language that even Lana could not interpret. The beautifully haunting melody penetrated my soul as I gazed up at the humongous carved rock face. When that man had finished another came along and played a delightful flute type instrument while a small cat pattered out of the structure, through the candle maze finally disappearing into the crowd.

I didn’t actually get to see the whole area or explore it in its entirety but it was no matter. I felt the gravity of the place and was hella impressed by the way these people had married nature with their needs. The water system was quite genius and worked well for the Nabataeans until an earthquake in about 300 AD rendered it non functional. The Romans who didn’t comprehend the spiritual nature of the city of Petra destroyed it in their hostile take over.

When we finally found our way back to camp, I was more than ready to hit the sack. We were all dazzled by the lights the camp men had placed in all the little nooks and crannies of the rockface hovering over us. Hundreds of orbs adorning the mountain like a Christmas tree. I gave one last glance to the moon bidding it good night before ducking into my quarters. The air was chilly but I was protected from the wind as I layered the extra blankets before crawling in side. Needless to say, I slept very well.

Grateful for fire and rock.

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