Well, the Petra trip promised to be exciting and it delivered. So much happened this last week I’m not quite sure just where to begin. As I said last week, this week is the celebrations of Eid al-Adha across the Muslim world so Dil wanted to get us out of Amman for most of that time. Last Saturday we met up at Qasid bright and early to get on a bus and start heading south. We headed towards Petra but spent most of the day traveling since we made a couple of important stops along the way. First stop: Karak. As I’m sure you’re all familiar, back in the Middle Ages Europe decided that the Holy Land needed to be taken back from the control of the heathen Muslims and the Crusades were launched. As a result of those campaigns a number of castles were built throughout the Palestine and Transjordan area, and the remains of one of those castles is in Karak.
We spent close to two hours in Karak exploring the ruins of this castle. Being the history nerd that I am, naturally I was geeking out and had a great time. Then it was back on the bus for another couple hours before our next stop in Shoubak for…. you guessed it. Another Crusader castle!
As you can see from the picture, the castle is on top of a hill out in the middle of the desert. At both of these castles I was impressed at how miserable it would have been to be a medieval infantryman trying to make an assault on these exceptionally well-fortified and defensible structures. Those ancient military strategists knew what was up. Again, we had a good time exploring the ruins before venturing into the old tunnel that runs from the castle at the top of the hill to the very bottom where I think a stream used to be located (it might still be nearby but I didn’t see it). It was a super steep, long, windy and dark descent on very well-worn steps that caused more than a smidgeon of slipping, but it was a great adventure. Here I am finally exiting:
After more bus time we made our last stop before checking in at our hotel in Petra. Right near Petra is a place called Little Petra, which is exactly what its name says. It’s a smaller canyon that has similar sorts of ruins carved into the sides of the mountains. As an hors d’oeuvre for what the following day would entail it was perfect. Piqued our excitement and interest in hiking and climbing around ancient ruins and beautiful landscapes.
After checking into the hotel a small group of my friends and I went out to see a little bit of the town and stock up on water for the following day. While we were walking down the road we passed a small dusty trash-filled lot where four Jordanian kids were playing soccer with a half-inflated ball. My friend Jordan suggested seeing if we could play with them and after some debate we decided to see if they’d let us. We started out with me playing on the same team as the four Arab kids against five of my friends but as the game progressed more and more people showed up, either to join in or just to watch. I couldn’t help but laugh as I looked up at one point and realized that entire families had come out on the balconies of the apartments overlooking the lot to watch the game and cheer us on. We had a blast.
The next day was big time. We left the hotel around 8:00 in the morning and walked to the entrance of the canyon. I love hiking. I love history and ancient ruins. I love amazing views. I love awesome natural rock formations. Petra was a paradise for me.
Something about walking through these narrow gorges with the intricate colors and shapes of the rock walls just makes me happy. When you get to Petra you walk a good little ways through the “Sik” here until at one turn you finally catch a glimpse of this:
It opens up onto the famous treasury (yes, the one from Indiana Jones). Which is pretty awesome. But ya know what, folks? It’s just the beginning! There are miles and miles of Petra to explore! Dil told us there are four main hikes people take at Petra that let you see various things and even with a full day it’s difficult to fit in all of them. Always up for a challenge, my group of friends and I wanted to see everything. We nearly did it too. It was a long and exhausting but sooooo fulfilling day. I think we made it back to the hotel around 6:30 that night, having spent almost the whole day on our feet. I know some of you are maybe thinking that sounds miserable, but it was AWESOME!
Some parts of Petra were more popular with tourists than others, but my favorites were walking around the parts with hardly anyone around. It was so calm and peaceful out there. One of the things I couldn’t stop thinking about is how this is the part of the world where ancient prophets like Moses and Abraham wandered and communed with God. Sometimes from our vantage point in history with all the advances in technology we enjoy we look back and almost scoff at the fact that so many of the holiest events in time came to humble, isolated people living in the desert. With the great nations and civilizations and wonders built around the world it seems ludicrous that God should choose to speak to a sheepherder living in some backwater wilderness. But it doesn’t seem so crazy when you’re in those kinds of places. They’re innately spiritual. Heaven is closer without the distractions that crowd into everyday life. As much as I love lush green landscapes there is certainly something unique to be said for the barren beauty of the desert.
There were so many things to see at Petra. One of the things Dil talked to us about before cutting us loose to run around was how certain art forms become popular within certain civilizations and how much of that civilization’s art becomes expressed through that medium (the example he used was the Byzantines and mosaics). At Petra, the Nabataean civilization became obsessed with stone carvings. All of their art was expressed in stone carvings. All over Petra there are carvings on just about everything. You can find staircases to nowhere all over because that was one of the ways aspiring artisans practiced their art. Fascinating stuff.
There are these humongous tombs carved right into the sides of mountains all over Petra. In one of the biggest and most popular ones (called the Monastery) Dil told us we should try singing because the acoustics are amazing. The group I was with happened to show up at the Monastery at the same time as another large group of students from our program so we went inside, spread out and started singing hymns. The acoustics really were great, and we sounded pretty amazing if I do say so myself. While we were singing several other tourists in the area pulled out phones and cameras to record us singing. It was pretty cool.
We were told they close down the park around 5:00 and around 4:00 we still had one last hike to do. It’s a hike up to the cliffs overlooking the treasury and was supposedly one of the best hikes at Petra. The group I was with was divided about continuing to try and find the route up that way so we ended up splitting and I went with Chris, Tyler and Jordan to continue on looking for the overlook, while the rest headed back towards the Sik. We weren’t sure how to get there and only had a general idea of the direction we needed to head but we climbed up in to the hills searching for it. We ended up in a maze of cliffs and gorges, trying first one route and then another, only to find dead ends time after time. A lot of this was up super steep inclines and through narrow clefts in the rocks. It was exhausting work but thrilling at the same time. Finally, after wandering for what seemed forever we spotted a Jordanian flag off in the distance. Jordan remembered having looked up and seeing the flag from the ground in front of the treasury, so we made our way over to it. It was indeed the overlook we’d been searching for. And it was amazing.
Totally worth all the effort to get there if you ask me. Getting back down and out was something of another ordeal. At one point we found ourselves heading down a gorge that ended in about a hundred foot drop and we had to backtrack to find another way out. We eventually found the main path that leads to the overlook and used that to get out. Turns out there is a MUCH easier way to get to the overlook than the route we took. I’m talking WAY easier. We couldn’t help but laugh about it. I seem to do that a lot, make things harder than they need to be. Still, struggling our way up that mountain was an experience I won’t soon forget.
So we did make our way back down and out. It was a long, tiring, thrilling, unforgettable day. Petra. Such a great experience.
After a night of sleeping like a rock it was up and at ’em bright and early once again for another day of new adventures. We went to a place in the desert called Wadi Rum. The first part of the day was spent riding through the desert in the backs of pickup trucks. I. Loved. It.
After enjoying some of the isolated desert places in Wadi Rum from the back of a truck we stopped, got out and jumped on the backs of camels to continue on across the wadi. When I was in Morocco last summer I did ride on a camel but it was more of an in-the-city walk-the-camel-up-and-down-the-street-a-couple-times sort of thing. This time we actually used the camels to get from Point A in the desert to Point B. I got on my camel and we headed out. For some reason, everyone kept laughing at me. I couldn’t figure out why and was wondering what I was doing wrong until I asked my friend Chris and he told me that my camel was really small. Apparently the Bedouin kid who led me to my camel decided I should ride one of the smallest camels there. Now, I’m not a huge guy. But I’m not a small one either. I guess someone my size on a camel that size looks humorous. Come on, Bedouin kid. Get it together. Despite my mini camel, it was a fun experience. We finished the camel ride at a Bedouin tent where we had a delicious lunch. Great times.
We then spent the rest of the afternoon driving down to Aqaba. Aqaba is Jordan’s only port. So we spent the evening walking around town and checking out the beach. Aqaba has a similar feel to a lot of the beach towns in Southern California and there were tons of foreigners there. The next morning most of us went out on a boat and spent the whole morning snorkeling out in the gulf. I’d never really done anything like that before, so I’m no expert on these things, but from what I understand Aqaba is known as a great place for snorkeling. Aside from my snorkel occasionally stopping up, scraping my stomach on some coral and getting stung on my finger by some coral, it was a great time! I know that sounds like I might be speaking facetiously, but honestly, if I had the chance I’d do it again. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of it. So, sorry about that.
We left Aqaba in the early afternoon and made it back to Amman that evening. All of our Arab teachers were still celebrating the Eid the rest of the week so we’ve mostly just been hanging out around town the last couple of days. It’s been nice to have a break from our classes and assignments (though I’m sure we’ll all be struggling a little to get back into it this next week).
Dil had a talk with us Thursday morning about how we’re now basically at the half point of the program. It’s hard to believe. There’s still so much Arabic I need to learn while I’m here! And I still feel like we just got here. With reaching the halfway point, they’ve made new assignments about who goes to church up in Al-Husn. I’ll be going to the Arab branch here in Amman for the rest of my time here, but today Dil had me go up to Al-Husn one last time to show the new group of students how to get there. I’m a little sad I won’t be going up there anymore. My friend Jessica, who’s an RM and has been going there also, said it kinda feels like getting transferred to a new area. It’s kinda true. I trust this will be a great experience as well though.
Welp, that’s more than enough for now. Have a great week, everyone!