Petra and home 21/10/16
After last night's walk to the Treasury at Petra by Night, V did not feel confident in her ability to walk the distances required to explore the site properly, about 5k to get to the end of the track which passes through the Siq, past the Treasury and and past a number of tombs and monuments ending at the trail which begins the 800 steps leading up to the top of the Monastery heights. The return to the gate is over the same ground, but uphill in the return direction and in the heat of the day after having hiked around exploring the site. V decided that she would to take a horse-drawn carriage to the end of the trail and then walk back, the carriage meeting us at the Treasury for the last stretch. I reluctantly chose to join her as I was not keen to use the scrawny and over-worked horses and mules that are available for hire but I knew that V would simply not be up to the walk.
We were at the gate at about 8:15 and we were dropped at the end of the trail at about 8:45, arranging to meet our carriage at 3pm in front of the Treasury building, giving us 6 hours to explore and to work our way back to meet the carriage. We began the climb to the Monastery and got about halfway up but the climb was proving problematic for V's knees and the heat was ramping up so we worked our back down to the trail and spent the next 5 hours exploring some of the monuments and tombs before directing our steps to the trail and the Treasury. The site is huge and, if you have not been, stretches over many square kilometres, all of it up and down. I was aware of that before arriving but still had not fully grasped the extent of the city and the amount of time and energy that are required to really explore the site. Even more surprising is the very small area that has been excavated, the largest percent of the area literally untouched with trails leading off through the rough scrub desert and valleys in which it would be very easy to get lost, Diana having done just that when she visited Petra two years ago.
Fascinating day but long and hot and surprisingly few visitors on site. We have heard from various sources that tourist visitors to Petra in particular and Jordan in general have dropped by about 75% in the last couple of years since the Syrian crisis broke out and the region is being viewed with increased concern by NA visitors. We were happy to get back to the Guesthouse, a long hot shower and gallons of ice cold water. Dinner at the Movenpick Hotel where the rooftop bar/restaurant was featuring a BBQ night. An ice cold, dry gin martini, the first of the trip to set things right and then a very good meal of various small dishes of the local appetizers and then perfectly grilled lamb chops and a big glass of red wine with the stars glowing overhead and cooling breeze wafting...
We are going back to Amman a day early, we're tired after 3 weeks on the road and are looking forward to one completely relaxing day by the Intercontinental pool before we begin the long flights home. Left the Petra Guesthouse about 9am planning to drive over to the Dead Sea and then follow the highway north back to Amman. There are three North- South highways in Jordan, the one we had taken to get to Petra known as the Desert Highway, the most easterly and the most boring; the Kings Highway which is supposed to be the most scenic running through river valleys as it travels north and which has been the pilgrimage road for Muslims coming from Syria, Iraq and beyond and heading for the holy city of Mecca since the 8th century; and the Dead Sea highway which runs right beside the sea but is not recommended as the first 100k up until it reaches the Dead Sea is very dangerous as it runs through a number of mountain passes between Petra and the Dead Sea. The optimum route is to take the Kings Highway scenic route and then cross over to the Dead Sea Highway when it reaches the southern edge of the sea and then follow it north and then on to Amman.
I had my usual Charlie Brown moment with the gps as like Charlie who has infinite faith that Lucy will not move the football when he prepares to kick it and she unfailingly does, so I trustingly entered our destination in the gps trusting that it would take us to the Kings Highway and on to the Dead Sea. And as usual the gps moved the football and the route so after about 10 kilometres and strangely no other cars on the road in either direction, the road began to climb, steeply. We still hadn't twigged and so began a very hairy hour, the road under construction and shades of Namibia, a rough narrow gravel track with no guardrails, which climbed by switchbacks up, over and down only to repeat the performance and climb up and over the next set of mountain ridges. Each blind corner was frightening, the road too narrow for two vehicles, no way to see around the corner and a straight drop down on the outer side. Fortunately there were no construction vehicles or people doing any work on the roads, it was Friday a fact that only dawned on me as I wrote this, and no cars coming in the opposite direction. The drive was stunningly beautiful and slightly terrifying, happy to have done it but glad that we didn't do it on a normal workday with traffic on the road.
Reached the Dead Sea and taken aback by its size and the deep blue of the water. We gather that the water level is dropping about a metre a year, so much water is being taken out of it on the Israeli and Jordan side and industrially processed for a variety of chemicals, that at the current rate of loss it is expected to be dry by 2040. Yet for all that it is huge, at the southern end stretching north as far as the eye can see, and the colour a deep rich blue while across the water the West Bank rises up mountainous and misty. We were heading for the Movenpick Resort, right at the northern end of the water, to go for a swim. Arrived after an hour's drive, parked our car and filled a bag with bathing suits etc and paid 52JD each, about $104 each, to use the resort's facilities. It is a very large property, a lavish main building and then reflecting the degree to which the water has receded, a series of levels reached by wide stone steps and downward descending paths, each level slightly newer as if only recently accessible by walking and not by swimming. The top-most level contained a huge swimming pool laid out in connected lagoons, surrounded by trees and some of the shallower lagoons beached with sand for children to swim and play. The bar, restaurant and changing rooms were on this level and so we changed and began the long, many-stepped descent to the sea. Foolishly I had not brought sandals with me but had shoved my driving shoes in my bag and had brought the bag with me to take to the beach. The day was sun-baked, it was about 2pm, and many of the flights of steps were built of black stone so the clichéed phrase about frying an egg on the pavement could easily have been updated to include a side of bacon and baking a loaf of bread as well, I dashed from shady spot to shady spot but the stone steps were too hot even to sit and put on my shoes. The beach level finally and painfully reached, I left my bag on a beach lounger and we headed for the water across the baking stony gravel, V had sensibly worn sandals and showed no pity, and into water that was only slightly cooler than the beach. For those of you who have experienced it you'll agree that it is a difficult sensation to describe, it is literally impossible to assume any other position than floating, on your back by choice as floating on your front would push your face into the water, extremely painful for your eyes, not to speak of the dire consequences if you swallowed water. I tried really hard to push my legs down to stand on the bottom but just could not do it, they were forced back up to float on the surface, so the process of standing up in shallow water and getting up and out of the water requires a very undignified series of poses. The water too feels almost oily and touching the wet handrail, built from the water's edge up the beach to assist swimmers to exit, your hands slipped easily on its surface with the lubricated sense of being covered in baby oil.
Under the waterside shower to wash off the sea water and then hopping over the hot sand to my lounger, I finally manged to sit and put on my shoes and the world was once again pleasant and free of discomfort. After a swim by V in the upper level pool, back to our car and the drive to the Amman airport where we dropped the car and taxied back to the Intercontinental for our last couple of nights.
Last day passed in a pleasant flurry, bought a rug in an antique market, sat by the pool and read and then a final feast at Fakhr El-din. Flight to Dubai, overnight in the Emirates hotel and then the 14 hour long-haul to Toronto. On balance a fabulous trip and I'll try and put down our learnings and reflections after we have a chance to digest our experiences.