Petra is well-known for many things. For one thing, it was named a World Heritage site in 1985. Another one of the things for which it is known is for being the location where Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was shot. There’s now even an Indiana Jones gift shop there! Yes, this is where Indy found (and at the last second had to leave behind) the Holy Grail. I kept my eyes peeled for a pit of snakes (though, actually, I think those were in Raiders of the Lost Ark, not the Last Crusade) as I toured around!
I set out for Petra in the very early morning hours. My friend had offered to find me a private driver to take me out there from Amman, and in fact, when we set the cab up to take me to the bus station, the cab driver did offer to take me out for the whole day. Now, while the price of getting a private car is not prohibitive, the idea of spending that long in a car alone with a driver (it’s about 2-3 hours each way) and then spending the day touring alone didn’t appeal to me, and I decided to take the Jett Bus. The Jett Bus company offers a few options – a 6:30 am bus for only 8 Jordanian Dinars (between $11-12 US) each way, you can catch a bus out there, with a return bus at the same price leaving at 4pm daily. That’s the option I took – no tour along with the bus ride, just your basic trip there and back. I figured that I’m social, and would have a good shot at meeting some people on the bus to spend my day with even without being on an organized tour – I was right, but I’ll get to that later. Anyway, for the less independent solo travellers, Jett also offers (for 45JD) a bus that leaves at a more reasonable hour (8:30am) and gives a full tour package, but I opted for the more independent approach and wanted to figure out the tour part once I got there, as I had read that there are plenty of guides (on horseback, donkey-back, camel-back, and on foot) once you get to Petra, so I knew I could always opt for a more personalized tour once I got there.
Let me tell you a bit about the Jett bus ride….. it really does leave at an ungodly hour, and it is difficult to sleep on the bus (as I assumed I would – I can usually sleep anywhere!) because they showed a movie on the bus. [As an aside, this day’s selection was “The Killers” with Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl – perhaps not the most original plot in the world, but an entertaining way to pass a bus ride, so it wasn’t too bad. Might have been more fun, though cheesier, if they had put on Indiana Jones though….] It was still dark when I got to the bus company’s office – they recommended getting there at 6am, and when the taxi pulled up at few minutes before 6, the office was still closed, and there was just a friendly French guy with a hiking backpack standing outside, also waiting. I took that as a sign that I was in the right place and got out to wait with him. Soon, we were joined by another confused looking tourist – this one Spanish, wondering if he was in the right place, and then someone was there to open the office and sell us our tickets. Our seats were assigned on our tickets (though the tickets were in Arabic, so someone had to show me which was my seat number), and I found myself seated next to an Italian guy whose friend was seated across the aisle from him. Here’s a tip for you intrepid travelers: If you are in another country, where you don’t speak the language, don’t ever assume that people around you don’t speak your native tongue! I had spoken to them at one point in English (before I realized that they were Italian), and I have an American accent. I guess it didn’t even occur to them that I might speak Italian, so when I pulled out my little beloved moleskine notebook to jot down some notes (for this blog entry, actually!) I completely understood as these two idiots decided to discuss ‘whats the deal with people and those little stupid notebooks that everyone seems to carry around and write in’. Moral of this story: if you’re going to openly talk rudely about someone, don’t assume that they won’t understand every word you say. I decided not to let on right away, but rather wait until later to address them in their own language and make them realize their mistake. Much more fun for me that way! Oh, the toilets? “Si trovano alla fine del ristorante!” 🙂
As a contrast to the two rude Italian guys, I did meet some very cool people on the bus ride. Now, you may be wondering: how do you meet so many people during an early morning bus ride?? Well, it gets a lot easier to meet people when your bus gets into a traffic accident, and you get stopped for an hour and a half in some empty, isolated area, with nothing to do other than chat with your fellow travelers while you wait for the replacement bus and the bus driver waits for the police! And, in case this makes you wary of taking the Jett buses, I will say this: I really believe that the only reason no one was hurt in this accident (and the damage wasn’t worse than it was) was that the bus driver very skillfully handled the situation and did not hit the pickup truck that darted out in front of him straight on, but rather veered off the road, to merely clip it with the corner of the bus. Our bus driver handled the situation exactly as well as could be hoped.
A few months ago, I posted a note called ‘the importance of good seat-mates and travel company‘, in which I discussed travel karma a bit. This trip made me reflect more on this topic. For one thing, as I moved from Bus #1 onto Bus #2 (which had fewer seats), I found myself seated next to a new person. Not at all obnoxious, like the Italian guy from earlier, so I was happy. He was a young guy who lives in the same region of the US as I do, and we got to chatting for the remaining leg of the trip. As it turns out, we discovered that we had many things in common. We’ve traveled to and lived in some of the same countries, speak the same fairly uncommon language, and we work in related fields. After a nice chat on the bus, we exchanged contact information, and I have since been able to put him in touch with someone who I think (hope!) might benefit him professionally, so I’ll renew what I stated in my earlier post: the lesson here is that you should always smile and strike up a conversation with the person seated next to you whenever you are so inclined, because you never know what you might learn from them, or how they might be able to touch your life. Keep putting good travel-karma out there, be friendly, and you just might find your path crossing with interesting people you can learn from more often!
Once we arrived in Petra, I headed for the ticket booth to get my entry pass, and found myself in line with the nice Spanish guy from the bus company office (who I wound up seated next to for the return trip), and a nice Australian guy, who I had met in the dirt lot during our bus accident, unscheduled stop. We all chit-chatted in line a little bit, and were a little dismayed at the price of entry – 50JD per person, if you’re staying at least one night in Jordan – 90JD if you’re only here for the day. The Aussie guy and I decided to head in together, and talked about possibly sharing an English-speaking tour guide. As we were walking in to the main part of Petra, a guy on a horse came trotting along side us and was trying to talk us into doing a tour on horseback. We politely declined, saying that we thought we wanted a walking tour, and he dropped his price. We declined again, and he dropped the price further. He seemed pretty determined to get us to tour with him, as this is winter, and their quiet season. Finally, he got down to a price that made me and my new Aussie friend look at each other and say, well, that is a pretty good price…… and off we went on horseback with our newly hired tour guide!
Looking back, going with Ali, our Bedouin tour guide was the best decision we could have made! Our time in Petra was cut much shorter, due to the delay following the bus accident. On horseback, we achieved quickly what would have taken us a very long time otherwise: we got to the highest point in Petra, and were able to see the top of the mountains, all the way down into the ruins. And we were so far from all the other tourists as we made the climb, that they looked like little specks. Ali was fantastic, and he and his uncle pointed out sites to us along the way. Ali even taught me how to say “good boy” to my horse in Arabic, but unfortunately I’ve already forgotten.
The view from the top was phenomenal!! It was so calm and peaceful up there, and the colors of the rocks were incredible – sort of a dusky orange-ish rose color…. OK, so describing colors isn’t my strongest suit! But thankfully, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I can just share those instead. From the top, Ali’s uncle took the horses back to the front of the park to find more customers, as we weren’t going to pay for more than an hour with the horses, but Ali wound up accompanying us on foot. We took the stairs down the mountain – I think Ali said its something like 900 or some steps, though it seemed like less than that to me….. I think it might be 800 or so up to the Monastery, which unfortunately we ran out of time for. The steps brought us down to near the Roman amphitheater and the tombs, which we explored happily before heading over to the treasury on the way back to the front entrance. Unfortunately, given our shortened time-frame, we didn’t have time to explore further than that, but here’s the silver lining: that gives this eager traveler a good reason to try to return to Petra again in the not too distant future!