After a good sleep for a change, we woke raring to go. Our collective good mood was buoyed by an excellent breakfast with stuff that DS would actually eat. Until this point, the only thing he seemed to have eaten was the round flat pita-like bread along with the odd Organix bar we were carrying with us. But in Petra he added a kind of processed cheese to his menu, and accepted it squashed between two bits of bread. This concoction became known to our group as ‘ a squashie’.
It was good that DS chose today to eat a decent breakfast. We all knew today was going to involve some serious walking as we were heading into Petra, ‘the rose red city half as old as time’.
Petra is Jordan’s most famous tourist attraction. It was built by the Nabateaens in around 6 B.C., and was an active, important trading city even when the Romans took it over in around 106 A.D. Then, about a century later, it went into decline due to trade routes being diverted away from it and a large earthquake in 363 A.D. destroying buildings and the water system. The ruins were known of in the Middle Ages but weren’t rediscovered by the Western world until a Swiss traveler learned of their existence in 1812 by living among the Bedouin, who often camped among the ruins. Petra is now a World Heritage Site and is said to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
History lesson over, we headed off to the entry to the site, stopping to buy DH his 3rd pair of sunglasses for this trip, and a couple of head scarves for DD1 and I.
You can hire a horse to ride 400m down to the entry to the Siq but our group chose to walk so our guide could point out a couple of tombs on the way.
These are known as Djin blocks, as the Bedouin believed these desert spirits lived in them. They are hollow inside and were used as tombs, as human remains have been found in them.
The 1.2km long gorge that provides an entry to Petra is called Al-Siq. We stopped at the entrance to it while our guide gave us a little history of the site and explained what we were about to see. This gave us time to sit DS down and empty his shoes of sand for the first of many times that day.
By the end of the day we regretted having bought him lace ups…
The Siq is amazing. It’s only 3m wide in some places but up to 180m tall.
You have to walk down it into Petra itself, through twists and turns, over smooth rock and cobble stones and past the remains of various carvings until you are finally confronted with a glimpse of The Treasury.
It’s an amazing sight, and I’ll never forget the moment I first saw it through the Siq exit. It completely deserves its listing as one of the 40 places to see before you die. No one is really sure what it’s function was; it’s called The Treasury as the Bedouin people who lived among the ruins for so many years believed that The King kept his money in the urn sitting right at the top, on the domed roof.
You can see there are people crowded around it, just standing there in awe. Some people never move on from this as they have very limited time to visit and there are over 800 structures to see within the ruins. But it’s worth spending as much time as possible exploring the site, and it’s even better if you can get a guide to tell you what you are looking at.
I spent 7 hours there with DS, and DDs 2 and 3 but others in our group were there for at least 10 hours.
During our visit, we saw the remains of the town’s theatre,
The kids loved it. There were plenty of rocks to climb and stones to pick up and you are allowed to explore many of the ruins. There were stalls selling the kind of tourist tat you’d expect, food stalls and boys trying to get you to ride on their camels, donkeys or mules, offering to take you to whatever part of Petra you want to see.
After a walk up a hill in the blazing sun, so we could look down over the enormous site, we finally sat down for our picnic lunch.
There is a small museum which was worth looking at, then our group went their separate ways. Most of the group were going to climb the 850 steps to see The Monastery, high in the mountains. This takes around 50 minutes and is quite arduous so our guide warned us against taking DD3 and DS up there, even on the back of a donkey.
I would have loved to have gone up, but Petra has always really been DH’s dream, so I said I would stay behind and take the little two, and DD2, who thought she was going to get a swim, back to the hotel. But I wasn’t going to walk them. I wanted money for 3 donkeys and a carriage from The Treasury back through the Siq, to the horses’ station.
DH agreed, but when all the kids were mounted up ( DD1 was riding a donkey up to The Monastery with DH and other group members) I had a bit of a moment, and said I didn’t think I could cope with getting all three back together. The decision was taken out of our hands as all 4 kids began to move in different directions.
DD1’s donkey went up the mountain, followed promptly by DH. DD2 was riding a mule, who decided to take off without any leader and make his way back to The Treasury taking a completely different route to anyone else. DD3 was led away by a young lad who didn’t speak a word of English, while the child hanging onto DS’s beast suddenly leapt on its back, behind DS and off they went. I was left literally standing in the dust!
I soon realised that no one was in any real danger but I had to jog to keep up with the animals and my children. I haven’t moved so fast for years. It was supposed to take 25 minutes to get back to The Treasury; I think we did it in 15, and so it took me a while to get my breath back and order a couple of carriages to get us back to the entrance. The kids were flagging by now, and I didn’t fancy having to carry or drag any of them.
I travelled with DS, and DDs 2 and 3 went with our guide who conveniently turned up when we were leaving. The ride was very bumpy through the Siq and the driver almost ran a few tourists down in his haste. He kept whipping the horse to make it go faster, which I found it hard to watch, and I got to walk out on a couple of slopes to make things easier. DS didn’t notice any of this, of course, but DD1 was distraught by it when she got back from her ride hours later.
After that adventure, we felt we deserved an ice cream so stopped here for one.
We did make it back to the hotel for a swim, but the pool was unheated ( like all the pools we encountered in Jordan) and proved too cold for DD3 and DS. DD2 managed a few minutes but got out when she turned blue.
DH and DD1 turned up hours later, obviously trying not to make it a big deal they had got up to The Monastery, but obviously very pleased with themselves. I felt a bit disappointed with not having had a chance to at least try going up but I guess thems the breaks when you are travelling with youngish children.
There is always that balance between what you’d like to do and what your children can cope with, physically weighed up against whether you’ll be back again sometime.
We hope to get back to Petra again in the future, and when we do, I intend The Monastery to be first on my ‘to do’ list.