Monday, June 15, 2009
I will follow you into the dark
While Mike got the soreness rubbed out of his muscles I took the kids to the hotel's icy pool overlooking Petra. You could see how one of the wonders of the world had remained hidden for so long from the Western eyes. There is nothing about the mountainous terrain to give the slightest hint that an amazing city is concealed within.
Bethy was the only one tough enough to get into the frigid waters of the swimming pool, and then not for very long. I used the time as an opportunity to ice my legs and feet, which after a few minutes of the treatment were blue and nicely numb, and Thomas kept darting over to the pool, touching the surface with a hand or foot and retreating. "Too cold too cold!"
We'd read in the guidebook, and been told by fellow travelers we'd met along the way, that Petra by candlelight was an experience not to be missed. Those are words to get us moving. We got a babysitter, cable TV, and room service for the kids once again, much to their pleasure, and headed out.
We hadn't secured tickets in time, the front desk having already sold out, so there were some tense moments...would we get in? First we had to find an ATM, and after dark in a strange and small town this was no mean feat; we asked passers-by on the streets and I did some running back up a one-way street to secure enough cash. Then to ancient Petra, standing in line, fretting over the time, and voilà, once again despite poor planning and total ignorance, we were in.
These things usually work out.
All along the trail were luminaries, candles in paper bags, weighted by sand, and stars overhead. Married couples had been instructed to hold hands, singles were told they were out of luck, and all were instructed to stop walking if they wanted to look up at the stars. People were also asked to not turn on their flashlights, and we were constantly irritated by folks who I guess figured the guide didn't mean them. The night atmosphere was mysterious and wonderful, shadows and flickers from the candles, and the mobile phones and flashlights messed with our eyes adjusting to the dark and were anachronistic to the idea of an evening in an ancient place.
I did get anachronistic and tried to take a couple of photographs sans flash for you, but digital and night don't agree well in my hands. If you do a Google image search for "Petra+night" some more accomplished photographers took care of that for me.
Forget diamonds: sometimes Google is a girl's best friend.
The Siq passageway seemed even longer after dark than we remembered, leading to the inevitable joke of "being sick of walking in the Siq." However, the candlelight was reflecting eerily off the walls closing us in, rock all around soaring to over a hundred meters high. Strangely it felt safe somehow, like being embraced by ancient earth.
(these are wav. files of the music I recorded from the evening. Both are short, less than a minute long and I think will give you a glimpse into how magical it was. Once you open one or the other and it starts downloading you can backclick to the blog. The first is the string player, the second the flute.)
We reached the dramatic reveal of the Treasury, now lit by hundreds of candles cradled in the sand. Fantastic. There all were guided to sit down upon mats on the sand with the hundreds of others visiting, and brought tea. The evening was cool and delicious, and the Treasury even more beautiful by candlelight. It was a time to sit together in the shadowed golden light, sip our tea and breathe the night air.
Mike overheard someone saying how sandy the air smelled. Taking a sniff himself, he whispered to me "It smells like home." I agreed. Dubai has the same dusty, gritty sort of odor, and we've become well accustomed to it.
We were welcomed, and then the sound of singing and an Arabic stringed instrument being bowed soared over the crowd from a man in traditional dress seated in the middle. The world seemed larger and smaller all at once, listening to the ancient tale woven by the two voices. After the musician finished there was a lull, and they explained that the song had been about a shepherd. Then, from the depths of the Treasury, the echoes of a flute being played. Slowly, slowly, the sounds grew closer, and from the darkness the flute player emerged. The Arabic tune he played was haunting, evoking times long lost, and a longing.
For me, it closed the circle of the Petra experience, and we stumbled back through the lovely darkness to our car, fulfilled.