Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's a long way to the top...

So in Petra I got on the back of one donkey in order to hold onto Thomas, and Bethy rode the other. Mike was out of luck. Apparently the donkeys had weight limits. This was not mentioned until after the negotiations were complete for the price of the ride, but I don't think Mike was all that eager to hop up anyway. As it was, I felt like I was committing animal cruelty with my heft on the little creature and it's short legs as we started up the first of the some 800 ancient steps cut out of rock.

The donkey didn't complain, however. On the contrary, it absolutely insisted on being first, and charged ahead at a serious clip whenever it thought the other donkey was catching up, heedless of other travelers on the path. The two handlers had to trot next to us to keep up, and poor Mike brought up the rear with his backpack.

I was nervous about the donkeys and their little hooves. There was loose rock, sand, and definite potential to go down. The sides of the path were often steep rock up on one side, cliff down on the other. Our mounts proved themselves surefooted and true, though I decided I was NOT riding down, no how, no way. I trust my feet.

Up and up we went, clippety clop, holding the saddle rings and watching our donkey's long furry ears go this way and that to listen to the clucking of the boys encouraging them forward. For small animals they were strong and quick, and we grew quite fond of our mounts.

All around us the wall of rock rose, the valley stretching away below us. I cannot even imagine the time and effort it must have taken, all those years ago, to make those steps, one after the other, all the way up the mountain. I surmised that the Monastery must be something really special.

We stopped at a summit, Mike somewhere behind us, and the kids and I were invited to get off the donkeys, thank you very much, and rest beneath a shade, beneath which was a small fire, some of our guides' family, and pieces of plywood to sit upon. A small old radio played with relatively good reception, rising and falling with the poetry and swells of Arabic song.

Whenever the fire needed tending someone would rip off a piece of the seating plywood and pitch it in. Convenient.

Mike caught up with us in a much shorter time than I expected. Even so, I was just about to go down and offer to carry the backpack up, but I had to stop and debate with our guides. They protested that they would go, backed by their sister, who was selling jewelery and oddments from a table set up next to the path. "Let one of them go!" She told me, "they are not heavy like you."

Ouch. Well, compared to them, I supposed it was true. Even so!

They said they would wait for us, and to take our time. I looked closely at my donkey for signs of tiredness after carting my carcass, but he seemed happy enough, as donkeys go.

Only a little bit further, they assured us. This proved to be a matter of perspective, but we headed gamely on. The first sight of the Monastery proved to be even more breathtaking than that of the Treasury. FInally coming down a few stairs, around a corner, through the red sand and rocks, and to the right, it opened up to reveal the incredible Monastery.

(note, again, the size of the people in comparison)

Much, much larger than the Treasury, though less ornate, and in its stunning location atop the mountain, the Monastery was most likely a Nabatean temple, though there are crosses inscribed inside, probably by later Christians. The Monastery was carved with beautiful precision and symmetry, and is the largest facade in Petra. Half of the mountain was carved away to create this marvel.

As one can only stare at a something for so long without seeming a total idiot, we broke the spell after a bit. Thomas and I looked for geckos and other lizards among the scrub and Bethy and Mike explored further afield to, as Mike reported when they finally came back, the Ends of the Earth.

Where, apparently, a caterpillar is smoking a hookah.

Mountains in every direction forever, and cliffs that went all the way down.

One of the guides came looking for us before Mike and Bethy returned, and I assured him we wouldn't take much longer. Darn, there went my idea of having a nice cold beer at the well-placed bar in one of the caves overlooking the Monastery. I mean, how often to you get to drink a beer in a cave? (Don't answer that.) It would have been really delicious after the hot and dust, and worth quite a bit in the novelty department. Ah well, opportunities lost. Plus Mike had all the money with him.

Darn him anyway.

Mike wanted to remain behind for the sun to shift to try and get a perfect photo of the Monastery,

and the kids and I made our way back to the guide's shelter to reassure them we were actually coming. There we were given tea by a woman behind a burka mask who couldn't possibly have been as ancient as she appeared. We all sat, watching the sister trying to sell her trinkets to passersby, who largely ignored her. There were stalls selling similar objects all along the trail, and there was nothing particular about hers to stop them. Haram, she commented to the tourists' retreating backs more than once.

A photographer with impressive gear stopped and tried to take a picture of the elderly woman holding court around the fire, and she stopped him dead with sharp gestures and words whose meaning were very clear. He tried to appeal to one of her sons sitting next to her to ask for permission, to no avail. Hands were held up, plams forward, in a sign of surrender, shoulders shrugged, "She is the boss!" said the son.

I commiserated with the would-be photographer. She had an amazing face. "It's killing me too," I told him, "but it's not our call." He bowed, defeated, and continued on his way.

Mike caught up again, I bought a coin reproduction from the sister, wished her well on her upcoming wedding, and getting ready to head down, we convinced the guides to please ride and hold the children safe on each of the donkeys, and that I would walk in exchange. They looked unsure, but agreed when we persisted.

I asked them what haram means. I know it as "forbidden", the opposite of halal , but figured something was missing in translation in the way their sister used it. They looked surprised, but told me it means "stupid". Made sense in the context.

Going down was better than up. I didn't have donkey guilt, for one thing. I got to take more photographs, for another.

We passed tourists on their way up, red-faced and panting from the effort of the stairs. It had gotten hotter, and we encouraged them as best as we could that it would be worth it. Three women entreated us to send a donkey back up to them; one had fallen and twisted her ankle. We promised we would.

Then, at the very last part of the stairs, nearly to the end, disaster. Not for us, but for another traveler. A man had fallen off the trail, slipped apparently, and very fortunately landed on a ledge part way down rather than falling all the way. Had he fallen all the way this would have been a very sad blog entry indeed. As it was, our guides hurriedly handed me the reins and then ran with Mike to see if they could assist while I did the prudent thing and got the heck out of the way.

Guides were riding in fast, moving to help, honestly concerned for the injured man. You could see it on their faces. After a while. Mike came back. "It's his ankle, a compound fracture," he said. Ick. Mike agreed.

We could hear the odd but reassuring sound of a siren getting closer, strange in this place. I sent another guide past, up the mountain to rescue the less-injured maiden, when it was obvious there was plenty of help to get the man safely down.

The ambulance crew and officials arrived, the ambulance straight out of the early 70's. Our guides returned to us and we continued our journey back, grateful that ours would not be like that fellow, who would have to fly back to Europe and get surgery on an injury that Mike predicted would keep him from climbing the stairs to the Monastery for a very, very long time.

1 comment:

Colleen said...

Reading your descriptive journal entries and looking at your pictures makes me almost feel like we have been traveling through Jordan with you! Your are creating such a treasure wonderful memories.