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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lost in the Lost City…

A few days later, there was interest stirring up at the hostel of doing a trip down to Petra. Finally! I had been spending my days at the hostel waiting for someone to book a trip so that I could tag along.  There were some Greek girls who were interested in going and there were two other guys who were planning to do the trip on their own and were leaving the next morning. I thought it would have been great to have left with the two guys because one of the guys, Lee, was making his way back to Egypt and Egypt was in my plans. But, I was only finding out about their plans on Tuesday night during our rooftop barbecue.
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Either way though, I was hoping to meet up with Lee later in Egypt because he was telling me that he was planning to climb the Great Pyramids of Giza! Apparently he had done a lot of research on this subject and I thought if it weren’t too dangerous, it'd be something I was interested in doing too!
The following day, another guest, a Canadian guy, decided that he wanted to go down to Petra the next day. At first, he was going to be joining the Greeks and in that case, there would be no room for me but it turned out that the girls were going to make their own arrangements by going with their local Jordanian friends and so the the Canadian would be going solo;  I decided this would be a good opportunity for me to finally go!
If I were going to Petra, the other idea that I had was that I could actually meet up with the guys and go down to Egypt with Lee. But, that would mean I would have to meet up with them somehow since they had already left….

Peter and Lee, were also possibly thinking about going to Wadi Rum that weekend and I thought if it were to work out, I should try to go with them…the tricky part though was that Peter and Lee still hadn’t decided how they were going to Wadi Rum yet; Lee had found another tour that was offered for less so he was waiting to hear back from them.  Actually, I kept telling Lee that I thought one of the Greek girls seemed really interested in him and before he left, this same girl tried to persuade him to either join them or that they should try to meet up in either Petra or Wadi Rum.**  After the guys had already left for Petra, the girls were still deciding if they were going to do Wadi Rum with the hostel. In the meantime, Lee wrote to me asking me to book him on the Wadi Rum tour because he hadn’t heard back from the other company.

After I received confirmation from Lee that he and Peter wanted to do Wadi Rum, I decided that I should leave the hostel for a couple of weeks and meet up with the guys and go to Egypt….maybe we could do our pyramid hike and I would get into Egypt with some male company...what was I waiting for? I knew I wanted to go to Egypt at some point and this was the perfect exit strategy where I could do Petra and Wadi Rum and make my way to Egypt with a travel partner.  So, I mustered up the courage and decided to ask Mohammad if I could do Petra with the Canadian and then leave with the guys for Wadi Rum the following day. Everything was happening so quickly! Just yesterday, I said good-bye to the guys wishing I’d be going to Petra with them and now the next day, I was going to try and meet up with them.  Unfortunately though, this plan would require me to be gone for a couple of weeks and I was afraid of what Mohammad would say…  Surprisingly, he was very receptive and agreed to let me go.

So on Thursday morning, I woke up bright and early to head out to Petra.  The drive from Amman to Petra is roughly 3.5 hours. It was nice because as an “employee” of Bdeiwi, Mohammad called his friend and asked him to house me for the night at his hostel; what a nice employee benefit! So, when we arrived at Petra, I had Khaled take me to the Orient Gate Hotel to drop my bag then I decided to send the rest of the day in Petra.

Tickets to enter Petra were JD33 ($50)! Ridiculous, I thought but what was more ridiculous was that they were going to increase the ticket price to JD50 ($70) from November 1! No student discounts either!  Included in the ticket price was a guided tour and a free donkey ride.  Whoop de doo! The one good thing that I must say though is that they do offer a 2 day ticket entry which is only JD5 more than the 1 day.  Had everything not happen so quickly, I would have, should have done the 2 day.  But instead, I did the one day + the Petra by Night (JD12) because I had heard so many great things about the latter. 

Hmmm…my opinion if Petra by Night was worth it? For $17, I’d have to say no…only because your photos don’t come out too well at night, unless you’re a pro and know how to work your settings, otherwise you’re left with a lot of dust spots on a dark photo…Secondly, it is possible to ‘stay’ in Petra (technically, it closes at 6PM - times may change with the season, and technically everyone is supposed to exit and re-enter if you hold a ticket for the evening show) and I suppose you could go undetected…which is what happened to me unintentionally.  The program is also considerably short and I think it only lasted about 20 minutes though I stayed for two programs (because I was left behind and already there) which lasted probably a little over an hour…
I entered the park at about noon. The Canadian wasn’t interested in going around with me so I decided to do the free guided tour and try to get more information about this ancient city. Petra is believed to have been established around the 6th Century B.C. as the capital of the Nabataean people. It wasn’t until 1812 that it became known to the Western World, discovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt where he described this place as the ‘rose-red city half as old as time’.  It was also named a UNESCO Heritage Site and was selected by BBC as one of ‘the 40 places you have to see before you die,’ according to Wikipedia. In 2007, in a world-wide voting competition, it was selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  Most people will also remember Petra from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, filmed over 20 years ago!

The guided tour was okay but I could barely understand what our guide was talking about.  It wasn’t that his English was bad, I’m not quite sure what it was…maybe I was just fascinated by the place that I became distracted and couldn’t understand what he was saying.  The tour lasted for about 2 hours as we made our way down the pathway, enclosed by walls of amazing rock with some parts carved with (still) amazing detail.
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               our first peek at the Treasury                     
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You can make out the facade in the background                   Ampitheater that could seat more than 30,000 people
After our guided tour, it was still 3:00PM…the park wasn’t closing until 6PM and the Petra by Night Show was at 8:00PM so I had time.  I decided that I would make my way towards the Monastery which is said to be another notable structure.  Along the way, I was soon followed by a young ***Bedouin boy, who told me he was 18.  I can’t remember his name because I was traumatized by him and the rest of Petra became a nightmare….

He kept insisting that I ride his donkey up the Monastery since the pathway leading up consisted of 800 steps. I hiked up Table Mountain in South Africa, 800 steps is nothing! But he was insistent and typically a donkey ride would be 10JD but with my excellent bargaining skills, I was able to negotiate a rate of 2JD. I think he just wanted to take me that he agreed to the dirt cheap price.

Meanwhile Mohammad had been somewhat worried about me so he was constantly calling me to make sure I was okay. Having grown up in Petra, he knew many of the people that worked there. He managed to contact his friend who he asked to look after me. But, instead I found this boy and so Mohammad spoke to him and assured me that this kid was a ‘good kid’ and I would be okay.  So, I felt safe and decided to go up with him to the Monastery on his donkey.

Along the way, we ran into Peter and Lee!  But since I was on my donkey, I didn’t have much chance to exchange more than a few words about the fact that I’d be joining them to Wadi Rum the following day….I was intending to follow them up but instead we ran into the boy’s brother and his friends who were sitting on the side of the pathway enjoying the very Jordanian thing to do, shai or tea! For those who know me, know that I do NOT like any kind of tea but…when in Jordan, do as the Jordanians…so I sat with them and chatted over tea.  We must have spent about an hour and a half there. I wanted to be on my way but the boy insisted that we stay until 5:00PM.

I had also wanted to visit their Bedouin Village which was located right behind Petra.  The guys agreed and said that they would take me there. The problem though was that I had my Petra by Night tour but they wanted me to come over after and spend then night in the village with them. What a cultural experience I thought and was elated that I was being invited to see their way of life; something most tourists aren’t able to experience!  They even told me of a Japanese woman who married a Bedouin man and lived in the village who spoke 4 languages fluently! I wanted to meet this lady!  Mohammad had also called me during my tea break and told me that I should NOT go with them. I was torn and told Mohammad that I would like to go; he said I could do whatever I wanted but did not approve of me going there…I didn’t understand why….but decided I’d go if they were offering to take me there; they seemed like nice people.

Finally at 5:00PM, I told the boy that we should make our way up and it probably wasn’t until 5:20PM that we finally started heading up the 800 steps toward the Monastery.  When I was going up, I saw the Peter and Lee coming down and they were confused as to why I had taken so long to get up there….I so wish I would have found them before the donkey boy found me and everything would have turned out so differently….
We finally make it up to the Monastery at a little before 6:00PM.  I got to see the Monastery from afar and the boy promised that we would get photos after on the way down. So, I admired it for a few minutes and then he took me to the back side where we would be able to watch the sunset from the jagged cliff side.
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IMG_1782        IMG_1786              Views of the Monastery
The sun started to set and everything was hunky dory until the boy out of nowhere, got up and said that he was going to leave me! He said ‘since you don’t trust me, it’s better that you are not with me.’  I have no idea what I said to have him flip on me but I was shocked? I joked around with him for a bit but he was dead serious.  Then he went on to say that he ‘wished he never met me' that I’m ‘not a good person’ and the list goes on. This made me really upset. He insisted that I pay him but I wasn’t born yesterday and told him that he will get his money when he takes me back to the bridge since I knew my way back from there…he kept attacking my character and this really started to get me upset that I started to cry!
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I don’t know how I allowed this little kid to get under my skin but he did.  I have never had anyone say such slanderous things to me! In my travels, I meet a lot of people and have always had the good fortune of meeting good people. If I ever feel a weird vibe or dishonesty in their eyes, somehow I know and I don’t get very close to them and our meeting will pass. With people that I feel are honest with goodness in their soul, I stay around, exchange contact information and many times, they become a friend for life…such is the case with Lavie (Malaysia), Jules (Australia), Christian (Denmark), Nikolaj (Denmark), Clayton (South Africa), Lucia (South Africa)…to name a few.  I guess I was upset with this kid because I thought he was a ‘good kid’ and even Mohammad had vouched for him!  I had trusted him and spent an hour and a half sitting on the side of the road when I could have been enjoying Petra (I did pay $50 to see the place…not to drink tea)!  I started to think that I was wrong about this kid and that he intentionally took me to watch the sunset, wait for it to get dark and had planned to leave me there in the ‘back’ of Petra, more than 3 miles away from the entrance, in darkness  I think it was this feeling of betrayal that really upset me the most and the fact that I didn’t see this coming, I was upset with myself…

So since I refused to pay him, we walked together towards the bridge…it was still slightly lit but I knew in a matter of time, it would get dark and I did not want to be left alone out there….I didn’t know the pathway or the area.  Luckily I had my flashlight so I used it as I walked with a quick pace.  The whole time, he was insulting me and I was really starting to get angry. I told him that I didn’t want to talk to him and I would appreciate if we would just walk in silence and I would pay him when we got to the bridge; all the while, tears streaming down my face and difficulty catching my breath…you know when you’re hysterical and you can barely breathe!

While we were walking, I took a sip of my bottled water and he asked if he could have some.  The nerve of him.  But, I didn’t want to be petty and if the boy wanted water, I didn’t mind sharing. So even though I was angry, I gave him my water bottle.  After he took a sip, he started to have a change of heart and then he started to apologize to me profusely.  I thought since I had given him the water, he realized that I really wasn’t a bad person and so he started to feel bad.  Or, it could have been that he realized that we were soon going to see people and it wouldn’t look good that I was crying….what would he say? If I was really a bad person, as he accused me of being, I could have said anything to ruin his reputation.

I was still upset…still crying and and still trying to ignore him and told him that his apologies come too late and that I really don’t appreciate him talking to me and that I just want to get back.  We finally made it close to the bridge and everyone had their eyes on me…the few other tourists who had stayed back along with their Bedouin guides.  At one point, there was a conversation with another guide on his horse and the boy.  When we got close to the bridge, I paid him what I promised and I continued to walk briskly.  The guy on the horse asked me if I was okay and insisted that I get on his horse with him.  I didn’t trust anyone at this point and so I refused.  He was really nice though and did get me to laugh a bit by pointing out some rock formations…eventually, we got to a restaurant and he told me to talk to another guy there because he worked closely with the police and he would take my statement.

I was still barely able to catch my breath but realized it wasn’t what they were thinking. He didn’t touch me or hurt me in any way.  So, I thought I should clear any misinterpretation of the situation.  They offered me tea and they told me to calm down and breathe.  After I shared what happened, they told me that they knew this boy and that he really is a good kid.  And that even though he threatened to leave me, they don’t think he would have.  The main guy that was speaking with me, Ahmed, explained to me that he thinks the boy had a crush on me and because he realized that I didn’t like him back, that he was going to create a situation….I don’t know, none of this logic makes any sense to me! But Ahmed said that he reacted in the same way when he was about 19. Whatever the case, it was weird…the guys there made me laugh, we took photos and I got Ahmed’s contact because he told me that I could come back to the village and work there for $500 a month with my housing and food provided. I was interested as this would FINALLY get me to the village! So I told him that I would let him know and maybe I’d come back after Egypt.
IMG_1808           IMG_1809 Formation of a camel; where the other guide got me to smile          A group photo with Ahmed and the guys
Ahmed walked me over to where the Petra by Night Show was going to take place. I just sat there and waited for the show, eventually at some point, someone asked me for my ticket and some of the locals started talking to me; one of them being the flutist who performs in the show.  He also seemed to be looking for some kind of relationship.  What was wrong with all these Bedouin men? I think I must have been hit on by at least three guys within a 3 hour period…my stats here were better than a club!
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Petra by Night in front of the Treasury
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The locals who befriended me….                                        With the Flutist
I watched the Petra by Night and then the flutist walked back with me to the entrance. He wanted me to go with him but I politely declined and told him that I had to meet up with Mohammad’s business partner, Ali.  The flutist not getting what he wanted, drove off….unlike a true gentleman who would have stayed and made sure I was okay.

Met up with Ali and I was so tired….I had a pretty bad day but Ahmed and the other guys lifted me up a bit.  Ali took me over to his friend’s place, introduced me to all the owners there and started talking to me about some of his business plans. It seemed as if Mohammad had told him about my business background because he seemed hopeful that I would work with him.  He also seemed like he was becoming interested in me and I made sure to set a clear distance and told him that I’d like to go home soon because I was tired and tomorrow would be an early day.  He agreed and dropped me off at the hostel at about 10:30PM. It was late but i wanted to take a shower before going to bed.

Finally got to bed at about 11:00PM. I ended up sleeping on the top floor which was considered the “rooftop” though it was enclosed.  The windows were open so there was a nice breeze coming through.  It was room filled with a row of mattresses on the floor and I chose the space farthest away from the other guy who was sleeping there.  Surprisingly I slept very well that night….

** For the curious…a testament to his true character, Lee turned down the attractive Greek girls to keep his agreement to travel with Peter…
*** The Bedouin are a nomadic people of Arab origin who have mostly settled in the Middle East.  They are quickly recognized by the kohl painted on their eyes and usually long wavy hair.  I rarely saw any women, so wouldn’t be able to describe them to you.

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