Friday, May 4, 2018

April 28th – Finding the Holy Grail of Petra

Any time spent in the magical Lost City of Petra always leaves me wanting more. The main landmark sights, like the iconic Treasury, the Ancient Theatre and the Royal Tombs are stunning enough, but there’s so much more to this amazing site than that.

On a day trip from Aqaba, you spend 2 and a bit hours to get there, then of course you have that atmospheric walk down the Siq (the canyon) to get your first stunning views of the Treasury – and, for a lot of people, that’s about enough. The walk is tiring, the ground uneven, and seeing the Treasury is sometimes enough to “tick the box” for that quintessential Petra view.

But, for me, I’m always desperate to see more – it’s just a case of how much time you have and how far you can go, before you have to turn around and re-trace your steps. Luckily enough, our group this time was quite a speedy one and our guide was quite economical with his words, so on getting to the Treasury, we were given 2 hours of free time.

So, I had to calculate how far I could go in that time. My goal was to get up to see the Monastery, which is at the far end of the site, and up over 800 steps up into the steep hills behind the main ruins. Our guide said I should calculate on 45 minutes to get to the trail, and 1 hour to get up – which obviously wouldn’t be enough time, but I reckoned I could do it in half that time if I was fast.

Fortunately, it had rained the day before in Petra (a rare occurrence in these arid landscapes), so it was a bit cooler for my march through the sand to the start of the trail up to the monastery. At this point, I decided that I needed to run up the steps if I was going to have any chance of making it up there.

I was like a man possessed as I bounded up the steps, (some of them worn by the millennia into little better than rough slopes), and I zoomed past the other monastery-climbers. I think that my puffing and panting and slipping and sliding must have scared a few of them taking a more leisurely climb, as I loomed up on them like an asthmatic mountain goat. As I rounded every corner I expected to see the Monastery there waiting for me; however, as fatigue was setting in, eventually, a kind stall holder told me that I was 2 minutes away, so I began to relax, and then I got my first breathtaking view of the Monastery to put a spring back into my weary steps. It had taken me 19 lung-bursting minutes.

In some ways, the Monastery is more impressive than the Treasury – it’s less ornate, but it’s bigger, and it’s more obviously part of the rock face. Plus, the other good thing is that the hundreds (possibly thousands) of tourists and vendors who throng the Treasury, turning it into a bit of a noisy zoo, will never make it up here, so you feel like you’ve got this place to yourself. If I hadn’t now been plastered in sweat and weak from my run, it would have been a totally magical experience, savouring a view that feels like it’s one of the Holy Grails of travelling.

I gave myself 5 minutes to drink in the view (and more importantly get my breath back), and then it was time to run back down again, in a journey that wasn’t really any quicker because I kept slipping on the sandy rocks.

Somehow I got back at the appointed hour for lunch, and I have to say that the cold beer back at the lunch venue has rarely tasted better after this exertion. Sometimes a good day’s sightseeing can be a combination of workout and ancient wonders. Another wonderful day.