Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Nabataeans, one of the most powerful people you’ve never heard of…

I've added pictures but I don't know why some are distorted.

The view of the arid lands from our bus window
Aqaba. The port whose capture in WWI was the beginning of the end of the Turkish empire in Arabia. Or so our shipboard guide says. And the port that’s just a few hours from a spectacular temple carved into the stone of the mountain. I had never heard of Aqaba before this trip.

Nor had I heard of the Nabataeans (Nab-ah-TEE-uns). They controlled the water in the desert and thus the trading that crossed that desert and thus became quite wealthy and powerful, defeating even Alexander the Great’s army not once, but twice. They carved Petra out of the desert rock. If you have seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, you have seen the temple at Petra. Although the Nabataeans originally carved it thousands of years ago at some point it was abandoned and not rediscovered until about two centuries ago.

Narelle and our guide
So off we went on one of Narelle’s tours to see Petra. Not as long a ride as to the Valley of the Kings, nevertheless it was quite long (two hours). We had been warned so much about the heat (as high as 50°C (122°F) and the amount of walking (2-4 miles, 3-6km) that quite a few of the passengers gave up on trips to Petra. As it happened, the heat was not as bad as we were told; I would have judged it to be perhaps only 39-40°C (101-104°F). Nonetheless, it is not the kind of weather you choose to go for a stroll in. Especially uphill (down into Petra, uphill home)! I am frankly amazed that so few are overcome by the weather. My friends in Tucson will agree, I’m sure, you don’t go hiking at 3p when the temperature is 40°C! Especially if you don’t live in that climate. We started down into Petra at about noon and walked back out (well, some of us rode, but more on that later) at about 4p.

Luckily or unluckily, there are vendors everywhere, even down right in front of the temple. Luckily because you can buy water or soft drinks or postcards or souvenirs almost anywhere. Unluckily because the vendors, some as young as six or eight, pester you constantly. About your only recourse is to completely ignore them. No eye contact EVER or you will really be hounded. One of our group said “no” about three times but them made the strategic error of saying “oh, that’s pretty” at which point there was almost a riot because the vendors smelled a victim. I think the police had to become involved. They are really sharks in disquise. Some people buy something just to get rid of them. I watched on man bedeviled by a vendor who finally took whatever he was selling and threw some money at him just so he could get on the bus (yes, they blocked the bus door so we had extreme difficulty getting through the door to get on). Sorry, kids, we haven’t bought anything yet!

Petra cannot be described and my pictures do not do it justice at all, it has to be experienced! It IS a long walk, first down a well-paved path to the entrance to the Siq. I don’t know what Siq means, but it is a very narrow cleft in the rock—but wide enough for a horse and cart to get through—leading to the Temple carved out of rock.

Our guide led us down the path, stopping occasionally to tell us about the history. Not a great guide because he didn’t wait for everybody and he stopped in the sun (there really isn’t much shade, however). I pretty quickly lost interest because I didn’t want to rush and thus wasn’t among the first to get there and thus didn’t hear the beginning of what he was saying. Nor do I do well standing in the direct sun for five to ten minutes. Eventually we got to the Temple and it is a jaw-dropping sight. We wandered about and finally decided to go back.

One of the horse carts that can take you down to the Temple.
Seeing a queue for the horse carriages in front of the Temple, we (I) decided to take a cart back. The queue moved very slowly as the people who had bought a round trip had priority. Finally, we got to the front, at one point standing up for the guy and his wife behind us when they were accused of “jumping the queue.” The next available cart arrived (after four had been taken by the round-trippers) and we moved to get in. The guy behind us pushed us aside and got in the cart despite Randy’s insistance we were first. The guy shrugged and said he bribed the guy so he could go first, as if we cared about his excuse for being a jerk (at least he wasn’t an American, I think he was Australian). That is about as angry as I have ever seen Randy. Not that I blame him and not that I wasn’t angry and yelling as well. We had been standing in the sun for about 40 minutes and this guy just jumps to the front. The last thing Randy said was, “How can you look at yourself in the mirror?” And, he wonders, how would you like to have that guy as your wingman?

Our daughter will not enjoy our description of the horse-cart trip. The Jordanian drivers do not care about their horses and yell and whip them to get them to run—$35 one way, the more trips they make, the more money they get. The footing is very uneven, sometimes a pavement of sorts, sometimes very large cobblestones mixed in with pavement, it’s a wonder there were no accidents. The wheels are inflated rubber but the jarring is horrendous. But we didn’t have to walk back, uphill, in the unrelenting sun.

The bus was scheduled to leave at 4p but we were missing three passengers. Eventually they were found but not before the bus left at 4:30p to take us to dinner, our first meal of the day other than breakfast at 7a that morning. The meal was amazing with a gorgeous view over the valley that the city of Petra is in, but I think it is just bad policy to not give us a meal for eight hours while expecting us to walk several miles in the heat. But that’s my only complaint. The missing passengers got caught waiting for the horse-carts.

And so to home and the third bad thing: Randy is sick.

One of the many "buildings" carved into the rock (Petra means rock)

A horse-cart on the way in to the Temple

Randy, taking one of his rare rests

the viw of the Siq, or cleft that leads to the Temple

The Temple at Petra

The view over the horse's back on our way out.

Flat Stanley at the entrance to Petra

This was the only beer we found and it certainly wasn't a local beer!

Lunch was delicious, but Randy was sick the next day.

Pam, perched unwillingly on the wall over the modern city of Petra (and someones hand!)

The lineup of busses for Petra.


  1. I hope Randy is a little better today.

    I follow all your blogging thank you for your very frank views its good to know the good and the bad its refreshing.

  2. If you have a Kindle or other ereader you might be interested in reading more about the Nabateans and Petra in the new ebook "Petra: A Brief History" available at either or

  3. Thanks! I'll look for that book.

  4. The horses look Arabian, or at least partbred Arabian. And their hooves look in decent order (from what I can see) though I can't tell if they have shoes (which would help them) so I'll go with "they look pretty" and hope that they get decent care each night back at their barns (yeah, I'm an optimist!) Thanks for the "horsie" fix, Mom! Love you! Kathy