Sunday, January 6, 2013

Vertically Challenged and Covered in Dust

The day dawned clear and bright and I leapt out of bed, anxious to get started.  I grabbed a hoodie, figuring that even though the days were fairly warm it was still December and there was bound to be at least a bit of a chill in the air this early in the morning.

I had wanted to see Petra for so long, I truly thought that I would explode before ever laying eyes on the Treasury.  Don't know what the Treasury is/looks like?  Odds are if you've ever seen an image of Petra, it's been of the Treasury.  Seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?  He rides right by it and finds the Grail nearby.  It's not there anymore, though.  The Grail, I mean.  The Treasury is doing just fine.  I knew that Petra was much much more than just that of course, but will admit that I had no idea just how far it stretched.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.   The PuppetMaster and I met our guide The Flirt in the lobby and together we walked over to the entrance (yes, our hotel was THAT close) and ventured in. 

After a short walk we reached The Siq, which is the long curving path cut through the mountains that leads to the city itself.  Here and there you can see bits of cobblestones left over from when the Romans happened along and thought they'd spruce the place up by laying an official path down on the hard-packed dirt.  There were even a few trees sprouting right up out of the rocks themselves, against all apparent odds.  Very A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,
if you know what I mean.  The Siq seemed to wind through forever and we were nearly alone in our pilgrimage that morning.  Well, except for those periodic moments when we heard the swiftly approaching clattering of hoofs and had to leap to the side and press ourselves into the walls to avoid being run down by a horse galloping by with a few terrified passengers clinging white-knuckled to the carriage bouncing behind.  We saw one determined Japanese gentleman almost get mushed because he refused to move from the middle of the path until he had gotten the photo he wanted, completely ignoring the frothing four-legged death barreling his way.
The carved openings nestled here and there high above our heads as we strolled along whetted our appetite for what was to come.  The walls reach up so high and the path curved so sinuously that the light of the rising sun rarely made it more than a quarter of the way down towards us.  We walked silently on through the lightening shadows and I drew my jacket tighter around me to ward off the bite in the air.  As we progressed, I noticed deep grooves cut into the sides of the mountain walls.  I would see these again running throughout Petra itself.  I asked The Flirt what they were and he said they were used to transport water throughout the city.  They were lined with terra cotta pipes, some of which were still there.  Bits of plates and bowls could still be found lying amidst the rubble by some of the tombs, which is pretty amazing if you think about it.   

After seemingly forever we snaked around a bend and through the narrow crack in the rocks ahead, stretching over a hundred feet above, I saw it.  The Treasury.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I got a little choked up at this point.  The sun was pouring onto it making it look like it was on fire, so bright it hurt to look directly at it.  As we slowly cleared the dark shadows of The Siq and stepped blinking into the blinding light of day, our jaws dropped as we gaped up up up to the top of the monument that seemed to scrape the sky above.  The full expanse of the Rose City swept down to our right but we only had eyes for the incredible building carved into the rock in front of us.  Said to be as old as 200BC the Treasury is no joke.  To see it in person is to have your breath stolen away.  
As our eyes shifted back down to earth we saw, lying in front of the Treasury and looking very intolerantly bored with everything, our first camel.  Richly tasseled blankets were draped over him and a brightly jeweled saddle was perched across his hump.  He regarded us with baleful eyes, then stretched his long neck out and gently rested his heavy head on the warm sand.  The air was thick with time and meaning, the sand that shifted beneath our feet heavy with history.  Time seemed to slow to a stop then swing backwards, carrying us back hundreds of years to when the Bedouin masons looked at the mountains and envisioned a great city.  My musings about this idyllic setting were abruptly shattered by a loud, disgusting sound that could only be described as someone noisily experiencing massive, painful indigestion.  Or possibly about a dozen donkey/goat/cow hybrids being attacked by a chainsaw-waving madman.  On the plus side, now I know what a camel sounds like.  And thanks to Petra's great acoustics, I wasn't allowed to forget it.....the entire time we were there.  The grunts, groans and moans echoed and reverberated throughout the entire canyon.  Constantly.  And it never failed to send me into a fit of giggles, not once.  This was very nearly hazardous at several points.  

Now safely returned to reality by our friends the camels, we were ready to give The Flirt a portion of our attention again.  We strolled on, trying not to openly gape at the wonders of the ancient city.  The colors alone would blow your mind.  There were incredible shades of pink, red, citrine, black, ecru, cream, and every shade in between.  You quickly realize why it's called the Rose City.  Of course, I had to climb into every tomb I could even remotely access and take silly pictures every five seconds, but hey! that's part of the fun. 
At one point as we meandered around, we came across a small Bedouin market area.  Turns out, the stalls were placed in front of the caves that were still actually their homes.  That kind of threw me for a minute.  You don't often think of people living in caves any more, Bedouin or not.  And certainly not caves that happen to be located in one of the Wonders of the World.  It's almost like discovering that someone has set up shop in Washington's nose over at Mt. Rushmore, you know?  But the Bedouins were lovely.  As a gesture of hospitality, we were invited to sit in their home and offered tea.  We ducked into the mouth of the cave and were astounded by the beautiful decorations inside.  Thickly woven blankets were draped on the floor and more were loosely hung from the ceiling and along with multiple richly embroidered tapestries they decorated the walls.  A large painting of the king was hung prominently on the back of the cave and jeweled camel saddles were strewn about.  It was surprisingly warm and homey.  We sat cross-legged on the floor and soaked it all in for a few moments before the urge to shop overcame me and I was compelled to slink out the entrance and back into the stall.  Thirty minutes, two hundred dollars and one intense bargaining session later, we were invited to join the Bedouin men around the fire (it was still rather chilly after all) and a strong cup of mint tea was brought out for each of us.  One of them smoked contentedly on his water pipe and the other bantered with us as we sipped our strong drinks and held our hands close to the glowing coals in the brazier.  I later told The PM that I felt like this was something I should put on my list of things to do before I die and then put a big fat check mark next to.  I mean, how many times in your life will you have the opportunity to sip tea around a fire with Bedouins while the sun rises over an ancient city?  Done and done. 

When nature called, we answered by traipsing up to two caves that had actually been converted into restrooms.  Prettiest bathrooms I've ever seen.  Well, at least the men's room was.  The line for the women's was too long so I jumped into the other one.  This seemed to scandalize a few of the other folks standing around but I had to go and my level of caring had sunk quite low at that particular point in time.  So sue me.  While I was still waiting in line though, The Flirt grabbed me and pulled me over, hissing furiously in my ear that the Queen was here!  Say what?  I wheeled around to look in the direction he was frantically pointing and saw that so she was.  I snatched The PM and dragged him over while I chattered at her, telling her what a beautiful country she had and asking if we could snap a quick photo with her.  She agreed and I put my arm around her as The Flirt took the shot.  I found out shortly afterwards that The PM tried to put his arm around her as well, but her bodyguard didn't really think too much of that idea and grabbed his arm before he could.  Can't get too friendly with Queenie, I s'pose.  But she was very gracious in addition to being absolutely lovely.  Truly one of the most stunningly beautiful women I've ever seen.  So we had a nice little moment with her before she was whisked away saying "I just wanted to blend!  I didn't think people would recognize me!" Well then, perhaps you should re-think arriving by helicopter next time, hmmm?  'Cause that's not conspicuous or anything.  Although I'll agree that the track suit and baseball hat had been a good call.

So we utilized the gorgeous (men's) restroom while The Flirt pulled himself together and then it was time to move on.  We skipped through the ancient streets, snapping pictures like paparazzi, until we came to a temple that was still under excavation.  Rising up behind the ruins was a gigantic craggy peak.  The Flirt had warned us earlier that since it was just the two of us and we were young and strapping and such, that we would be doing a spot of climbing later on.  However, that warning had come quite a bit earlier in the day and at that point I was not at all worried about it.  The Flirt mentioned something else about seeing the temple ruins from a different angle which we nodded absent-mindedly about as we continued exploring and then we marched on without giving it a second thought. 

It wasn't until about thirty minutes later when we were being led along a path towards the back of the temple complex that we passed a sign that warned against going any further.  Shortly thereafter we started climbing over big chunks of rock and I started to become a trifle suspicious.  Surely we weren't climbing the peak?  Surely not.  Well, shows what I know.  
The gigantic pile of rocks we found ourselves climbing is known as Crucader Fortress of Habis.  And we shimmied up to the very top.  The very tippy, can't-go-any-further-unless-you-can-fly top.  And it was kind of painfully difficult for me in multiple places since often the next "step" would be much higher than anything I could comfortably or easily climb up onto.  In pretty short order, I started using my hands to pull myself along and quite often needed The PM's help.  It's just not fair to put the rocks that far apart!  The Flirt and The PM are a couple of daddy long legs and I'm like a flea, comparatively speaking.  I did get my revenge, though.  At one point there were a few rotted-looking planks of wood thrown across a rather steep crevice-of-sorts.  I hesitate to call it a chasm, but I'm not sure what other word would truly describe this particular spot.  A gap?  A long gap that features a special in icky death or possibly just painful brokenness should you fall through?  With just a few unsupported 2x4s to help you out?  Well, I think you get the idea.  
We lined up, staring at the makeshift bridge and casting sideways glances at each other.  The Flirt went first, inching slowly across while advising us to use at least two planks (I think there were four) to balance out the weight and make our footing more secure.  Have I mentioned yet that The PM is afraid of heights?  Because he is.  Just FYI.  He went next, as quickly as he felt he could safely go and I'm fairly certain he did not exhale until securely on the other side.  Then there's me.  Strolling across, posing for a picture, gawking around.  It was very cool and made me feel like an adventurer, you know?  All I needed at that point was a grappling hook so I could swing across and I would have been happily in my element.  Okay, admittedly, it doesn't take much to get me hopped up on adrenaline. 


We continued our trek and soon reached the summit.  And it was bee-yoo-tiful.  You could see all the glory of Petra laid out before you and let me just say that awe-inspiring doesn't even begin to describe it.  While up there we took some more fun pictures while soaking in the sun's warm rays and letting the gentle breeze that drifted by cool our flushed cheeks.  The Flirt told us that only about 1 in 1000 make it all the way up there.  After scaling the whole damn thing, I feel justified in saying that that number may be a bit high.  After a bit it dawned on us that, barring a last minute base-jumping excursion that The Flirt had yet to reveal, we were now going to have to climb all the way back down.  Sigh.  The thing with climbing down is, the rocks aren't magically any smaller due to the change in direction.  And it wasn't safe to jump down as I was not overly fond of the thought of snapping my ankles in half.  As a result, I was still going to have some very specific challenges due directly to the non-length of my legs.  About midway down The PM turned to me and grinned "At least down is easier, huh?" "Gee, you really think so?" was my snappish retort as I skidded by in a hail of stones. 
At one point, we stopped to take some photos against a particularly lovely backdrop and The Flirt got a bit ahead of us.  When we caught up we apologized for the delay, explaining that we wanted to take a few extra pics.  The Flirt said no problem; he just figured that we wanted a "private moment".  Um, okay.  What did he think we were going to do?  Stop for a quickie?  We're on the side of a mountain!  I know that the story is that we're married blabbity blah blah blah but.....seriously?  Are there people whose chemistry is so strong that you'd need a fire hose to separate them, even on the side of a steep mountain?  And did The PM and I somehow give off that vibe?  I think not.  And since I think of The PM like a bratty brother, it kind of squicked me out.  It was all I could do to keep up the "honeys" and "yes, dear" nonsense after that.

But eventually, mercifully, we reached the bottom, though not before befriending a little black goat that followed us for the last few minutes, taunting me with the nimble way she leapt from rock to rock and snickering behind her hoof every time I slipped.  I named her Wilhelmina. Why?  Who knows, it was the first name I could think of that wasn't Billy and she most clearly was not a "Billy". 
Dusty and weary, we stumbled over to the caves that housed the "restaurant".  We washed up as best we could from a shallow basin of water that was provided and then proceeded to pile our plates high with creamy hommos, cool labneh and steaming piles of spiced lamb, beef, chicken and fish.  The Flirt went to the griddle and brought us a plate full of freshly made steaming hot falafel.  I wolfed everything down, enjoying the riot of flavors and the freshness of the warm pita I scooped everything up with.  Around the time I was reaching critical mass, a creamsicle-colored kitty came up to say hello and of course we struck up a friendship.  I am the Cat Whisperer, after all.  I fed the already sleek cat some chicken and lamb which he slurped up in the blink of an eye.  After my plate was devoid of anything else that he wanted, I guilted The Flirt and The PM into emptying their plates as well.  The Flirt weakly tried to protest, saying that we shouldn't be feeding him but after a misty look from me he forked over his scraps.  All in all, a good day for kitty, to be sure. 
Then, all too soon, it was time to leave Petra.  We headed back out through The Siq, across the broken cobblestones that still remained courtesy of those ancient Roman invaders.  The PM and The Flirt chose to walk the rest of the way, but I decided to ride.  Not because I was tired, although I was, but because I was in Petra and that's what you're supposed to do.  We were entitled to a free horse ride and while I harbor no illusions as to the similarities between Indiana Jones and myself (there are none) I still felt that it was important to be on horseback while in Petra.  They had me mount from the right, which was a little odd, but I swung my leg over the white mare's smooth back and off we went.  They have a guy leading the horse for you which was a little embarrassing since the last time I had to be led I was about six years old.  I managed to get over my discomfort fairly rapidly in no small part because of the guide himself.  Who, incidentally, was HOT.  Unbelievably, earth-shatteringly smokin' HAWT.  I would attempt to describe him, but I don't want to turn this into a romance novel.  Imagine the most gorgeous Arabian prince you can think of and then multiply that by ten and throw him in a pair of tight Levi's and you'll have this guy.  So it was a pleasant ride, to say the least.  The PM and The Flirt seemed a bit disgruntled but overall were very tolerant about it all.  Not that they had a whole heck of a lot of choice in the matter.  But still.

I think now is a good time to mention how cute I looked when I headed out that morning.  Unfortunately, in one of my usual lapses of common sense, I had selected black as my primary, well, really my only color for the day's wardrobe.  And after hauling my cookies all over Petra for the span of an entire day, I can safely say that there was not one spot of black left on me by the end.  I was just sort of a sandy gray by the time we exited the Siq.  The PM certainly had a lot of fun taking pictures of me in my increasingly dusty state.  Seemed to amuse him for some reason.  I would imagine that once he has some time at home, he is going to assemble some kind of dust-progression triptych suitable for display.  It's the only possible explanation for him taking that many photos of my grubby self.  I figured that my cargoes would now make a good pair of pants to wear on the camel, come Egypt. 

Some other random notes about Petra:  
  • There are donkeys everywhere!  And they are very nearly as loud as the camels.  Much cuter, though.
  • As noisy as the camels can be, they move surprisingly quietly.  I had one sneak up on me and didn't even realize he was there until the shadow of his long neck stretched out over me and I very nearly piddled myself.  Sneaky little things, camels.
  • Before heading back to our hotel for the remainder of the evening, The Flirt had a recommendation for us that we found intriguing.  It turns out there was a real honest-to-goodness Turkish Bath just up the street.  Always game for an adventure, I quickly agreed.  It sounded like a delightful way to recoup from the day and rest our tired muscles.  We decided that sounded perfectly heavenly.  Well, I decided.  The PM just followed along.  Neither of us really knew what was involved, but I figured when in Rome.....and besides, The Flirt had highly recommended it and he hadn't steered us wrong yet.  
  • We got there and the boys headed into the dude section while I headed upstairs to the women's area and was immediately told to put on a bathing suit of which there was a small selection available.  Of course I immediately balked at that but was assured that they had all been properly sanitized.  I was more than a little skeptical about that claim.  In a word:  ick.  None of them looked like the right size so I grabbed the biggest one I could find so that it would kind of hang low and not come into a whole lot of direct contact with my crotch and then gingerly pulled it on.  I toddled out and to her credit, the lady barely even snickered at me.  
  • I was ushered through a stone door into a wide white room with a low ceiling.  Steam filled the air and curled out of the main area into little nooks spaced around the edges of the space.  I was shown to a little alcove towards the back and told to stay as long as I could take the heat.  So I sat there to cook while the lady shuffled off.  A while later, she came back to see if I was done but I told her I was okay to stay a while longer.  She came back twice more and seemed concerned when I told her I was still fine, the heat wasn't bothering me yet.  The thing about spending a portion of your life dressing up as a large woodland creature is it gives you an amazing tolerance for heat.  So I baked for a while longer and when I got bored I meandered out into the main area to find her. 
  • I was pulled into yet another area and crisply told to disrobe.  I was glad to peel off the icky swimsuit so no problem.  As I stood there in my birthday suit I watched her snag something that was balanced on a small ledge in the corner.  She put on what turned out to be a rough mitt and then proceeded to scrub my entire body until I was a raw pink.  Then she had me hop up onto a marble slab after which she washed me down while giving me an extremely vigorous massage.  Seriously, I think she may have been upset with someone at the time.  Also?  I have never been that clean in my entire life.  People having just gone through decontamination aren't that clean.  Let's just say that she was very VERY thorough and knows me quite well now.  Another fun part of that is that I was constantly in danger of sliding off since the marble was quite slippery from all the steam pouring into the room and my body was all wet and soapy so I had to curl my fingers around the edge so I didn't launch off the end.  She kept shoving me back into place like a piece of one of those infernal puzzles with the one piece missing and then continuing to essentially beat me up in lieu of a massage.  After all that, she literally hosed me down and handed me a towel.  
She had washed my hair as well and it now had a definite Rasta look to it as there was no conditioner or comb to be found and I hadn't brought anything with me since I had no idea at the beginning of my day that the end would be here.  But I still paused to cool off and have a cup of tea with the ladies that worked there after I was deposited back in the lobby area.  Then, with my hair approaching serious dreadlock phase, I went downstairs to collect The PM, who was looking very pinkly scrubbed himself, when our driver The Mouth showed up and told us that he had a surprise for us.  The Flirt feigned innocence and said he didn't know what was going on.  Right.  I had some suspicions about the nature of this surprise and was getting fairly desperate to get back to the hotel to change and get some conditioner in my hair before it decided to stay in its current rat's nest of knots.  
We were pulled into a shop whose owner was apparently a friend of The Mouth's and presented with two bottles of sand art (it's very big there) with our names written on the inside.  Great.  Mine was misspelled of course.  There's just something about my name that kills people.  Even when spelled out or carefully pronounced, they just can't manage it.  After five months in Ireland people I worked with every week still couldn't get it and so I'm not sure why I expected a few days in Jordan to be any different.  But I'm used to it.  And it was sweet, I suppose, but now in order to not be horribly rude, we had to browse through the shop and find something to buy.  Crap.  "You know this is a plot to get us to buy stuff, right?" The PM whispered darkly in my ear.  "No, really?" I hissed back, my eyes wide with feigned surprise.  At that point The PM promptly hung me out to dry by scampering outside after just a cursory look around so I picked out a few things as quickly as possible and paid, grateful to be able to escape back to the hotel.  Thirty minutes and nearly an entire bottle of conditioner later, I was in my jammies and feeling much better.  We snarfled down some food and collapsed into bed.  
That night  I dreamt of ancient cities with rose colored stones and hated to wake up the next morning.

No comments:

Post a Comment