Sunday, December 1, 2013

Jordan and Petra

Our original plan had been to fly to Cairo from Dubai and spend a few days in Egypt. But it became clear several months ago that Egypt is probably not a good place to go as a tourist at the moment, and so we changed our plans and stayed in Dubai a little longer before heading to Jordan.

Our primary reason for going to Jordan was to visit Petra, the ancient city carved out of the rock faces of a canyon. But first, we spent a day in Jordan. We had a nice room at the Sheraton in Amman with a balcony and lots of space to hang out, and we really enjoyed it.

The following morning, we set out for Petra.  Along the way we had the opportunity to visit the Dead Sea, which is the lowest spot on the planet. We stopped to take a photo of this marker at sea level, and then continued to descend to 427 meters below that (1401 feet).

We stopped at one of the many resorts along the Dead Sea for a few hours, and it was really interesting.

This area is incredibly desolate, but that emphasizes the starkness of its beauty.

There was a small artificial beach where people could go into the water. 

There were also big pots of mud that people were smearing all over their bodies. After it dried, they washed it off in the water. I'm assuming this is supposed to be good for your skin. 

Carter played in the sand for a bit before we changed into our swimsuits to get in the water ourselves.

There are special instructions for swimming in the Dead Sea.

The water is so incredibly salty because of the elevation of the lake. There is literally nowhere for the water to go, and so it collects here after carrying all of the minerals it's picked up along the way. The water then evaporates, leaving the salt and minerals behind.

As you are probably aware, the Dead Sea's incredible saltiness makes you float very easily. In fact, you can't not float! Even as we walked into the water, I could feel myself popping up!

In fact, Carter was able to use me as a float!

We both tasted the water, and wow -- it was indescribably salty! Unfortunately, that also meant that it quickly got into some cuts on each of us, and that made the experience a bit unpleasant. We rinsed off and then went swimming in the resort's pool instead.

After a few hours, we headed on our way once more. We drove down the length of the Dead Sea, and the scenery was beautiful.

One of the things that is really interesting about Jordan is that many of the places in the country are ones I've read about my entire life, everywhere from Sunday School to archaeology courses in college.  For example, this rock formation is considered to be the spot from the story in Genesis in which Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt when fleeing Sodom.

The coastline of the Dead Sea is amazing. These salt formations along the edge of the water are really beautiful.

Jordan is a relatively poor country in this part of the world. Unlike many of its neighbors, it doesn't have oil.

There is a large Bedouin population in Jordan, and we saw many tents along the road, along with flocks of sheep and goats.

We also saw herds of camels!

The Bedouin tents looked very different than I expected. They were long and narrow, and there were often many vehicles parked around them.

Despite the incredibly barren appearance of the land, the soil is apparently fairly rich if water is available.

But some parts of it looked like another planet.

Just before we got to the city of Wadi Mousa (where Petra is located), we stopped for a view of Shobak Castle, used by 12th century crusaders.

The next day, we visited Petra. Petra is an ancient city carved out of the rock cliffs of a canyon. The site has been occupied for at least 3500 years, but around 300 BC, the Nabataeans constructed aqueducts and began to build the city. It was at the center of trade in the region until it was captured by the Romans. It was "lost" to the western world until the 19th century.

You enter Petra by walking down into a gorge.

The gorge is lined with carved out caves that served as dwellings for people in ancient times.

There are also elaborate carved tombs along the path.

The buildings are still stunning, even after withstanding the elements for thousands of years. It must have been an incredible sight when the city was at the height of its power.

The gorge eventually becomes a canyon.

You can see the layers of the sedimentary rock.

These stones are the remains of the Roman road. You can also see the stone gutter through which water flowed into the city. There are many natural springs in the area, and the ancient Nabataeans built a complex set of aqueducts to bring water into the city. In fact, this allowed the Romans to conquer the city without using violence: they simply cut off the water supply, and the people surrendered.

Horse-drawn carts travel up and down the canyon, ferrying tourists back and forth.

Even before we got to the main part of the city, the ruins were spectacular.

Here you can see the remains of a statue carved into the rock.

And below you can see what's left of the images of two camels.

And then at the end of the canyon, we finally caught our first glimpse of Petra's most famous ruin.

The is the "Treasury" - though there's no evidence it was ever actually a treasury or contained treasure of any kind.

If you've seen the third Indiana Jones film, then this building will look familiar! It was the entrance to the place where the Holy Grail was being kept in the movie. 

It's really incredible to see in person. The spot has been fairly well protected from the elements, and so the exterior is remarkably well preserved.

There were locals waiting around with camels and donkeys to give tourists rides around the ruins.

Carter and I almost got a photo of the two of us alone!

There were kittens running around the ruins.

From the Treasury, we walked down further to where the main part of the city was located. There were caves everywhere that once served as shops, homes, and food stalls.

There was a very large amphitheater.

Here you can get a sense of the scale of the place. The caves carved up high in the cliffs are tombs.

This would have been a shopping street two thousand years ago.

Some of these elaborate facades were tombs for wealthy inhabitants.

There are still Bedouins living in some of the caves along the edges of the ancient city, and their livestock climbs around on the ruins.

There are also archaeological digs going on, of course.

The walk into the city is several kilometers, all downhill. Carter held up well, but we decided to take a different route out. It took a bit of convincing to get him on a donkey, but once he was in the saddle, he was fine.

The donkeys know where they're going, of course, so it was a fairly easy ride.

Still, I was impressed by how quickly Carter took to it. He's never ridden a horse or any other kind of animal before! Maybe I'll be able to get him on a horse after this. :-)

We saw more of the ruins on the way out. The site is very large and is truly spectacular. It was classified as a World Heritage Site at the beginning of November, which should help lend it some more protection.

I wish we'd been able to spend more time exploring the ruins, but alas, some things are just plain difficult to do with a five-year-old. So we were back at the hotel by mid-afternoon for some relaxing time.

The next morning, we headed back to the airport in Amman for our flight to Tel Aviv, Israel.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't commented in a while but I've still been reading/looking. I'm so glad you decided to share your journal. The pictures are amazing but all information is really the best part.

    ps - Carter is getting so big!