Jordan Petra 2001.05.02 - 05.04

Sandstone Beauty

Petra is a valley of colorful sandstone hills into which ancient Nabataeans carved immense ornate tombs in the 6th century B.C. Sandstone colors are red, yellow, blue, white, purple, and green patterned in straight lines. waves, and swirls. Up close, the rock has a natural beauty unequalled elsewhere in the world. Into this gorgeous setting are carved tombs with visually striking facades. One of the most impressive is the first one encountered after walking over 1km through the narrow cliff walls of the Siq. Used in the Indiana Jones movie "The Last Crusade", this tomb called "The Treasury" is where Indiana Jones enters to retrieve the Holy Grail.

In 106 A.D., the Roman Empire took control of Petra and erected typical Roman city structures such as a theater, bath, and colonnaded street. Using the colorful sandstone as building material, these Roman ruins may be the prettiest in the world.

Before entering, purchase the "Map of Petra" available at most stores in Wadi Musa. Petra is at least 30km² and has over 800 registered sites, some up partially eroded stairs and others tucked behind rocks. The lack of signs in Petra make the map essential.

A bus runs between the Wahadat bus station and the roundabout in the center of Wadi Musa, the town next to the sandstone hills of Petra. Wahadat is the first town south of Amman but the Wahadat bus station is several kilometers away from its center. Finding bus or shared taxi transport in downtown Amman to the Wahadat bus station isn't easy. A regular taxi should cost about JD 0.750.

The official price of the bus to Wadi Musa is JD 1.650 but tourists are often asked to pay JD 2.5 "with luggage". The bus leaves when it's full.

We went to Wahadat bus station one day ahead of time without our luggage to verify the price and departure time. This method normally got us accurate information in other countries. We were told that the bus leaves hourly starting at 07:00 and costs JD 1.500 without luggage or JD 2.500 with. "But be early to make sure you get a seat," the bus attendant advised. The next morning slogging through a rain flooded Amman, we reached the Wahadat bus station at 06:30. 07:00 came and went. 08:00 was the same. By 09:30, the bus was full and we were on our way. So much for hourly departures! During our unexpected 3 hour wait, the price fluctuated between JD 2.500 and JD 1.500. A passenger who was an off-duty tourist police burst into argument with the bus attendant and suddenly the price for everyone, local or tourist, with or without luggage, was JD 1.650.

We reached Wadi Musa at 13:30, 4 hours after leaving Amman. The bus first stops at Musa Springs Hotel long enough for hotel staff to complete their sales pitch. Fortunately, a Belgian woman on our bus who had once stayed there warned everyone that it's over an hour walk from the hotel to town where all the grocery stores and restaurants are. The next bus stop is the Wadi Musa roundabout where staff from several hotels await new arrivals.

Few travelers have anything good to say about hotels in Wadi Musa. Many have warned to avoid Valentine Inn where the owner has a criminal history of raping female tourists. We stayed at Saba'a Inn where the reception will tell any lie to trap guests into tours they sell to Wadi Rum. One couple we met liked the Orient Hotel.

Admission to Petra is high but the site is possibly the most extraordinary in the world. Admission is JD 20.000 for one day, JD 25.000 for 2, and JD 30.000 for 3 or 4. The gate opens at 06:00 and officially closes at 17:00 but visitors can stagger back later. Most of Petra can be seen in one day with an early morning start. The heat during the day is exhausting so many people decide to view portions of Petra over multiple days.

From the entrance gate, this sandstone Siq winds for 1.2km until it arrives at the Treasury. The gorge narrows to 2 meters at some places. The walls reach 200 meters in height.

The most impressive tomb is this Al Khazneh Treasury. The name comes from a story that pirates once hid their treasure inside a 3.5 meter high urn. The urn, however, is solid rock.

Wes and Masami sit next to a Bedouin girl selling colored pieces of sandstone. She took a liking to us when Wes gave her a bag of potato chips, waving to us every time she spotted us during the day.

Up close, the sandstone of Petra is multi-colored. This section of stone is linear patterned stone in white, yellow, blue, and red.

Other sections of Petra sandstone have wavy and swirled patterns in a beautiful combination of white, black, and red.

From afar, the sandstone looks uniform in color. This is the Roman Soldier Tomb, so named because of the soldier statues above the entrance.

From high up, the enormity of some tombs is apparent. The tiny openings at the lowest point of each square facade are 2 meter high entrances.

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