Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Proper Way to See Petra


One of the New Seven Wonders of the world.

A Place to See Before You Die.

“A rose-red city half as old as time.”

Petra. The sandstone-carved ruins of Nabatean and Roman civilization.

How do you approach such a repository of history embedded in the wind-swept landscape of desert rock?

You could whip out your trusty guidebook, the one you were reading and highlighting on the plane on your way here. You could walk around with your face between its pages, looking up briefly to try to decipher from the shapes of tombstone arches whether they are features derived from Northern Syria or whether they are elaborate facades copied from Roman temples.

You could curse as the sand gets into your sandals and delays your progress towards your destination, you only have until 6 PM to make it back to your hotel, after all. Or mumble in disapproval as the horse-drawn carriage careens past you and pushes you into the red-swirled walls of the Siq, the rickety wheels and cries in Arabic signaling it’s high-speed passage.

Or you could, on a whim, rent a donkey. Not that you’ve ever sat on one before. And find yourself, after 4 hours of clinging to the beast’s back and perilously swinging close to the edge of a cliff

and after having listened to your Bedouin donkey-owner-turned-guide, wearing water sandals and a “Happy Hour Friday LA” T-shirt wax poetic not about the ancient ruins around him, but rather about the ruins of his only true love, a Western woman who roamed his lands for a month and slept under the stars with him until she decided she wasn’t cut out for a life in Petra

I wonder if she regretted it.

and after these fours hours of dust and dimmed love stories, you could find yourself on your trusty stead untruthfully named Lazy, in the middle of a group of young Bedouins who you can only hope are among the 500 cousins your friendly guide boasts of, picking up pace on the moving sand as they cajole your trusty stead by rapid words and nudges to his behind to go ever faster, and you could worry at that point that you will never stop, that you will be thrown to your death in the midst of a group of Bedouins and your family will never find out who was the blond tourist that got crushed under donkey’s hooves as she was trying to pass a group of Japanese tourists iphoning the tombstones around them.

Or you could throw your head back, dig your heels into Lazy’s sides, yell what you think the Bedouin Arabic version of the word “Faster” is, speed by the astonished Japanese tourists,  and feel the hot wind and the freedom in your hair and the joy of life in your heart.

The choice is yours.