We were in Dahab - the wonderful and dramatic Sinai and Red Sea - bursting with tropical fish, coral reefs and vibrant flora.
The more we tried to navigate our way to Petra, Jordan, the more we were unsure if we could do it - based on our time-line and the unpredictable ferry/ transport services (for example, I met some travellers who booked the ferry to Aquaba [Jordan] and the boat arrived 3 days late!!!). A good reminder that we ARE still in Africa...
SO...as much as Shaun and I avoid organized/guided tours, we ended up joining a 2-day tour that would take us from Dahab to Jordan by independent (reliable) boat service and then by air-conditioned bus to Petra. We were groaning at the harbour, as we watched bus-loads of middle- and senior-aged couples and church groups lining up, all with their matching name-tags and bagged lunch in hand. Shaun and I didn't seem to "belong" to any of the groups, however, and were sort of shuffled along with the masses.
We saw a man wearing a Vancouver Canucks hat and got excited at the prospect of chatting with a fellow Canadian. The man, however, did not speak a WORD of English. Infact, nobody we met did...
You may see where this story is going...we had been told by our Egyptian "Travel Manager" (who was all smiles and hand gestures) that we'd all be divided by language and we'd obviously be joining the English bus for the trip from Aquaba to Petra. Oh..."And by the way", he said, the night before we left - "The hotel with the Tour is fully booked, so you'll have to find your own accomodation when you get there"...and with that he handed me a Lonely Planet guide for Jordan - written in Italian!
SO...we're at the Aquaba Harbour (see swanky photo above), feeling lost in the sea of name-tags and matching hats - when the fellow who seemed to be In Charge informed us (regretfully) that there was no English tour...and we were graciously ushered onto a Czech tour bus!!
I have to admit, I had a Grumpy Moment, as we were driving through amazing scenery (including Wadi Rum, I discovered later)...hearing our tour-guide babble on in Czech, and the other travellers gasping at his stories, laughing at his jokes, and pointing at various Points of Interest that were lost on me...
Amongst the babble, I did understand "Lawrence of Arabia", "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" - all, which I learned later, were filmed in the area...
Aside: on the bus-ride back, I got the full update on an English bus...amazing country!
But nothing prepared me for Petra.
Our Czech tourguide got us sorted, gve us a 2-day pass to Petra (we had also been put with the 1-Day Tour somehow)...and were given a local Beduin guide for the day to show us around Petra. We both groaned internally as our 92-year-old tourguide hobbled up to us, leaning heavily on his cane.
But he spoke English! Very fast!
And he seemed to have respect from everyone we met, the other guides included. As it turned out, he's a legend in that area. He had been born 92 years ago in one of the caves of Petra and have lived there all his life. His father had been aa Governor and an influential man. Hani, our tourguide, had all sorts of inside stories that we found fascinating, and had been there first-hand for many of the discoveries in Petra.
We both had a chuckle when Hani stopped to smoke a joint. He said he left his "bubbly" at home - referring to the large water pipess they smoke in that part of the world. He later told us - with a wink - that his secret for a long life is loving your woman, working hard outside, and smoking the bubbily. And when we gave him a tip at the end of the day, his face lit up and he said "I gotta be honest; I'm going drinkin'....this is my cold beer tonight!".
Ha ha...love it.
We could hardly keep up with the old guy, despite him being 60 years our senior and walking with a cane!
Hani told us that although the 'Entrance Gate' closes at 6pm, we could stay as late as we wanted and nobody would push us out.
And so we did. We hiked up to the Treasury and watched the shadows grow long. The rock glowed a golden red colour, the tourists all left, and the sun slipped behind the desert mountains.
It was by moonlight that we could see the donkeys and camels below, and the glow of campfires of the local Beduin who live there.
We were invited for tea and had some laughs with the locals.
We left when the moon was high...and returned well before dawn.
We hiked up to the High Alter - the historic High Place of Offering - and watched the sun rise. Nobody was in sight, and we had such quiet. Had some breakfast we'd brought along, enjoyed the beauty of the vast space below us, and had a nap. A Beduin (mountain man) came and brought us some sweet tea. It was a moment I will always remember.
I can't begin to describe the history; the amount of work and time it would have taken for those peoples to carve an entire city into the rock. And with such poise and beauty!
There was nothing barbaric about their homes, though they were caves. In fact, it had the Classical lines of ancient Rome. They had sculptures and temples, theaters and fountains, gardens and pools. They even carved stories of the city's history into the rock. A life-size caravan of camels etched into the sandstone passage, candle-holders carved into the walls, temples that are carved several stories tall...so many stories told in stone. It was magical...