An elegant sufficiency

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Rose red city

Today we berthed in Aqaba, Jordan, which meant that we were looking forward to the opportunity of a trip to Petra, one of our "must-sees". Changes in the schedule for the transit of the Suez Canal meant that arrangements had been changed a little, so we had a morning to look around the city before heading off on our tour.

We really didn't know what to expect from this Jordanian city and yet we were surprised to find it rather smaller, rather simpler than we imagined. Not only that, but all hopes of adding to the pashmina and sandal collection were dashed as we discovered that the product of the moment here would appear to be polyester blankets with designs most kindly described as "not to our taste".

But still, it was fascinating to wander around the streets, discover the recommended nut store, Al Sha'ab and buy almonds and cashews along with the locals.

After coming across a delightful bakery store with all kinds of goodies such as baklava and fresh flatbreads, we returned to the ship for lunch and to change ready for our tour.

Welcome to Jordan was the greeting accompanying a rose and some of the local baklava we'd seen being made earlier in the day. We did indeed feel welcome and our guide, Maui (surely not, but the best we could guess) spent much of the two hour journey to Petra introducing us to much interesting information about his country.

We drove through arid countryside, past Bedouin encampments and across valleys said to be where Moses lived in Biblical times. The scenery was magnificent, bleak and open, with surprisingly few traces of humans - except for the black plastic carrier bag. Seldom were we out of sight of one of these omnipresent items and the sight of them was surely enough to convince anyone of the need to restrict their use.

As we got closer to Petra, the landscape changed and became more rocky. Small villages clung to the sides of the mountains in similar nature to those of Andalucia and the hint that we were nearing our destination came in the names of the businesses.

So, here we were. Shame to say, we had no idea of what to expect yet again. We'd listened to the lectures. read up about it and heeded warnings about a lengthy walk to the site, requiring comfortable closed shoes, sunscreen and a hat.

But we were surprised to find ourselves walking down a well-trodden path - where was that bit we'd seen in the pictures?

Oh, wow....look....we must be getting there soon

Maybe around this next corner?

Our guide was good and stopped us from time to time to point out some feature or other. We listened intently and tried to avoid being knocked over by one of the careering pony carts which rattled up and down at breakneck speed.

Deeper and deeper into the canyon or Siq, we went. Was this how we'd imagined it to be?

Not really, in our case at least. By now it was 4.30pm and most were leaving, the sun was lower in the sky and it was a comfortable temperature.

So many interesting features along the way

including this remains of a camel and an accompanying soldier. Isn't the fabric of the skirt wonderful?

Further along this Indiana Jones pathway, we were building ourselves up for the gasp as Maui suggested we step in single file close to the wall.....and then step across to the other side and look

Oh my goodness....there it amazing.

Even though the majority had headed home by now, it still seemed like the world, his wife and all of their camels were there to take photos. We joined them and gawped at the Treasury which was as magnificent as we imagined, didn't disappoint one jot and kept us enthralled for ages.

And there it was too, the plastic bag - pink this time - blowing in the breeze.

Several pictures later, we continued as far as the theatre, by which time the light was beginning to go and, taking Maui's warning that it would take us an hour to walk back, decided to leave the further reaches of the site for a future visit, for we will return, I hope.

On the way back, we noticed the colouration of the rocks more, the bands which could have been painted - but of course, were a completely natural feature of this sandstone. Amazing.

After a short rest in the cool Movenpick hotel (and a visit to the Ladies!) we rejoined our coach which would transport us to the event of the evening - dinner under the stars at Little Petra.

Can you believe that 400 of us gathered for dinner by candlelight in the shadow of Little Petra last night? Entertained by a band of Jordanian musicians and later, by a troupe of belly dancers, we sat and dined in the most magical setting possible.

Desert nights can be chilly however, and so, having polished off another plate of baklava, we headed back to the warmth of the coach for the journey back to the ship where a warm welcome in the form of a glass of champagne was ready and waiting.

Sadly it didn't last long enough for a photo!



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