Jordan Trip Report- Day 3: Petra
I’m finding it hard to summon up enough energy to write this post as a day in Petra has sapped me of all imaginable strength. I’ve been lying spread-eagled on my hostel bed, covered in red sand, transfixed by the odd ceiling fixture, for about 20 minutes now. After an impressive supermarket dinner of khubez, hummus, mixed veg and chicken hotdogs (an accidental purchase), I have certainly been refuelled enough to relay events.
We decided to get the early JETT bus to Petra from Amman. This meant a 5.20am start to catch the daily 6.30am bus from Abdali station to the gate of Petra (8JD). Abbasi very kindly gave us an early breakfast and found people to share a taxi with us to the station. The manager also quietly mentioned that he had reserved seats for us on the bus so it wouldn’t leave without us. I thought this was really considerate of him, particularly as there was nothing in it for him. We met Kate, a Brazilian, who had been travelling for a year already and had just come from working in Israel. We also dragged along a rather confused looking gentleman who didn’t seem to know where we were taking him. (The manager had told us he wanted the same bus as us but this seemed to have gone out of his head when we approached him).
Our taxi driver tried to charge us 10JD for what should be a 3JD trip. This is when Kate sprung unto action. In a volley of Portugese, English and Arabic she let rip at the driver while I laughed at his optimistic pricing. Ripping foreigners off is frowned upon in Jordan so a quick mention of the police was all that was needed to get the right fare.
We made the bus, which was a very comfortable and modern affair. We were searching for our allocated seats when someone yelled jovially “Sit anywhere! This is Jordan!”. The bus ride was about 3 and a half hours long, including a 20 minute break at the halfway point where we gleefully overpaid for snacks.
When we got to Petra we decided to drop our things off at the Qasr Al-Bint hostel before getting our Petra tickets. Most accomodation in Petra/Wadi Musa is a taxi drive away from the gates, mainly because the last thing you feel like doing after spending a day trekking in Petra is walking uphill for a few kilometres. The setup of Wadi Musa is as follows: high to low. Starting at the top, the fancy hotels and chains like the Marriott are located on the outskirts for the views. As you get lower (and closer to Petra) the accomodation gets cheaper and the main throughfare becomes more predictable: banks, overpriced restaurants, western-oriented giftshops. Wadi Musa is very much a town that is dependent on its attraction, and knows it.
This is where we made our first “taxi friend”. It’s likely if you’re in a small place like wadi musa that one of the taxi drivers will try to “claim” you and get you to take all your trips through him. This can be beneficial, as they tend to offer discounts on regular journeys.
The pricing of tickets to Petra is, to use a horrible cliché, mired in controversey. Only the King gets in free, with all other Jordanian citizens paying a perfunctory 1JD to enter. However, foreign tourists are charged 50JD for a one-day ticket (more if you’re not spending the night in Jordan, day-trippers from Egypt and Israel get stung badly by this). We went for a 2-day ticket, 55JD. As we paid for ours a fight broke out at the neighbouring ticket desk. My Arabic isn’t great but it was obviously over whether some people could prove they were Jordanian citizens to get the lower price.
The single annoying thing about Petra is the hawkers. I must have said “leh, shukran” (no, thanks) about 100 times over the 6 hours we spent there that day. No exaggeration. Mostly bedouins, sellers offer you everything from donkey and camel rides to makeup and jewellery. It’s how many of them make their living but it gets insufferable after a while, no matter how humorous they might be as they point to their donkey and offer “Lamborghini?”. (Word of advice: the guys with donkeys right at the entrance claim your ride has been paid for with your ticket. Do not get on that donkey unless you want to enter a world of suffereing).
Obviously, the scenery in Petra (even the long walkways to where the “action” is) is stunning and unique. See for yourself.
Widely considered to be the piece de resistance, the Monastery (a misnomer, it was never a Monastery), is a pretty tough climb. It’s about 1 and a half hours of steep uphill climbing after a few hours to get to the base. The steps are the killer, it’s like a never-ending stairmaster. I got dead legs a few times and we took lots of water breaks on our way up.
If you go off the beaten track at all, you’ll start to meet the child sellers. They’re not supposed to be there and will be hauled off by the police if spotted, so give them a wide berth no matter how cute they are.
Reaching the Monastery face was a rush, it felt like a great achievement. The scale of the thing is hugely impressive. It’s hard to imagine how the Nabateans succeeded in carving it in the rock with such precision and detail when they must have had quite rudimentary tools.
We left Petra after making the descent from the Monastery (which was pretty tough on the knees, anyone with joint problems should note this) and headed back to Qasr with a different taxi driver who tried to overcharge us quite hilariously. From getting the taxi already, we knew the standard fare was 3JD (2 if you’re on good terms with the driver). He tried to charge us 8JD, which is what we had paid to travel the entire length of the country on the JETT bus. By some mixture of sign language and Arabic, I made it clear he was taking the piss and he recanted his offer.
When we got back to our room, my friend immediately became trapped behind the strange collapsible bathroom door that separated the ensuite from the bedroom. After the young guy on reception had freed her, forcing the door open with great bravado, he moved us to a new room with air-con. He even went to the trouble of buying an adapter for me to use, which was above and beyond what I expected. He laughed good-naturedly when I asked to borrow a spoon to eat some ice-cream I had bought. (Earned it).
The guy at reception was helpful in answering our questions about travelling to Wadi Rum the next day. It’s unnecessarily complicated to get from Musa to Rum because, even though it’s quite a popular journey, there is a real shortage of buses. (This kind of becomes clearer when you actually get to Rum and see how small and isolated is it).
My fears about our taxi friend’s enthusiasm to be our one and only were realised when the manager knocked on our door to say Mohammed was there to discuss driving us to Rum the next day. Honestly, Rum was the one aspect of our trip we hadn’t really planned and we didn’t realise how lacking public transport was in the area. I went out to the foyer to be greeted by driver Mohammed, the manager and a Malay girl I had never met before. It was like an intervention. I was immediately on the defensive as his turning up at the hostel after our vague comments was strange to me. The longer you spend in Musa, though, the more you realise they have a different way of doing things here. It’s normal for someone to call over and discuss things over some tea rather than calling you. I came around to the idea of Mohammed driving us. It transpired the malay girl works in Qasr. They explain Rum’s setup to me. (Rum village is a separate thing to Wadi Rum and quite a distance from where the public bus sets people down. In extreme heat and with bags, this is not ideal). We agree that Mohammed will drive us after haggling a price and book a 4×4 tour of the Rum.
I get the distinct feeling that Mohammed is a pretty decent guy. His smile reminds me of a child and his english is uncannily good. As the manager leaves to make tea, we talk a bit about his background and he tells me that he is “ex” bedouin. (He still considers himself bedouin but is no longer a nomad). He used to live in Petra itself. It’s obvious he has a great deal of pride in his home and I predict he will be a better tour guide than the 4×4 guide we get the next day.