Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tomb Raider Footsteps

Lara Croft hunts for her mysterious treasure at the Angkor Wat Temple complex near Siem Reap, Cambodia. I followed in 2008. It was spectacular. Go back a little further in Hollywood tomb raider history and Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones, goes to find the Holy Grail in the 'Canyon of the Crescent Moon,' or as the 2,000 year-old city carved out of rock is more commonly known, Petra. Which is in Jordan, just a skip and a hop, and a two hour taxi ride from the border with Israel. So, being in Tel Aviv a few days ahead of Yael's wedding, Bailey and I headed South to follow in Indiana Jones' famous foot steps. Yes, and the Crusaders, and Saladin, and the Romans too, but 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' was only some 20 years ago, and it's a right now sort of world we live in!

Side note: this actually happened almost a month ago now. If you are wondering why my recent posts have involved the rather disparate locations of Jerusalem, Petra, and the Pyramids of Giza, it's because, well, I'm almost a month behind on any real blogging. Catching up...

So, Petra!

The first glimpse of the Treasury as we are making our way through the Siq, which is also known as a long canyon carved via erosion through the rocks over thousands of years. I prefer Siq.

And here's the Treasury itself, the premier of Petra's sites (and the supposed one-time home of the Holy Grail)

The site is not-so-enthusiastically guarded by the local police forces

But if they slip up, the camels' got their backs!

Getting to Petra was a bit of an adventure as we had to negotiate a taxi fare immediately after crossing the border from Israel. And taxi fares aren't cheap when you have to drive for two hours, and there's no competition, so the negotiations may have been a bit contentious. Most visitors to Petra choose to skip right over the negotiations process and arrive here onboard a gigantic tour bus. We met plenty of them going into Petra in the morning - by the afternoon, they were all gone, heading back to Eilat, Jerusalem, Sharm el-Sheikh, or wherever it is the bus had brought them from. Which meant that the Treasury, above, was just about all that they got to see in Petra. Which is a shame really, as there's a lot more to it - us, having independently negotiated the taxi fare, and thus having a full days to explore the place, Bailey and I set off to climb all the little goat paths up the hills and see every last monument in the place!

Climbing along the wall

And more climbing...

Eventually we got to a lookout point high above the Treasury, presenting a spectacular view of the ancient monument

The giant Urn Tomb. Pretty much all the monuments here are actually tombs (much like the Pyramids in Egypt...) - the people's homes were more like modest and portable tents, so not much has survived

And this tomb looks a good bit like an angry face

Bailey in front of more tombs

And then the dust came...

So Day 1 ended somewhat anti-climactically, with Petra covered in a cloud of dust. I thought it actually made for some interesting pictures, but you couldn't see the monuments from more than a couple hundred meters away. Besides, we were exhausted anyway, having started hiking and climbing before nine that morning. But we did get to see most of the place, and left feeling much superior to the tour bus groups. They paid more anyway!

The second day came about, and with fresh[er] legs and distinct hopes of not getting swallowed up by any more dust clouds (our man, Mahmoud, at our hotel promised it was an uncommon occurrence), we headed back out. Having actually seen most of Petra the first day, we took a taxi to nearby Little Petra - it's sort of like the real thing, but little. And free to enter...

We found a temple. Seen here getting ready to scale the ledge to get to it.

Somewhere deeper into Little Petra, we met our would-be guide, who was ready to show us the path (spectacularly scenic path) that led to Petra proper. After some negotiation, we arrived at a price for his services that we felt wasn't entirely outrageous. So, off we went, past goats, cliffs, inspiring peaks and canyons, and often following paths that were best suited for a goat. The trek took about three hours, and the guide was worth every penny as it turned out, as we would've never found the way on our own.

I have a new-found appreciation for the goats' ability to navigate tiny little mountain paths.

Guide earning his pay by showing us the way along goat paths, often like this one. Sometimes smaller and windier...

And at the end lay our reward, the Monastery!

With the dust cloud moving in, and leg muscles complaining, the Monastery was the only major part of Petra that we had missed the day before, so the goat path entering Petra out by the fabled Monastery was an effective selling point in our prospective guide's sales pitch. Also effective, the fact that Bailey and I had only purchased single day tickets the day before, and had managed to avoid the sporadic patrols along the goat path, thus sneaking in for free on the second day.

And on that triumphant note, it was time to hop into a taxi and race back to the border in order to make it to Tel Aviv the next day in time for Yael's wedding. Made it - no problem!

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