Jordan A to Z: P is for … Petra!

Words cannot adequately describe Petra, the ancient capital of the Nabateans.  If you are unfamiliar with the Nabateans, they were an Arab tribe descended from Ishmael’s eldest son Nebaioth.  They lived in the area that would be considered modern day southern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia.  They were merchants and artisans whose society flourished for hundreds of years using Petra as their capital and trading hub.  Eventually the Romans came on the scene, and also the z, and the Muslims.  All left their imprint on Petra before it was lost to the sands of time following a series of devastating earthquakes.

Petra was rediscovered in modern times in 1812 by Swiss Johaan Burckhardt who, after years of training, masqueraded as an Arab merchant on his way to sacrifice at Aaron’s tomb.  Along the way he discovered the ancient city of Petra.

Today Petra is Jordan’s most popular tourist destination and it is easy to see why.  It is truly breath-taking.

I should stop writing and just let the pictures do the talking.  I visited Petra 6 times this past year (with out-of-town guests) and each time I notice something new.  Here are some pics I like.  Hope you like them too.

(If a picture is worth a 1000 words – here’s to my longest blog post ever)

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Tropical Mosques, Old Rocks, and Shaggy Beards

A pastel colored mosque displays the coastal vibe of Aqaba

A pastel colored mosque in Aqaba

Sorry for not posting this week, but we were on a bit of a mini-vacation.  We spent a couple of days down in Aqaba (Jordan’s sole coastal city) and a couple of days in Petra.  Aqaba kind of felt like a small Florida beach town.  Palm trees lined the boulevards, there were tourist hotels/restaurants and beaches lined with thatched umbrellas.  The off-season atmosphere was laid-back and quiet compared to Amman.  Even the mosques seemed to be feeling the coastal vibe.

I must admit it was a little strange being on vacation while war is being waged in two neighboring countries.  And especially with so many people here in Jordan protesting what has happened in Gaza.  Even in the sleepy tourist town of Wadi Mousa near Petra.  I must say I felt a twinge of guilt.  Why do I deserve to spend a few days with my family enjoying some relaxation when there are people fighting and dying only a few hundred miles away?  Very pragmatically minded people will say the two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other and on the face of things they are probably right.

I was a little curious how people were going to receive me as an American tourist in these days when anti-American sentiments are on the rise. Honestly, people were happy to see us.  Tourism is a huge part of Jordan’s economy, and places like Aqaba and Petra are the backbone of Jordan’s tourism industry. Tourism has been hit hard here since the beginning of the 2nd intifada back in 2000 and the US invasion of Iraq.  And now with the fresh wave of violence in Gaza, hospitality workers are reporting that visitors are lower than last year at this time.   So I guess I was actually doing my civic duty by keeping part of the Jordanian economy alive.

The clasic view of the Treasury in Petra from the end of the Siq

The classic view of the Treasury in Petra from the end of the Siq

Interesting sidenote: I was unnerved by a case of mistaken ethnic identity while at Petra.  Often I am mistaken for an Arab (until I start talking).  When I say that I am American some will say, “Oh – but Arab-American, right?”  Or sometimes people think I’m from Spain or Italy.  That suits me just fine.  But the other day the ticket taker thought I was an Israeli.  Yikes!  Talk about chutzpah – an Israeli going on vacation in the heart of Jordan while his government is bombing the snot out of Gaza.  I don’t think so.  Anyways – I think it’s the beard.  It doesn’t tend towards long and narrow like Muslims seem to prefer, but more round and bushy which may seem more Jewish I suppose.  Time for a shave.