Petra, Jordan

We set off on a road trip heading south toward the Red Sea. Once we leave Amman it is desert as far as the eye can see. We have the Arabic tunes and AC blasting. Bedouin tents are the only change in scenery, the black, camel hair tents stand out against the sand and the shepherds white gowns and red head scarves bob along in the dusty, dry sea as they usher along their flocks. We come across some small villages with lean-to tin huts and shops selling cold drinks. Donkeys roam about and the locals cross the highway as if they are strolling in a park and not highway with cars and trucks flying by at 70+mph. The Bedouin are tribal nomadic people native to this land. They are the only citizens of Jordan allowed to bear arms outside of the military and police. They are allowed to graze their sheep anywhere, if they pick an empty lot next to your city home to camp in while their sheep graze, you can’t ask them to leave or expect anyone else to either. And they do, I see them every time we have driven through the city. They live outside the law and are granted a special leniency. Think of them like the Native Americans, only here the land is still theirs and they live as close to it at their ancestors did 1000 years ago. As we head south we veer off the main highway toward Petra. The landscape begins to change and the rolling sand dunes give way to breathtaking rock formations and pink sandstone canyons that remind me of Zion, Utah back home. The beauty of the canyon that hides the archeological gem we are about to explore is soaring and breathtaking . We have arrived in the afternoon and the sun is giving the rock face a softened rosy glow. We begin the trek through the narrow passage into the ancient city that was the bane of the Roman trade route over a thousand years ago. Suddenly through a sliver in front of us the famous facade emerges, it is truly surreal and I actually feel tears coming. The courtyard is full of camels and Bedouins all haggling the tourists for rides. They have set up shops to sell their hammered silver and beaded jewelry. While the government collects their fees above via ticket sales, and the tourists swarm in for the day, it’s clear that the local Bedouin tribe own this shrine, evidence of their permanent claim are everywhere .The ancient city is very large, and probably housed well over a thousand citizens hidden out of sight. The carvings and buildings are majestic and grand, and I marvel at the sophisticated architecture of the ancient Nabateans, I wonder if they imagined it possible for all this to be swallowed up by the harsh desert, their statues and grand columns melting into the mountains like candle wax.
As we head out of the canyons toward the Red Sea the road side is lined with parks and picnic areas between the road and the cliffs edge. We stop here to watch the sunset behind the mountains. The salmon pink sun retreats rapidly and the desert is swallowed up in a night that seems deeper and darker than anywhere else, a veil temporarily hiding the harsh reality of a relentless sun.

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