25000 Steps

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We can sure see why they were always washing people’s feet and
anointing them with oil in the Bible. Every morning here involves
intense work on our poor sore feet to get ourselves going again. It
is so dry here that laundry dries in a non airconditioned room over
night, and the caramel coloured sand seems particularly dessicating.
Oh what we suffer to conquer new realms.

Our second day we tackled the stiff climb up to the Monastery. 802
steps up, or so they say, we weren’t counting. Little kids stand at
the bottom and urge you to take a donkey up – “Sir, sir, too hard for
madam…” Obviously madam would never have stooped to riding a donkey
after that. Lots of people do though, as the steps are really steep
and quite eroded in places so it is not an easy climb. In my opinion
though, it is preferable to be exhausted than to be terrified out of
your wits by clinging to a donkey as it jumps from bump to bump,
especially on the way down.

The stiff climb was worth it though, when three quarters of an hour
later we emerged face to face with another imposing building. Its
size and style are similar to the Treasury, an incongruous sight at
the top of the windswept rocky mountain. Another climb a bit higher
revealed a magnificent view of rolling hills with Israel a dove grey
plain in the distance. After a rest and some of our ubiquitous pita
and cheese for sustenance we descended, which though hard on the feet
and knees was much easier.

We spent the rest of the day seeing many of the other fascinating old
structures – I will not bore you with the details. These travelogues
are far too fact heavy as it is, but that seems to be the nature of
this trip. My personal tour guide reads the Rough Guide to Jordan
assiduously every night and fortunately has the route in his head for
the day as I (as usual) am completely confused as to where we are and
where we are going.

Since we scarcely managed to walk two hundred metres to dinner that
night, after nine hours on the site, it was not surprising that we had
a later start on the third day but the tour guide had kindly scheduled
a lighter day. We devoted most of it to the Royal tombs – a long
series of imposing facades set along a steep wall. More climbing and
scrambling to get up to and into some of the best ones. We then
continued farther to really experience the severity of the desert
environment, and since the wind was blowing dust that day, we could
understand why Lawrence of Arabia and his crew swathed themselves in
scarves (as do both Jordanian men and women here.) We found a nice
shady cave to have lunch in – the temperature dropped from 35 to 25
when we entered the cave. Lots of evidence of fires and cooking
debris – not tourists, though the locals cannot live there any more
they still use the caves as day homes

.
We were all alone for an hour in one of the most visited sites in the
Middle East. A little boy came by on a donkey at one point and
stopped to chat. He was on his way home to the Bedouin village, an
hour’s ride away. He waved good-bye and we watched him become a tiny
dot as he traversed the rock covered slope beyond which his village
lay. These kids work on the site. Earlier a tiny moppet tried to
sell us a packet of postcards. “How old is that kid?” Doug asked to
be answered by another little postcard seller – “That’s my sister,
she’s three.” The older sister (10) was a chatty little thing – her
family consists of her father, her mother, she and her seven siblings
as well as the father’s second wife and their eight children.
Apparently the Bdoul have not yet taken to birth control

.
It has been really interesting observing the tourists here. Europeans
seem to favour medium sized group tours, and national characteristics
are certainly evident. I think I unfairly dissed the poor Chinese who
used to thunder over us following their leader like a herd of
lemmings, woe betide you if you strayed into their path. Well a group
of 20 French can do the same thing. Sometimes we wonder if we have
become invisible, it is so odd – we are not small and in Madaba we
were wearing our neon coloured wind breakers. Even at that we were
both shoved right off the side walk and into the road by groups dead
set on following the leader to dinner.

Surprisingly it is quite easy to avoid the large groups of tourists
here. They all stop to listen to their guides in the Siq and we can
just skirt by them, and as we are fast walkers, we are often alone for
minutes at a time. As soon as we stray off the beaten path we are
entirely alone. Not what I expected.

The funniest are the very large groups that come in late in the day,
often as we are leaving. I think they must come from cruise ships and
as far as I can see they have at most 4 hours on the site. Seems such
a waste. However, it is the clothing that is so astonishing. Most
tourists wear long sleeves and pants, this is a modest country after
all, most Jordanian women are covered head to toe. How they stand
those long overcoats in this heat I do not know. However the people I
assume are off cruise ships, who are all deeply tanned or red as
beets, are wearing shorts, even bathing suits, and the most
unsuitable footgear you have ever seen. Today we passed a woman clad
all in white lace, carrying a silver handbag and wearing silver ballet
flats. The pants we have been wearing for 3 days will never lose the
stains from the red dust and our sandals are basically impregnated
with it. Even walking through the Siq will probably do in her shoes.
I have even seen people in high heeled wedge sandals – clearly they
are not intending to climb anything. Too funny.

Petra has been a blast, even better than I had expected. We are off
to Wadi Rum tomorrow to Lawrence of Arabia’s old stomping ground. The
tour guide has planned an ambitious program which actually involves a
day on a camel returning from our night sleeping in a Bedouin tent. I
reminded him that one hour on a camel in Jaisalmir rendered him
scarcely able to walk and that was nine years ago, but…. What I
suffer!

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