We purchased the two day pass for Petra as part of our Jordan Pass. However, on our second day, there was rain and hail. How often does rain and snow happen in Petra? More often than I thought apparently (data here). 5 out of the last 10 years have received snow and during this time of year there are at least 5 rainy days.
Hiking in the bitter cold is not fun. We decided to wait until the storm passed. The girls worked as I checked the hourly forecast and looked out the window. As the storm neared its end I knew we had a brief 3 hour window until the next storm hit, so I encouraged everyone to get moving. We walked one block in the biting weather and everyone decided they wanted lunch. At lunch it became clear that I would be the only one going on the hike. We had a great lunch. The girls headed back to the hostel to get work done and I continued to the park.
During inclement weather Petra closes its doors and does not allow tourists in. Rain gathers quickly in the canyons and paths and present hazards for people. The ticket office allowed me to continue, but ticket control turned me back. I went back to the ticket office and asked them questions about Petra until they told me that the rangers said it was ok to proceed. I hurried in.
Water was flowing everywhere. Creek beds that were bone dry yesterday were flowing with water. Waterfalls tumbled down the Siq walls filling the canyon pathway with small creeks. Visitors were leaving, wading through the icy water. In some cases ranger trucks drove loads of tourists out. For now, I was the only tourists going into the park. There were a lot of wet mamma dogs scouring for food. As they seemed to rely on the generosity of tourists, it was slim pickings. Pups that Kylie and Alyssa had played with the day before howled in the bitter cold from a small cave. The cave amplified their howls, making it seem more haunting and urgent. I resisted the urge to seek them out to give them comfort and continued on.
I sped past the Treasury thinking about how to surreptitiously start the High Place of Sacrifice Trail without getting turned back by rangers. The start of the trail was right by the ranger station and the Theater and the ticket office told me all trails would be closed except the main trail.
I walked like I knew where I was going and sped right by the rangers and hustled up the carved stairs by the Theater. No one stopped me. I hustled at a brisk pace up the stairs and out of view of the valley. I made it.
After the rain all the dust had be washed away leaving the sandstone’s rich reds to shine through. The view was amazing. Equally amazing was the thought that people carved stairs going up these cliffs. At times I’d enter an area and not really know where to go. I wandered a bit to find a hidden stairwell up. In this canyon, it wasn’t dogs, but stray cats that created orchestras of meows. As cats saw me, they followed for 25-50 meters or so, rubbing on my leg, hoping for a hand out. I had to be careful here, as on more than one occasion they ran between my legs as I was climbing slippery steps.
I reached the top of the stairs and saw a Spanish couple. We wandered around together to find the path (It was to the right, although I found out later that if I had gone left, I would have been treated to a different trail, Al Madras, that went above the Siq and back to to the visitor center. This would have afforded awesome aerial views of the Treasury).
After a little rock scrambling I made it to the alter. The breathtaking view gave me pause. I could see the valley floor and rain showers move through the park. I had seen very little Bedouin traders on the way up. The stands were empty, although all their products, trinkets, and rocks lie on the tables covered with a blanket and large stones. On the alter, there was a display of bracelets and carved rock animals but no sales person. The objects there either had so little value that they did not worry about them being taken, or they had complete faith in their comrades and tourists not to take them without consummating a sale.
The wind gusts nearly blew me over a few times. I edged towards the prominence of the cliff only to find a Bedouin tent strapped to rock with twine and rope. It started to hail, so I figured it would duck inside, as nearly all shop/tent I’d seen so far was empty. However, I rounded the corner and met Eghab. He was “setting up shop”, which consisted of unpacking supplies from his donkey. In the corner, two donkeys and a dog stood by. His son, Muhammad ran about pushing the donkeys out of the way and tended the small fire. Eghab welcomed me in and we shared a cup of tea together. “My shop is on my donkey,” he laughed as he warmed his hands next to mine. He hustled around, moving a small cooler from the floor to shelf, then emptying various containers catching drips from the roof of the tent, and then pushing pooled water out of the tent with a broom.
He had a prime location and he knew it. A 270 degree panorama of the entire Petra valley. From here all the royal tombs could be seen as well as the great temples in the valley. The wind howled as the hail pelted the tent. Muhammad brought a small cup of tea which warmed my hands. It was very sweet black tea. My body welcomed the sugar as I forgot to pack snacks.
The hail stopped and I decided to keep moving. He tried to offer me more tea, but I knew I had to keep moving in order to beat the next storm front due at 14:00 according to my last look at the forecast.
“Any more tourists behind you?”
“Just two Spaniards and two Asians”
I descended back down towards the Wadi Faresha trail, taking one last look at the alter and temple ruins beside it. The remains stood against the wind scrapped mountain peaks. Stacked and organized large sandstone bricks. There were quarry marks everywhere, which means they didn’t have to be carried far, but it was such an amazing spot to build a temple.
The pathway down was steeper than the pathway up. I simply could not believe that donkeys made it up these narrow winding staircases. But the poop on the stairs and seeing the donkeys on top was evidence that they did make it up. As I went down, the rain started again. As good fortune had it, I happened across the garden temple. It suddenly appeared in one of the valleys. I sat on the bench meant for tea drinking tourists, however this merchant hadn’t setup shop yet. I only had to share the space with stray cat who became increasing affectionate after I found it a small piece of burnt meat in the fire pit.
A Bedouin pushing a donkey and French tourist joined me after a short while. She relayed that they had to turn back because the water level was too high. She also shared a crazy story about her driver getting arrested in Madaba. We all had a good laugh at the story, but felt bad for her driver.
The rain finally let up. We said our good-byes and I headed back down the mountain. The path became a small creek and water falls laced their way down the valley banks. The ancient water collection systems were still working. The channels were funneling all the water into giant cisterns which became pools. In other cases, the pipes had been broken and the water ran into the sand which absorbed much of the water. Just past the Garden Temple was the Roman Soldiers Tomb. It never ceased to surprise me to round a corner and see a giant tomb carved into the mountain side.
The rain stopped and the valley became alive with sounds. Donkey’s brayed, goats bleated, chickens clucked, and camels groaned. Most of these animals were using the many caves so their sounds were amplified.
I investigated many of the caves, nearly all of them showed signs of temporary habituation. Some had doors and windows or fences and were actively used by someone. Large signs in the park say camping in the park is strictly forbidden; however there were signs of people living everywhere.
I made my way down through the ruins and found myself back on the colonnaded street. As I walked up, rangers approached me and told me to wait in the cafe for evacuation. “It is an emergency situation, we must get everyone out now. Wait here for truck. No expense to you.” I waited with a few other tourists who had been rounded up. By now it was close to 3pm and the other storm had hit. There was more rain and the river by the Nympheum was full.
I talked with Fatima who was the proprietor of the cafe.
“In 1985, when Petra became a UNESCO site the Jordan government offered homes, electricity, and land to encourage the Bedouin to move out of the park. Many left, but 30-40 families stayed. I was one of them. UNESCO said that if we stay we must work in the park. Many of us made shops and sell things and services to tourists. There are now 30 families and 35 Bedouin children living in the park. Now the government is trying to push us all out of the park. But we will fight. We will not make that mistake again. This is our home.”
Her words were determined and fierce. They reminded me of what Diodorus said about the Nabataeans: “They are exceptionally fond of freedom; and, whenever a strong force of enemies comes near, they take refuge in the desert, using this as a fortress; as it cannot be crossed by others.”
“Don’t you have a representative or advocate who can help you fight?”
“We can only send letters, the government will not listen to us.”
A truck came and we all piled in. There was a mix of tourists and Bedouin traders who lived outside the park. I stood next to Ayesha, who was playful and jokingly tried to sell me a necklace. Then she invited me to dinner and asked me if I needed a second wife. We all laughed and joked as the truck roared up the steep back exit of Petra. The rain and wind were cold, -1 C. Most of the Bedouin and other tourists took the evacuation in stride and joked. A few other tourists seemed put out and were annoyed that some people could be having such a good time….after all their day was “ruined by the rain and silly park policies”. They could have taken a cue from the Bedouin playbook and roll with what you got and hustle for what you don’t.
My time was cut short in the valley, but I still had a great time and met wonderful people.
I left wondering about the Bedouin and their future. As more and more Bedouin move out of the desert and into homes, they move away from their nomadic lifestyle and move away from that which makes them Bedouins.