Reviewers: Tony Parker & Avril Bannatyne
AT THE end of February Avril and I fulfilled lifelong ambitions to visit the ‘Rose red city half as old as time’ – Petra.
We had earlier joined the Fred Olsen cruise ship Boudicca in Dubai as it set off to complete its round-the-world voyage, finishing in Dover mid-March. After visiting ports in Oman and seeing the exciting Arab cities of Kasab and Muscat, we braved the pirates off the Horn of Africa and, finally, sailed up the Gulf of Aqaba to moor in the same-named port from where we would visit the famous city.
Petra is a two-hour journey from Aqaba, high in the mountains and, on the day of our visit, extremely cold.
We hired a horse carriage to take us from the entrance to the Treasury. This was an adventure in itself. The ride was downhill, on a very rough path, and the driver made no concessions. The carriage went at a good lick, which was okay until we entered the narrow defile called the Siq, just wide enough for the carriage to pass through.
The carriage belted along, scattering walking tourists in all directions and, as we approached the destination, the horse, who clearly knew the route like the back of his hoof, broke into a canter. We were both very relieved when we suddenly exited the Siq and there was the Treasury in front of us.
The Treasury, or Al-Khazneh in Arabic, is what you’ve all seen in pictures or in films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s an amazing sight, much better in reality than in pictures.
The colour is really more golden brown. John Burgon, who wrote the famous words, had not visited Petra at the time, although he did later. It was not a treasury but a royal tomb and there’s no elixir of life in its portals.
Petra was built by the Nabataeans, at about the time of Christ. Besides the Treasury, there are lots of other royal tombs with carved entrances and a huge amphitheatre. Among all the sights there are shops and cafes and hoards of itinerant souvenir sellers.
We bought a lovely stone cup for $15, bartered down from $60. There are also camels and donkeys for hire. We couldn’t resist the camels, as you can see in the photo, taken right in front of the Treasury. Most of the traders were Bedouins who used to live in the many caves on the site but now live in the city of Wadi Musa, which has grown up outside Petra.
The journey back by carriage was much more sedate as uphill; we were very pleased to take it as it is a long trek back to the entrance where we had a most welcome lunch.
After Aqaba, we sailed through the Suez Canal, visited Jerusalem and stopped off in Cyprus, Malta and Athens, before coronavirus caused Spain to close its ports to us and we headed home to Dover. Definitely the ‘holiday of a lifetime’, one which will live in our memories.