June 18, 2016
I have to admit yesterday was a pretty eventful, if not, remarkable little day. I woke up very early, or rather never really went to bed. I knew as soon as I woke up from a 3-hour nap earlier in the afternoon I’d be screwed when day eventually surrendered to night.
I hailed at cab at about 6:00 am for the bus en route to Petra. A gentleman, who looked to be in his 60s, with one distinctly long fingernail on his pinky, picked me up in an old Toyota that had no doubt seen better days. I couldn’t tell if the car’s condition and relative “gnarliness” belied its age, or if it was the other way around. In any event, the driver was a cordial and talkative chap.
He asked me where I was from to which I always respond, “New York.” This answer never satisfies those who inquire, which I know well by now. I’ve grown to relish in the disappointment my exchange offers. Of course, the bold still plow right past getting to the point by making some reference to my eyes or asking where I’m “originally,” from.
“Your face not American,” he says glancing in the rearview. I smile politely when it dawns on me that being Korean and Italian couldn’t make me more American. Still, he appears satisfied he’s worked through my deflection and shares that his parents were once from Palestine. He just seems grateful for the conversation.
The bus ride to Petra was cramped and uneventful until it was cramped and eventful. The gentlemen sitting directly in front of me, who looked to be in his 50s, and I overheard say was from Bangladesh, revealed to the girl across from him that he’d visited 125 countries. “You’re the most interesting person I’ve met in a while,” the girl said having not met anyone else, or for that matter properly introduced herself to this real life Dos Equis man of mystery.
I jealously marveled at his claim embarrassed at my now measly 31 conquests. I silently justified his accomplishment by the fact he was nearly 20 years older and perhaps had more freedom to roam in the world’s backyard solely by the fact he wasn’t American, and hadn’t tallied up the same list of international foes. But I suppose I just needed to grow up a little and tip my hat to the man. Let’s face it, that’s pretty damn cool.
I arrived in Petra to a merciless sun. I was partly amused that I’d started the day in a sports coat. After I bought my entrance ticket to Petra, the capital city of the Nabataeans, I instantly became “that guy” relentlessly snapping photos as quotes and scenes from, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade danced in my head. “You can take all the photos in the world but it just won’t do this place any justice,” a German tourist in her 50s confided in me. I couldn’t have agreed more.
After what felt like a mile and half trek under a cruel heat that seemed to be testing my commitment to seeing this once-in-a-lifetime jewel, the Treasury, yes, that building we’ve all seen in photos and movies presented itself just beyond the perfectly carved narrow gorge known as the Siq, an utterly incredible accomplishment in its own right.
The mausoleum was truly one of the most remarkable things I’d ever laid eyes on. Al Khazneh stands 45 meters tall and was built around the 5th Century BC. I stood before it confounded at how such a thing could exist then or even now. “Who…I mean what?...But like with…I mean when?” Attempting to wrap my mind around how this magnificence even came to be may have taken as long as the construction itself. Unlike the movies though this building was not allowing any man to pass, not even the penitent ones.
I stared and stared as the soundtrack of loud Chinese Christians singing both amused and bewildered me. I wondered briefly if they thought they’d stumbled upon the Vatican.
Eventually, I made my way to the High Palace of Sacrifice, a place of worship on a mountain plateau used for important religious ceremonies. The brochure read, “you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the ancient city below,” which was the first time I felt a travel guide wasn’t pulling my leg. No truer words had ever been spoken as I reached the top taking in a city that never seemed to end. Just imagine the only theatre in the world built into a carved rock that could accommodate 4,000 spectators, royal tombs, churches built around the 5th century, and colonnaded streets. Trying to figure out how all this was even possible felt like Monday morning quarterbacking how my last romantic relationship went awry: it just wasn’t worth the effort.
I made lots of friends today. Sadly, I never got to know the singing Chinese Christians, though conversation might have been a challenge if the opportunity presented itself since they literally sang all day even on the backs of overworked camels. “They must be very well hydrated,” I said to anyone who’d listen.
I met my share of fellow travelers today. There was Solleen, a 22-year old student from India who said she just wanted to “move, move, move,” when I asked what she did for a living. “I know the feeling,” I said. There was Tamam, a sassy 20-year old Bedouin girl selling crafts who quite literally lived on the mountain. And there was Alex, a 34-year old Canadian who worked in the Immigration Department in Ottawa.
I suppose I got to know him the best since we raced to see Ad Deir, or the Monastery, which measured 47 meters wide by 48 meters high, before his bus took off for Amman at 5:00 pm. We both knew coming this far and not seeing such a phenomenal monument would haunt us to our graves even if it was half a mile away and all uphill.
Eventually, I made my way back to my hotel almost unable to move a single muscle in my aching body. I felt myself give over to a dreamland far less impressive than the one I’d just seen by 7:30 pm. I woke up nearly 10 hours later still unsure the day before had really happened.
I overheard the well-traveled man on the bus say to the 20-year old Peruvian girl who inquired about his journeys, “I don’t work to travel. I live to travel. It’s easy if you know how to do it.”