The sun had already risen hot and bright by the time I crawled out from underneath my mosquito net in the Dana Biosphere Reserve in Jordan. Yawning, I began to dress, reminiscing about the night before and mildly regretting not diving into bed a few hours sooner. After watching the sunset while drinking tea with the local Bedouins, we had dinner by candlelight before climbing to the roof of the Feynan Ecolodge and watching shooting stars over the Jordanian Desert. Actually, I was ok with only a few hours of sleep.
Then it dawned on me that today was the day that all my delightful, nerdy fantasies would come true.
We were going to Petra!
Now I am not much of a bucket list traveler, but Petra has been on my travel to-do list for as long as I can remember. Walking along those narrow red gorges, following in the footsteps of so many great adventurers and explorers before me, and finally getting to visit the famous treasury from Indiana Jones would be a dream come true. I was elated.
What kid didn’t watch those movies and think, I want to go on an adventure like Indy one day?! Amiright?
Step 1: ride in the back of a rickety Bedouin truck to Petra
As we said goodbye to our new Bedouin friends in the nature reserve, we piled in the back of a 4×4 truck that looked like it had been around since the 70’s and drove off. Bumping and jostling around in the back with the sandy wind blowing through my hair, we made our way towards Petra. For the next few hours we rode high along the ancient dirt back roads towards one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
“Liz, I suggest you don’t lean against the back hatch unless you want to go flying haha,” yelled Ibrahim, the most amazing tour guide on the face of the earth as I was snapping photo after photo of our ride through the mountains. Duly noted.
Passing local men on the backs of donkeys, we would periodically stop and take in the beautiful views as we crawled higher and higher following in the footsteps of great traders. Slowly the morning mists began to burn away as the steamy Arabian sun rose above us. Baking with a smile on my face as the high stony cliffs fell away along the narrow road, I treasured that morning ride in the back of a pick-up truck as something I would remember forever. It was certainly more memorable than if we drove there on a massive cookie cutter tour bus.
Step 2: dress the part
But no Indiana Jones fantasy can be complete without the obligatory badass adventure hat, am I right or am I right?
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the stalls ringing the entrance to Petra didn’t sell whips, so sadly my Indiana Jones ensemble was incomplete. Mercifully, the tourists and locals alike were spared watching me make of a fool of myself posing around Petra with a whip.
Instead they had to run out of the way as my wild donkey named Shakira bolted up narrow staircases with me screaming wearing a cowboy hat with a GoPro strapped on top. But more on that later.
Also since we are the topic of dress, some housekeeping information. I wore Toms around Petra. Since it is equal parts sand, dirt, and slippery rocks, I suggest you DON’T wear Toms and wear proper hiking shoes or sneakers. Took me three washes to get all the sand out of them.
Step 3: team up with some sidekicks as crazy as you
“Hey, how do you get up to the top of this cliff for the view of the Treasury?” Asked World Wide Nate pulling up a photo on his iPhone while we were waiting to go inside Little Petra. “I want to get this shot at sunset.”
Being the nosy person that I am, I peeked over Nate’s shoulder as he was chatting with our guides about the best way to get up to that view point this afternoon.”
“Holy crap, that looks awesome!” I chimed in, “I’m coming with you!”
Never one to wait for an invitation, I insisted on tagging along. Convincing Nate that I would be his production assistant and the afternoon would only be bettered by my presence, Listening carefully, we (him) began to plot out an epic afternoon traversing the clifftops of Petra in search of the most epic, badass sunset shot of al time (you know you are with travel bloggers when…) With Seattle’s Travels joining in, our ragtag group grew into a fabulous gang of crazy people looking for an adventure. Just the kind of partners in crime you need for a day in Petra.
Collectively known (from now on and forever more) as the Dream Team, Me, Nate and Seattle had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into when Ibrahim said that the only way we would get to see both sites at Petra was if we were to go by donkey.
Step 4: find some exotic animal to ride around Petra, like a camel or Arabian stallion (or in our cases, donkeys)
Since we wanted to visit two main sites in Petra in one afternoon, we realized quickly that we would have to hoof it (pun intended). The preferred mode of transport around the ancient city of Petra by those with time constraints is of course, by donkey.
I should take this opportunity to explain that Petra is HUGE. Like, much bigger than you can ever imagine, which is why it takes days and days to see everything. To fit it all in in one day is impossible, but lucky for us Indiana Jones wannabes, we like a good challenge.
Clambering up of my frisky donkey, Shakira, I had no idea what was in store for the rest of the day. In the not so reassuring company of two teenage boys armed with sticks and mischievous smiles, we were off.
What we thought we looked like:
What we actually looked like:
Step 5: have an epic adventure
Now just take a moment to try to imagine riding a donkey up a flight of stairs. Ancient stairs worn down from centuries of donkey hooves and hiking boots trotting along them, making them nice and smooth, perfect to slip and fall off of a donkey on. Now try to imagine clumsy ME riding a donkey up those stairs carved into a mountain with no railing and a hundred foot drop or two on your side and that’s what you get in Petra. IT WAS EFFING TERRIFYING!
Most (sane) people just climb the stairs up to the different sites and look out points in Petra, but oh no, that wasn’t good enough for the dream team.
As we headed up the first stairs 3 ducks in a row followed by two boys, I realized several important things.
1. Donkeys have the right of way in Petra, and Shakira wasn’t to stop or move for anyone or anything. She just about plowed over a dozen tourists on the way to the top with me yelling, “excuse me, so sorry” for about 15 minutes straight.
2. I also had no control over my donkey. Like at all. This was good and bad. Good because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and most likely would accidently ridden her off the side of the cliff. Bad because I don’t like to not be in charge and surrender control of any given situation, let alone to a stinky donkey named Shakira in Jordan.
3. About three minutes into the first climb up the stairs I was one hundred percent convinced I was surely going to die screaming.
Apart from the fact that for some ungodly reason the donkeys preferred to walk on the edge of the cliff instead of the middle of the stairs (I think maybe it was because the stairs were worn down less on the sides), it didn’t help matters that our donkeys were pretty lazy and would stop all the damn time.
No big deal except to keep them moving, our mini guides would hit the donkeys with rocks, ropes and/or chains. My inner teenage PETA activist was throwing a fit.
“Please can you NOT hit the donkey? I really don’t like it.” I eventually said to the boys. Their reply was CLASSIC.
“It’s ok, don’t worry; it’s only a mule.” Are you freakin’ kidding me?
So be warned, the working animals here aren’t exactly given the best treatment, as you can imagine.
As we climbed higher and higher to a hidden viewpoint overlooking the famous treasury facede, I got more excited and equally scared. The cliffs along the stairs to the first treasury was nothing compared to this. One falso step and I would go flying off the side of a several hundred foot cliff. Gulp.
But in the words of Indy, “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.” Isn’t that what motivates most bloggers anyways?
Holding on to dear life, I tried to trust my donkey. Mule. Whatever. How many times had she made this trip? A million probably. Finally as the sun started to set, turning the rocks a mesmerizing shade of red-rose, we arrived. As I not so gracefully dismounted, we had to hike down a little ways before arriving at the overlook.
As we emerged out between two big rocks, I got my first glimpse of the canyon below. It took my breath away. Cliche, I know. Climbing down, there was a little tent propped up with carpets. We threw our bags down, lay on our stomachs and wiggled out as far as we dared, peeking over the rocks below to the treasury below. It was definitely a holy shit moment, that’s for sure!
Smiling at each other, I couldn’t help but think, hot damn was that worth it! What an incredible moment! After taking approximately a million photos, videos, and iPhone shots, I made sure to put all my electronic crap away and just sit and reflect, taking a mental picture of this one pure, precious moment that would and could never be repeated.
But now the best part: going back down. If I thought going up hundreds of scary stairs with cliff edges was terrifying, it was NOTHING compared to going back down them on the back of a donkey. After what felt like hours later, of me praying to any god that would listen punctuated with “oh no, oh no, fuck this GAH!” we finally emerged at the bottom. Indiana Jones or not, I was firmly telling myself the next time I ride a donkey is the day that hell freezes over.
But all in all, a pretty amazing day!
Have you been to Petra, Jordan? Is it on your bucket list? Are you a fan of Indiana Jones? Would you ride a donkey around Petra given the chance?