I traveled to Jordan five years ago and wasn’t able to fit in a trip to Petra. I’ve regretted it ever since. I arrived at Petra in the late morning, dropped my bags at the hotel and headed straight to the entrance. I knew absolutely nothing about Petra and, uncharacteristically, I invested no time in learning about the place in advance.
The air of mystique of this ancient city was magnified by my lack of understanding. I had no explanation for why there were Hellenistic-style buildings carved into red rock faces. I didn’t have any idea why there were columns topped with elephants or a carving of Medusa. I was mystified to find an 8,000 seat coliseum in this isolated mountain valley. Not knowing allowed me to walk around in an almost constant state of wonder, interrupted only by pushy donkey owners offering a ride and children selling post cards.
I walked and walked and walked. I expected Petra to be the one iconic building from Indiana Jones and perhaps a few other crumbling columns and porticoes. I was dead wrong. Petra is a city, a no kidding city – several miles from one end to the other with buildings nestled around the floor of the rock canyon and homes scattered all the way up the rock face to the top of the mountain.
After seven hours of walking, my shoes were full of sand and my legs were tired. I ran out of water while I was still a few miles from the exit. With the temperature nearing 100 and feeling the onset of dehydration, I knew it was time to start the hike out. I reached the exit, purchased a coca cola and plopped down on the sidewalk, absolutely exhausted. I woke up the next morning feeling like I had run a marathon. My joints were sore and my legs ached, but I couldn’t get wait to get back in and explore some more.