I step out of the black, goat hair tent. The morning spring air has a refreshing bite. Next to the fire, Abu Ahmad offers me a cup of mint tea. I dip my last piece of bread in fresh olive oil and “za’atar”. “Your camels are waiting for you,” he says.
Just past the last Bedouin tent, we hear the alien grunts of a dozen camels. “Mount up”, says our Bedouin escort, who will be leading us on a camel trek to the hidden back entrance of Petra.
Everyone in our tour group mounts a camel, and soon, we’re off. With each step, the pads of my camel’s feet squish out like a stress relief toy. My mind is taken back to the ancient Nabateans, who meticulously carved the city of Petra out of sandstone over 2,000 years ago. A major marketplace, Petra once brought camel riding merchants from all over the near East. It’s thought that the magi (also known as the “wise men”) passed through Petra on their way to visit the newborn Jesus; buying their gifts for him, frankincense and myrrh, in this ancient city.
I’m thankful our camels aren’t in a hurry. Sitting 8 feet off the ground atop this saddled hump, I am afforded a fantastic view. Sandstone seems to drip off the eroding mountains like melting wax. So distant from everything I’m used to. All we encounter are mountains, other camels, and occasionally a goat hair Bedouin tent. Our caravan continues on until we reach the mountain where we will begin our hike to Petra’s Monastery.
“We walk from here,” says Musa, our Bedouin guide. Dismounting, we give our patient new friends one last scratch behind the ears, and we start our ascent. Most of the rock we tread on is firmly held, but I’m thankful I brought my walking stick as we cross a section of loose stones.
After hiking for nearly an hour, we get our first glimpse of the urn-like top of the Monastery. The sharp, precisely cut structure is a stark contrast to the rugged sandstone surrounding it. The Monastery is enormous, a breathtaking site. The door alone is 25 feet tall.
It is jaw-dropping. For proof, here’s a picture of my parent’s reaction when they first saw it:
In taking the traditional way up, you climb 800 stairs to reach this spot. I’ve done it many times. It’s worth it. However, if you get a chance to take a camel caravan and then hike to the secret back entrance, you feel like you’re the one discovering this magnificent site.
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