I’ve Been Through the Desert on a Horse With No Name

Petra Travel Blog

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Nothing compares with Petra by Night... *** Mark Kirchner photo - all copyrights retained ***

Up at the crack of dawn for our horse ride to Jebel Haroun, the highest peak around Petra and home of Aaron’s Tomb.  The tomb is a sacred site of pilgrimage for Jews, Muslims and Christians in tribute to Moses’ brother (Jebel Haroun translates as “Aaron’s Mountain”).  If you get to Petra you will inevitably glimpse Aaron’s Tomb every now and again - it is the small white speck which appears to be a modern structure atop a nearby mountain.


Met up with Ramzi at the gate and since the stables are the first thing you pass after entering, we were soon mounted and underway.  Ramzi must do this trip frequently since he knew a lot of the stable hands and the horses.

Aaron's Tomb: the white-washed dome is visible all around Petra
  He told Mark his horse was named Ziam, but didn’t know the name of mine.  Hmmm, a horse with no name - does today have a theme song already???  One of the cool things about our tour operator was that they were among the select few who could secure permits to ride horses inside Petra.  It was a great feeling to ride through the Siq and past the Treasury ---  Harrison Ford eat your heart out!


When we got beyond the Theater Ramzi led us off to the side and we climbed up and out of Petra.  For the next several hours we trotted on towards Jebel Haroun.  For the most part the trail was easy, if uninspiring as the landscape was little more than endless piles of rock.

The final ascent - looking up to Aaron's Tomb from where we dismounted.
  I was content, enjoying the horse ride in spite of the fact that my reins consisted of a piece of rope, lol.


But once we started serious elevation gain, the trail got unpleasant.  We were climbing on pure rock now, sometimes nothing but piles of rubble, sometimes sheer rock faces.  Our mounts had difficulty with both, slipping and stumbling frequently.  I was heartened when we rounded a mountain and had a direct view of our final destination, but the final forty five minutes getting there was downright scary - a nerve racking climb up narrow trails with severe switchbacks and long, vertical drops to reward any mistake.


Slowly we progressed and a good omen occurred when a young Bedouin on a donkey joined our caravan.

Looking down on some ruins during our hike up to the top of Jebel Haroun.
  This was the gate keeper, who possessed the key that would unlock Aaron’s tomb.  The last jog was a much flatter, more accommodating trail and then we confronted the final steep rise which would have to be accomplished on foot (phew!).  We tied off our horses and continued on two legs for the final ascent.


Even though this was a relatively short hike, Ramzi stopped us for a cigarette break (just so we could say that every one of our Jordanian guides smoked???) at a pretty stoop with expansive views.  We looked down upon some ruins which looked to me like another crusader fort, but Ramzi indicated that it was a Christian church built by Nabateans.  We could also see a guide and two ladies winding their way towards us along the foot trail, so we waited for them to catch up.

Mark on Ziam beside my horse with no name...


Turns out the ladies were both Germans and one was the guide for a group visiting Petra.  The German tour guide had wanted to make the trek to Aaron’s Tomb, but could only convince one other person in her party to go along (on foot, it is five hours either way!).  After a few minutes of idle chat, our group departed for the last push.


I think I mentioned that the building looks quite modern when seen from afar, but up close it is clearly ancient (actually a mosque built in the fourteenth century), although the dome is white washed and stands out brilliantly.  The gatekeeper opened the place up and we went inside to pay our respects.  When we returned to daylight, Ramzi had broken out box lunches to eat.

Looking down on our horses as we climb up (look close and you can see them!)
  We sat down and enjoyed the cool air in this sanctum.  The other group soon followed and it was quite touching when the two ladies entered the tomb and began singing some chorales.  We also discovered there was a ladder leading to the roof of the structure and climbed up for long views of absolute desolation.


After chatting with our new friends a bit longer, we started back down.  Along the way Mark lost his footing and banged up his knee, but since he didn’t go over the edge we counted our blessings and kept moving.  It was with admitted chagrin we regained our chargers and began the 2-1/2 hour return ride.  I was relieved when Ramzi had us get off to lead the horses around some turns as they were quite a bit more perilous going down than up.

Mark at Aaron's Tomb
  It wasn’t terrifying, but did require a lot of concentration.


Of course we eventually found ourselves back in Petra, where the tourist crowd was considerably larger than when we started out this morning.  Riding back through Petra with all of the camels and donkeys was great fun --- we were the only ones on horseback, an ample reward for the arduous trek.  Mark and I decided that our theme for the trip would be “that which does not kill me makes for a helluva story afterwards”.


In hindsight I am glad we made this ramble, but don’t recommend it without some religious motivation.  Aaron’s Tomb is a stirring place, but let me suggest hiking there if you find this a destination.

I've been through the Siq on a horse with no name too!
  It’s a bit hazardous on horseback, and unlike all of our other hikes which offered bountiful views, the way to Jebel Haroun was rock, rock and more rock.  If you are a secular tourist, there are better ways to invest your time exploring Petra.


Once we dismounted and thanked Ramzi, it was back to the Amareen campsite for a few welcome hours of down time.  There was a Nabatean cistern immediately behind our tent, so we lazed there for an hour or so in the refreshingly pleasant air.  Knowing the camp would soon be full, we repaired to the showers before the hot water was gone and cleaned up in preparation for this evening’s “Petra by Night” show.  Around six some vehicles rolled in and dropped off about twenty people.

In the Siq during Petra by Night *** Mark Kirchner photo - all copyrights retained ***
  This was a group of English and Irish folks who started hiking from Dana to Petra four days ago.  We congregated with them around the fire and shared some fun conversation around their adventures.  Especially nice was that the Bedouins were serving sweet tea to everyone but knew I was ‘no sugar’ and had a special little pot for me on the fire!


Another group arrived at dinner and Mark overhead them talking about a bar in Dubai he visits.  Turns out group #2 was entirely from Dubai and had just completed a treasure hunt fund raiser for diabetes.

Petra by Night...just amazing. I'm the one standing there on the right. . . . . . . . *** Mark Kirchner photo - all copyrights retained ***
  So there was much common ground for discussion before we had to return to Petra.  We were a bit disheartened that there were finally a bunch of interesting people here to enjoy and we would be absent tonight and check out tomorrow.  But no time for whining, because another cool adventure was on tap.  We reminded the Bedouin who was the gate keeper (he actually slept in a tent by the gate) to not lock up until we returned, guesstimate around 11PM and headed back into town.


We milled about the entrance with perhaps 150-200 others, the number of tickets sold each evening.  A little after the 8:30PM start time, a guard announced all the ground rules (need to go single file through the Siq on the way in and no flashlights or flash bulbs until the music program concludes) in English and another guard repeated in Spanish.

Looking afar from Jebel Haroun
  Then they turned us loose and we filed through the gates.


Once again the “Rough Guide” earned its cover price, because it had recommended hanging back until everyone else had begun walking through the Siq.  This proved exceptional advice, since anyone near the front was herded towards the treasury by those behind.  But for us laggards, we could savor the walls of the Siq bathed in candlelight.  Mark had brought his tripod to take some time exposure shots in the dark and took a few pictures on the way in, which made us dead last.


Presently I abandoned Mark and waded ahead by myself, which was magical.  I couldn’t see or hear anyone else and strode through the canyon walls awed by their beauty in the gently wavering candle glow.  In places the walls separate enough to see above, and these spots were truly enchanting, the sky suddenly revealed and studded with stars.


By the time I got to the Treasury, the program was well underway.  There are a myriad of candles lighting the Treasury’s facade, and I just stood there trying to etch this image in my mind forever.  The program consists of playing Bedouin music, mainly flute, and the charm it added was priceless.  Mark eventually followed and captured several brilliant pictures of the moment before the program wrapped.  We turned and started back for our last trip through the Siq with contented smiles.


The smiles turned into grimaces, however, as a brisk wind suddenly sprang up, tossing sand in our eyes and extinguishing the candles lighting our way.  Fortunately Mark had brought his headlamp along, but we had to look down and shield our eyes to navigate our way out.  We thought that things would dissipate when we got out of the Siq, assuming that it acted like a funnel for the wind.  But there was no difference out in the wide open, and the wind intensified further as we struggled towards the gate.


When you reach the gate you are back in the town of Wadi Musa, which being paved, made it just windy and not blinding any more.  We figured we needed to give the wind a minute to die down, so we went into the Movenpick Hotel (right at the gate) to have a beer before heading back.  You have to clear security to get inside, but it was not overly intrusive and we stepped into a lobby fabulously appointed in Arabic decoration.  The bar was equally adorned, but glutted with gaudy tourists requesting pop songs from the Arabic duo playing music.  Our beer hit the spot after a long day, but the crowd was a bit too depressing to tarry, so we checked out to return to camp.


Now the wind was absolutely ferocious and we had to pull over several times because the blowing sand created white-out conditions.  At least the gate was open and we fell into our tent to discover everything was coated with sand, including the clothes we had hand washed earlier in the day.  We battened down the hatches before crawling into our beds (actually just a mattress on the ground with a blanket) around 11:30PM.  After five minutes I had to pull the blanket over my face because I was getting sandblasted so badly (a Bedouin tent is basically a series of suspended wool blankets and the bottoms are not secured to the ground, so they just flew up with each gust of wind).


It was a wild and creepy night.  After an hour or so the lightning show began, adding to the fright night spectacular, although there seemed to be very little thunder.  Every few seconds the walls of the tent would rise up with a whoosh and you could hear everything getting pelted with sand, complementing the crashing sounds of stuff getting blown around outside.  Winnie the Pooh never experienced a blustery day like this!


I was in and out of sleep until about 2AM, when the tent came crashing down on me.  After crawling out, we beat a retreat to our rental car.  Most of the other tents were going down, and the Bedouins were out helping get everyone to shelter and collecting their belongings.  It was refreshing to feel the genuine concern our hosts had in lending assistance.  I’m sure the rescue effort in other places would have only been motivated by a wish to avoid law suits!


Mark and I holed up in the rental car for a pitiful night’s sleep.  In addition to being cramped, the car actually rocked back and forth in the wind and was very noisy with all the sand pinging off of it.  Mark is a veteran of sand storms (although he had never camped out in one before) and shared that they could last several days. There was something to chew on for sweet dreams.  I closed my eyes and repeated the mantra “that which does not kill me...”.

vances says:
Well you know, Anusha, you aren't that far from Petra any more!
Posted on: Dec 11, 2007
nush675 says:
Wow! Petra by night must truly have been magical. And really, some adventure!
Posted on: Dec 10, 2007
genetravelling says:
what an adventure! fully siq!
Posted on: Nov 14, 2007
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Looking afar from Jebel Haroun
Looking afar from Jebel Haroun
photo by: vances