Day 21: Petra

Petra Travel Blog

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The start of the Wadi Muthlin walk
 

It was once again an early rise to go to Petra at dawn. This time Alessandro had joined us for an alternative route into the lost city. Obviously if you visit Petra only for a day, there is only way route into the city, and that is via the Siq. Period. It's one of the coolest things you'll ever experience, feeling every bit the explorer when you reach the end of the Siq and see the Treasury for the first time.

However, what's the point of doing this a second time when you return the next day? We had read about the little visited Wadi Muthlin gorge and figured this would be the perfect alternative for our second day. It did not disappoint.


Wadi Muthlin is another crack in the rock, like the Siq, and this was used as the causeway to divert water away from the entrance to Petra.

Entering Wadi Muthlin
The superior waterworks of the Nabataeans diverted all rainwater coming from the mountains via dams and channels into the Wadi Muthlin, keeping the entrance to Petra dry - and this system still works 2500 years later! Obviously this gorge is only accessible in the dry season.


The walk started along a dry riverbed, leading into a 2000 year old 88 metre long tunnel. This sounds a lot more impressive than it looks, I mean, the tunnel is 5 metres high, so 88 metres doesn't seem all that long, really. When I read about this in the guidebook I thought we had to crawl through an 88 metre long tube.
Then again, 5 metres high, 3 metres wide, 88 metres long, carved out in the rock face. By hand! 2000 years ago! Guess it's pretty impressive after all.


The Wadi Muthlin was every bit as beautiful as the Siq, with wonderful pink-ish sandstone formations, formed by millions of years of water flow.

twisty Sidd Maj'an
However, where the Siq has a very smooth surface, and at some sections even a concrete floor, the floor of the Wadi Muthlin was covered with rocks and rubble and even a couple of two metre high boulders we had to climb over.


At the end of Wadi Muthlin we turned left into the Sidd Maj'an. This was just awesome. Unlike the Siq and Wadi Muthlin this is a gorge formed by water. A narrow gorge snaking through stunningly coloured rock. And with each twist and turn the gorge became more beautiful and more narrow, up to the point where we had to climb through a section less than half a metre wide, but with 200 metres of towering rock above you. This gorge is so narrow no direct sunlight ever reaches in, so when we arrived in the Petra valley in the blazing morning sun our eyes took a while to get used to the light again.

Tomb of Sextius Florentinus


Entering Petra via this route was a true adventure. We were glad that Alessandro was with us, as he has quite a bit of experience in rock climbing, and we needed his expertise several times.

And the best thing about this alternative route - nobody takes it! (well, no more than 1 or 2 people a day).


Via this way we entered the Petra valley at the tombs collectively known as the Royal Tombs. We hadn't visited these yesterday, as these lie in the far Eastern end of the Petra valley, and are best visited late afternoon with the afternoon sun lighting up the tombs nicely.


As we walked past these tombs we were invited by an old Bedouin lady to have a cup of tea with her.

local bedouin woman cooking us tea
This is the most important social activity in these countries, and even though the Bedouin people living in Petra make their living selling souvenirs nowadays, they still retain that hospitality they are known for.

Sure, the reasoning behind offering us a cup of tea probably had little to do with hospitality, but more with selling us souvenirs, but neither of us had any problems with that. Besides, both Alessandro and myself wanted to buy some jewellery as souvenirs for the folks back home, so this was a good a place as any to buy them.

And besides, it was a nice break after the heavy hike this morning.


We walked on towards the end of the Siq, the normal entrance to Petra, so that we could see the Treasury in sunlight for a change.

Treasury in early morning sunlight
Because the Treasury lies in a gorge as well, there is only a few hours a day that there the façade is lit by direct sunlight. The whole façade turning bright pink in the morning sunlight was a beautiful picture. Slightly less attractive were the hundreds of tourists crawling about like ants in front of the Treasury. This was quite a shock after having been nearly alone all morning. Once again we were happy that we were here at 7 o'clock yesterday, instead of 9 o'clock with the rest of the world.


After visiting the Treasury we did another hike, this time climbing up the mountain towards one of the many sacrificial places in Petra, atop one of the highest mountains surrounding the Petra valley. It was a very steep climb along all kinds of steps and stairs and I had a bit of an Inca Trail déjà-vu.

climbing up to the sacrificial high place
However, that had been 4 days of walking, and this was just a climb of half an hour. Nonetheless it was quite a heavy climb in this heat. Or was it because of the 15 kilos I have gained since walking the Inca Trail?


From the top of the mountain we had a wonderful view over the Petra valley and the surrounding mountains. After another half hour break we went down again on the other side of the moutain, arriving at a series of tombs we had missed completely yesterday. The rock face on this side of the mountain is really special, as it consists of many differently coloured layers. From dark brownish red to grey, blue and yellow. Very surreal, as it looks as if the rocks have been painted. Especially the sculptured façades of the tombs look as if they have been painted in all these colours.


Because we had walked over 12 kilometres before midday, most of which was either uphill or over lose rocky surface and my feet had had enough of it.

rock formations in Petra
We wanted to do another heavy hike in the afternoon (again, waiting for the right angle of the sun) so Derk and I decided it was time for a long break. Alessandro was seemingly tireless, he'd already done the other hike yesterday, so he set off on his own towards some other lesser explored sections of Petra.


Lunch in Petra is the same as at all other touristic sites in Jordan: a ridiculously expensive, not particularly interesting all-you-can-eat buffet. So we opted for the good ol' fashioned biscuits and tuna salad. Miles better.
We had our lunch atop an old altar in the 'centre' of Petra, from which we had a great view on the tons of people queuing up for the restaurant. It was a nice place to loiter for a couple of hours. I even had a small nap.


In the afternoon we started the climb to the 'Monastery'.

The Monastery
Yet another incorrect name for a tomb high on a mountain, but at least this name saved the façade from being shot at. Better still, in the Byzantine era this tomb was actually used as a church, which probably has contributed to the façade having remained almost undamaged.
The climb up the mountain was in no way as spectacular as the climb up to the sacrificial place, but the result was all the more spectacular. The Monastery is almost a carbon copy of the Treasury, but then atop a mountain, and about twice the size.


We sat on the ledge of the lookout point over the Wadi Araba (the largest valley in Jordan) for a while. Once again we were approached by a very nice souvenir seller, who gave us a delicious cup of fresh sage tea, without even trying to sell us anything. We didn't need to worry about that, he said, “plenty of other tourists around”


Towards the end of the day we were back on the ground floor, so to speak, and decided to walk back to the Royal Tombs again, as they had much better lighting for photographs in the afternoon sun.

Looking out over Wadi Araba
Or well, afternoon sun, there wasn't much sun about due to the ever present Sahara Dust, which had come up during the late afternoon.


When we walked past these tombs in the morning we had been approached by a young Bedouin girl, asking us in perfect English is we wanted to join her for a cup of tea. As we had just had had tea with that old lady ten minutes earlier we declined, but Derk had made the mistake of promising her to come back in the afternoon. So when we arrived at the Royal Tombs 7 hours later she was literally sitting there and waiting for us with a pot of tea.


So we had no other choice than to sit down and join her for a cuppa. She amazed us by speaking almost impeccable English. She learned the language solely by talking to tourists while selling souvenirs.

Derk trying to negotiate a good price
She'd been doing this work for 15 years - she is 19 years old!

At one point she spotted a small group of bus tourists. She judged them from a little distance, estimated their nationality and to both our surprise she approached them in perfect Italian!
We sat with her for a while and figured we couldn't leave without buying at least a little souvenir of her. Obviously she knew exactly what she was doing. Just offer two blokes some tea and smile a bit innocently, and tadah, deal secured and money in the pocket! But we couldn't care less. The tea was good and she had been very pleasant company, so she definitely deserved this deal.


Altogether we had been inside Petra for almost 12 hours. We had walked at least 25 kilometres and still had to walk those awful 5 kilometres uphill back to the visitor's centre.

Cave Bar
Once we reached the visitor's centre we were dying for a beer.
And what better place to have one than in a 2000 year old Nabataean tomb?
The aptly named Cave Bar is an old tomb converted to pub, right next to the entrance to Petra. So we settled ourselves on the terrace to quench on a delicious local beer entitled... Amstel!?!


Yes, Amstel. Brewed in Jordan with Jordan ingredients, but under license of our famous Amsterdam brewery. I have to say, after such a long day of walking/climbing under the scorching sun, with all the dust and sand, this was probably the best beer I have ever tasted in my entire life.


In hindsight it was also one of the most expensive beers I have ever drunk in my life. 6 Euros for a pint... even in Amsterdam you have to search hard to find one that expensive.

a well-deserved beer!
But it was worth it! And the next two as well!

 

Of course one thing led to another. Beer was followed by a sheesha, and sheesha was followed by dinner. Luis walked past us while we were enjoying our drinks, and he joined us for a beer and for dinner. For dinner we chose the house speciality, a traditional Nabataean dish. Or well, the food was traditional, and the dish was Nabataean, so to speak. The food Bedouine stile and served in clay pots made by locals in the area.

 

In all this was a really exhausting day, but also more than worth it. Definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip.

sylviandavid says:
wow..... what a great day..... and finishing with a beer and dinner? priceless!!!
Posted on: Apr 16, 2012
jgatus85 says:
amazing!!! very useful!
Posted on: Dec 19, 2010
vances says:
Wadi Muthlin was closed during our visit...thanks for the description!
Posted on: Feb 10, 2009
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The start of the Wadi Muthlin walk
The start of the Wadi Muthlin walk
Entering Wadi Muthlin
Entering Wadi Muthlin
twisty Sidd Majan
twisty Sidd Maj'an
Tomb of Sextius Florentinus
Tomb of Sextius Florentinus
local bedouin woman cooking us tea
local bedouin woman cooking us tea
Treasury in early morning sunlight
Treasury in early morning sunlight
climbing up to the sacrificial hig…
climbing up to the sacrificial hi…
rock formations in Petra
rock formations in Petra
The Monastery
The Monastery
Looking out over Wadi Araba
Looking out over Wadi Araba
Derk trying to negotiate a good pr…
Derk trying to negotiate a good p…
Cave Bar
Cave Bar
a well-deserved beer!
a well-deserved beer!
Wadi Muthlin
Wadi Muthlin
Very conscious of the scarcity of …
Very conscious of the scarcity of…
climbing down some boulders
climbing down some boulders
getting narrower
getting narrower
and narrower
and narrower
and even narrower
and even narrower
Clambering Wadi Muthlin
Clambering Wadi Muthlin
and narrower
and narrower
twisty Sidd Majan
twisty Sidd Maj'an
the end of the Wadi Muthlin walk
the end of the Wadi Muthlin walk
Entering the Petra valley
Entering the Petra valley
Somehow it took a while before the…
Somehow it took a while before th…
some locals rounding up the goats …
some locals rounding up the goats…
Having tea
Having tea
me, setting up the previous shot
me, setting up the previous shot
buying souvenirs
buying souvenirs
souvenirs
souvenirs
Treasury
Treasury
detail of the Treasury with bullet…
detail of the Treasury with bulle…
taking it easy at the top
taking it easy at the top
the people down below
the people down below
view from the top
view from the top
local critter
local critter
beautiful colours
beautiful colours
beautiful coloured rock
beautiful coloured rock
inside a tomb
inside a tomb
tombs everywhere
tombs everywhere
tombs tombs tombs
tombs tombs tombs
inside a tomb
inside a tomb
climbing up to the Monastery
climbing up to the Monastery
The Monastery
The Monastery
Urn Tomb
Urn Tomb
local transport without breaks
local transport without breaks
Cave Bar
Cave Bar
Petra Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Expensive but worthwhile oddity
The cave bar is a 2000 year old Nabataean tomb, transferred into a classy pub. This is an excellent place to wind down after a long day in Petra, sipp… read entire review
Petra General Tips & Advice review
A wonderful alternative way into Petra
If you go to Petra for a day there is only one way to enter the city, and that is via the Siq. Period. However, if you have more than one day to spend… read entire review
Petra
photo by: vances