You know, it really just wasn’t what I thought it would be. But I guess it’s all part of the consequence as well as the blessing that travel is becoming less of a luxury and more of a normality. People hop on and off planes as thought they were catching the public bus to their job, visa application, if actually required are becoming more accessible with online forms and near instant approval. For many, an annual trip whether solo, romantic or with the whole family is non-negotiable, they work all year and they’re okay with that, so long as they get an amazing trip at the end of it.
I live the same lifestyle, I can’t imagine not traveling, and although I have no problems coming out of a busy airport to fight my way to the nearest local bus station to buy a 10cent ticket and jump along the over crowded bus to then transfer on a ferry and walk the remaining 5km to my rented apartment, or my new home for the week. I’m also not going to lie and deny that I exhale with relief when I come off that 12 hour flight, tired and hungry to find that the “new” metro now goes directly from the airport to a 500m walk away from my temporary house. More tourist in more destinations translate directly to an increase in access to pretty much anything and conveniences. But when is it too much?
I arrived in Petra after a 3 hour bus ride from Amman. I chose to go only for the day and return the same evening. There’ a bus that leaves daily from Amman at 06:30 and returns at 8pm. Take away the 3 hour distance each way and it still leaves you slightly over 7 hours to wander around the historical beauty of Petra. It is complete convenience and accessible to anyone. I was the first one off the bus, I came off that bus like gazelle on speed, looking for the ticket counter. $75USD each for an entry ticket, steep as hell in my books, especially when my ticket isn’t made of gold, but listen it’s Petra so you could be charging $500 dollars, and I would still come up with the cash! Obviously, the government figured that out a few years back, so they are quickly cashing in by increasing the tourist entry cost regularly, locals still get in for $1.00 USD.
I refused the “free” horse back ride from the entrance to the bottom of the hill. It’s about 400m and a hefty tip is expected at the end, so it’s not really free at all, and if you pay attention to how these horses, donkeys and camels are treated, you’ll quickly decline a ride on the back of these poor mistreated, tired animals.
A corridor of stones lined the partially paved path. A scene, that to me resembled the Grand Canyon. I looked up and around, everything felt enormous, leaving me but a small irrelevant spec with my heart beating through my chest. The suspense really kills you, every time I walked around a corner I inhaled in preparation to see the grand treasury of Petra, but corner after corner I saw no treasury. I looked back, only a few people were around, I felt calmness around me while my inner body shook with excitement at just the thought of the mysteries held behind these stones, the endless characters that walked along this exact path from century to century. I turned back, continued my way down the narrow corridor and just like that, through the rocks, the elaborate carving of one of the most amazing temples ever built stood high and tall right in front of me.
My amazement was quickly interrupted by a loud and harsh “WOULD YOU LIKE A CAMEL RIDE?” and the interruptions, tugging and noise continued for the following 7 hours. I tried to look up without making any eye contact, my pure amazement of the history that passed through this exact path surely was enough to block out the constant interruptions, but I failed and I heard them, saw them and felt them for the remaining 7 hours.
Petra is not only the famous treasury, Petra is an entire city complete with ancient tombs, amphitheatre, paved paths, a Monastery and ruins of homes that once stood along the roads of a thriving city. The place is unbelievably large, and each carving seems to hold it’s own unique beauty in the detail, skill and determination that it must have taken to complete. I wanted to walk through and lose myself in this ancient city.
Unfortunately for me, this didn’t happen. A once enchanting, historical, beautiful city, now not much more than a crowded area filled with tourist and where, naturally, locals gather to sell you anything and everything. Prices start at 50times their value and may end up selling for 10 times their value, but no matter what it won’t be a good deal. Tired donkeys make their way up the carved stairs to the Monastery carrying overweight adults too ignorant to even try to care. Women with their children call out at you from behind their stalls, each wanting to sell you a rusted bracelet, a coin, a hat, bottle of water, scarf, postcard, magnet, nik nak, cheap crap, cluttering. The stalls are around every corner, along the side of every path and up every stair. They are everywhere! The donkeys, again with the donkeys, ridden by these thug like teenagers that pass through without a care for the narrow path, they whip their animals with chains when they hesitate, music blasting, cat-calling, it’s all a bit too much. Young children wander alone holding piles of wrinkled postcards, trying to sell each one without much success.
The amazement of the place is quickly replaced by sadness, pity, frustration or impatience. I walked out through the square of “official” gift shops only to find several posters to educate the passing tourists. Don’t take photos of locals without asking one reads, the other showing the image of one of the postcard child carrying the words – “don’t support child labour by buying from the children”. The lists of these posters go on from report animal cruelty to don’t take home any artifacts, leave it here for others to admire. All points I highly admire and agree with, but to display them at the exit of such a site?? Who’s Brainiac ideal was this? If you truly care, should you not have them displayed proudly at the front? If you’re aware of the animal cruelty – why are the abusers allowed to keep their animals? If you’re aware of the child labour, why is part of my absurdly expensive entry fee not spent on ensuring that these children get placed in school instead of being allowed to loiter the paths of Petra?
It really just wasn’t what I thought it would be, you know! I expected a protected, maintained historical site that would whisk me away through thousands of years of history. Instead, I found a place that sadden me, and quite honestly upset me in more ways then one. I usually try my hardest to write optimistically, I want to make you smile, or dream or better yet make you curious enough to come see it for yourself! I try to see both sides, but I also write honestly. Petra is unbelievably beautiful and the history it holds is exceptional. It’s a place I believe everyone should have access to, and everyone should see at least once. But in it’s current state, whether your experience is a pleasant one, may be a slightly challenging aspiration.