Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 3 – A busy day in Petra and the Dead Sea

I was back on the site by 6:15 am, intent on enjoying the Rose City by myself. There were actually a handful of tourists that had bit me by a few minutes, but they were no match for my brisk walk, and soon I was alone, truly alone, in this magic place. Thanks to Ben’s advice I had a goal: to climb to the edge of the mountain range, to look at the biggest of the tombs/temples, and to peer down unto the rift valley of the Dead Sea.

Making the climb in the early hours of the mountain was the best thing ever, because I enjoyed the morning breeze and the shade of the cliffs. Besides, as I said, I was alone, me and my soul, so I could enjoy the sense of discovery almost as if I was the first people to ever set eyes on these wonders. The temple was magnificent and absolutely gigantic. I bet it was used for very special feast in Nabatean times (it is called “the monastery”, but I am pretty sure that is a late designation, as there are no structures that would suggest occupation for any extended period of time.

The view of the rift valley was breathtaking, and in every way on par with the East African Rift Valley or the Rio Grande Rift. Ben called it when he said that the rocks toward the bottom looked like basalts. They sure looked that way to me, and I wondered whether they indicated a time when a Mesozoic flood basalts covered the Arabian shield (they cannot be related to the rift, you see, because they are below the Nubian Sandstone, which is probably Triassic of Jurassic in age). An interesting little problem that drew me deeper and deeper into the wadi, trying to get to a fabulous outcrop where a set of dikes cuts the basalt sequence. The great advantage of being an independent traveler is that you can go wherever you want, and get into all sorts of trouble all on your own. Sanity came back to me while I was contemplating crawling down a free-fall cliff a few tens of feet high, and regretting that I will never be able to ascertain 100% that those were basalts I started the laborious climb to the edge of the rift.

On the way back I took detours to see some of the more remote temples, and the remains of the Byzantine church. The latter included a beautiful mosaic floor where the whole of creation was being depicted. The medallions depicting African animals were particularly exquisite.

Finally I couldn’t dodge the hordes of tourists anymore, and walked one last time up the wadi, saying goodbye to beautiful Petra. Back up in civilization I treated myself to a delicious lunch of bakhari rice (long rice cooked with turmeric, coriander, pepper, clove, and cardamom, followed by a spicy lamb kebab grilled to perfection. The kebab was served with something like a thin flour tortilla (like those used for burritos), coated with a spicy salsa that gave it just the right amount of zest.

Then came the struggle of what route to choose for the way back. It was 1 pm, and I had to be at the airport at 6 pm. The route I came in would only take 3 hours, but I had gotten a glimpse of the Dead Sea and the call of adventure was too strong to ignore. So I hurled recklessly down the steep slopes of the rift, driving a road that must have had an overall 100 % slope for a good part of the way. I was still looking for the Petra Basalts, but I never got low enough in the stratigraphy to see the base of the Nubian Sandstone.

Finally I made it to the bottom of the rift, which to my great surprise is a thriving agricultural area. Somehow I had imagined it would be as barren as Death Valley. It is more like the Imperial Valley, where irrigation can make miracles. There are indeed vast salt pans, and mining potash is one of Jordan’s main sources of income, but overall it is not as harsh a desert as I had expected. Finally I got a good look at the Dead Sea, took the obligatory picture, and then hurled up another impossibly steep highway, counting the miles and minutes to the airport as if they were precious drops of water to a man dying og thirst in the desert.

Yes, I made it, just so, and with the sense of unreality I boarded the Egypt Air flight, to let The Horus bring me back home to Cairo. Funny how now I feel Cairo is home and how smoothly I negotiated the taxi to bring me to my Scout Center, where I was received as a member of the family. With one difference, though: I am the poor member of the family, who had to leave a deposit and beg a soda and a bottle of water on credit. Let me explain. There is an ATM outside of the Scout Center, so I had counted on it to get money for the lodging that night and my tourist activities for the next few days. But the bloody thing didn’t work! No, my transaction was denied one time after the other, and at the end I had to lay my whole fortune (200 Egyptian pounds) on the counter, as security that tomorrow I will get things squared out at a bank, and pay my full bill (and a soda, and a bottle of water). Argggh!

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