by Brian Vandegrift

You might not consider me to be the average Indiana Jones, but. . .

I rubbed my bloodshot eyes as a bead of sweat slowly slid down my brow and through my eyelashes. The slanting rays of sunlight poked under my hat brim every step as my camel cantered over the rocky terrain. Suddenly the sun disappeared and I shivered in shadow.

"What the--" I started.

"Look," one of my guides, struggling with his English, pointed to the towering cliffs in front of me. "Siq."

I was awed at the massive cliffs, but could not imagine that our camels could pass into that dark cleft. It was like a fine line drawn down the face of the cliffs. We drew closer and closer to the hot stone face and its dark secret.

The guide urged his camel forward and I did the same. Suddenly, we were in cool shade. The salmon-colored walls of the ravine towered above, blocking the sun from view.   My head went back, but I could barely see the thin strip of blue sky that bifurcated the rocks of what one poet called, "A rose red city, half as old as time."

"Two thousand years old, and still near-perfect. If only the Pyramids were treated the same," he said with a sigh. "Where are you from, kid?"

I turned to face the man who rode silently next to me. I had been chattering on and on the whole trip.

"Moscow," I said. "You?"

"I'm from Istanbul. I fix teeth there. Well, you've got great teeth for a Russian, no stainless steel. I think this is good place for young visitors like yourself. About  800 monuments carved out of solid rock! I don't want to ruin the surprise. You'll see it soon enough."

Our camels slowed to enjoy the cool shade as we rode single-file through seemingly topless stone walls no more than 12 feet apart. Then we rounded a final bend, passed under two overhangs and broke out into the scorching desert sun.


Grown in stone, "a rose red city, half as old as time."

In front of me, a majestic stone building, built in the style used by the ancient Romans, seemed to grow out of the mountain's rosy stone. The flash of cameras came suddenly from behind as I quickly dove for my saddlebag.

"What's that?" I whispered to the man seated next to me as I snapped several pictures.

"That is Khasneh." His guttural use of Arabic set me aback.

"The what?"

"The Treasury of Pharaohs. But don't get excited: There's more."

Our group dismounted from a mix of donkeys and camels as we alternated rubbing bottoms sore from Arab saddles and necks stiff from trying to see the top of the Siq. After a quick check for stragglers, our English-speaking guide dismounted and stood before us.

"Check-in here for lunch. I suggest a visit to Ad Deir down the canyon, and if you have time, Siq Al Barid and Umm Al Biyara suit most tourists. Be careful and don't fall off any monuments. Stay in the shade and don't forget to drink water. Oh, watch were you put your hands and feet. The desert sometimes bites."

After a unanimous laugh from the crowd we quickly dispersed. My new-found friend the Turkish Orthodontist jaunted up to me as the guides began to tether the camels. "You wanna see the Edomite village? The Edomites were mentioned in the Bible, you know. Oh, by the way, my name is Abdul."

"What about the Ad Deir?"

"Too long a walk for the time we have."

"O.K., then, where's this Edomite village?"

"It's a tough hike, but I think you can make it. Russians are sturdy folk."

"But where is it??" I asked, nearly shouting.

"Why, my young Russky, it's atop the great Umm Al Biyara!" he made  a sweeping gesture with his arm, as my eyes followed his outstretched arm over the center of the city, cut from a massive mountain.

"We're gonna climb up there??" My jaw dropped.

"Why not, the Edomites and Nabateans did."

"Who are the Nabateans?" I asked.

"They're the people who built the city around  350 BC."

"And it's still like this!" I was shocked. "Amazing!"

"They actually built a temple over the Edomite village."

. . .

"Wow,"  I gasped as we topped the mountain after a breathtaking climb.

"Did you know that the Nabateans had trade routes with Rome, Byzantium and other Christian empires?"

"No." I looked back down the hill into Petra at a grand stone building, standing, like a lone pine in a field of grain, near the city center.

"What's that?" I asked Abdul."That, my Russian boychik is the Petra City Museum. They have artifacts from one of the castles used by the Crusaders. Wanna take a look?"

"A Crusaders' castle in Jordan?" I asked as I nodded and started sliding back down the trail.

"In fact, there are two." Abdul glanced at his watch, "Oh!" he exclaimed, "Let's get down the hill or we'll miss our bus."

After a short, half-hour return through the Siq and to the road, we barely got the last seat on each bus. Unfortunately, Abdul and I were separated and I had a trip to myself without my own personal tour guide.

Over the intercom, the guide announced scenic wonders as we passed them: "Here on the 'King's Highway (mentioned in the Genesis accounts)' we can see the two castles used by the armies sent to retake the holy land during the crusades. The first one is Shobak and the second Kerak. If we were to take this exit (here we passed a modern highway that branched out and swept down by the mountains) we would end up in the Dead Sea Plain, which is the lowest point on the planet. Tomorrow, we will experience a tour through the plain where several biblical towns, Medieval Islamic sugar mills and Nabataean/Roman caravanseri will be seen."

We reached a rest area with the usual Arab rug and souvenir seller. I searched for Abdul, but he was nowhere in sight, then returned to the Petra Forum hotel, where we dined - good food, better service - and, around 7:30 were ushered out to a nearby hilltop.

As the sun began to set we watched the hills fade from golden to purple in the clear desert air that perhaps explains why the desert dwelling Arabs were such great astronomers. It started to get cold fast. I guess that helps explain dark Arab robes, and the clear air. Then, when most of the tourists had returned to the hotel, the quiet came in like a gentle tide as I stood on the sands some call "the cross roads of the world" where Egyptians, Romans, Jews, Arabs, Crusaders and today's coddled tourists pass. I could hear the muffled feet of armies past. Suddenly, I understood history's fascination.

I jumped as  a heavy hand gripped my shoulder. "How'd today compare to life back in Russia? Better, huh?"

"It was nice, sir," I said politely.

"That's good, son. But it'll be better tomorrow."

"Oh, and, sir?"


"I'm from Idaho in the United States, not Russia."

"Oh. Idaho. Potatoes, yes? Make great teeth. No stainless steel."

Photos by Pjotr van Schothorst