the journey

Israel and Petra, Jordan

Edge of the World

June 15, 2010

Location: Wadi Musa, Jordan

Perched on the grainy teak brown sandstone bluff, I sat dangling my legs over the edge of the world. In case you are wondering exactly where the true edge of the world is, don't worry, the signs will tell you.

Rising early and forcing down a quick continental breakfast at our cheap little downtown hotel, we stuff some extra pitas and bananas in our bags, fill up the trusty camelbak, load the cameras and put on a thick layer of sunscreen. Out the door we flag down a local and jump in the back of his pickup truck who takes us down the hill to the entrance gate. We flash our passes to the security, having already been here the day before, we know just where to go.

With the golden morning light the sandstone colors already shine with a vibrant rainbow of reds. The horses neigh and shuffle in their stalls as their bedouin owners prepare them for another long days work shuttling tourists up and down the hot dusty path. But we are ignored by the horse wranglers in the early morning as we speedily plod onwards down to the narrow slot canyon known as the Siq, the incredible 1200 meter long ancient formal passageway lined with towering red and orange psychedelic sandstone walls that you can get lost in.

We move briskly skipping along the 2000 year old Nabatean marble stones that still protrude from the ground in sections of the corridor. It's quiet and peaceful here this time of day without all the people and we are appreciative of the serenity. As we near the end of the slot canyon a piece of the most famous site in this ancient city appears like a surreal painting. Carved out of the side of the huge canyon wall, the Khazneh, also known as the Treasury, dominates the space with its 130 foot facade full of carved columns and mythological figures. A few tourists like ourselves are already here appreciating the early light, quiet space, and no crowds. The bedouin hawkers are already sipping tea and opening up their souvenir shops full of trinkets, postcards, bottles of colorful sand, and checkered headscarves that are common everywhere you go throughout this massive complex of ruins.

But this morning we are on a mission to another area of this famous 2000 year old city called Petra, the Greek word meaning "stone". We continue onward down through the next sandstone canyon passing the Nabatean amphitheater and the striking wall filled with the carved facades of the Tombs of the Kings. The canyon then changes shape and opens up into a huge valley where we walk for a few kilometers trudging through the loose sand roadway past numerous bedouin tea shops with many mules and camels tethered alongside, and approach another canyon corridor at the other end of this vast red-rose city complex.

Up the ancient pathways and carved sandstone stairs we amble, picking our way through the labyrinth as the sun rises in the sky bringing the first heat-waves we know will soon be stifling by midday. Less then 2 hours since we arrived in the park we arrive to a high plateau and are confronted by another massive facade carved out of a beautiful wall. Ad-Deir, the Monastery, is truly impressive standing at 170 feet wide and about 150 feet tall, dominating the plateau but camouflaging well to the landscape. Experts are still undecided if it was originally meant as a temple or tomb, regardless, it is an impressive 2000+ year old work of art.

Rehydrating in the shade while taking in our surroundings, we look back even further to the hilly crests beyond. Canvas tents perched on the summits supported by guy lines and flying the Jordanian flags stand out like sore thumbs. Unfortunately, it seems the bedouin people here have not missed a special place to raise a souvenir shop to sell their wares and try to make some cash. Most of them are just haphazardly thrown together and many unused and falling apart littering up the area, but there are no rules for them here as this was once their home before the park took over. The age-old conflict of man vs. nature and the impacts of rampant tourism are all too easily seen in this "wonder of the world".

I am drawn to the top, as always, and pull Nicole toting her heavy camera bag along with me. We head up to the farthest sandstone crest I can see and scramble past one of the shuttered bedouin souvenir tents with a sign clearly stating that we are now at "the edge of the world". We sit down at the lip of the abyss next to a local bedouin man who is watching his 40 goats return up the rocky cliff from another valley hundreds of feet below. The dull tonal 'dongs' from the goat's bells echo off the walls as our eyes search for them on the ledges below. It is quiet here and the view truly is amazing. We look out thousands of feet above the western Jordanian plains that butt the border of Israel, just a bit south of the infamous Dead Sea. The air is still cool and clear today with only a light breeze to refresh our sweaty skin.

Always on these high viewpoints I feel at peace and it is no different here. Trying to fathom the history of this place we are visiting is wild. The Nabateans came here in the 7th century BC and created this magnificent city, their capital, carving tombs, temples and dwellings and creating a wealthy empire that controlled the historical trade routes like the famous spice route bearing frankincense and myrhh from Arabia into the regions of the Mediterranean. History here is of course complex and full of war, conflict, and change, with many of Petra's tombs and temples being destroyed or manipulated by the Romans and Christians who later called this land theirs. Not only empires, but nature itself has molded this city with many major earthquakes forcing the people to adapt, and eventually flee this strikingly beautiful area.

Sitting at the edge of the world I am content. This place, I realize, for us is the perfect symbolic 'edge' for our journey. From here westward we will now be leaving the fascinating Middle East and into the more industrialized first world countries of Europe. We are over the hump of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and getting ready to enter our final year of our journey taking us around the world and across the oceans. Peering out into these mountains and down into the holy lands, I feel grateful for how far we have already come but also humbled by how far we still need to go.

With a last glance over the edge of the world, we turn away back into the folds of the canyons, braving the bedouin merchants and heat of the sun, and descend again from where we began.