Sunday, November 22, 2009

searching for the holy grail at Petra

After a patience-testing journey through two borders (out of Egypt through Israel into Jordan), we made it to Wadi Musa, the town accompanying the ancient ruins at Petra. Although you might not recognize the name, I know you know the place. This is where Indiana Jones and his father played by Sean Connery came to find the Holy Grail. Remember them riding up on their horses through a steep canyon and coming upon this rose-colored building cut into the rock? Yeah, that’s it.

On each of our days here we woke up when the stars were still shining. We grabbed our incredible amount of water and food that we prepared the day before, and set off for the ruins. Rewarded for our fanatical tenacity to avoid crowds, we were the first people to reach the ruins that day. We walked through the Siq - that incredible canyon which leads to the city - and came upon the treasury and it felt like we were discovering it for the first time.

We trudged through the pink sand, gaping at the fa├žade cut out of the cliff face. The people who built this place, the Nabateans, became wealthy by luck. They sat at the crux of trade routes from Arabia to Rome and because of this, they were exposed to cultures from Mesopotamia to Greece, and incorporated these styles into their structures. So here in the middle of one of the driest deserts on the planet these monument sit adorned with Corinthian columns, crow’s steps of Assyria and, later, Byzantine mosaics. This was a cosmopolitan place inhabited by nomads who continued to live in tents even as they retained a huge amount of power in the region.

We spent a lot of our time at Petra climbing up every mountain in order to escape the hoardes as well as to see the structures from every possible angle. One of these was called the High Place, one of the few remaining altars of sacrifice like those mentioned in the Bible, where there was even a drain for the blood to empty from the altar. Even as we searched through every corner high and low, we couldn’t find that damn grail!