Jani's Excursion to

Day 2: Kerak, Petra

At the godly time of five in the morning the nearby mosque decided to awaken us.  Now, I like Arabic music, I can convince myself that chanting the Qur'an is trancy, but the a'than (call to prayer) is amazingly irritating when you're an infidel dog who just wants to go back to sleep.  The fact that human muezzin have been replaced everywhere by tape recordings played back on equipment manufactured by the Dnepropetrovsk Russian Subway and Mosque Public Announcement Equipment and Flip-Flop Sandal Manufacturing Collective #17 doesn't help.  If you haven't yet experienced the dubious pleasure of being awakened by "Allaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahu akbar", try a RealAudio sample, courtesy of the ICB.

After breakfast we walked all of 20 meters to the entrance of the Citadel of Kerak itself.  A former Crusader stronghold, it was ransacked by Saladin and left to rot for 500 years until restoration started.  It would be impressive if it was rebuilt as it once was, but at the moment it's a confusing and entirely undocumented jumble of collapsed ceilings and unlit corridors.  The museum on the grounds showcases only pre-Roman potshards, never even mentioning the Crusader era!
Before continuing our trip, it was time for some grocery shopping.  Since it was Ramadan, all restaurants were closed during the day and the only way to feed yourself was to buy provisions.  So we loaded up on khobz (the local variant of Arab flat bread, excellent if fresh) and set off down the King's Highway again.  Almost all Jordanian pick-up trucks are exquisitely decorated with colorful geometric patterns, symbols, pictures, and calligraphy, but I never managed to find one at rest; the miserable excuse for a picture on the left remains my only shot.  Sniff.

After a string of dusty little towns we arrived at Wadi Musa, a Jordanian boom town exploiting the sole natural resource, an abundance of tourists caused by Petra.  Few people have heard of Petra, and few people have heard of its builders the Nabateans, but with the exception of the Pyramids, Petra is probably the most impressive archeological site in the Middle East.  After walking for several kilometers inside a massive canyon known as the Siq (which would be an attraction by itself), the massive Treasury (Khazneh) burst into view.  All of the original Petra was cut into rock, with the highest buildings tens of meters tall.  In light of this, it is somewhat odd that the interiors of the buildings are extremely plain, most consist of a single box-shaped room.

As we had bought 2-day tickets (for an extortionate JD 25, over $30), we limited our first visit to Petra to a short peek and turned back once past the Khazneh.  In the evening light the smooth, eroded shapes of the Siq positively glowed and the middle picture above is, in my humble opinion, the best of the entire trip.  It also makes a great background picture for your desktop!

That night we stayed at Tayybeh Zaman, a very nice (and very expensive) complex designed to look like a sanitized vision of an Arabic village, including the most antiseptic souq in the Middle East.  But, culturally insensitive brute that I am, I will confess to preferring central heating, hot water and cable TV over dirt floors and sheep as radiators.   I wouldn't have minded doing away with the nearby mosque as well (or at least turning down the volume a bit), but I suppose you can't have everything...

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