We were in the Land of Edom where the descendants of Esau grew and multiplied. It was Esau who had traded his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. At breakfast I was prepared to trade my birthright for an egg that tasted like an egg and had the texture of an egg. For the previous 3 mornings I’d been fooled into taking a chunk of “egg casserole” onto my plate at breakfast only to put a fork full into my mouth and suddenly realize that that wasn’t egg. Not sure what it was but definitely not an egg. Not from a chicken anyway.
The restaurant we were in gave us a buffet breakfast but had someone on hand who would cook you an omelette with the ingredients you chose. I gave him my order, watched him crack the real eggs, get the ingredients ready and then pour what must have been a cup of oil into the hot pan. My omelette would not be sticking to the pan or anything else.
Any. Thing. Else.
Back at my table I looked at my shiny omelette for a long time before deciding that it would be wasteful and insulting not to eat it. So I did. I chewed but I didn’t need to. I’m pretty sure I could’ve tilted my head back and pretended it was an oyster and each bite would’ve slid right down my throat. I suspected there would be repercussions from my choice to be cultural sensitive.
Just as we were about to leave word came that one of our group had received some very bad news from home. It involved the words, “critical condition”. Pete filled us in on the details and then led us in a prayer. We left Aqaba with heavy but hopeful hearts.
We rolled on our bus out of beautiful, clean, safe Aqaba. We passed giant billboards of the King of Jordan’s head. Again and again. It was hard for me not to think of 1984.
Our bus climbed up from the sea to the King’s Highway. The KH is an ancient transportation and trading route cutting south to north along Jordan on the highlands. The road climbed and wound around and my omelette made contact with every part of my digestive system as we made our way toward Petra.
Petra is an amazing place. It changed hands over the centuries numerous times but all the people who came to call this place home added elements of their culture and style to the stone tombs, public places and living quarters. It’s the Rosetta Stone for architecture and icons.
We walked the Siq: a winding walk that was cut through the rock by wind and water. The natural beauty was astounding and the horse drawn buggies that hurtled by us kept you from looking up for too long or you’d become road kill. As we came to the end of the Siq the Sun was at just the right position to hit the Treasury so that it burned before us with reflected light. My little archaeological heart wanted to wet my pants.
It’s difficult for me to put into words how it felt to me to be standing in that place, in front of that structure, literally surrounded by ancient history. There was a dream-like quality to it but if pressed I would have to say something far more mundane. It was deeply satisfying. A part of me is acutely aware that I’m living out some rich man’s dream. Me with little money, no bankroll or uber-salary to afford a trip like this (or any of the others I have been on) and yet, by grace, here I stand in a place I would have never gotten myself into.
And then my omelette found my lower intestines. Thankfully a small bathroom had been built nearby which saved me from sneaking off into a cave.
Soon after I was wandering around on my own and a very, very old looking local approached me. “Want to buy coins?” he asked. He held out a palm full of old looking coins. I told him I wasn’t interested. “Ah, you want the real thing!” he said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wadded up piece of tissue. He slowly unfolded the tissue and showed me some smaller and older looking coins and we were playing “Let’s Make A Deal”. I’ve got reservations about buying the antiquities of another culture so I passed and he took me as being a tough negotiator. He wrapped the coins back up, stuffed them in his pocket and said, “Let me show you a funny old lamp.”
From another pocket he pulled out more tissue and as he unwrapped this, a small oil lamp appeared. I looked closer and the top of the oil lamp had a graphic image that is usually depicted as number 12 in the Kama Sutra. I looked up at the little old man who had a big grin on his face. I could see he had four teeth. “Funny lamp.” And a price, was all he said. I smiled and said, “It must have been a bedroom lamp.” Nothing. He looked at me blankly. He didn't get it or it wasn’t as funny as I thought. “No, no…” he said and he swore it was ancient. I shook my head, "No thanks." And I finally walked away as I thought to myself that “Porn in Petra” would make a great title for an article in Archaeology Review.
There’s a saying about highlighting a book that you are reading that once you’ve highlighted 60% of the book highlights are really no use. I photographed well over 60% of Petra and while it might be psychological torture to make someone sit through all my pics, these highlights still hold great significance for me, even now, weeks later. Plus, the clock, as I have said before, was ticking and our group had to get back to the meeting back at the entrance and get back on our bus to continue our journey up the King’s Highway. On the way back up I was met by a class of friendly Jordanian kids on a field trip exhausting their English to greet me one by one and ask me where I am from. Adults with them pass without a word. There’s something important we lose when we give up our childhood.As we boarded the bus I was down to my last American dollar with no ATM in sight. The bus was rolling along with not much to look at outside but desert wilderness and then a little more desert wilderness followed but an incredible amount of desert wilderness. I popped a couple travel tabs so they could fight it out with the parts of my breakfast omelette that hadn’t found its way out yet. A half hour later I was feeling groggy but the omelette from hell had clearly kicked my travel tabs butts. Just as sweat started to break out on my forehead and I was considering an alternative use for my hat, we pulled into a souvenir centre rest area. To use the bathroom would cost me my last dollar. It was the best $1 that I have ever spent.