>The drunken camel guide of Petra

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I think we’ve all had our encounters with incredibly fascinating people, whose life experiences can really inspire us, and move us… except that, for some reason we’re occasionally/often scared away from such a person from their intensity.

On my second day visiting the Petra Complex in Jordan, as seen in the 3rd Indiana Jones movie, I ended up with a climbing group consisting of a French backpacking couple, a Japanese and a Korean backpacker as well. As a group, we bought an impromptu lunch set, consisting of Pita bread (stolen… ah, borrowed from the hostel’s breakfast table), little packs of cheese, some oranges, and a curious, giant, foamy-type of sausage… (Some kind of processed meat, or meat-substitute?), and set out to climb up to the highest point, the Sacrificial Peak (for ancient air burials) as the day’s goal.

The Petra complex itself is incredible… The “Treasury” is usually the feature shown regularly on travel documentaries (and in I.J.3) but, but it pales in comparison to the massive “Treasury” facade towards the summit of the “End of the World,” which is where a mountain range, and ridiculously deep valley create the natural land border between Jordan and present-day Israel. However, taller and wider than the Treasury, is the “Monastery.” Which was carved by hand (and basic tools, of course) around the 1st century BC, by the Nabataean people. It takes at least an hour-climb to reach the site, and the “Monastery” facade stands 50 m high x 45m wide. There are quite a few photos of both sites in the Adjoining album.

The amazing thing about visiting the Petra complex, is that after a few days of climbing through the 2000 year old ruins, you begin to realize that the site hosts an ENTIRE, self-supporting city infrastructure, carved out of the mountain facades. Temples, living quarters, store fronts, sacrificial grounds, giant monuments, horse stables, you name it… everything carved out of sandstone as far, nee farther, than the eye can see.

On the second day, our group made our way arduously along several of the mountain paths, enjoying our lunch in the mid day sun, and making it to the Sacrificial Peak, perilously close to sundown.

While choosing some nice grooves in the mountain face, to rest and relax for a bit, a camel guide started yelling out to our group. We ignored him at first, but he was rather insistent in asking, then telling, then yelling at us to move over to his cliff spot to join him. Since we had found such cozy grooves, it took a while before we were willing to relent and trotter over to his spot.

Once we finally pottered over, his first greeting was to gesture that he wanted a cigarette.

By the time one of the French members got rolling papers from his backpack, and handmade a cigarette for the fellow, we came to realize that there were a lot of little liquor bottles gathered next to him… recently emptied it seemed. He then introduced himself as Abdullah.

He began with his set speech about the history of the region, and the laborious work that went into producing the site… but slowly started moving onto interesting, if not surprising subjects. Initially, that his family dated back to this site for generations and actually owned and lived in some of the rock-carved apartment huts. However, were pressured to move into government subsidized housing complexes a stones-throw away, when the site was declared a World Heritage Site. He pointed the houses out, and told us about his extended family.

First, was that he constantly bragged about the benefits of camel milk….

He told us that his Dad had three wives, and that he was the son of the second wife. He told us that his Father was a proud and virile man, capable of producing however many children any time he wanted…. the secret of which… I didn’t discover until getting back to the hostel.

The next story, that kind of brought the reality of sitting over a mountain cliff to the forefront, is that he then went on to talk about the “cleaning crews” and how there’s often nothing that they can do. These crews, you see, weren’t litter cleaning crews, but body cleaning crews…

It didn’t happen too often, in fact, only once every three or four years, but still enough to seem to have an emotional effect on our new friend. As he took that chance to open a new bottle of vodka that he unsheathed from his hoodie, and take a hearty swig. He pointed out the couple spots along the cliffs that tourists had lost their footing, or tried climbing foolishly and couldn’t recapture a handhold. To really drive in the fact, he would point out his finger, and drag it down while making a whistling sound. “pssssss…sss…ss..s…...crrrRCHh”

That’s got to leave an impact on ya.

It was around this time that we realized that we had passed sunset, and the skies were darkening quickly…. Compounded by the fact that we had just heard some nasty stories, we realized it was time to start rushing back down the mountain.

He invited us out to visit a campfire set up by the other guides in the mountains, and we had to reject. He ended up calling out quite persistently, down the mountain, that we join him.

Similar to the Egyptian story, some people might say in hindsight that he may have planned to con us, or charge us for guidance to the exit, in the darkness…. but I really got the impression that it must really be quite lonely, being a mountainside camel guide. .. Oh, and that I need to be more careful when climbing in the future. 😀

PS: At the hostel I learned that “Camel Milk” is considered to do domestically produced “Viagra” in Jordan. :b

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