Saturday, July 17, 2010


After our two nights in Wadi Rum, we went to Petra for the day. Petra was voted one of the new eight wonders of the world and with good reason. It is an amazing and unique archaeological site. It is an ancient Nabatean city, carved out of red sandstone in the middle of magnificent desert canyons.

It is Jordan's greatest tourist attraction and it is not cheap to get in. It costs like 50 bucks and you don't even get a decent bathroom for the price.
Coming as I do, from a developing country, I can recognize the species known as a third world bureaucracy anywhere in the world, because they are the same everywhere. Lazy bureaucrats who hate their jobs manning the windows, confusing price schemes, crazy signage, inadequate restrooms and ripoffs galore.
Bedouins were living in the caves at Petra for about forever when the Jordanian government decided to make it into an archaeological site. They needed to move the Bedouins out, but these people are not at all pushovers, so they negotiated they'd move out and in exchange they could control pretty much everything inside the site. The result, as colorful as it is, is also rather irksome. It's a mafia. They run a total racket, charging outrageous prices for everything, from water bottles to donkey rides. They tell you a horse ride is included in the entry with only a tip for the driver and then they act offended at the tip and try to set a price to it. They think nothing of festooning a major monument with a shop for trinkets and they think tourists are rich idiots, and for the most part they are right. I saw a guy happily pay about $45 USD to get a little horse buggy to take him and his family less than a mile to the entrance. But as is customary in cultures that thrive on bargaining, you can always negotiate. They give you half a chance not to get totally ripped off.
Half the time we spent in Petra, our mouths were agape at the wonder of the site, and the other half, our mouths were agape at the kind of reckless disregard we kept peppering with amazed exclamations such as "in the US this would never happen". To wit: you can climb to the monastery a steep 800 steps or you can ride a donkey. There are no railings. In the US you and the donkey would probably have to sign a release, wear a helmet and a diaper and bring a lawyer each. The one thing underdevelopment has going in its favor is a highly developed concept of personal responsibility. You ride the donkey, fall off the ravine and break your head, it's your problem. My donkey was a perfectly nice guy (though I suspect grievously overworked) called Whisky. Muslims must think it charming that some tourists complain about the scarcity of alcohol and this is their idea of a good-natured joke. Dudes, it's so hot, I was happy not to drink. Even water makes you thirsty.

Here's Whisky with my guides (I suspect also grievously overworked) Mohammad and his friend.

In the US they would tell you how long it is and how hard it can be and maybe give you some routes to follow. Here, you are on your own. It's a bit of a bardak, as they say in the region. But in the end, this is what you get:

No comments:

Post a Comment