Sunday, February 15, 2015

In Jordan: Life, Bedouin Style; Discovering the Treasury and Other Riches of Petra

Inside one of the major tombs with the sun low in the sky. Photos by Joel Simpson.

Our driver cooked us lunch while we explored the area, and we all sat down for a picnic – with hot food! That’s me on the far left.

One of the major tombs in the central part of Petra, overlooking the main thoroughfare.

HEADS UP: Late last year, contributor Joel Simpson was kind enough to share some pointers about traveling in the developing world. (Read his profile on the “About VP/[Contributors tab,”]) He did 12 countries! We promised pictures, and they (from nine countries) will be rolling out every other Sunday through around mid-April. Dear Travelers, get ready to have your breath taken away.


might want to avoid the Middle East, since so much lethal conflict is going on there.

But the friendly little Bedouin kingdom of Jordan is an island of stability and welcoming smiles, with a number of world-class attractions to recommend it.

My traveling companion Barbara, and I, immersed ourselves for two days in Bedouin culture at the Bedouin Lifestyle Camp in the starkly beautiful Wadi Rum desert in the south. (

Then we would spend two days in Petra in central Jordan, one of the world’s great archaeological sites, taking in even more extravagant red-rock geology. (

In the Bedouin Lifestyle Camp guests sleep in comfortable permanent tents and walk to a common bathroom. Everyone eats in a communal tent, where dinner is cooked underground and dug up with great ceremony, then served buffet style, accompanied by music and dancing.

The famous view of the Treasury, carved in sandstone, as one emerges from the narrow defile leading to Petra. Remember this façade from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"?

Participation by guests is greatly encouraged. Spirits are high – I keep singing to myself (à la Irving Berlin), “I’m a Bedouin, Too!”

The following day we are speeding around the desert in a covered 4x4. During the roadtrip we call on petroglyphs, T. E. Lawrence’s wall, a shop under a tent and two natural arches. “Snowboarding ” on a sand dune is much, too.

Elsewhere, I'd been curious about Petra for years. The American Museum of Natural History staged an elaborate exhibition on it in 2003-04

Petra was home to the Nabateans, who flourished as spice and perfume traders from 100 BCE to 100 CE. (

In the communal tent at the Bedouin Lifestyle Camp, music and dancing precedes dinner.

The city acquired wealth as the crossroads of two major trade routes – North-South and East-West. Petra suffered a powerful earthquake in 363 CE, which disrupted its water supply. In another 200 years it would be forgotten.

Walk down a mile-long canyon called the Siq – the main entryway to Petra – and be lead to a view of the Treasury. It is one of the city's most famous ruins. Once inside, nothing prepares me for the raw beauty of its rocks or the roughly eroded Greco-Roman architectural motifs in rainbow sandstone.

The tombs are empty, of course, but very dramatic in the late-afternoon light.

The Bedouin Lifestyle Camp, laid out against a protective cliff face, deep in the Wadi Rum desert.

At the Bedouin Lifestyle Camp, everyone applauds to see our dinner clean, cooked and intact.

Detail of Hellenistic architecture that looks very contemporary, thanks to centuries of erosion.

Next: Nepal and Tibet

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