Over the winter, Bernard and I took a trip to Egypt and Jordan. Of corse we began in Egypt, with The Great Pyramid!
Regardless of one’s belief in who, what, when, and why these monuments were erected, they are splendid; worth making a trip to North Africa for. Though travel in Egypt is challenging, and defiantly not recommended without a licensed guide. Luckily we had a great tour group from G-Adventures, a travel company with ethical mindfulness. We were able to see fantastic historical monuments, stay in clean, safe accommodations, work with local guides and small village businesses, as well as be a tourist and relax- most of the time.
There were certainly moments of cultural ignorance and typical tourist trap experiences along the way, but the overall adventure was a great trip with no regrets, though I would not go again. Why? Because you only need to see it once. Truly, it was a spectacular journey through history. However, Egypt and Jordan are both places that are not so welcoming to certain beliefs and lifestyles pervasive in America. They look upon us as decadent fools- though we carry a big stick- we still stumble in our youthful ignorance. However, most of the travelers who joined us were from Australia. It didn’t make a difference really, we were all light skinned, English speaking, and Christian- even if we weren’t- because none of us prayed when the minarets called all to worship.
Petra is another must, if you are going to be in Jordan. The Treasury is impressive, and I’m sure most have at least seen a photo of this part of the park, but it’s just the tip of a monumental iceberg. For instance, it’s not even the largest carved edifice in the complex of deep canyons and high craggy mountain tops within the historic site. It’s called “The Treasury” for no other reason than European explorers who stumbled onto it thought treasure might be buried there, and sought it out. They found nothing but empty “tombs”, as they are called by other excavators, and are as probable as “treasury”.
We’ve forgotten our history, oral tradition passed down into writing, which ultimately changed with the needs of those who wrote the books. It was demonstrated when our guide explained why Israel was and forever will be Jewish. He used names, Hebrew names from The Old Testament, which is not a political collection of writings at all is it? No- religion is purely faith, that’s why so many have died in the name of belief. We all hope for a black and white answer in the end. Ethics will never bee easy, but it’s taken a back seat to moral ambiguity for too long, and time’s up.
Bernard and I walked the lengths of Petra, even climbed the “1,000 steps” to gaze upon “The Monastery” a place where later Christian monks set up shop, finding the isolation of high mountains to be more defendable from the barbarous resident people who did not encourage organized religious conversion. No one at the time could remember the Nabateans, who are credited with building the monuments of Petra. Though like all history, we seem to get hung up in painting our own understandings of life, only living memory, onto ancient experiences which have little direct influences on our present conditions, other than imaginative speculation.
Many of Petra’s splendors are more metamorphic than man made. Though the soft sandstone did make shaping easier, the actual color and design of geologic activity is far more engaging. In the end, the blending of natural with artistic license does bring about a rather grand display, and even the modest carved spaces are still impressive, and no man could copy the splendid color of mother nature’s own work.
It was only after climbing up into the peaks, looking back at the path we had come and seeing the mountains still stretching on in all directions, only then could we begin to comprehend the vastness of man’s hold on the landscape. Carved stairs seemed to curl around every cliff, water basins with smashed clay pipe, all partially worn away with time. In those moments of discovery, we came closer to seeing the fleeting moment in ourselves, of being only a few footsteps fallen into far deeper whispers of the past. Haunting remembrances carved in rock, stacked over older rock, carried to the sea with wind and rain; all eroding softly with every breath we took in our climb. Could it have been what our ancestors in this rock garden of beauty, tried so desperately to capture? Tombs yes, tombs of our past collaborations, triumphs, and struggles, tombs filled with stories of conquering nature, falling victim to our hubris, then crashing down like the very cliffs in earth’s trembling furry. This is the memory I took from stone monuments across The Middle East.