Monday, August 29, 2005

Petra - day four - Jabal Haroun, donkeys and horses

Charles on horse

This was really our fifth day at Petra, having started with Petra by night last Thursday, but it was our fourth, and sadly, our last day here.

We decided to each do out own things today, with me having arranged to ride a donkey up the 1,400 metres of Jabal Haroun, the mountain which dominates Petra at 8 am, Fred decided on a lie in and a day to relax. He ended up being a virtual prisoner in the hotel as he tried to avoid our old 'friend' Ibrahim, who had tunred up at the hotel and had phoned him out of the blue. This is another story and one which Fred tells in Dutch on his blog.

So, I met up with Nasr at 9, an hour or so later than planned, as one of his donkeys had run away during the night and he had to find another one from a friend. Off we set on what turned out to be a very enjoyable 6 hour (including stops along the way) trek through the Petra site up the great mountain.

Donkeys are amazing creatures, picking their way between the rocks, on their tiny feet, carrying heavy loads, like me, never complaining. Riding these donkeys is no problem as they know their way around and require the minimum of steering, just the occasional giddy-up. The sick ones here are looked after free by the Brooke Donkey Hospital.

Jabal Haroun marks the end of the Petra area and the top affords the most beautiful views, back north and east towards Petra and west where the high ground plunges away, the rocks change colour and the lowland desert which reaches Sinai begins. Above us, the thin moon could still be seen. An eagle swooped by us and then rode the currents up and up, round and round in complete silence.

We snacked on bread and tuna before meeting back with the donkeys who carried us back with occasional breaks for photos, including the blue lizard and loose horses. We arrived back about 6 hours after we had left, having had a great trip and having the whole mountain to ourselves.

The Petra site on the other had was quite busy with 700 Spanish descending, making it a bonanza day for the camel riders with whom I chatted a bit before making my way back, past the Treasury and up through the Siq, saying my goodbyes. For the last bit I hitched a ride with Fred's friend from yesterday and he took me up to see the Eagle Tomb before we galloped back to the main gate.

There, I noticed one of the riders having a conversation with one of the 700 Spanish, an elderly plump one, who seemed willing only to pay half the going rate for her ride. I started chatting with him and before I knew it I was arranging to see him again in an hour for a ride up the hill for a view of the sun setting over Jabal Haroun... and so it turned out. The rider's name was Aiman.

So at 6 we set out together on two grey bedouin horses, in contrast to the two grey donkeys we were on earlier in the day. This felt a lot better to be honest. Admirable as donkeys are, horses give much better rides, at least over easier terrains. This turned out to be a great way to end one's stay in Petra. The view of the sun setting was brilliant and Aiman made for very good company. Not a word of gossip, not a word about having sex with women tourists, just polite quiet talk about the history of the area, mainly related by his grandfather (maybe great grandfather) who died three years ago at the age of 98. He had been born in and had lived in the caves and tombs before moving to the settled village of Wadi Musa. He said life was better in those days, with the goats and the donkeys, no tourists and rushing around after money and TV and all that. Just a simple life.

Aiman told me that after school he had worked in a hotel. Often for 16 hours a day and all for a pittance of a salary. He left and now rides horses, taking tourists down from the entrance to the Siq and then every now and then trips like these. He is outside, living with horses and meeting people from all over the world and he is very happy doing this.

In the meantime, the sun had set, Venus and her cohort Jupiter lighted up the sky followed by all the constellations before we made our way back in the dark.

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