Petra was history and mystery and intrigue and Indiana Jones and Wikipedia all day long, but there were also misadventures – and if I know you like I think I do, that’s what you’re really here for!
My time at Petra was absolutely brilliant, but it had its emotional and physical downsides, too. I found my day touring the ancient city bittersweet, in that it was a rare moment when I wished I wasn’t on my own. I kept thinking how much my brother & sister would’ve shared my amazement and would’ve been all for off-road adventures. On my own, I wasn’t quite as motivated!
Most of the time, solo travel is great. Sometimes, it just stinks.
Like I said, there were misadventures to be had, even for the solo traveler. I, being of lazy disposition and still smarting from the overnight Mt. Sinai hike in Egypt months earlier, was not, under any circumstance, going to climb anything that day at Petra.
How unlucky for me, then, that some of the most magnificent and unmissable sites in the Rose Red City are thousands of steps up, up, up.
The minimum mileage for an average, easy day at Petra, without ascending any hills, is about 5 miles, so let’s just agree that I was taking good care of my rickety old knees by looking for alternate transportation methods. After all, I wanted to see everything I could in a limited time, and I knew that would be impossible without a little assistance and more Advil than is wise to ingest. I was hoping against hope for a cable car or some apparatus that might whisk me to the photogenic cliff above the Treasury but in Petra, there’s only one apparatus available for the ascent.
It’s called a mule.
There is a problem with that solution: I don’t like riding animals.
If I’ve learned anything in my 18 months of world gallivanting it’s that riding camels in Egypt, dolphins in the Bahamas, elephants in Thailand and donkeys in Greece is not my cup of tea. It’s altogether too jarring, what with the jerky back-and-forth movements, the feeling that at any moment you could tumble onto your face or the knowledge that your animal might buck you and stomp you to death on a whim.
However, in Petra, I had but two options for reaching the cliff above the Treasury and its spectacular vantage point.
1. I could get off my lazy bum and walk up (let’s be honest – that was never going to happen) or…
2. I could hire a sturdy mule to cart my diva self luxuriously to the summit.
The decision seemed easy enough – walk far and hurt bad, or pay around $20-$30 USD to leisurely trot to-and-fro from the back of a trusty steed.
My guide Ibrahim introduced me to his friend Solomon, a Bedouin who lives in a cave nearby, and his mule, for the journey. (I think it was Solomon, but it might have been Saruman, also known as one of the scariest bad guys from Lord of the Rings. So yeah, since I was about to spend an entire day trekking through a desert wilderness not totally unlike Mordor, I decided he would henceforth be known as Wise Old King Solomon. Good decision.)
To me, there’s almost nothing worse than the combination of steep cliffs + lack of control, and that’s precisely what I signed up for with Wise Old King Solomon (WOKS) and his mule. In our six hours together, I just knew I was going to get flung off a cliff at any moment, so I alternated shrieking, squealing, holding my breath and squinting my eyes shut.
Oh, and death gripping the metal harness in front of me.
As you’ll see in the video, WOKS lead his mule up and down the Rose Red City without a hint of fatigue, while I tensed every muscle in my body and breathed deeply, desperate not to fall off. Going up, up, up uneven, crumbling 5,000-year-old stairs made me feel like I was going to slide off the back, and coming down I had to throw all my weight backward and try not to face plant off the front.
I fully own that I looked like a complete jackass, and that’s saying a lot since I was essentially perched atop an actual jackass.
WOKS was so encouraging throughout the experience. Every time we’d come too close to the edge and I’d start to shriek, he’d stop the mule and say, “Solomon is here. Don’t worry!” I’m sure I was never in any real danger, I’m just not used to the feeling of tightrope walking while riding a mule.
Altogether, I must’ve covered more than 10 miles by foot and by mule that day in Petra, from the viewpoint over the Treasury to the Monastery and everything in between. By the time I was past the point of exhaustion and ready for it all to be over, we still had another hour-long, bone-crunching GALLOP (in which Wise Old King Solomon and I then shared the mule – oy) over some rough rocky ridges before I was deposited back with my guides Ibrahim and Rami.
When I woke the next morning with visible bruises across my palms and fingers from where I’d gripped the harness all day long, and could hardly move for the muscle pain, I realized I’d been bamboozled. Walking, hiking, heck – even vertical climbing – would’ve resulted in less trauma.
My advice after the mule experience? Just walk!
(But do look for Wise Old King Solomon! He knows everything about the history, geology and topography of the city, having grown up there, and can show you so much more than you’d find on your own. If you’re heading to Petra, shoot me a note and I’ll connect you with him!)
Up next… the Monastery!
Portions of my trip were sponsored by Visit Jordan. All opinions, stories and #firstworldproblems are my own.