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I knew very little about Petra when our van pulled up and parked in the visitor’s lot. Two days of our cycling tour were allotted exclusively to exploring Petra. Sami, our guide, got tickets for us and then led us along the broad stone path to the mouth of the Siq. Two guards stood at the entrance dressed in full armor. I have since learned that Nabataean guards defended Petra’s main entrance.

As we entered the Siq, we were dwarfed by the 80-meter-deep sandstone gorge. Streaks of light and shadows accentuated the ribbons of color that splashed the rolling rock formations with character. Its natural beauty exceeded the work of the world’s most renowned artists. We walked the mile-long gorge in awe, gazing up at weather-worn sculptures of Nabataean gods. Sami explained the elaborate ancient methods used to capture and store water. Cisterns and damns had been carved into the rocks. Most astonishing is the fact that anything built (without power tools) as long ago as 300 B.C. still remains today.

Even though the Siq narrowed to a mere 3 meters in some places, horse-drawn carriages would speed by us carrying foot-sore passengers to the entrance of the Siq. Horses, donkeys, camels, and carriages were available for hire all along the route from start to finish, but could only go a certain distance. To go further, the traveler would have to pay for another ride. And many did. We must have walked and climbed 17 miles (or more) from the time we left the van, to the front door of our hotel.

As we neared the end of the Siq the Treasury came into view through a sliver in the surrounding rock walls. There was a collective gasp of amazement when the vision of it first hit our eyes. The contrast of darkened rock giving way to sunlit pillars was magical. The size of it was spectacular. The treasury stands more than 128 feet high. We walked out of the Siq into a sundrenched bustling courtyard. Our journey through the Siq had been quiet enough for us to hear Sami. As we stepped into the open, excited shouts, conversation clusters, and calls from ride vendors, changed the atmosphere. Camels sat waiting for hire. It was the first time I had seen one up close.

Our guide led us along open rock-strewn areas, over boulders, and beside toppled Roman pillars. We filed through long vacated living rooms and kitchens that once housed families, and empty tombs that had been raided centuries earlier. All along the way, Bedouins sold trinkets and souvenirs from small shelters. Then we were given the option to climb the 850 winding steps that had been carved out of the mountain that would take us to the Monastery. I knew nothing about the Monastery, but I went along with my group out of curiosity. Sami relaxed under the canopy of a coffee and souvenir shop near the Siq.

As my knees began to ache, and my feet and legs burned, it occurred to me that I would have to walk the same distance back. I wondered if I could. Just when I decided I couldn’t climb another step, the land flattened and there it was. A magnificent architectural wonder carved into the side of a mountain. The Treasury was impressive, but this was wider, taller, and more ornate. After stopping to take pictures, we continued a short way to the highest point and looked out over the jagged peaks of the mountains below. I rested there and took pictures with the group before starting the trek back.

The day was ending by the time we made our way back through the Siq. The crowds had thinned. I was exhausted and hungry. Everyone had the same thing in mind. We chose a restaurant and selected dishes we had never heard of before. The menu was written in some other language. I didn’t care. It was lamb. So, I ordered it and cleaned my plate.
The next day, we visited Petra again. Still in recovery from the previous day, I spent most of the time in the coffee shop near the Siq.

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