October 20, 2006

The Siq: the most wondrous walk in the world

Had I come halfway around the globe just to walk this magical mile, my journey would have been worthwhile.

The Siq -- the spectacular gorge that leads into Petra, a place of a lifetime hewn from pink and orange sandstone cliffs hidden inside a canyon in the Jordanian desert – is the most wondrous walk in the world.

I walked it four times – twice into Petra and twice out. I'd waited all my life to see Petra, and I wanted to savor it slowly, so I bought a two-day ticket. On my second morning, the Bedouin ticket collector at the Siq's entrance beamed when he saw me approach through the dust. "Welcome in Jordan! I remember you from yesterday. Two-day pass. Very good!"

Each of my four walks through the Siq – each of my four communions with the haunting gorge that reveals at its end the sublime al-Khazneh, the ancient Nabataeans' towering red-rock treasury -- was a profound and singular experience.

I'd dreamed of walking the Siq since I was a kid, when I discovered Petra in my grandmother's well-thumbed copies of National Geographic. I knew I would go someday.

I imagined what it would look like, be like, feel like. I would make my way slowly down the deep and twisting, 10-foot-wide chasm that leads to the city's wonders; I would touch the colored sandstone walls and run my hands along the water channels cut into the stone by ancient builders; I would hunt for niches and statues, carved by those builders into the gorge's overhanging rainbow walls, to venerate their Nabataean gods; I would marvel at ancient cobbles and cart ruts visible here and there underfoot; When horse carts captained by Bedouin drivers appeared in the narrow canyon, I would hug the orange rock wall to let them pass, and I would feel sorry for the tourists in the carts because their time in the Siq would be so much shorter than mine.

I would do this someday. And I imagined it would be exquisite and marvelous far beyond my ability to ever adequately describe.

And it was.

(Note: I originally posted this story on October 13, but Blogger and browser voodoo caused the photo to disappear and generally made a mess of the story. Some of you may still see a perfect post from the 13th, some half a post, and others nothing at all. I don't want anyone to miss the Siq, hence the re-post. )