25 Nov

Smelly Delhi

Well…we’re here. And it’s actually not as smelly as I had expected. Don’t get me wrong…it smells, but not everywhere, not all the time. Certainly the burning garbage in the street smells, and the ‘public toilets’ smell (no, I haven’t actually been in one…mostly they look like walls along which everyone urinates…unavoidable and gross), and the ever-present pollution smells but it doesn’t smell in our hotel (thanks to copious amounts of incense burned in the lobby) and that I am thankful for.

So far I have already seen almost every horrible thing I had imagined I would see in India…and it’s only been three days. Almost all the images from the books I’ve read, the movies I’ve seen (except the Bollywood movies) and the stories I’ve heard have shown themselves to be true.

Garbage is absolutely everywhere…cows roam the streets but miraculously do not get hit by the trucks, cars, taxis, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, pedal-rickshaws, bicycles or hand-carts…men scatter among garbage ‘fields’ to poop in the morning…a man with no legs (walking on his hands) solicits alms on the train platform…there are beggars everywhere – young children in the streets and intersections, mothers with babies on the ‘sidewalks’, religious zealots roaming…people live in squats that I could not have imagined…I can taste the pollution.

P1060046 I can’t take pictures. It seems wrong to whip out a camera to capture anything that I have seen…and besides who really wants to see pictures like that?  Well, I took this one – showing the metal detector on the street at the start of the ‘bazaar’ area near where we are staying. We are made to walk through detectors like these at some of the monuments we have visited. They almost invariably beep…but no-one does anything about it.  Makes me chuckle.

I feel hemmed in…straight-jacketed. Normally we would walk everywhere in a city, but here that is not possible. We tried but the traffic, pollution, poverty and odor made it a very uncomfortable walk.

P1060025 We did visit some of the sights of the city. One day we took an auto-rickshaw to the Red Fort and another we took a day tour of the city to see some of the other sights. The temples are beautiful, calm and clean…the Ghandi sites are well maintained and very interesting and taking the bus through the city showed us what the rest of the city looked like (remarkably similar, although somewhat better than where we are staying).

This is certainly no romanticized India…so far, I don’t like it…we’ll see what happens outside of the city.

20 Nov

Trek To Poon Hill

Start Of Poon Hill Itself, Poon Hill Trek I have to be honest. My account of this trek is rather lackluster because, well…my experience was rather lackluster. I think it suffered from expectations – my expectations were very high and I was unable to get over it when the experience did not live up to what I thought it would be.  Sometimes I am able to overcome these feelings…but this time I was not.

My goal here is to give an honest account of our travels and so I have decided not to sugarcoat the experience…it is what it is. I realize how lucky we are to be in this part of the world…the mountains truly are stunning and we already talk about coming back and doing a longer trek…it just didn’t work out for us this time.

Although the Poon Hill Trek is easily done without one, we had decided to hire a guide. With my complete lack of navigation skills, and Jason having to always pay attention to get us everywhere, we thought it would be nice if, for once, J could just follow along too.

I had done some research and found that a guide/porter would cost between $12 – $15 per day and that the cost of food and accommodation on the trail should be about $25 per person per day. Seemed a little high but this was from recent forums from people who had recently been trekking on this circuit. I had also read that one should try to stay away from ‘packages’ where the guide and food and accommodation are all together…and that’s the piece of advice we didn’t heed.

Top Altitude 3200M, Poon Hill Trek We met Raj in his trekking shop where we were renting sleeping bags and a better trekking pack for me. He was very nice, spoke very good English and said he was available to guide us if we like. He answered all our questions and our only hesitation was that his was a package deal…$60 per day for both of us. Although the numbers all added up to this being an okay deal my gut told me maybe we shouldn’t agree…but in the end we did…and it’s one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy myself totally. Once we were on the trail we quickly realized that the costs were much less than we had anticipated and that Raj was making a killing. I was not mad at Raj…he’s just trying to make a living and we had agreed to the price…I was mad at myself for not listening to my gut and to the advice I had read. It’s much harder to get over being mad at myself!!

The weather was also not cooperating. It had been glorious and hot in Kathmandu, Manakamana and Pokhara in the the days leading up to the trek but, on the day we left, it was cloudy and a little cool. Good for trekking, but bad for seeing mountain peaks.

3381 Steps, Poon Hill Trek We set off from Naya Pul in  the mid morning and after hiking through the village we crossed the river and started on the trail. We had 1000M to climb over the course of the day but the first 3 or 4 hours Up Comes G, Poon Hill Trek weren’t too bad at all. We hiked easily up and down, chatting to Raj and enjoying the easy pace. Every once in a while the clouds would break a little and we could get a sense that the mountains were right there, teasing us. The last hour was hard. A straight climb up 3381 steps to Ulleri, and our first guesthouse of the trek.

The guesthouse was basic, but there was electricity and a hot shower to be had so we were happy. The food was good and we spent the evening chatting to trekkers that we had seen on the trail throughout the day. I didn’t sleep well though – maybe it was the cold, or the altitude, but although I must have been exhausted sleep eluded me and I spent half the night reading.

Lack of sleep did not make the next days hike any easier. It was a relatively easy 3 hour hike to Ghorepani, but it felt like forever. The clouds hung as low as my mood and we did not see any mountains.

After some tea and a nap we attempted to climb the Poon Hill for which the trek is named. From the top of Poon Hill are supposed to be some of the best views of the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas. We only climbed half way and decided that it was too cloudy so we would try again in the morning for the famed sunrise climb.

As we returned to the guesthouse it started to rain…and it rained all afternoon and night. I took solace in the fact that I was inside next to the fire while others were still out on the trail, and still others were deeper in the mountains where, I learned later, it was snowing.

No Poon Hill Summit For Us, Poon Hill Trek We got up at 6 the next morning to trek up Poon Hill for sunrise…it was not to be…a quick check outside confirmed that it was still raining and that summiting the hill would not be worth it…so back to bed we went.

It was still raining when we got up and ready the second time. We waited an extra hour for the heavy rain to subside and then we headed out. It continued to rain for most of the morning but not too badly. In fact, Fall Trail, Poon Hill Trek it made most of the day remind me of riding at home on a wet fall day. The forest here is of rhododendrons and bamboo rather than fir, arbutus and salal but, with the leaves on the trail, the clouds low and cool temperature, I could imagine myself riding down the long singletrack at home (just like Tzou-vember in Nepal!).

Part way through the day we decided to cut the trek short by a day. The plan had been to stay out 6 days but, with the weather not cooperating, we thought that 5 days would be enough. Unfortunately that meant that this days trek would have to be longer and so, after lunch, we proceeded to hike 3 more hours almost entirely downhill to reach Ghandruk. Now downhill might sound easier but, in reality, it is killer on the knees and thighs and at the end our legs were a quivering mess – 4 hours of uphill climbing and 3 hours of down – ouch! The clouds did break a little though and we got a real sense of how big and close the mountains are…how could they hide so easily when they are right there?

Down Again, Poon Hill Trek Ghandruk sits on the lip of a deep valley. We set out the next morning to descend into the valley (you can’t imagine how much my legs wanted to do this) and then climb up the other side – a tough morning. We crossed over the ridge and through one more smaller valley to end up in Dhampus, our final stop.

The views here were stunning – just what we had been waiting for. The clouds lifted just enough and, at sunset, we were treated to a fabulous show of nature. It was absolutely amazing and set us to talking about how we could possibly return one day to do a longer trek…the mountains have that effect.

If you’re considering trekking in Nepal (and you should!), Mark runs a great site that has tons of information…Trekking In Nepal...check it out!

Fishtail, Poon Hill Trek

15 Nov

Serene Mountain Top Retreat

Lonely Planet says that it would be a shame to travel directly to Pokhara from Kathmandu without making a stop along the way to enjoy the mountain views, and so we decided to break our journey and spend a night at Manakamana expecting  to enjoy a serene  mountain top retreat. Ummmm…..not so much.

Up The Cable Car To Manakamana Mandir Unlike years ago, when the only way up was a grueling 18KM hike, there is now a modern cable car system that whisked us up the almost 1000M vertical in an easy 15 minutes. The views were amazing. We were not yet in the towering, snow covered Himalayas, but the views of the Himalayan foothills were spectacular and seemed to go on forever.

The village at the top exists entirely because of the Manakamana Mandir, one of the most important Hindu temples in Nepal and, as we saw in Kathmandu, the Hindu religion is not one of quiet contemplation.

We followed the crowd up toward the temple and could hear the usual bells, shouting and general noise of the temple, but also ‘boom box’ music…strange. The square around the temple was filled with teenage kids – there were a good number of adults too, but a disproportionate number of teenagers were there…weird. The ‘boom box’ music was coming from one corner where a ‘hip’ group of kids were running a small gaming operation – a ring toss table and what looked like a raffle of sorts. It was the prizes that stood out though – juice boxes, cookies, beer, bottles of whiskey, cigarettes – and it was the  kids playing these games, not the adults. It was a carnival like atmosphere with the boys wandering around trying to look macho and girls hanging about laughing and twittering behind the scarves they held to their faces.

Goat Awaits His One Way Ride, Manakamana, Nepal One of the more interesting, and macabre, things about the temple is that the goddess of the temple is said to grant wishes. Many of the families that flock here come to ask for a wish to be filled…and many of them bring a goat along for the ride to sacrifice and ‘seal the deal’. There are a few special karts on the cable car for the sacrificial goats to ride up…a one way ticket. We saw many goats being led up the path but, thankfully, we only saw one that had met its’ fate and we did not see where the sacrifices were happening.

We were the only tourists there for our whole stay and we certainly got a lot of attention. There were plenty of stares and giggles but most would smile and wave back when we smiled and waved. Eating meals was interesting as we almost invariably had an audience…I guess they were wondering how and why we were eating with utensils (most of them were eating with their hands but I don’t know how to eat rice and curry with my hands!).

The village seemed to shut down after dark but we did manage to find a place to have a beer and play some cards…with an audience of course. The five Nepali boys were fascinated by our cribbage game and watched intently as they discussed it amongst themselves. We pantomimed back and forth a little bit but it was hard to communicate when we speak no Nepali and they spoke no English. I did remember a super simple card trick from long ago and so I tried it on them…the look on their faces when I picked out their ‘secret’ card was hilarious. I think I’ll learn some more tricks as it was a great way to engage with them.

With the village seemingly all rolled up for the night we headed to bed fairly early only to be woken multiple times by groups of kids finishing their night at the temple and hooting and hollering their way down the hill. Where they were going I have no idea as the cable car must have surely stopped by that time. Eventually they all seemed to have made their way down and so we settle in to sleep.

Bang, bang, bang, bang…..bang, bang, bang, bang….’Excuse me….excuse me…excuse me’…bang, bang, bang, bang. I slowly realize that someone is knocking on the door and reach for my watch…6AM. I answer the door….’Excuse me…hot water…shower!!’. What? ‘Hot water…shower’ he repeats, this time pantomiming showering. ‘Oh…Ok….thank you’ I say and close the door to return to my nice warm bed. I have no idea why it was so important for him to come and tell me about the hot water at 6AM but he seemed to think it was urgent. So much for sleeping in.

We didn’t have a bus ticket for our onward journey so we made our way down the mountain to wait on the highway to flag a bus down. Almost before we got to the highway a man was shepherding us to a small bus indicating that it would go to Pokhara. Perfect, we thought, that wasn’t hard at all.

J On The Dodgy Bus, Manakamana to Pokhara The bus stopped in a small town about 20 minutes later and, after a few minutes the ‘conductor’ indicated that we needed to transfer to another bus to continue on. We grabbed our bags and proceeded to the second bus. As I boarded and saw the interior of the bus I knew that I was not going to like it…I should have turned around right then, but  for some reason I didn’t. We headed towards the back to find some free seats for us and our bags and soon realized that almost all of the seats were dirty, torn and broken…not a good sign but, by now, the bus was moving so we just looked at each other shrugging our shoulders.

Within 5 minutes I knew I wasn’t going to stay on the bus – it was the dodgiest bus I have seen. I could just picture something  terrible happening and my mother saying ‘what was she thinking, being on a bus like that?’, so we decided that we would get off at the first chance – we didn’t owe anybody any explanations and, for the money, we could more than afford to pay full fare again on a better bus.

About 30 minutes later the bus pulled into a small stop and we grabbed our bags to wait on the roadside for another bus. Our decision was confirmed when the driver proceeded to get under the bus and hammer away at something under there for a while…obviously not in tip top condition! When he had finished the ‘repairs’ everyone boarded again to continue on…I don’t think a single soul on that bus was surprised that we did not get back on.

Waiting For Another Bus, Manakamana to Pokhara We sat on the roadside for almost two hours waiting for another bus. It was hot and dusty but we didn’t care, we weren’t on the dodgy bus anymore. Eventually another bus came along and suited us quite nicely. It wasn’t any South American or Turkey bus with meals and drinks served aboard…but it wasn’t dodgy and that’s all we needed.

Serene mountain top retreat indeed. Manakanama was definitely an experience, and it was on a mountain top…but it was definitely not serene. We won’t be stopping in on our way back to Kathmandu!

13 Nov

Crazy Hazy Kathmandu

Thamel Area, Kathmandu My face was glued to the window all the way from the airport. We had finally arrived on the sub-continent and I was eager to see all the craziness. Kathmandu did not disappoint.

The traffic was as crazy as I expected – our hotel owner later told us that there are no traffic rules in Nepal – basically just stay to the left and don’t hit anything. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters and bicycle rickshaws are everywhere – if the lane is wide enough for handlebars then a motorcycle will surely be speeding down it.

The smog is unrelenting – at times blocking out the views of the Himalayas. My  nose is already constantly running black and there is a thickness in my throat. Many people, locals and tourists, sport masks to try and minimize the damage.

The noise is overwhelming – honking seems to be a national sport and it pays to heed them as more than once we almost got swiped by a passing motorcycle. Whistles, salesmen hawking, music and general noise round out the ‘symphony’ – it starts early, and ends late.

The colors are amazing – the dresses that the women wear, the ever-present marigolds and red dye at the temples, the bright lights of all the signs overhead – a never-ending smorgasbord of things to see.

Mmmm...Lunch The food is delicious – we love curry and a little heat – every meal we have had has been great…we’re in culinary heaven.

It is fascinating. We spent the entire first day just wandering around, our heads swiveling back and forth as one sight after another vied for our attention.

We visited two temples during our stay.

Devotional Fires, Swayambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu The Swayambhunath Stupa is also known as the Monkey Temple due to the troop of monkeys that also live on the hill. But they were not the highlight that day. We arrived at the stupa to find a mix of Buddhist and Hindu ceremonies occurring. Circumambulating the stupa and turning the prayer wheels is distinctly Buddhist, but the other shrines and ceremonies using marigolds, red dyes, bell ringing, and rice were definitely Hindu. To which religion the rafts of yak butter candles and pots of fire to be stirred by devotees belonged to, I don’t know. There was much merriment and celebration with red-smudged foreheads and marigold petal strewn hair everywhere. It was amazing and we watched for hours as we circled the stupa again and again to take it all in.

Boudha Stupa, Kathmandu The Bouhda Stupa is one of the largest in the world and surrounding village is home to a large population of Tibetan monks and exiles. The feeling here was definitely more serene and in keeping with what I had thought a Buddhist temple would be like. The sounds of Tibetan meditation music floated out from the music shops around the stupa, and the scent of incense permeated the air. We, again, slowly circumambulated the stupa (always in a clockwise direction) and watched as the crowd built towards sunset. By the time the sun set the path was filled with devotees, monks, villagers and tourists – a religious and social event.

After just two days in the Nepali capital our heads were filled. We headed off to Pokhara and the mountains for some natural beauty and peace and quiet.

09 Nov

Faith

Blue Mosque, Istanbul-2 Across the aisle from me the man reads from a small, bound, version of the Koran. His lips move and he visibly relaxes as the recital proceeds. Throughout, he performs modified versions of the motions of his prayer.

I reach for my gin and take a slug. Same effect…we are now both calmer…different method.

As we ready for landing I am calm. Not because of the gin I think, but because I believe that if he believes so strongly, and is such a good man that his god would not let him perish, then I must be okay sitting across the aisle from him. His puppet-master will keep me safe too.

Today I hear a woman explaining, with great conviction, about stories from the Bible and how they relate to the area of the world we are currently in (we are in Jordan, near the baptism site of Jesus and a host of other Christian religious sites).

I cannot understand. It is not within me.

Five times a day the call to prayer rises above the country, above the city, above the sea…and five times a day Turks, Jordanians, and other Muslims, take the time to gather, and wash, and pray. Together, and apart, in cities and in the country.

Christians the world over congregate every Sunday to worship, to be with family and friends, and to share their experiences.

I do not come from a religious background. I am, technically, an atheist. And yet I am fascinated by this adherence to an ideal.

I do not understand religion in my own culture…the giving over to a higher being, the belief that heaven exists (and will be better than life on earth)…but here religion is on a whole other level. It’s not just  a ‘go-to-church-on-Sunday’ kind of thing…five times a day they are called upon. It’s part of their being…un-separated…non-definable…just part of who they are.

It’s fascinating.

Faith, to me, is fascinating. I have often wished that I possessed that belief in something. A truth that is undeniable, unshakable, and above all else. But I don’t.

I have faith in myself…in who I am, and what I can do, in my relationship, my talents, my future…but it doesn’t come from a higher being. It comes from within me.

I guess that’s what I take from these people. Faith is faith. What I believe in is as strong as what they believe in. It’s just different.

I am currently on a plane from Amman, Jordan to Delhi, India. It is filled with Indians returning home. India is a land of hundreds of gods. I have faith that all these people believing in all those gods will see us landing safely.

06 Nov

The Desert, The Red, And The Dead

Wadi Rum Scenery-8 I love wide open spaces. It was on a cross country drive a number of years ago that I realized how much I love wide open spaces. The Canadian prairies are, for some, monotonous and boring but I loved the days of driving over rolling hills through wheat fields and grassland because I could see forever.

Jordan is fabulous for being able to see forever. The drive down the King’s Highway was a stunning display of desert scenery interrupted only by massive canyons that I did not know could exist in a desert landscape. Some people see this area on a cycling holiday; it would be amazing to move through this scenery by my own power, but not this time.

Wadi Rum is the most famous desert landscape in Jordan. It is here that Lawrence of Arabia came into being – the man, the book, and the film, and it is here that we explored the desert by camel, by jeep and on foot.

G On The Camel Yes, by camel! For the first part of the tour we climbed up onto camels to be led into the desert. Although large and tall, camels are very gentle and riding one was much smoother than riding a horse. They just plod along, their enormous feet barely making a mark in the soft sand. It was fun but I’m glad it was only 1/2 hour or so…the pace was a little on the slow side for me.

The ‘jeep’ was an ancient LandCruiser type vehicle with no wipers or window handles and our driver, Ali, kept poking his head out the window to look back at something…we checked later to realize that the rear wheel was missing a couple of bolts…I guess he was checking to see if the wheel was still on!!

The jeep tour was the antithesis of the camel tour. The camels may have been slow and plodding but the jeep was anything but. Ali knew Wadi Rum like the back of his hand and we raced over the sand and around the imposing rock formations to see all the sites.

Running Down The Dune...Too Much Fun. I’m sure there are important historical, religious and cultural sites within Wadi  Rum but, for me, the highlights were climbing up a great red, red, red sand dune…and then running down in great, giant leaps, scrambling up to the top of the rock  ‘bridges’, and making lunch over a small fire in the middle of the desert.

J and Ali Make LunchIt was a great day of touring, topped off by a night in a desert Bedouin camp. The weather did not cooperate though and the starry, starry sky I had been wanting was masked by the clouds of an impending storm. It was fun though to  sit around the campfire and chat with the Bedouins and other travelers.

From Wadi Rum we headed south to Aqaba on the Red Sea, where Jordan meets up with Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Here, again, are many important religious sites…but we came for the snorkeling – it is supposed to be some of the best snorkeling in the world here…and it didn’t disappoint. It was like being in a giant aquarium, or the ‘Finding Nemo’ movie. The water was a fabulous aquamarine color, visibility was amazing and there were fish everywhere.

Blue fish, green fish, yellow fish, blue and green fish, yellow and red fish, big fish, small fish, fat fish, thin fish…an amazing variety of shapes, sizes and brilliant colors set in a backdrop of colorful coral in water so shallow that it would be possible to touch everything. It was amazing and we spent hours floating and watching.

Look What I Can Do Our next stop was the Dead Sea. It is the lowest point on earth (418M below sea level) and one of the saltiest pieces of water on earth.   There isn’t much there except for some potash industry and a string of luxury spa Bobbing In The Dead Seahotels, but we couldn’t miss the chance to bob around in the water like a cork.

The water felt a little slimy with all the salt. A teeny tiny splash got into my mouth…it was disgusting and almost felt a little like a chemical burn. But boy is it floaty…sticking arms and legs out of the water was easy…swimming was not – I kept flipping over when I tried.

It was a short, 10 day, visit to Jordan…but it’s a small country and we saw everything we wanted to. I’m glad we added it to our itinerary – it would have been a shame to miss the amazing sites and stunning scenery.

02 Nov

The Rose Red City

This post is hard to write…because I am speechless. Petra is absolutely, breathtakingly, stunning. It is beyond words. The natural scenery is beautiful and indescribable…and then the carving on top of it all…amazing!!

P1050302 The approach to the famed Treasury building has got to be one of the best reveals on the planet. First we walk along a wide valley on a non-descript gravel path past red rocks with some niches and square blocks carved out. Then we enter what is called ‘The Siq’…a fault line in a red sandstone mountain that opened up millennia ago forming a narrow twisting gorge with high, high walls that have been smoothed over time by both wind and water. I can see how the walls were once formed together – a niche here matching an outcropping there…some closer together than others as the width of the Siq ebbs and flows.

The colors are red and pink and yellow and brown and layered and suffused together everywhere. The sky above contrasts blue, blue, blue and the sun shines down creating shadows and ripples throughout.

We crane our necks gazing upwards at the natural beauty, but are quickly reminded to also watch underfoot to avoid spraining an ankle on the uneven, cobbled, paving stones that line the walkway – a quick reminder that we are also here to see what the Nabatean culture left behind from the first century B.C.

Soon, evidence of carving starts to appear on the Siq walls. Small niches are carved, a shrine can be seen and, a little further on, the large remains of two figures leading camels can be discerned also.

P1050315 I saw almost none of this. I was so in awe of the Siq itself and so excited to see the Treasury that I could not focus on anything else. I kept peering around every corner, unable to wait for the first glimpse. I was so excited I thought I would blow up. And then, suddenly, it came into view.

P1050347 The pictures of the Treasury are iconic, but the reality is truly breathtaking…tears stung my eyes as I gazed at the magnificence of the artistry and craftsmanship. This has never happened to me before..I was absolutely awe-struck by the imagery.

The whole of Petra is like this. We walked around the massive site for seven hours the first day (upwards of 25KM we estimated we walked) shaking our heads in awe at the amazing buildings, tombs and shrines that are carved in the rock faces. How a society from so long ago managed to carve such structures is unimaginable to me.

The second day we hiked into the site along an alternate route. Bypassing the Siq, we hiked up the almost deserted Wadi Muthlim route. It followed another, narrower gorge that lacked the carvings of the Siq and the rest of Petra but was naturally stunning.

P1050377The guidebooks warn not to take this route during rainy season due to the danger of  flash floods and the guards were hesitant to let us through that day as it was cloudy and there was threat of rain but we were persistent and gained entry. It soon became apparent as to why there was concern. The gorge walls quickly rose and closed in forming a chute of sorts that would channel water very efficiently. There was evidence of water all around, from the riverbed like surface of the walkway to the water eroded sediment on the sides and, in the narrowest of places, we could see a soil, tree and debris plug high up in canyon…water had obviously rushed through here more than once and caused catastrophic damage. The skies were clearing though and we felt safe enough to continue.

The hike was amazing. The rock faces were brilliantly colored and shaped by water and wind to incredible shapes. The gorge opened up and narrowed again a number of times and, at the very end, it became extremely narrow and twisty and curvy necessitating some scrambling  and climbing to reach the end. Very cool.

As we exited the narrow gorge we found ourselves in a wide rocky valley with a small Bedouin camp at the entrance. Two children, Rasheed (9) and Haman (6), quickly attached themselves to us and proclaimed themselves our guide back to Petra. Although barefoot and a little shabby looking,they were funny and enjoyable and so we walked together chatting and racing and holding hands for the half hour walk back.

Rasheed explained that her mom was working at Petra (many Bedouin woman have ‘jewelry’ stalls in the site) and that we should come for tea. We arrived at the stall and greeted her mom before being led to some straw mats to sit on. Her mom went off and I wondered where she had gone before I saw her in the distance gathering branches to make a small fire. She returned shortly and set to making the tea.

While the tea was brewing we were more than entertained by Rasheed’s younger brothers and sisters (4 in total) as they tried on our hats, carried our packs around and climbed all over us as if we were new toys.

We enjoyed our tea chatting, as best we could, to Rasheeds mother and watching the kids do what kids do…chase each other around, wrestling and playing until one of them starts crying. It was fun and interesting – I wish we had some pictures but it just didn’t feel right to bring out the camera and so we will just remember it in our heads.

It is often difficult for a place to live up to expectations, especially in this age with so many images and stories already existing, but Petra more than lived up to my expectations. It, alone, has made adding Jordan to our itinerary worth it…and we haven’t even hit the desert and the Dead Sea yet.