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Entries in Petra (2)


Water Conservation and Raiders of the Lost Ark

At this time last year, anyone concerned about my whereabouts would have found me walking through a majestic wind and rain-carved canyon, heading toward the center of the ancient city of Petra in southern Jordan. This tourist and scholar’s destination is an architectural and archeological marvel, considered by the UN to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. Ancient sculptors created Petra’s city structures and roads by carving into red, solid, sand cliffs. They started at the top of the mountains and worked their way down, developing grandiose buildings, temples, and tombs. Even the rooms inside the buildings were carved out of the rock.

It had been no more than two weeks before our group’s arrival when the temperature here had reached 44 degrees Celsius, [that’s about 111 degrees Fahrenheit!] Luckily, by the time we got to Petra, the heat had dropped to a mere 35 degrees, [a welcoming 96 degrees]. Large amounts of bottled water, a wide brimmed hat, and a neck scarf filled with cooling, gel crystals kept body temperatures at a survivable level.

The Nabataeans, one of the most gifted people in Middle Eastern history, settled this area over 2200 years ago. Here, where 90% of the land is desert, they built a powerful commercial and political kingdom. At one point, the capital city of Petra may have housed 20,000-30,000 people. With sparse rainfall and extreme heat, the Nabataeans were forced to excel in water conservation in order to sustain themselves. As highly skilled water engineers, they irrigated the land with an extensive system of dams, canals and reservoirs.

The inhabitants of Petra treated rainwater as a precious commodity. Paths carved into the rock mountains are lined with narrow gullies that send rain toward underground cisterns. Furthermore, carved into the facade of every building are vertical troughs that direct rainfall into aquifers. Historians and archeologists believe that it is this sophisticated knowledge of the power of water that allowed the Nabataeans to prevail in this harsh climate.

A striking phenomenon of this wondrous site is the blending of architectural motifs from several ancient civilizations. Their expertise in the caravanning business exposed the Nabataeans to diverse cultures, a fact that explains why the facades of their buildings incorporate design elements from ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, and Assyria. Wealth had made that possible.They had enriched themselves not only from an exclusivity in distributing incense  - essential for pagan rituals -  but also by their mastery of the region’s trade routes, where they levied tolls, and from the wide range of luxury products that they handled.

This ingenuity of absorbing and interpreting the architectural themes of other cultures, resulted in the creation of one of the most dramatic ancient structures still standing. The glorious Treasury Building of Petra is so intriguing that it featured prominently in the iconic movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

Most visitors to Petra ask what happened to such an ingenious, cultured, rich, and powerful, nation.Some believe that they were economically compromised by the decline in the use of frankincense and myrrh, when Christianity was introduced into the area.. Others believe that, when Islam became the dominant religion of the region, the need to maintain a separate national identity diminished and that most integrated into surrounding communities. Still others take a more pragmatic view, and point out that commercial caravanning became less profitable for them when trade routes shifted from the areas they controlled to Palmyra, Syria and when seaborne trade around the Arabian Peninsula expanded. As a result, during the fourth century CE,  the Nabataeans left Petra. The fact that archeologists have found very few valuables on site, leads them to believe that the withdrawal was an organized but unhurried process.

Our departure from Petra was also unhurried, but that was due to our exhilarating fatigue. It had been an experience not to be missed and all of us on this tour would do it again, in a heartbeat. -  It was that awesome.


Traveling in the Heat with Cobber,Tilly, and Vera.

Travelled to the Middle East in a group of 10 made it unrealistic to expect all of us to plan an itinerary together. Instead, we all agreed that my brother-in-law and his wife should carry out that responsibility since the reason for the trip originated with them. When they canvassed our opinions about what to see, I requested the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, Israel and one of the Eight Wonders of the World: the ruin of an ancient Nabataean city, built over 2000 years ago, located in Petra, Jordan.

When one of my friends heard about my desire to see Petra, he freaked out. Knowing of my body's intolerance to heat, he begged me to reconsider the side trip there. On his visit to Petra a while ago, he walked about 7 miles at that site, in heat of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. When I heard about the walk and the heat, I too freaked out because I am that rare gardener whose body cannot function in hot weather. Just like the character in the children’s tale of Ferdinand the Bull, I would rather sit in the shade than play in the sun.

Another friend came up with a coping solution for excessive heat when he suggested that I purchase a Cobber. This is a neck wrap containing polycrystals that, when immersed in water, acts as a cooling system for the body when placed against the carotid arteries. I bought it and it worked as promised. I am certain that it lowered my body temperature significantly because I did not succumb to the brutal heat that I experienced. Here is a link to the site of Cobber Enterprises that makes this product. I recommend watching their video because whatever can cool a body in the Middle East will also cool a gardener working anywhere in the world.

Another suggestion from my friend was to purchase a Tilly hat. Tilly Endurables makes rugged yet smart-looking hats of safari quality for serious travelers who visit parts of the world where extreme conditions are considered normal. These hats float, are washable, offer UV protection, and contain a waterproof envelope inside the hat to protect documents. I selected a model that had both the widest brim for maximum shade and a band of mesh for ventilation. The breadth of the brim kept the sun away from my ears, kept some heat away from my head, and the combination of Cobber and wide brim hat protected the back of my neck. A Number 60 sun block moderately protected my nose and cheeks.


I also travelled with a tiny vial of aloe vera gel that soothed my face whenever I felt a burn developing in the evening.

With a combination of sipping water throughout the day, wearing the Cobber scarf and the Tilly hat, and moisturizing with aloe vera gel, I was able to endure the harsh elements that one finds in the Middle East in summer time. Our trip coincided with the hottest weather there in over 50 years. When we arrived, we were met with heat of 100 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and endured that temperature range for almost two weeks. By the time we reached Petra, the weather had turned a balmy 90 degrees. Lucky for us, it was dry heat and winds in the canyons of the ruin cooled our bodies.

 Next year, when heat will once again turn gardening into an unpleasant activity, I will be sure to don my Cobber to help sustain me through the day. I should also keep some of these on hand for my workers. Now wouldn’t it be great if Cobbers were also available for wrists and ankles?

 More about my trip will follow.