There’s fresh dung splattered on my pathway in Petra and the acrid stench is impossible to ignore.
Nothing, however, will stop me from climbing up through this ancient stone city of Jordan. I am on a mission to see all I can in one day.
I can’t help but wonder what foul evil they are fed. It cannot be grass. Unsurprisingly, I am later told their diet is not pure vegetation.
The delights, or otherwise, of dung are part of Petra’s charm. It is a 2,200 year old wonder staffed by old school people needing tourist dollars to survive.
Jordan’s top attraction did feature prominently in the third (and should have been last) Indiana Jones film, but the long gone city is much more than that.
Savvy visitors listen for the clacks of Bedouin horse hooves and press against the rock wall just as the sound becomes thunderous.
Morning light amplifies its beauty. It is a Nabataean King’s place of rest where an Egyptian Pharaoh is whispered to have hidden a treasure.
It was abandoned centuries later after a series of large quakes and left to a dark corner of history until its rediscovery in 1812.
The fortress city is now a UNESCO world heritage site and the number one reason that hundreds of thousand of people visit Jordan. Well, it got me in.
Like the giant moai of Easter Island, it is a marvel that they were carved and sculpted all those years ago. Again like the moai, the features are eroding away.
The sand is returning to the desert floor.
There are almost as many people trying to part tourists from their Dinars as visitors themselves. Here tourist police monitor trade and have tea in the nearby cafe.
You can tell they have a steady relationship with the postcard, jewellery sellers. I spotted the nondescript man directing the younger hawkers how to approach tourists. He easily blended into the background as he urged them back into the fray.
Camels festooned with ornamental saddles pose for photos in front of The Treasury while their young masters wait for passengers. There was a soon to be familiar exchange; ” Want a ride miss?” No, “Why not?” I am happy.
There had been a dozen or so similar stands on the way up to this point. The business of tourism wears you down.
I found this one mid dung roll. These creatures have plenty of material to work with.
I took my time and went off the well beaten tracks. I climbed for views and entered dark tombs.
It was impossible to be truly alone. Petra is Bedouin land and the people sleep up in lofty caves where it is cool at night. Boys roamed around laughing, looking for attention.
There are 800 steep steps to see the Ad-Deir Monastery monument.
This is where the path gets rough for tourists and donkeys. Both strain on the way up. You can see it in the puffed faces of the humans and the grim backsides of the asses.
Animals rights groups have complained about the treatment of the animals. I did not hire one, but I watched as quite a few people did.
The creatures would do the up and down journey many times with people of varying weights. Hesitation was not rewarded.
I saw a whole family in a cave not far from the main track. A western woman had stopped and gone over to cave’s entrance and started waving repeatedly without speaking. I heard the man of the family call out “What? What do you want?”
I sat with a lovely Bedouin man who’s offered me tea and welcomed time out of the sun. As a Bedouin he can not travel far as his people are usually refused visas. He had a few happy jokes and a better then average attempt at the Australian accent.
I barely saw the monument as I came around the last corner. I’d seen the cafe first and headed there like an arrow in search of hydration.
People looked sympathetically at each other while contemplating the walk back to Petra’s front gate.
The King of Jordan was there.. well sort of. So I sat under him and had the best mint tea of my life..
This was followed hours later in my hotel by the best bath in my life..
But before I go.. here’s a handy use of a cave as a Petra garage by the local people. You can see there is room for one more car.
There is no escaping religion here. It is in the people, politics, buildings, graffiti and soil. The Jews, Muslims and Christians all lay claim to the city and are bound to it.
Every year many thousands of pilgrims defy security concerns to come to Jerusalem. Like the city’s crazy traffic, tour around for just a few moments and suddenly the stories of the Bible leap out right in front of you.
The hawkers do a fine trade in the Old City maze. Want to buy a crown of thorns? How about a glow in the dark crucifix?
Even if you went off into some sort of dark Jerusalem cave to get away from it all, the chances are that a celebrated saint did that before you.
The ancient site in the Old City is the most sacred, holiest place for Jews, the third most important place for Muslims and, currently, a no go zone for tourists.
The Palestinian Second Intifada began here on September 28th 2000 when Ariel Sharon provocatively entered the al-Aqsa Mosque with more than 1000 security guards.
More than a dozen journalists took part including correspondents from the US, Denmark and Italy.
Slow moving or, in my case, slow photographing journos, were chastened by a man barking; “Come journalists! Come on!”
The contention was expected, but perhaps not inside the mosque. The tour was a rare opportunity to experience what is the oldest Islamic building in the world and the site of great religious and social turmoil.
At various times, the place has been shot at, burnt down, damaged in quakes, rebuilt, burnt again and threatened with larger scale explosives.
The stained glass windows scatter glorious light on the worshippers, although the mosque was very quiet while we shuffled through.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was transported from Mecca to al-Aqsa during the Night Journey.
There he led other prophets in prayer, leapt to heaven and spoke to God.
The mosque has survived a lot over the centuries including a 1969 assault by an Australian Christian.
Denis Michael Rohan started a fire, he says, to hasten the second coming of Jesus. He was found to be criminally insane.
It is painted with 14th-century-era decorations including lines from the Koran.
The mosque fits about five thousand worshippers, but it regularly overflows at Friday prayers with thousands more people praying in the courtyard.
They are the shells of the ammunition used when Israeli police stormed the compound. They are under lock and key.
The shrine is impossible to miss in Jerusalem as it is covered in millions of dollars worth of Saudi Arabian and Jordanian gold.
As you get closer you see the enormous dome sits on a octagonal building covered in 400 year old blue-themed Islamic tiles.
Contentiously, it was built on the site of the Second Jewish Temple which had been destroyed by the Romans. Some Jews want the Dome moved to Mecca make way for a Third Temple.
The Muslim guide was not specific on when it happened, but bullets must have hit the beautiful mosaics.
Scaffolding obscured many of the views, but Koranic lines painted in the time of Saladin could be clearly seen.
Muslims believe the rock is the spot where Muhammad rose to Heaven to talk to God, Jews view it as the spiritual junction of Heaven and Earth.. and geographically it is the highest natural point in Old Jerusalem.
The guide says a single hair from Muhammad is somewhere in the building.
We were shuffled out of the Dome of the Rock with the guides still disputing minor points while questions ricocheted in our heads.
Muslim women relaxed in the sun and children played on the wide open concrete space.