This is Part One of a three part tale. To read the second installment, click here.
Yes folks, it’s the post you’ve all been waiting for. I’ve skipped all the pointless waffle about desert duelling, about camel-back capers; this is it. The Big One.
This… is… PETRA!
(It differs from Sparta both geographically and in the number of bronzed man-boobs on display).
Fact No.1 We Did Not Know About Petra: You can do it in a day. Apparently. So said Mr and Mrs Modra, a fit looking couple in their early thirties. Mind you, they were Aussies so it’s possible there was a bit of bravado in their statement. They did have that slightly feverish, gung-ho look about them – the ‘up at 6am, took a shit in the bush and wiped my arse with a cactus’ type breed. Depressingly enthusiastic outdoorsy-type folk. Anyway, they were clearly nuts as they were actually driving. Our guidebook has a whole chapter about driving in Jordan. It’s one word long and says: ‘Don’t.’
Fact No.2 We Did Not Know About Petra: It is the biggest rip-off in the world. No, really, it is. For two reasons; first, it’s literally the biggest – over 500 individual tombs – so many you’d be dead of boredom and needing one yourself long before you saw the lot. Luckily they’re scattered across thirty-five square kilometres of rocky desert, much of which is only accessible by goat.
Second; because it costs £50 each to get in. For one day. Yes, that’s right – US$80 per person! Which is why Jordan isn’t on the backpacker trail. You can buy a cocaine plantation in some South American countries for that.
But was it worth it? Well, this is a tough question for me to answer really, because I didn’t pay. You see, I’m a big believer in Fate, and this is why:
We arrived in Petra town after a six hour drive through the desert, stopping en route at canyons and castles – basically we were knackered. So we headed into the tiny town centre of Wadi Musa (which the unkind might point out is just a roundabout) to get the quickest, easiest food possible before we passed out eating it. We chose a kebab shop at random (there were three of them, and nothing else); and seated next to us were Mr and Mrs Modra.
Long story short – they’d both bought two-day passes, hiked the crap out of the place in one, and wanted to move on. They offered us their passes – for free – on the off chance we could make use of the second day.
Which we did. Especially when we noticed how much they’d cost. We scurried back to the hotel and asked the receptionist. “Yes,” she confirmed, “Fifty dinars for one day. For two days, only fifty five.” One Jordanian dinar is pretty much one UK pound.
Collectively we suffered heart failure. Because our guidebook listed the entry fee as twenty dinars – circa 2009. Who could imagine the price almost tripled in little over a year? Faced with becoming so broke we’d be eating cream cheese for the rest of the holiday (it came free with every breakfast we’d had, bizarrely) we quickly formulated a plan. Roo and I would go in posing as the Aussie couple. Mum would buy a full price ticket for herself – for two days, since it was only five squid more. And that was that. As the morning of the scam approached Roo and I got progressively more nervous. I imagined all the questions they could possibly ask and came up with a story for all of them. We’d left our passports in the hotel safe. We had no other ID for fear of pickpockets. I didn’t sound like an Ozzy because I’d only just moved there from England. Our names were… why couldn’t I remember our names? And what if they had photos…?
No. In the event, the guard’s ticket scanner didn’t even work. He gave it a couple of ineffectual wafts, frowned at the screen, then banged it repeatedly against a nearby rock. This didn’t seem to do it much good, so he passed the scanner back into his booth and waved us through. Grand Larceny had been committed, and it was only 9:30 in the morning!
Fact No.3 We Did Not Know About Petra: The horse ride to the entrance is free. This is a country where, despite the cost of living being similar to the UK, people still seem to see tourists as purveyors of great wealth. God knows why – they must have studied customer relations in Bali. Everyone we met had their hands out for our cash, from the kids in the street (wearing trainers I couldn’t afford) to the taxi guides earning £70 for four hours’ work. So when a bunch of guys hanging around the ticket office started to follow us and demand we get on their horses, we ignored them and walked on. They shouted that it was free – but this was a tactic we’d seen before. Whilst entirely free to get on, getting off at the other end requires the application of a tip; probably five dinars. Pretty steep for a five minute ride.
And yet it turned out to be true! Mum got a leaflet with her ticket, which we were all too nervous to stop and read whilst the guards could still see us. We read it later that night in the hotel. Apparently a horse-ride to the canyon was included in our ticket price – they mentioned it almost by way of apologising for the exorbitant cost. But it also mentioned that it was customary to tip the guide afterwards… just five dinars.
Fact No.4 We Did Not Know About Petra: It was not discovered by Indiana Jones. There is no immortal knight inside, no spinning blades or bottomless chasms. Behind the gigantic facade carved into the wall of the canyon, there is just an empty square room. And it was closed.
To Be Continued…
To read Part Two of this post on Petra, click here.
Meanwhile – Whaddaya think? Would you pay a £50 entry fee? Or try to sneak in… or am I a Very Naughty Boy for even having that thought? I’d love to know!