Petra Solo

Last weekend I took leave of my responsibilities and day-tripped three hours south to Petra, one of the democratically-chosen Wonders of the World. Rising at 4:00 a.m., I hit the dark desert highway by 4:30.

Leery of monstrous potholes and meandering shepherd dogs in the near total blackness enveloping the freeway at that hour, I gripped my steering wheel apprehensively and stomped on the brakes whenever so much as a tumbleweed cartwheeled through my headlights, until dawn lit the eastern sky. Despite my alertness, I nearly rear-ended a rickety tractor on a black and desolate stretch of pavement. It was lurching along at perhaps 10 or 15 mph without lights or reflectors of any kind to warn approaching traffic. You'd think maybe these farmers could rent a bungalow a little closer to their crops so they don't have to drive their tractor on the freeway at 5:00 a.m.

My solitary footsteps were echoing through the narrow siq -- the sinewy canyon that funnels visitors into the ruined city of Petra -- by 7:00 a.m. Petra is great, even when you're sharing it with throngs of point-and-shoot-camera-toting tourists, but it's inifitely better when there's no sound apart from your footfalls and rhythmic breathing echoing off the rock walls. I didn't see another soul until I reached the famous Treasury, where an athletically-built tour guide droned dry facts to a pod of bleary-eyed high school students. They dutifully snapped photos of the carved rock face made famous by Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. Some peered through the gaping Treasury doorway, perhaps hoping for a glimpse of John the Beloved and the Holy Grail. Nothing doing though. The Nazis took it to Peshawar, where Usama bin Laden now watches over it. That's where Indiana Jones Part 4 will pick up the story, I heard.

Having been to Petra before, I moved pass the Treasury with just a passing glance and headed for the hills. I spent the day hiking high above the milling masses, drinking in the views and off-the-beaten-path visual joys.