Worth it

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photos by Pete Heck

Vale la pena“, a Spanish phrase we picked up and used often during our travels in South America, is now tattooed on both of our arms. It means “worth it” and can be applied to many aspects of our life – from our large initial decision to travel or to question whether or not an adventure is deemed worthy of our efforts, both physically and economically.

In Arabic, it is written as ستحق كل هذا (pronounced “Yastahik kul hatha al a’ana”). We learned this on the day we hiked up a hill to see the Monastery at Petra….


Hiking the Monastery - Petra, Jordan

We began the first few steps easily enough. “One, two,” I started to count them off as I bounced up, knowing that it was roughly 800 steps to the top.

The temperature was hovering around 37 degrees celsius. I was dressed modestly, a dark cotton dress over black leggings, a black t-shirt underneath. My hiking boots, although heavy and hot, were a necessity for some places we had previously scrambled up that morning. On my head I wore a hat as required protection from the sun, although cursing that it was wool and unbreathable. (It had been purchased appropriately in Ireland, but was not so transferable to desert heat.)

No matter, I thought. I was confident of my ability to endure.

We made it one third of the way up before our first stop, my steps having slowed significantly and my clothes were damp with sweat. Pete, not far ahead of me, had called back asking if I wanted a rest for which I could only nod my response. We found a corner shaded by the wall of rock over our heads, and took only a few minutes to recuperate.

Off we went again.

At the half way point, I was laboring much more heavily, and I lifted my hat from my head to release some of the heat. We were in a completely open area with little reprieve from the sun, our guide Muhammad asked a Bedouin lady making jewelry if we could use the shade of her tent to stop and rest. She graciously obliged and we sat in comfort for several minutes, watching her carefully thread multiple colored beads.

Bedouin lady, Petra, Jordan

Relaxed, but barely refreshed, we were off again.

Knowing that the end was in sight, I was persistent at pushing myself on. Up I continued to climb, stopping for mere seconds to catch my breath or wipe my brow. It couldn’t be much further, I repeatedly told myself.

Around one corner, and under the full weight of the sun, it hit me. The intense heat had reached the state of being fully oppressive, and my body responded accordingly.

My feet, which had been carefully steering me up uneven steps, were suddenly diverting off course. I was unbalanced, criss-crossing, a few small inches away from fully stumbling. My vision blurred, I lifted up my hat to let the air circulate through my matted mop of hair. This did nothing to improve my eyesight however, the blinding sun pierced deeper and my head began to spin.

Spin, spin, spin.

I reached my arms out for balance, and found the stretch of wall beside me for stability. A few deep breaths and I righted myself, but knew that I needed to sit, be cooler, replenish some fluids. Directly over my head, I heard my name being called.

Pete and our guide had stopped at a small cafe that was mere feet from where I had nearly faltered. C’mon up for a drink, one of them said. I smiled, I stumbled, but practically ran the last few steps to collapse in comfort in the shade with a sweet, cold drink.

I forced our lingering for as long as possible, taking devout and prolonged interest in a poor cat seated beside me, who needed a sip of my water as badly as I did. Another tourist asked us if we knew how far it was to the top, Muhammad stated that we had about ten minutes yet to go.

I could do that.

Could I do that?

The final few minutes were largely under shade of the natural walls that the path snaked through, and as we breached the top of the final ascent, a lovely Bedouin lady sat and welcomed us with a large smile: “You made it!” she said.

I could have kissed her. We made it.

Pete at the Monastery, Petra

The Monastery at Petra

Goat at the Monastery, Petra

While Pete climbed even more steps for a different vantage point (masochist), I sat in the shade and just could not tear my eyes away from it. The hand-carved details, the enormity, the age. I found it a more astounding sight then the Treasury, which is indeed saying a lot.

The Monastery from above

I bounced all the way back down. We passed many people struggling near the top, fanning themselves with anything available and hastily recoiling to small spots of shade. Several asked us: How much farther? Is it worth it?

Vale la pena, my friends. Yastahik kul hatha al a’ana. A thousand times over.


Our visit to Jordan was courtesy of the Jordan Tourism Board. As always, all opinions, and bad choices of head gear, are our own.

where to stay

High-end Movenpick Resort Petra is where we stayed – right outside the gates of Petra at the luxury Movenpick hotel in Jordan.

Check reviews | Book this hotel

Mid-range Although the Rocky Mountain Hotel isn’t very close to the gates of Petra, it offers great service, food, and a rooftop lounge.

Check reviews | Book this hotel

Budget Saba’s Hotel, according to many reviewers, is the best value out of everything in the area. The staff is friendly and helpful, the roof terrace is a great place to relax, and they even offer a packed lunch option for Petra.

Check reviews | Book this hotel

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  1. I didn’t mind the hike to the Monastery at all which is surprising given how lazy I am. But it was a cool day so the heat didn’t bother me at all.

  2. Vale la pena, love that saying. In trying to decide ourselves whether the great unknown of travel and adventure is right for us, the ‘is it worth all the risk’ thought seems to pop up often. Jumping in head first seems like the only option for us though… Always enjoy your posts. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Megan! It is a phrase that has stuck with us ever since South America, and when it comes to travel, it always seems to be worth the risk! 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing your adventures! Reading this was definitely Vale la Pena! (I hope the meaning translates the same??)

  4. I had a similar problem last year – climbing a mountain on a full summer day without appropriate gear. I almost fainted from the heat mixed with exercise and overall bad mood. But as you said, in the end it’s always worth it!

    1. I tend to overheat quite quickly too. This all reminded me of a time when I played baseball as a teenager – it was a similar temperature, I was in a ball uniform, and I passed out JUST as a ball came out to me in left field! I lost the game for our team. (Loser!) 🙂

  5. I had a very similar experience when I climbed Mount Sinai. I was exhausted and over-heated, and almost threw up near the top. It was watching the elderly nuns make it look so easy on their regular pilgrimage to the summit that kept me going, and just like your climb to Petra, in the end it was totally worth it 🙂

  6. The back way out from the Monastery, which takes you over the mountains, is also well worth doing, and, but for the vertigo factor, a hell of a lot less hard on the calves.

    Can totally relate to the multiple pauses… We took so many breaks it must have taken us 90 minutes, or something. Fighting off donkey boys at every step, of course…

    1. Does the back way also provide an alternative to getting to the monastery? Where does it branch off the main way?

  7. That sounds seriously warm. But worth it. I really like the photo of the goat, he looks like he has the secrets of the universe tucked away in his goaty little head. Also.. photo of the tattoos please! 😉

  8. I love the shot of the goat – he’s certainly enjoying himself. I think that sights you have to work for are some of the best sights to be found – a sense of personal accomplishment makes everything sweeter!

  9. Way to go, Dalene! It is a tough climb! Numerous times I watched those donkeys go by and considered hiring one to take me to the top, but like you, I pressed on.

    That cafe is a godsend. I really liked the mint drink they make. It is SO refreshing.

    And I agree. The Monastery is somehow even more impressive than the Treasury. Tim climbed up inside through the massive door. My short little legs couldn’t make it up!

    1. I have a great picture of Pete trying to get up in the door, and he’s half hanging out of it (he did make it up there too)! He wouldn’t let me post that one though…haha!

  10. Great photos ahead and all are great especially the Goat.You capture very well and I love it so much. If it is okay with you I will choose one as my desktop wallpaper.

  11. It definitely looks like it was worth it, but damn 800 steps sounds like torture. The climb up the cathedral tower in Freiburg is around 275 and that was tough, but at least it’s inside and mostly shaded. I admire your persistence, I would’ve been in tears.

  12. Agreed, the Monastery is well worth it! Travelers that do not make it up there are missing out.

    Just a quick warning…not an Arabic scholar, but do speak some Arabic. You might want to consult a dictionary or an Arab speaker before you run off and tattoo ‘worth it” in Arabic on your arm; you are missing a few correct letters…

    Glad you had a great trip in Jordan.

    1. Hmmm! I did get that translation from an Arab speaker (Jordanian). I might have copied and pasted it from my email wrong. 🙂

      1. Yeah, I assumed, you did; it’s pretty close. I just didn’t want you to be like Jack on ‘Lost’ and get a tattoo, with a different meaning than he thought! Ha…

        Looking forward to reading more about your experiences in Jordan. Thanks.

  13. Yes, completely agree with you – totally “Vale la pena!” The Monastery was beyond spectacular and the journey to get there is just as amazing. It’s sad that a lot of people would go all the way to Petra and would not even try to see it. It was the best part! As always, your photos are incredible.

  14. We made the climb in March. I can’t imagine it in summer. The worst part was when we had been climbing for about 3 days and thought we were almost to the top when a descending hiker said, ‘You’re about halfway.”

    Great pics as always.



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