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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.