I was really concerned with how rapidly my body reacted to the extreme heat at the site. It was a relatively short walk (20 minutes), mostly under shade, from the bus down to the river, but the heat was so intense I was sure that if I'd stayed there another 10 minutes I would have collapsed from heat exhaustion. I have no idea how hot it was outside, but it must have been at least 110 degrees. I lived in the desert of Las Vegas for 13 years and I have plenty of previous experience in extreme heat, but I'd never felt anything like that before. I wasn't the only one who felt the same way, almost everyone in our group felt it was the hottest they've ever been. I was really concerned because on Saturday we were going to Petra for several hours and I was terrified that I would have a similar experience. I said a lot of prayers that night.
Fortunately, our last stop of the day was to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was a fun experience. The water felt oily and I had a blast bouncing around in the water. I only stayed in the water for about 10 minutes before I headed to a nearby resort where I sat in the pool for a couple of hours drinking water and trying to rehydrate and recuperate from the trip to the Jordan River.
Saturday, we awoke early so that we could enjoy Petra before the oppressive heat set in later in the day. Petra was the number one reason why I've wanted to see Jordan and the site does not disappoint. However, I naively didn't complete any research on the site prior to our visit, and therefore I was wholly unprepared for the intense physical demands of the day. My advice for anyone who plans to see Petra is to visit the site over two days--especially if you're visiting in the heat of the summer. Bring good hiking shoes, a hat, plenty of sunscreen and water.
The ruins of Petra cover more than 260 square kilometers and include numerous hiking trails--which means it is almost impossible to see everything in one day. My favorite surprise was that the walk to the famous Treasury lead us through a stunning cavern. I couldn't get enough of the play of light against the sandstone rock walls and I took entirely too many pictures (pictures will be coming soon).
Petra is the ancient capital of the Nabatean civilization founded in 168 B.C.E. The Nabateans were a nomadic Arab group that ended up establishing a trading empire which facilitated trade with the Romans and other groups--especially in Frankincense. At its height, more than 30,000 people lived in Petra. Today there are still Bedouins that live in the caves within the site.
The ruins of Petra include tombs, an amphitheater, evidence of water engineering and irrigation, roads and churches; however, they're no remaining houses or government buildings. The most celebrated structure in Petra is the Treasury (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). The Treasury was not a bank, but was a funerary monument. It is cut deeply into the sandstone and therefore the elements have not destroyed it yet. What I loved about the building was that the facade of the monument has Greek, Roman and Egyptian references which show the influence of other cultures on the Nabateans.