There is absolutely no way we could have done today’s walk in Australia. Just. Wouldn’t. Happen.
Much to the kids’ delight we rode horses down the Bab-el-siq to the start of the Siq. Callum and I concluded that donkeys are definitely more our pace, but it was a fun ride. Walking down through the Siq for the second time in two days revealed details we’d missed yesterday. Jennifer spotted the half-eroded statue of a camel-herder, a Nabatean signal that there is a water-cistern nearby. We all enthusiastically followed the ancient water-delivery system and tried to deduce how it worked from the remains.
Once in Petra proper, we commenced our ascent to the High Place of Sacrifice. As the name suggests this entertaining spot is not near the ground. It’s accessed via a winding hillside path of dust-covered, worn steps with nothing on the side between you and the drop into the crevasse. I had memories of being terrified when Jennifer and I visited Petra twenty years ago, but the walk to the top plateau did not prove quite as scary as I though it would. There’s absolutely no way that a similar walk in Australia would have been open to the public. Uneven paths, no safety rails of any sort, treacherous footing, dramatic drops and not a legal warning sign to be seen.
It was when we got to the top plateau that I remembered the bit my mind had excised in the twenty years since our last visit (the mind will do amazing things retain sanity). The top is not the top; it’s just the end of the path. From there you have to climb higher over a rounded rock-face with no path and a truly, truly awe-inspiring, or bowel-loosening, drop on both sides. And all this in the face of a stiff wind. It was this that my twenty-year old memories had rightly told me was terrifying.
Now the blindingly obvious question here is why on earth did we proceed – for proceed we did. The answer is simple: Declan was kidnapped by Bedouins.
So we’re standing at the bottom of the scary bit with Jennifer and I saying there was no way we’d go further and Declan saying he really wants to. Near us stands a Bedouin woman playing on a tin flute. She steps in, takes Declan’s hand and quick as a flash makes her sure-footed way up the knoll and out of sight. Declan is scampering along beside her completely fearlessly. Jennifer, demonstrating that maternal instincts trump paternal in the face of dizzying heights, sets off after her. To my complete amazement, Callum then follows her. Now my entire family has disappeared and with a deep, deep breath I follow them up to the top and the sacrificial place.
My theory is that the Nabateans only sacrificed people like me with a serious fear of heights. They’d get them up to the High Place and then set them loose. After taking one good look around, the victim would hurl themselves onto the sacrificial altar and demand the knife in preference to having to even contemplate climbing down.
Declan’s kidnapper woman kept on extolling us to come closer to the edge to better see the view; we kept on assuring her that we really were terribly happy huddling as far away from the edge as possible, thank you.
We made it back down in reverse order and then, to add insult to injury, I had to slip the kidnapper woman some baksheesh when I would rather have cheerfully strangled her.