Follow the Brick Road to the Rose City

Starting at the Petra Visitor Center, Louise began asking me, “Is her shop here?”

The woman she was looking for was Marguerite van Geldermalsen.

married to a Bedouin

Louise was fascinated by Marguerite, a New Zealander who married Mohammed Othman, a Bedouin souvenir-seller from Petra.  She met him while on holiday.  After a whirlwind courtship, she moved into his cave where they lived for many years.  We met Marguerite in 2010 at the Dubai Literary Festival where she gave a talk on her memoir “Married to a Bedouin”.

During my previous visit to Petra I saw a stall selling her book.  But I did not think she lived there anymore.

“Do you see Marguerite’s stand?” Louise asked me for the second time as we entered the Siq.

“No, not yet.  We haven’t even entered the city yet.”

To most Westerners, Petra is the rose-colored Treasury featured in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Every year thousands wander through the six-foot wide Siq to glimpse Petra’s most famous landmark.

To the two-thousand, local Bedouin, Petra is – or was – their home.  They literally lived in the caves the Nabataeans carved out of the sandstone over three thousand years ago.

Lived that was, until the 1980s when the Jordanian government declared Petra to be a national landmark.  In the nearby village, Umm Sayhoon, cement block apartments were built to move the cave-dwelling people out the “caves” and off the colonnade streets.  Today some caves are occupied by the poorest families while others have padlocked doors.

“I can just see Burckhardt riding his donkey through here hoping to find the lost city,” Louise mumbled as she imagined herself dressed as a Muslim holy man.  A travel writer she did her research before our trip.  Not only was she intrigued by TE Lawrence and Marguerite, but the Swiss-born, Jean Louis Burckhardt’s account of “discovering” Petra in 1812 had captured her interest.

siq sign petra jordan

Burckhardt kept his discovery of the Rose-red City secret because he was afraid Petra would be spoiled.  His journals were released after his death in 1817, and that was when the Victorian travelers, poets and archaeologists, including the famed painter, David Roberts, flocked to Petra.

Walking through the Siq, a giant rock split apart by a tremendous earthquake, is to be transported back in time.  It is easy to imagine how impressed a desert traveler entering Petra would have been when they passed the channeled water ducts, the many shrines and the immense stone carvings of camel caravans.

As we studied the camel caravan, our American mates from the Mohammed Mutlak camp saw us and stopped to say hello.  They were in such a hurry to hike to the Monastery, had we not been there, they would have walked past the life-size, stone mural.

As we gazed at the ancient signposts, even the school children passed us.

“You want a ride.  It is included in your ticket,” the young horsemen asked us over and over.  They must have assumed we were tired since we walked so slow.

“No, thanks,” we shouted back.  “We’re allergic to horses.”

“Where are you from?”

“Bahrain,” we told them, but they did not believe us.

Without a horse and taking photos, our kilometer and a half walk took about two hours.

All along the way, Louise kept stopping the Bedouins to ask, “When Marguerite?”

To be continued……


The Visitor Center has been revamped since my last trip in 2009.  The entrance is right outside the Movenpik Hotel.  Taxis congregate at the entrance.  Leaving the hotel, they asked if we needed a taxi. I was wondering where they would have taken us.

Entrance fees have doubled since 2009.  They are posted on the Petra National Trust website.  In 2013, it was for 50JD/day for one day, 55JD for 2 days and 60JD for three days.  If you did not arrive via the airport and pay for a visa, your entrance fee will include a 40JD addition.  Technically, at sunset Petra closes.

In 2009, we hired a guide who spoke perfect English and who happened to be a Petra archeologist.  Unfortunately I forgot his name but I learned so much from him.  Because of my experience, we did not hire a guide from the Visitor Center but there are many available who speak multiple languages.  I linked to Frommer’s website as I agree with what is written there.  We did not hire a horse drawn carriage, but the men told us it is included in the ticket price – perhaps that is why they tickets prices have increased.  However, if you take a horse down to the Treasury you miss exploring sites along the way.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. winfredpeppinckw
    Oct 22, 2013 @ 05:52:40

    Ahhh, you took me back again, walking the Siq at 6.00am and then turning right at the Treasury and then climbing up and up to the gates of Heaven to look down on it all. Wendy and I did visit Marguerite’s store/home and were fortunate to meet with her son, Kiwi accent and all, a tall lad and in to rugby. Oh Petra … wish I was back there now!!


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