We’ve been driving for almost three hours, and nothing has changed. Everywhere, in all directions, the same: flat, rocks, sand, dirt, shepherds wandering Monklike in their long brown robes. The color palate all stained white, gray, brown. Little shocks of grass try valiantly to grow, sandy soil showing through. It reminds me of a young man’s stubble, hopeful and sparse. Every now and then there is a square, severe house, unadorned, flat-topped, gray or white or brown like everything around it.
We crest a slight rise, and before us the hazy sky suddenly cracks open into sunshine, filtering across the sky like a smile, the browns suddenly turning gold, the dust spinning webs of glitter in the air. Jordan is, we think, as beautiful as its sky at that moment.
At last, we turn right off of the highway onto a one-lane desert road. It’s a little scary — I’ve been reading too many Stephen King stories, I know the trope of foreboding, abandoned deserts with horrible once-human creatures lurking within them. The bloody sunset staining the sky doesn’t help my mood. We do not see a single other car, or house, for at least ten minutes. I assume we’ve lost cell reception, but I’m too nervous to check.
Then, suddenly, the ground on either side of the road rumples into huge stone formations, hills piling and spilling over one another, creased and cracked like discarded wads of paper. We’re driving up now, steeply, switching back, our ears popping, the car whining. We crest one mountain and before us we see hundreds of little lights winking from the folds of the hills. They feel as welcome to us now as they must have been for caravans 2,000 years ago.
This is Petra.