When a one-handed mule ride up 800 stone-cut steps is the ‘easy option’, it’s surely not unusual to question your motivation / sanity / parenting choices?
Clutching my small daughter with one hand and the saddle with the other, I tried to think thoughts of Indiana Jones. But it was no good. There were no reins, and besides, this mule knew exactly where it was going and the best route to take. And sometimes that route was right next to a 20-foot drop down a rock face.
I am not sure when I remembered to breathe, but there was certainly a sharp intake of breath when our allegedly sturdy mount slipped on some particularly well-worn steps.
“Don’t worry,” said our Bedouin guide, “they will never fall down!”
It was day two of our two-day visit and we were on our way to the Monastery, the second of Petra’s most iconic sites.
On the first day we had done the easy route; following the tour groups down the Siq, craning our necks around each corner for that much-anticipated first view of the Treasury.
We passed a group doing a blind-folded conga, so they could experience the great reveal simultaneously. Squeals followed. We were with an indifferent three-year-old, whose only motivation was the promise of sugary foam bananas on arrival.
No amount of reading can prepare you for the scale of this ancient site. The one and a half mile walk to the Treasury is just the beginning. All in all, we walked about five miles each day, and that was restricted by having a 15kg toddler strapped to your back (not mine). She did manage to walk about a mile a day, mostly with the lure of those bright yellow treats.
Away from the crowds of the Treasury, where you can look but not touch, there are countless tombs (or ‘caves’) that are accessible and eminently explorable if you are three. Here we spent most of our time, pretending to be Gruffalos and imagining what we could forage to eat.
On day two we went with a plan of attack. We skipped past the tour groups at the Treasury and took two mules. Our Bedouin guide was the doppelganger of Captain Jack Sparrow and did the route alongside us, on foot. While smoking.
If you can imagine 800 stone-cut steps and a three-year-old in the same equation, you will understand why this seemed like the easy option. On a mule we could be there in 20 minutes. On foot it would take us the entire day and probably some more.
The Monastery was spectacular. A huge yellow-stone edifice meticulously carved out of a rock face. The view down the valley was equally epic. The small child only cared that there were enough bananas to last for the return journey. Thankfully, she fell asleep in the backpack on the way down and we made it to the Basin Restaurant at the foot of the climb in about 40 minutes, minus mules.
More info on our stay…
We stayed at the four-star Petra Guest House Hotel, which costs from £150 per night B&B for a triple room. www.guesthouse-petra.com
Entry to Petra is approximately £52 per person for one day, £58 for two days and £65 for three days. Children go free. www.visitpetra.jo