‘Alicia!’ I yelled. My voice bounced around the canyon walls but the overwhelming silence quickly devoured the echo. There was no reply.
‘Alicia!’ I yelled again. But again there was no response, not even from the Bedouin I knew made the cliffs above and below me their home. I stood in front of an empty souvenir stand, partway up the climb to Petra’s High Place of Sacrifice, and had never felt more alone in my life.
Beating the Heat
We’d set out from the hotel early that morning, in order to walk through the town of Wadi Musa to the entrance of Petra, and get our exploring out of the way before the heat became unbearable. By 7.30am we were walking along the siq, the narrow passageway created by tectonic forces that leads to the ancient, once hidden city of Petra.
Deciding that early in the morning would be the best time to do any hiking, we took photos at the Treasury (of Indiana Jones fame) and then walked along the main tourist pathway to the Theatre, cut of rock by the Nabateans more than 2,000 years ago. From there, we began our climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice.
Atop the high place is one of the best preserved sacrificial sites of ancient times, and from the ground, the cliffs and canyon walls are daunting. Saying that I don’t have a head for heights is an understatement.
The fatal gulp
Along with an English guy we’d met at the hostel, we persevered anyway, up roughly-hewn stone stairs that clung to the rock face. Alicia and our new friend charged on ahead, and, not quite as fit as Super!Alicia, I stopped to have a drink of water.
They quickly disappeared from view, but I wasn’t worried. They’d be just around the corner.
But just around the corner, I came to what appeared to be a dead end. Here, high above the ground perched on a ledge was a couple of souvenir stands manned by no one, and three or four different ways Alicia could have gone.
Surely she couldn’t be that far away, I reasoned. I’d only taken a minute, if that. So I called out to her. And heard nothing in reply.
I shouted again and again. I looked round corners. And then I might have started to freak out a little.
Envisioning myself slipping and plummeting to my death or attacked by bandits that I was momentarily convinced were watching me from the hilltop, my breathing quickened and my stomach clenched and I found myself attempting to stave off a full-blown panic attack.
I tried phoning Alicia, but my phone had no signal. I told myself I should wait a few minutes more – surely one of them would notice I was missing and come looking for me. But I couldn’t wait any longer. It was so strange that they hadn’t heard me shouting. The silence was giving me the heebie-jeebies.
Falling off the face of the earth
I was halfway back down when I realised that if they had come looking for me and couldn’t find me they’d probably assume I’d fallen to my death. Oops. (It didn’t even occur to me that maybe they had fallen to their deaths).
So when I finally chanced upon another climber on his way up, I told him to pass on the message that I was okay and I’d meet them at the end of the tourist circuit.
Just over an hour later, Alicia finally found me sitting the shade near the Great Temple. She was apologetic, and I was sheepish. They had come looking for me, of course, probably only moments after I began my descent. They hadn’t heard me calling them – the canyon walls did something with the sound, trapped it somehow.
Turns out I’d only been about two minutes from the high place itself. Oops again.
After a brief break, we set out to climb up to the monastery, yet another site high above the ancient city. Hidden up in the hills, it’s one of the most spectacular places in Petra, and was built in the third century BC. It was a much easier to follow trail, but grueling, and more than one tourist perched awkwardly on a nimble-footed donkey passed us.
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.
This time, Alicia had me go ahead to set the pace.