I was very much looking forward to the visit to Petra in Jordan. The preparation of the world tour event had long been carefully planned and prepared by the Jordanian authorities, and we expected to have not only an interesting but also an enjoyable time promoting this unique candidate. Unique because it is the only finalist where man actually used a beautiful natural environment (mountains, cliffs and canyons) to carve gigantic and marvellous facades for treasuries, monasteries, temples, theaters and even residences – with the rooms deep in the bellies of the mountains. A perfect combination of a natural and a manmade world heritage site.
And how enjoyable it was! From the very first moment, we were received with enthusiasm by many representatives of Jordan, including the Minister of Tourism, Osama Dabbas, his charming wife, and the Managing Director of the Jordan Tourism Board, Mazen Homoud. Despite a late landing, we checked into our hotel quickly and went right to a wonderful, traditional and pleasantly informal Jordanian dinner in Amman. We met most of our hosts for the first time there, although many people in the N7W team felt that they already knew them from the nice emails and phone conversations. While we spoke a lot about the New7Wonders campaign, the World Tour to date, and the event in Petra, we also talked about other topics – and at some point about cars. Before we even realized what was happening, our schedule for the next day had been revised to include a morning visit to the Royal Automobile Museum, which displays not only all of the late King Hussein’s many cars but gives, with these “vehicles,” a very animated insight of his life and at the same time of Jordan’s history.
Early on Monday, our guide Basel, who had picked us up at the airport and would take care of us for our entire stay in Jordan, met us in the lobby. We got in the van, which we had customized with our practical, portable “New7Wonders World Tour” magnets on the sides, and headed for the Automobile Museum. As we were getting out, I reminded everyone that we had to be quick about our visit because we really needed to get to Petra. Well … I was soon eating my words, as we were all walking very, very slowly through the large museum,. We could not believe how many amazing, rare cars there were in this place, all in perfect shape, ready to roll out. And how much we learned about Jordanian history, and about King Hussein, by reading the signs and seeing when he used which cars. We learned that he was an avid and very good race car driver – as is his son, King Abdullah. King Hussein had excellent taste in cars and had chosen each one carefully. Italian, British, American and German cars, all in tasteful and also unusual colors.
So, after a very surprising and enjoyable stop, Basel and our driver took us on to Madaba, where we marvelled at the 6th-century mosaic map of the region, and then ate a delicious, traditional lunch. After lunch, we continued on the journey to Petra, our famed rose-red city – none of us had ever been there, so we were all anxious to get there now. Again, the weather gods were on our side! Although we had all come from what are usually snowy, cold parts of Europe, we saw snow for the first time this year on the mountain pass in Jordan that took us from the desert into the valley where Petra is. There had been over one meter of snow the week before our visit!
That evening, we were driven to a nearby Bedouin camp, where we followed a trail of candles along the path to a group of tents. After being greeted by a line of tall, chiselled-faced Bedouin men dressed in their long gowns, the dish-dash or jallabiya, with the traditional Jordanian hattah, the red-and-white headdress, on their heads. We ducked to enter the main tent, where a few small fires were burning, with cushions around them – we were invited to sit on the low seats (my back, not used to me sitting on the floor all evening, protested the next day!). After we served ourselves at a buffet of dips, rice and grilled vegetables and meat accompanied by pita bread (made fresh over a fire stove by the only Bedouin woman we saw all evening), we were entertained by several Bedouins chanting and dancing in a line, clapping their hands. They had adapted several traditional Bedouin songs to add “May Petra be a New Wonder of the World!” We drank tea and coffee, the traditional Bedouin drinks. The tea was very sweet and flavored with sage, which is good for the stomach, and served in small glasses. The coffee, in tiny cups, was bitter – it is, apparently, one of the important symbols of Bedouin hospitality. We were told to shake the cup from side to side to show that we did not want any more, otherwise the Bedouin boys again filled the cups we were holding. The greatest news of that evening was that Her Majesty, Queen Rania al-Abdullah would accept the certificate of candidacy the next day!