Taking the Leap

THE MILE-LONG ENTRYWAY TO PETRA, called al-Siq, is a monstrous gorge that creates a dramatic build-up to the ancient city.

I was fascinated by the architecture and sophisticated water management systems of the Nabataeans, who started building Petra as early as 5th century BC. The ancient city had a very cosmopolitan atmosphere because it was at the crossroads of two important trade routes: the Silk Road and King’s Highway.

Aside from being skilled traders, the Nabataeans were poets and storytellers. They lived in caves carved out of the surrounding desert rock, which some Bedouins still reside in today (though most live in the nearby Umm Sayhoun village).

As you trek toward the end of al-Siq, a sliver of the Treasury can be seen through the cracks. Then, the city opens up to the bustling sounds of tourists and locals, echoing off the towering desert walls that surround you on all sides.

“Shu ismak?” I asked a mule guide in Petra. What is your name?

“Khaleed,” he replied, a bit surprised that I asked in Arabic.

I knew a few phrases in Arabic after living with a Saudi Arabian flatmate in Washington, D.C.

Khaleed and I eventually transitioned into English, which he learned through his work with tourists.

We exchanged interesting stories. He told me about the village he was from, what it was like to grow up near Petra, and how he made a living by giving tourists rides on his mule. I told him about growing up in Hawaii, picking mangoes in my backyard and bodyboarding with my grandfather at Waikiki beach.

“I want to see Hawaii,” he said.

Meanwhile, Aneri was chatting with Khaleed’s friend Rami, who was also a guide. They offered us a mule ride to Petra’s Monastery, which rivals the Treasury in awe, and we had lively conversations the whole way there. When we arrived, and although they didn’t want to leave us, they had to continue giving rides to other tourists.

We want to see you again, they said. They told us to meet them at Petra’s arena at 5pm. They were inviting us to their cave for dinner.

We excitedly accepted...