Like all boys own adventures it has to start with a map, though in this case not a crumpled piece sepia parchment rolled up and tied with a ribbon, no, this was a modern day adventure and by that I don’t mean the map was provided by Google and illuminated on an ipad either, the map was meticulously marked out using the condiments on the table of the Crown Plaza hotel in the Jordanian capital Amman.
A few weeks before Christmas and the hotel lobby was forest of red and silver tinsel, the rain was pouring outside and with Jingle Bells on a loop it seemed more like a Croydon Arndale centre than the Middle East, a stones through from the Holy land, I was sitting with Matthew Teller, a modern day adventurer himself and as it happened author of the Rough Guide to Jordan, he had just returned from the Nabatean kingdom of Petra and had trekked far from the madding crowd and was now passing on his advice; and here he said pushing the tall silver salt cellar to just between the coffee cups is the Zib Faroun, you are kidding I chuckled, the Pharaohs Penis I said translating the Arabic into English, this I wanted to see, we went over the map again and when I thought I had it clear in my mind the waitress cleared it all away, should you need any help Matthew said call this guy, a Bedouin, he lives in a cave near snake monument, I scribbled the number in my note book and we headed back into the pouring rain.
Perhaps not exactly the Holy Grail but a quest it was; two hundred years and four months after the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered the rose-red city I set out through the Bab as Siq (Gate of the Siq) in search of the Pharaohs Penis and other lesser known angles on one of the worlds most iconic treasures.
Petra is vast; most visitors it seems don’t get much further than the iconic façade of the Treasury but venture beyond, sit and talk with the Bedouin, climb the mountains and follow the antique trails deep into the rocky landscape and seek adventure.
Have you seen the Pharaoh’s penis I asked and old Bedouin selling trinkets in cave just below the tomb of a Roman governor named poetically Sextius Florentinus, indeed he had the old Bedouin replied then quickly produced what amounted to a Roman dirty postcard, a clay medallion depicting a scene graphic enough to demand parental guidance, I declined the purchase, the Zib Faroun I asked again, oh its far he said and pointed across the wadi, I clambered down the rocky steps and headed out into the desert and there on the dusty trail leading to Snake Monument was the lone column, it wasn’t as far as the old Bedouin had implied, and, well not that impressive either, just a way marker in Jordan’s extraordinarily long history but as they say its not the destination but the quest that’s important.