Thursday, 26 November 2009

Cross dressing while crossing borders

Cross dressing crossing borders
Ben Whateley-Harris

Five of us stood in the international buffer zone that exists between two countries. This particular border happened to be the Namibia- Botswana one and the sun was beating down relentlessly.

All eyes were on myself and the other members of my group. Was this a good idea my brain kept telling me?

The reason why we were receiving stares from a group of older tourists and a toothless old lady with a bundle on her head was because of what we were wearing.

It had seemed like a good idea at the time the night before in the bar, but now we were scared we wouldn’t be able to enter Botswana and we would be stuck in the fenced area between two countries.

The reason for this fret and last minute panic was that all five of us who had met on the bus and decided to get rather drunk the night before were dressed head to toe in drag!

The Namibian authorities had let us out of the country and stamped our passports with haste and even sent us on our way with a few free condoms.
But entering Botswana was another matter.

At first we were in high spirits and the local children were pointing and giggling at us. We had played along by striking poses and it was a fun, jovial atmosphere.

That all ended when we met the machine gun toting border officials. They stood there with deadpan faces, which we took for being menacing.

We wished we could run back to our overland truck and quickly get changed, but that was in another part of the compound being searched, probably because of what we were wearing.

I was now paranoid and scared that we would not get in, my imagination was running wild and I am sure I could see a border guard fingering his gun apprehensively.

The queue advanced. My heart was pounding.

The border official took my dog-eared passport from me with some hesitation; he stared at the picture for what seemed an age. My heart was pounding in my chest. The seconds ticked by.

Then a broad smile opened revealing a huge set of gold teeth as he smacked the stamp down creating a massive bang that make the person in the queue behind me jump.

“Your very good looking for a man”, he said. Then sent us on our way.

Date of trip - Early 2008

Place - Namibia/Botswana Border crossing, Southern Africa

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Danger on the Volta

Veteran traveler Ben Whateley-Harris embarks on a journey on Africa’s largest man-made lake, but discovers all is not plain sailing

I had been volunteering in Ghana for six months, working in a school in the central region, in 2006, and thought I was fully acclimatized. During the holidays I set off to the Volta Region in search of excitement: I planned to catch a ferry up Lake Volta, Africa’s largest man-made lake. Arriving one hot day in February. I am sweaty after a long journey from my school in a village, miles from anywhere via the capital city of Accra. I come across a beautiful village with straw roofed huts by the side of the river. The water lapped on the shore and the scene seemed idyllic.Suddenly I hear a cry of 'Money'. I turn round to see group of half-naked children approaching. They pester me for money and run their hands through my hair, trying to grab everything they can, hands, feet and even ears. I have to escape and give these cheeky little blighters the slip as they are beginning to latch onto me with gouging fingernails, grabbing my bag and tugging at my clothes.

They come at me with a vengeance and soon I have to scramble over a small wall and up a steep palm-infested slope to get back on to the safety of the road. I would have loved to have seen the passing bus driver’s face as an Obroni (whiteman) came hurtling out of the undergrowth clutching a bag and looking bedraggled with his hair in a bandana.I arrive early at Akosombo port, full of excitement for the journey that lies ahead. I am fully expecting to see a large ferry crowded with people and goods at the dockside, but there is no sign of a single boat at all. There is nothing to do at the port except wait and queue for tickets. I Finally after four hours, I manage to buy a second-class ticket. First class entitles you to a cabin but I fancy the idea of sleeping in the breeze out on deck. Ticket in hand I wait for the ferry to turn up. It eventually does after I have devoured some deliciously greasy street food. I have waited 11 hours in the sun with goats surrounding me and I stand out like a thumb, the only non-Ghanaian. The docks become a mass of activity. People load massive wooden crates with yams and fruits. Cars are driven down on to the landing deck. Forklift trucks move large objects too and fro.

I am struck by the number of people; there are hundreds of them, all milling about, many balancing large bundles of clothing and food tightly wrapped up in colourful clothes on their heads. The ferry has finally arrived, a large rusty hulk called the
Yapei Queen, that desperately needs a lick of paint. It seems to me that there are far too
many people and cargo for such a small and rusty old boat. Everything is basically thrown on to the deck. Soon the crates are piled high and some people are sleeping in them. The gangway is opened and the passengers along with me get on board. I walk up to the higher decks through the 3rd class area - a hot and fume-filled hollow under the boat where hundreds of people cram in and try to find some floor space to sprawl out on. All I can see is a mass of bodies crammed together moving like a giant storm; the smell, along with the immense heat almost knocks me down. Luckily I manage to get out and climb the deck to the second-class area to refresh myself with the breeze hitting my face through an open window.This area is pretty much the same in terms of cleanliness and I notice that the lifejackets are dated 1983 and the instruction poster on the wall has a man with the best mullet ever on it.

I walk straight out onto the deck and manage to find somewhere to sit. The loud hailer sounds booming out down the lake alerting the other passengers, the ferry turns round and sets off on what will become a memorable trip up the Volta River.
Soon we are sailing at full steam ahead. At this point I have already argued with a Ghanaian Army sergeant. He stole the mattress that I raced to get when they were being given out. The captain of the ferry soon appears; he is wearing a bright orange boiler suit like they do in American jails. In the morning we stop numerous times in isolated areas with nothing but sand and rocks lining the banks of the river. Once or twice a small thatched hut with a pen full of bleating goats lined the shore. People appear out of the bushes and load up the ferry with fruits and all sorts of boxes containing unknown treasures.I love watching as the ferry waits and the people on shore wade out to climb aboard; some women did this with babies strapped to their backs with a brightly coloured cloth which is the West African fashion. I love the fact that even though the ferry does not boom out its massive foghorn, people came from out of nowhere at the right time to trade, load, and buy and also to board.

Eventually after almost 27 hours on board, the Yapei Queen arrives at the town of Yeji where there are masses of people and hubbub and noise on the crowded shore. A ferry called the Nana Besemuna has broken down and is still on the landing bay/pathway that runs down into the water. Instead of finding another area to moor up what do the geniuses on board our ferry decide to do? Yes you have guessed it. They ram the Nana Besemuna in the hope of dislodging her from the moorings and taking her unloading place.People are still on the decks of both ferries and they are running for cover as our ferry hurtles towards the other boat. Like one giant game of bumper cars. I stand in shock on deck thinking that this cannot be happening. No one could be that reckless that they would intentionally risk sinking an entire cargo ferry and put the lives of all on board in danger. The front of our boat hits the other ferry with such a force that I almost fall over. Many crates fall from their high perched places causing screams and people to run for cover.
The front part of our boat hits the protruding corrugated iron roofing that sticks out over one of the decks. When it does, it makes an ear splitting-screech, a sound akin to someone running fingernails down a blackboard. Great lumps of iron shoot up in to the air; this was followed by a large hollow metal thud as the two hulks collide.

People jump overboard into the deep waters and men, women and children are on deck all screaming in panic at the captain and crew. The crew rush around like headless chickens and no one has a clue about what they are doing. It can only be described as mayhem.
The corrugated iron roofing buckles under the weight and pressure and shoots up into the air. A funnel billowing white wispy smoke is knocked off the deck like a skittle being hit by a bowling ball. It falls on to the deck with a loud clag that makes many jump and small children cry.The front of the Yapei Queen screeches and scrapes all along the side of the other ferry. Now I am no sailor, or nautical expert and never, I hasten to add, will be, but what this chaotic bunch are doing is just plain and simply shear folly. If cereal packets give out sailing qualifications as the free gift, I am sure this crew would gain their seas badges that way.

The trail of carnage and damage that the two ferries leave is ridiculous and must be very costly. While the ferry continues to back up and then re-ram the Nana Besemuna another moment of brilliance occurs.

As we rammed the other ferry, the large wooden crates and boxes on the deck tumble down and smash. People instantly seek refuge in the crammed area below deck and then the forklift truck driver decides in his wisdom to start up and rearrange the crates on the ground. He does a three point turn and narrowly avoids running over a woman with a baby strapped to her back. The deck is still full of people, so this forklift is a nuisance and a danger because he can easily crush someone.
I have to pull a small child away from almost getting run over and then I bellow at the driver telling him in the most undignified English that I could muster what a fool he is. I am not the only one shouting at him; others are screaming too but in a language I cannot understand.Eventually the Yapei Queen’s ramming only succeeds in making the poor battle scarred Nana Besemuna become firmly wedged in the mud banks. They don’t even manage to get her off the runway. So they decide to finally do the sensible thing and moor up on the mud banks and lower the front of the ferry into the water. Why couldn’t they have done this in the first place?Along with countless others I jump down into the water and wade waist high to get to the shore. I wonder how the cars and tro tros (mini buses) on board manage to get off. I finally step through the reeds and onto the bank glad to have my feet on dry land.

The scene of utter chaos continues. Somewhere in the depths of the Yapei Queen the ramming has caused a fire and a man runs along the deck clutching an aging extinguisher.

Looking at the mayhem a large smile creeps across my face; nothing is ever simple. I think, if I am honest, I wouldn’t ever have it any other way. Drenched to the bone and leaving wet footprints, I set off in search of another adventure.

Death of a Grandfather

He looks at me and the energy behind his watery eyes can still be visible, a light is still flickering in his brain. The body may be on the verge of giving up, losing a battle against nature and time, a battle that we all one day will lose. But inside his head I see recognition of my face and a knowing stare, a stare that can penetrate even though his eyes are misty and bloodshot.

His skin has taken on a look of wet rubber, grey in places and yellow in other areas, it hangs off his once powerful body like an ill-fitting leather coat. His bones visible underneath his worn and sagging skin, hanging off him. In places it could be melting plastic.

His chest rises jerkily as the breaths gurgle from his mouth and nose. You can still hear them from under the oxygen mask that isn’t a perfect fit on his face and the escaping cold air makes his eyes water even more.

I clutch his hand, even as a full grown adult his bear-like paw looks powerful and engulf my young fingers. His fingers large like sausages and rough as dirt from years of toil, sports and manual labor, a life that is now being represented by someone who was once my hero my grandfather, but not this man here. This man is too small, too weak, this man cant be the man who held me shoulder high as a child, made me laugh in the garden and tended his roses with loving care.

That man is gone; I stare at a different person in his place, weak and slowly disappearing into the darkness where he can never return.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

International Fancy Dress

One of the most childish and simple things in life never fails to give a thrill, Ben Whateley-Harris tells of his love of dressing up no matter where in the world you are

The border official took my dog-eared passport from me with some hesitation, he stared at the picture for what seemed an age. Then a broad smile opened revealing a huge set of gold teeth  as he smacked the stamp down creating a massive bang that make the person in the queue behind me jump.
I had just successfully crossed from Namibia into Botswana along with four others in full drag. This wasn’t a bet or a dare, it was simply an act of spontaneity and to see if we could get away with it.
Suddenly it dawned on me what we had done, raided a roadside market and for below a pound purchased an entire outfit for someone else and then worn what they had bought for you to cross the border, something so silly and childish, yet we all grasped at the challenge and had completed it.

Fancy dress breaks down all barriers, its like traveling I always say. You are all in the same boat and can chat openly to one another as you share a mutual experience. Whether that be you have been to the same countries on your respective journeys or you are at a  party wondering where they got their costume from!

Botswana in all its glory stood before us, with our dresses blowing in the breeze and a massive smile on our face we waved at the tour buses piling up at the border who all looked at us in a mixture of amazement and utter horror.

I was wearing a blue dress that was far too tight and cut under ,my arms, with that there was a massive net curtain flowing like a wedding veil behind it, only in pink not white. An Irish guy wore a long orange ghastly skirt with a green top and a middle age Australian wore what looked like something an older version of a goat herders wife would wear. While the token south African and American wore matching Hawaiian skirts and blue sequin tops.

All together we looked a state a complete gaggle of weirdness that had somehow piled through a border and taken the border guards by complete surprise. Many of the officials had now come outside for a cigarette and stood there in the midday heat looking at the strangest sight to have crossed that Southern African border today.

The tourist buses and independent travelers looking weary in their land-rovers and khaki stood transfixed by us mucking about in drag. One onlooker watched until the cigarette burn down to his lips causing to suddenly snap out of his trance and spit out the but while licking his lips.

We continued to travel on, and wore those ridiculous clothes for the rest of the day. Finally arriving at our destination we all pled into a bar and there the staring continued.

If you ever want to make an arrival do it in drag, but be waned many borders are not as lax as the Namibian- Botswana crossing. So be careful where you dress up!

Dressed to thrill

Monday, 2 March 2009

The Random choices we make

Sitting in a Brentwood bar one evening Ben Whateley-Harris and companion of mischief Jon-Paul Brett have a drunken discussion to book a flight out of here

Many beers had been consumed that evening so when I went round JP’s house to look for last minute flights I still had a feeling that nothing would materialize from the day.

How wrong could I have been? After searching the internet we found a flight, into one of the last vestiges of the British Empire, Gibraltar. We decided to try and get to Morocco too, just for good measure of course.

Gibraltar was surprisingly hot for this time of year and after we had walked into Spain and back again just for the sake of it was time to explore the Rock.

Clambering over some railing at the top of the gun look out military point wasn’t really allowed, but JP and I did it anyway. Soon some random guy followed and we explored keeping a safe distance away from this note pad-wielding loon.

Soon we were sitting on the guns, fiddling with all the old rusting instruments and on the roof of the rotating gun point. The little note pad man was attempting to open the gun barrel and after a few grunts and groans he gave up. So over I skip and with a big yank the barrel chamber comes open and the note pad man turns his nose up and departs, probably to torment the monkeys.

The monkeys, Europe’s only ones are little buggers. We sat near the entrance to the caves that didn’t really turn us on and one tried to go in my bag, I told JP to shoo it off for me but he just took a photo in which I came out looking rather camp which I was not best pleased about. They sit along the roadside playing with themselves and squabbling, but no matter how hard I crossed my fingers and wished no Japanese tourists were bitten!

Castles, forts, underground siege tunnels and a cable car later we were in a bar. The usual place to find either myself or one of my friends will be with a pint in their hands. Talking utter tosh to who ever would listen. Gibraltar’s bars though are something different altogether.

Gibraltar is stuck in the 1950’s where sailors would come ashore after long voyages and run rampage in the bars and on the local women, although the bar looked like it had been run ragged and pillaged with sawdust on the floor and a vomiting man in the corner there were no women to pester so we drank our empire drinks to ourselves.

We had to bus back into Spain and then catch a speedy ferry to get to Morocco. En route we picked up a Pakistani American who spoke fluent Spanish and after sharing a hostel room with us for one night ran away because we drank too much and tormented people in the kasbah.
This is where our obsession for Bonnie Tyler’s ‘total Eclipse of the heart’ came to head. I started singing it in the winding alleyways of Tangiers old quarter soon we would sing it everywhere we went. I even had a video of me jumping out of a cable car on a very worn bungy cord in Latvia singing the song.

Tangiers treated us well, we watched as people hid under lorries hoping to get to Europe in the port, tried to teach a tea total barman rugby/army drinking games and also even managed to convinced a lovely craggily old carpet seller man to let us onto his roof to view the city from the hotchpotch uneven skyline. Although he didn’t like us taking photos as lots of female under garments were hanging up for an air.

Tea galore and magic lantern looking teapots became our obsession while our little jaunt continued, but the ferry beckoned and we had to get back to Spain to head up to Jerez to catch a flight home.
The taxi driver missed the airport turning on the motorway and decided to reverse up the outside lane with vehicles swerving to avoid a collision so he could go down the right exit; our hearts were in our mouths.

The airport was another little drinking session. Soon we had procured a bottle of cheap Spanish brandy and along with two tiny cokes had drank the lot and were now wearing our fez’s which we got in some market.

The stewardess on the ryanair flight wasn’t too happy with us as the cabin was dark for those sleeping passengers and we played drinking rock paper scissors with our readings lights on downing shots of the stuff.

When we were picked up by JP’s dad at Stansted we giggled a lot, said it was fun and nice out there and also still had our newly acquired headwear still on.

As we drove off JP turned to me and said ‘I will always wear sunglasses, as the sun never sets on the British Empire’, I couldn’t agree with him more.

Rather drunk on cheap Spanish brandy en route home

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Distrubing a Lion

Disturbing a Lion

Deep in the Okavango Delta Ben Whateley-Harris lets his mind wander and comes face to face with one of the world’s greatest predators

We set out from the bush camp deep into Botswana’s Okavango Delta to try and see some of Africa’s bountiful wildlife. The sun beat down on my shoulders and the dust filled my nostrils as our walking boot clad feet slowly and quietly plodded on.

I had only been in Botswana a few days having arrived overland from Namibia and already was way off the beaten track deep in the swamplands having arrived by hollowed out mokoro canoes.

I was with a small group of people as we set off with our local guide Free. Free must have been in his late fifties, the typical African bushman, thick accent, bare calloused feet and a deeply lined face. His eyes were small and squinting, an occupational hazard from constantly peering at the sun to track our direction.

We all stopped and peered round some bushes, for in the distance we could see two large elephants with birds in abundance standing on their bulking backs. By this time on my African trip I had seen many elephants and really wasn’t too bothered about them. I longed to see wildebeest up close and personal.

Onwards we trod, the dust sometimes clouding all round us. Free would stop us at random points, sniff the air and point with his little stick in the direction of a bush. Then as we watched nothing would happen. After stumbling across the elephants I was beginning to believe that Free didn’t have a clue what he was doing or where he was going!

The sun in Botswana is so piecing that it’s like knives sticking in your skin and twisting, by this time it was at its most powerful and we had entered a clearing with no shade to hide from the relentless heat.

Free must have stopped a dozen times and pointed with his magic wand, but no matter how hard we peered around us we could see nothing apart from the occasional flock or birds in the sky.

Only the elephant skeleton gave us some respite from visually searching the undergrowth and the horizon. The sun bleached bones heavy in my hands.

The group I was with were now all starting to moan and fret about the lack of animals that we had seen today. Everyone was annoyed with our guide who was being called words such as inept and useless.

At this time my mind was wandering to other aspects of my trip. Places seen and places yet to be seen. I was lost in my own world and oblivious to the others around me.

I started to play with the plants and was whittling down a stick into a rudimentary spear all the while having fallen back from the main group.
I whittled and ambled after the trudging group, and then something happened to make my heart skip a beat before going into overdrive and taking 5 years off my life.

I had stumbled only ten yards away from a lion and lioness. The two massive beasts lay on the ground with their heads upwards looking in my direction. .

I was frozen to the spot thinking that any moment those massive teeth and claws would rip me open and pull out my innards. As I waited for the impending attack, nothing happened.

My heart was going like the clappers and I could hear it ringing in my ears. Time had frozen as the lions stirred and kept perfect eye contact with me.

I remember being told what to do if you encounter animals in Africa. Zig zag away if an elephant charges and climb a tree is a wildebeest comes at you. The advice for a lion is stand your ground. If truth be told I was rooted to the spot with fear and could do nothing but stand still.

A giant roar erupted from the female and in a flash of fur and undergrowth they were gone. I exhaled loudly and turned to see the group staring at me. I was the only one who had seen the lions.

We made our way back to the bushcamp with people still moaning about Free. All the time I regaled them with stories of the lions and how majestic they look. The sun was setting over the Okavango Delta and the noises of nocturnal animals stirring were echoing in the darkening sky.

That night we sat around the campfire and I couldn’t bring myself to say just how scared I had been when face to face with one of natures most feared.

Date of trip - Early 2008

Place - Okavango Delta, Botswana, Southern Africa

Discovering Petra

Discovering Petra

For centuries shrouded in secrecy, now open to all, Petra has remained one of the true wonders of the world. Ben Whateley-Harris walks in his father’s footsteps to discover the beauty of the rose coloured city
The ancient entrance to Petra is down a long channel deep in the rock known as the Siq. Easy to defend in times gone, it is now a walkway where tourists dodge carriages, and silver sellers wave from every nook and cranny. The morning sun is rising chasing the shadows away for the day; in their place you see every shade of red from rust to the brightest pink embedded in the rock.

The air feels chilly and people around me are still in fleeces and hats, but those in the know are already stripping off for the walk to the first awesome sight. The Siq twists and turns and shadows engulf at certain points; the noise of horse drawn carriages carrying older tourists echoes and reverberates down the channel. The tension builds and soon the anticipation is too much for me to take, I start to run.

For me this is not just a trip to Jordan and the Middle East; it is a personal homage and journey into my past. My late father came to Petra many years ago. To say he loved the place was an understatement. He adored every inch of this historical masterpiece. For me this trip has deeper meaning. I want to re-trace his footsteps and see with my own eyes why Petra stole his heart.

The first Whiteman to enter Petra was Swiss Johan Ludwig Bruckhardt in 1812, disguised as a Bedouin. He spent two years previous, in Syria, learning Arabic and converting to Islam. One day he heard locals talking about fantastic ruins hidden in the desert and decided to set out to find them. In full Bedouin attire he managed to sketch the ancient monuments and record a log of his trip, the first ever by western eyes. Unfortunately Bruckhardt contracted dysentery, and died in 1817. He was only 33.

Bruckhardt’s day is a long way from modern Petra. Gaggles of tourists pour into the city and clog the Siq; tour groups following umbrellas are a common sight and I wonder what the place would be like if I had it to myself.
I run to get in front of the crowds (Japanese groups with matching backpacks and white gloves). I just want to get there first, to see the place un-spoilt by tourists. I am not alone though; my younger half brother Tom has come with me and we tear down the Siq arriving at the opening.

Manoeuvring past a camel, I finally come face to face with the Treasury (Al-Kazneh), as the Siq opens up revealing what many know as the Holy Grail’s final resting place in the Indiana Jones Film the Last Crusade. To others it is the Treasury, carved into the rock by the Nabatean race from the 6th Century BC.

Many people think that this is all Petra has to offer, but the Treasury is only the tip of the iceberg. The entire city is a treasure-trove of tombs, amphitheatres and ornate buildings, all hewn from the rock face.

The Treasury stands in front of my brother and I, looming down on us looking weather beaten yet still powerful and royal, like an ageing screen goddess who refuses to succumb to time. By this time the sun is at its hottest and we have taken far too many photos. The crowds still pour from the Siq. Breaking into sweats after the sanctuary of their air conditioned tour buses.

We decide to move on but my brother hasn’t been well on this trip; what started out as the typical holiday stomach ended up as food poisoning. For him standing up without having the urge to run for the nearest convenience is a real effort. Running down the Siq hadn’t done much to ease his stomach, so I have to abandon him in the toilets. I want to wait but he insists that I go on and that he’ll catch me up.

My first port of call is the amphitheatre, which is cordoned off; the only way to get a view is to the climb up to the royal tombs and look down from above. The tombs are perched up high on the valley, looking down on Petra’s Bedouin trinket sellers. Some are almost

inaccessible, but with a small jump and some good balance I clamber up and into them. I wouldn’t recommend it though, as many are used as communal toilets. Imagine climbing in the heat up to an ornate tomb to be greeted with someone’s best deposit.

Next I decide to trek the supposed 800 steps up to the hillside to the monastery. I stand high up looking out for my brother but can’t see him and assume that he is still studying the rock formations of the toilet ceiling.

I walk past colonnaded streets, pausing to peruse the trinket stalls manned by mustachioed men, women with toothless grins and children who hide behind their mothers peering round at you with wide eyes and broad grins. A timeless image that my father must have seen.

I don my straw trilby and feel every inch the explorer. All I have to do is ignore the camel riding Americans and the coffee shops with Coca-cola banners outside and I could have been transported back to Bruckhardt’s time. The climb up to the monastery isn’t as daunting as it is made out to be; I pass donkey trains and waving children. Pathways lead off the main track to smaller tombs; the temple of the winged Lion is one such gem and regularly missed out by passers by.

Then in a cloud of dust out of nowhere Tom rounds a corner in the path on a donkey, wearing a cheeky grin on his face and an Arabic scarf around his neck. I stare in amazement and disbelief, as he is far too large for the small donkey; I laugh loudly sending an echo into the valley.

Tom introduces me to Monica. He tells me he assumed that I would go gun-ho up to the monastery, so he hired a donkey and set off, because if he sat down his bottom leakage problems eased off. Now he is on his way down and says that it isn’t much further. Tom soon disappears down the track shouting ‘I am Tommy of Arabia’; his shouts fade and the echoes die down.

I am left with the children selling rocks from a dusty tray looking at me with large eyes and dirty fingernails, I am drawn in and have to buy three of them from a little girl dressed in a superman t-shirt.

Towering above me casting a shadow over the scorching red sands, stands what many people call the monastery or as the local Bedouin population refer to as Ad-Deir. The shear size and scale of the monastery cannot be described; I ask myself ‘How did they make this’?

Standing next to the monastery I feel insignificant; I cannot fit it into a photo unless I walk a few hundred meters backwards. I feel dumbstruck and completely in awe of what I am witnessing. I now know how my father felt and puzzled how Bruckhardt hadn’t given himself away when seeing this sight.

I sit for a while sipping coffee from a Bedouin vendor when a noise and commotion start up; people are looking and pointing with disbelief. I put on my sunglasses and follow their line of vision. There, high up on the roof of the monastery is a lone figure. The gasps grow louder as he clambers over the edge and soon is traversing his way around the ledges. My heart is in my mouth; I didn’t want to look but can’t turn away.

Once the idiot had traversed the entire roof and climbed back down, I feel enraged that someone would climb on a world heritage site and by doing so encourage others to dice with death. The Bedouin coffee vendor tells me that eight years ago an American tourist had fallen to her death.

It seems to me that Petra is at risk of being loved to death. So many tourists file through the Siq everyday, touching the carvings, wearing away the mountain footpaths and generally being messy and inconsiderate.

I leave Petra through the Siq as the sun sets in the distance. I imagine Bruckhardt leaving for the first time and smile to myself thinking that tourists wouldn’t have surrounded him. The curtain is coming down on my Petra experience. The world retreats into the shadows once more; the red colours fade and are swallowed in the Siq. Now, I have to find my poor afflicted little brother.

Date of trip - 2008

Place - Petra, Jordan