In the process of exploring sublime landscapes and ancient ruins during the four-month journey from Baalbek to Bukhara, an observation reasserted itself over and over. These are above all arenas of dogged work and transcendental stewardship.
In this chapter of "On the Route to Ruins," I highlight the bedouin and people of Petra, Jordan, who made this very landscape possible—the herders, the touts, the guides, the tea-walas, the scarf sellers, the caregivers of animals.
One cannot move through Petra without awareness of the workers. They appear on every path with their pack animals, carting tourists and tea shop goods alike to the Monastery and other high places. Stalls line the switchbacks, some open, many closed for winter, the season I was there. The calls of hawkers of rides and scarves and bottled water increase with the hours. Participation in the local economy is a tourist's duty, but the lean winter off-season months make it rough. Nerves can be on edge.
If you stay at Petra more than a day or two, you quickly begin to recognize people. When our paths crossed again, I chased down a young boy I’d photographed a day or two before; instead of taking a ride when he called out, I'd taken a picture. This afternoon, he was disconcerted as I came close, as were the other animal handlers taking their break in the shadow of a tourist police cabin. When I showed him the photograph worked up in my hotel room, then showed the other men and boys the other photographs of their brethren — and then asked for a mobile number to send them to for their social media accounts — that’s when the conversations began.