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Petra, Aqaba, Jordan by Shore Ex member Imelda Dooley Hunter

Yesterday our new shore excursion team, Katie, Tasha and Jamie embarked Aegean Odyssey for the start of our 2016 Mediterranean voyages. As they board for the first time, Imelda, who has been part of the Shore Excursion team for the past 8 months steps off and reflects on her last cruise ‘Ancient Jordan to Classical Greece’ with Voyages to Antiquity.

There’s not much that can prepare you for that first sight of The Treasury, or Al Khazneh, as you emerge from the narrow passage of rose-coloured stone that has enclosed you for the past kilometre.

Narrow passage that leads to Petra

Narrow passage that leads to Petra © Imelda Dooley Hunter

In fact, even after spending eight months seeing some of the most incredible and legendary sites known to man, this moment retains a transcendence. The journey onboard Aegean Odyssey has taken me to lands that, even now, seem mystical; to Ephesus, Sacred Delos and the Souqs of Marrakech; to see the South African white lion, rainbowed coral reefs in The Seychelles, and the silhouetted fishing boats of Sri Lanka; to the gold-tinged otherness of Myanmar’s pagodas; the wonderful chaos of rural India; the extreme dichotomy of old and new, freeze-framed in Malaysia’s skyline.

Aegean Odyssey

Aegean Odyssey at sea

We came at Aqaba, Jordan after six days at sea, knees locking at the feel of unrelenting ground. These days were, I think, relaxing, with our enigmatic Cruise Director Richard knowing just how to dissolve any sense of waiting. Even so, eight months of travel, six days at sea, two kilometres walk through the Siq all built up an approach into the heart of the Rose City that was met, forcibly, by that first sight of the carved sandstone temple, luminous at the end of our passage. Our guide, Basel, formed us into two lines, instructing us to place our hands on the shoulders of the person in front. We walked (or shuffled) this way, eyes fixed on the floor, all-too-aware of the hoard of other tourists behind us staring confusedly — until Basel clapped his hands and there it was, suddenly, as if by magic, hanging right in front of us. This was (and is) a sight simultaneously new and old. It retains its power to give that rush of adrenalin, that sense of power un-dulled by images reproduced a thousand times over on picture postcards or travel blogs. You’ve felt this sight before, it’s familiar — and yet utterly strange.

The most impressive monuments of Petra, the Monastery © Imelda Dooley Hunter

The most impressive monuments of Petra, the Monastery © Imelda Dooley Hunter

If you haven’t visited Petra, I urge you to go. Some date it around 312 BC, though more recent history dictates that the Western world only became universally aware of it when it was ‘discovered’ in 1812 by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. Though one balks at the way in which our sense of history is invariably written through such sudden Western uncoverings, it is only too easy to play your own personal feelings of discovery into those of Burckhardt himself, a Westerner with this new vision not carved but, rather, blasted through his mind.

Petra Camel © Imelda Dooley Hunter

Petra Camel © Imelda Dooley Hunter

I worked in the Shore Excursions department of Voyages to Antiquity for over eight months, living onboard Aegean Odyssey as we sailed around the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, India and the Middle East. Both the job and the journey taught me a lot, and it is really only by sea (and on a small ship!) that you can explore places in this way. But it was at Petra, as my voyage came to a close, where I really felt the collision of the ancient world with my own. Surrounded by rose-tinted rock, things take on a different hue.

Imelda taking a camel ride © Imelda Dooley Hunter

Imelda taking a camel ride © Imelda Dooley Hunter

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