May 18, 2009

Petra: Tourists and Tourism
Umm Sayhun, Jordan

I'm going to share my secret photo-project wish regarding Petra. It has absolutely nothing to with the Nabataeans or their mastery of sandstone tomb carving and water management. No, no, no… It's the site's throngs laughable tourists that now has my attention.

This is one of those special locations in the world that seems to drive the rational to do irrational acts—like buying and wearing those belly dance coin-belts that you just couldn't pass up.

I would love nothing more than to spend weeks in Petra with a telephoto lens taking photos of just this type of tourist. I would turn these images into a book.

With only a finite amount of time in such an interesting place I honestly wasn't going to expend much effort snapping photos of the ridiculous tourists in front of me—truthfully, my gaze was elsewhere. But in sifting through the hundreds of images from the day I did find some examples of the typical tourist scene at the site:

Unsightly trinket shops opposite the Treasury and an elderly man with an improvised keffiyeh (headdress).

You wouldn't think of Shirley as the rebellious type, but she just wasn't having any part of that (male) Arabian headdress business. Attagirl.

Naturally one of my favorite scenes in the middle of the desert's summer heat are the Asians wearing their solar/biological protection garb. Hat?—check. Scarf and gloves?—check. Long pants and shirt?—check. 0.5 Micron facemask?—check. Near-fatal fainting spell?—pending.

And of course a special mention has to go to the most absurd tourists that happened to cross my line of sight this day: A pair of girls from Colombia that looked like they passed through a gift shop as they were being released from a mental hospital:

Mercedes here is not only wearing an Arabian headdress and belly dance coins, but she's also in high-heeled sandals!

Bambi not only suffers a mental defect that inspired her to purchase an oud (a pear-shaped stringed instrument) at the beginning of her trip through Petra, but she also decided that her similarly pear-shaped body just wouldn't attract enough attention without draping a mesh of coins over it from head to thigh.

Petra's Tourism: Kids, Camels and Copyright Infringement

As you might expect, unsightly collections of trinkets and crap (like in the scene below) aren't hard to come by in the ancient rose city. There are loads of vendors selling or hawking their wares and services, although in all honesty there aren't as many as you'd think for a site of this size. The good news is that we encountered little harassment for guides and souvenirs—there are simply so many daily visitors to the site that there are plenty gullible marks more attractive than Tatiana and me.

Bedouin Selling Souvenirs to a Tourist

A rarely shared scene from the Treasury's courtyard are the large collection of trinket shops and snack shop seating setup just a stone's throw from the heavily-photographed tomb:

Tatiana Giving Aidric a Drink in Front of the Treasury

…and of course, the youngest of the local population are put to work pulling on heartstrings:

Petra Stones for Sale: A very young Bedouin girl was walking around trying to sell these stones to tourists. See another example of a very young child that should be in school here.

But for me, probably the most off-putting aspect of Petra—aside from the price of admission, of course—is the omnipresent imagery of Indiana Jones. The branding is everywhere. Yes, we all get it. It was in the movie. We know. Move on. Please.

"Indiana jones" t-shirts (note the lowercase 'J'). I think that blob underneath his face is Indiana on horseback—but I can't be sure.

The Indiana Jones Snack Shop: because the "Canyon of the Crescent Moon" just wasn't complete without overpriced Gatorade.

The Titanic Snack Shop. What's a snack shop titled after the movie Titanic doing at Petra? Perhaps in the mind of a Bedouin this makes some semblance of sense…

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