Today, my coworker Emily C. was rounding up Sigg water bottles and their caps for a return she was putting together. Don’t worry, Sigg is a great product, they were switching out some styles for us, and if you don’t yet have a Sigg bottle, you should run out to your nearest independent provider and get one. Anyway, there were a bunch of Sigg screw tops around and I was idly picking them up and slipping them on my fingers when it occurred to me – these would make a great impromptu engagement ring! Imagine that earthy crunchy backpacker in your life getting down on one knee, or being proposed to, on one of their various hiking trips with significant other this or that – perfect, no?!
Well, Emily and I thought so, so when I got home this evening, I promptly sat down and wrote this out and now am sharing it with y’all. It’s about 80% true; the part that’s not, being the proposal. Oh, and my name’s not Jules, and I didn’t hike Petra with anyone named Thad. In fact, I don’t even know anyone named Thad. But the rest of it really did happen to me, so if any of you were ever curious as to what my backpacking experiences were like, here’s a small snippet. With, of course, an embellished proposal. Sigg should pay me money for this.
We’ve been hiking Petra all day. The sun burnishes the sandstone to hues of red and gold; Thad and I will find the dust in our packs for weeks to come. Thad’s Keene boots and my Merrill trek sandals tramp the canyon crevices and stone steps carved into the cliffs, following ancient trails left by water, widened by people and the passage of time.
Our first glimpse of Petra was a Florida-shaped opening between the walls of the Siq
. The gorge was once the Eastern entrance into Petra, the major trade center in a date and time followed by the initials B.C.E. At times narrow and winding, there were large sections where it was easy to imagine the bustling life of farmer’s market style trade thousands of years ago. Small channels were recessed into the walls of the Siq
; these clever troughs held oil that could be lit at dark to ensure the busy cosmopolitan atmosphere continued round the clock.
Today, there were few people to be seen in the ruins of the city. Thad and I had been hiking alone for hours, having long left the more traversed tourist paths to explore the secrets of Petra on our own. We poked in and out of cave dwellings, peered through twisted, veined rock, taking picture after digital picture to weed through on our laptops back at our hotel.
The Cleopetra Hotel was more of a hostel than a George V, but I thought the name was funny and the Continental breakfast was free. The night before, we had arrived late and tired from a long, hot trip out of Egypt, through the tip of Israel, and finally into Jordan. Our hosts, two brothers in their early thirties, served us delicious Bedouin tea before showing us to our room. One bed, barely larger than a twin, lined the far wall of the room like a window seat, as the window in the wall ran about the length of the bed. At the foot of the bed was the wall that separated bedroom from bathroom. A broken accordion door was pushed open, revealing a sink, next to a toilet, next to a nozzle coming out of the wall for the shower. The whole bathroom was tiled and was so narrow, you had to sit sideways or spread your legs to either side of the toilet in order to do your business.
Bedouin tea is delicious for two reasons: first, the combination of habuck, marmaraya, and other herbs is sweet and refreshing; second, sugar is boiled in the water with the tea leaves. Despite having traveled for about 8 hours that day, one cup of tea had revived Thad and I to the point that at 11:30 at night, we found ourselves in the hotel common room, where the brothers tried to teach us dance moves to the Jordanian pop music playing loudly on the hotel TV.
Staying awake ‘til wee hours of the morning meant Thad and I got a late start to our Petra day hike. We paused for lunch around 2:30, breakfast having been eaten around 9, and found a cool cave up in the cliffs in which to take our respite. Cans of tuna in olive oil were opened, drained, and eaten from with grimy fingers. Israeli pickles, so good I still crave them years later, fresh pita bread, and an apple completed our meal, one of the most refreshing in my memory. We wiped our oily mouths and fingers with a bandana and sat near the edge of the cliff, just looking at the same views of uninterrupted rocks, cliffs, valleys, and ledges the people who used to live in this cave saw daily centuries before. To sit in that place made me feel simultaneously insignificant and timeless, like I was the smallest being in the universe, and yet, so completely connected.
I unclipped my Sigg from my daypack, chugged some water, than passed it to Thad. Moments later, I reached out to reclaim the water bottle and felt something slip onto the fourth finger of my right hand. Looking down, I saw the screw top of the Sigg, the hole where I clipped my carabineer to clip it to my daypack fitting perfectly onto my ring finger.
“Jules,” Thad said, my eyes locking onto his, “will you marry me?”
My grin stretched my chapped lips and I tasted blood as Thad and I kissed, water sloshing out of the Sigg still held in Thad’s hand.
“Yes,” I said, half laughing, half crying, staring at the Sigg top on my finger as if it were the most expensive jewel in the world, “yes, I will marry you.”
A while later we stood at the edge of the cliff, hand in hand, pausing for a last moment before beginning our hike back out of Petra. There are some moments in life that are too precious; it’s hard to believe they’re really happening. Holding onto Thad’s hand, staring out over Petra, it wa
s as if we were looking into the physical manifestation of the eternal promise we would make to each other eight months later. Petra had survived; modernity could not affect it. We had experienced it ourselves, the timelessness, that mysterious quality of knowing the past and holding the hope of the future. Petra humbles the spirit, then builds it up again, so that I knew, as we began to descend the cliff face, that as Petra had withstood the test of time, so would we.