Spring Break Vol. 6: Tales of the Bedouin and The Journey Back

Sometime during lunch, I stopped to actually check my phone (not just take pictures with it) and noticed that I’d gotten a message from Eagle at about 10am telling me that the price for the “back way” tour would be 50JD. If you remember, my helpful hostel manager had told me her price was 60JD, so that was actually low enough to be a good deal without being so low as to be cause for concern. However, since I was now at the Monastery, it was too late to take the offer. I messaged him back to let him know that it was too late and felt a little sorry as I did.

After a leisurely lunch at the Monastery, I decided that it was time to head back into the city of Petra. We’d spent about 3 1/2 hours on our way through Petra and up to the Monastery and about another hour exploring the area and relaxing. With three hours left to keep my bus schedule, I took my leave of Bernard, who was planning to stay another day and had no pressing need to return to the gate as I did. I knew if I went fast enough, I could probably get to the gate in as little as 90 minutes, however I wanted to take my time and enjoy the new views that the afternoon sun would reveal. Plus, I’d promised to do some shopping on my way back down.

Trading with the Bedouin

wpid-20150307_105340.jpgOn the way, the ladies I had promised to return to called out to me, saying they had been waiting for me. From the first (well, last met/first returned to) lady, I bought a lovely Pashmina scarf. While I know these are imported, I was looking for a new and more colorful hijab, so it’s something I actually get some use out of. The one I got was a lightweight silk blend with a fetching taupe and blue floral pattern. I didn’t bargain terribly hard, and got it for a little less than $15. wpid-20150307_105718.jpgAt the next, I turned my eye to jewelry and finally settled on a nice traditional silver piece, that kind of dull and black rimmed look that old silver gets, although I’m fairly sure it is simply a silver colored alloy, set with rough shaped polished stones. For this one I paid closer to $20 which is somewhere between reasonable and a steal depending on what website you look at. They both tried to get me to buy something from their neighboring vendor, offering discounts for multiple items, but I explained that I had promised yet another lady my patronage. I also had at least one vendor claim to remember me from the trip up even though I had not stopped to talk to her. I suspect it may be a common tactic since tourists are mostly unable to remember individuals from the many ladies who chat and offer tea along the way. However because each one of the ladies I bought from had made a special impression on me, I stuck to my plan and finished my shopping at the stall of the first lady we’d sat with and with whom I’d shared the “secret” of lemon lightening hair.

After trying on a few necklaces, I found myself drawn to a simple loop made from fired but undyed camel bone discs. The colors were rich and varying in a natural way, and the shapes of the overlapping discs were pleasant. wpid-20150307_105643.jpgWe haggled price for a bit and finally settled on 13JD, but I only had a ten and a fifty in my wallet and she had not yet made a sale that day, so didn’t have enough change. We tried to ask a few passing tourists if they could break my larger bill, but no one could. She tried to get me to buy enough more items to make up the difference, but the JD is actually worth a little more than the dollar. I’d already spent 25JD at the other shops and couldn’t really justify more expense even if the deal was good. Then she asked if I had some lotion or lip stick for her. So I pulled out my lip balm , almost new, and after checking how much was left, she decided to accept the 10 in cash and the other 3 in trade. That necklace is now my favorite souvenir for the whole trip.

As I continued down, I thought back to the girl at the Roman Theater who had tried to get me to give her my hair clip for the postcards. It seems as though the Bedouin women are happy to take trade for beauty items and cosmetics that aren’t easy to come by in their remote village. Now I have a plan to bring a bag full of sparkly hair clips, small bottles of lotion, perfume and other make-up goodies to see what I can trade for next time.

Walking Back

The view on the way back down was no less spectacular than the it had been climbing up, although somewhat more populated. I spotted a herd of goats grazing alongside the path, as well as a young man and his mule resting higher up near one of the widely interspersed carved caves.

One of my favorite parts of travelling is meeting new people. I suppose it’s an advantage of being an extrovert, I’m just not shy about greeting strangers or jumping into conversations. And people who are travelling to remote parts of the globe often have their own unique and interesting stories. This trip was no exception. I met some new walking buddies on the way, a man and his wife from the Dominican Republic and another man from Israel (who I think was a relative of theirs). They admitted that they’d taken a donkey ride up the steps and were astonished that I had not. I also ran into the touring ladies from dinner the night before, and an older couple that had been globe trotting for several decades. I love hearing stories of other people’s travels, especially comparisons through time, so I spent a while walking and sitting with them, even though they were moving a bit slower than me. And one other of the people I met actually studied Petra so she was a fun tour guide to follow too.

IMG_1423When we got back to the Temple, there was a group of locals doing what was supposed to be a reenactment of a Nabatean military drill. Sadly, if somewhat humorously, they looked like kids in Halloween costume armor playing make believe. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), we all stopped to watch. To be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about the performance. On the one hand, I know it can be a good tourist draw and informative entertainment to have historical recreations. On the other, since this performance had no basis in history and no independent entertainment value (such as beautiful costumes, good music, or skilled athletic performance) it seemed rather sad and tacky… like the stuffed camel souvenirs.

Royal Tombs

As promised, the sunlight was shining brightly on the Royal Tombs and they presented a spectacular view as we passed back through the Gate. I discovered via one of my walking buddies that there is actually a path up to the tombs that allowed you to get a good up-close view. Yet one more reason why I really think Petra needs 3 days. Looking mournfully at my clock, and checking in with my aching feet, I realized that such a climb would have to wait until the next time.

Around this time, Bedouin started to recognize me from being in the village the evening before. It was kind of interesting because it seemed to exempt me from the intense sales pitches and instead net me some more generalized friendly greetings. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of folks still followed us around proffering stuffed camels, beads, postcards and whatnot, but the camel and mule drivers became much more amiable as word passed around.

Then, while seated on a bench listening to the older couple relay some of their past adventures, Eagle walked by. His face lit up when he recognized me, and I smiled back. He stopped to talk and we discovered that somehow my message from the night before had not been delivered to him until that morning. We blamed the poor service in the general Petra area. I was genuinely glad I had a chance to see him again and find out what had happened and I told him so. He said he was happy to see me too and looked a little wistful. Then he said that he had some customers and had to go, so we waved farewell.

Lost Phone Scare

The last of my walking buddies left me at the Treasury having decided they were tired of walking and wanted to take one of the carriages back to the entrance. So I walked through the narrow shady passage alone, enjoying the silence and respite from the sun. About halfway through, I realized I was really flagging in energy, so I sat on a bench to have a small snack. The hostel had packed more lunch than I could eat in one sitting, but that turned out to be a good thing, because now I had a juice box and candy bar to pump me full of sugar for the final leg of the long walk out of Petra. I took my phone out of my pocket to check something, but instead of putting it back in a pocket or bag, I set it next to me on the bench. This is a true sign of how tired I was.

After my rest, I set out again, only to realize about 10 minutes later that I’d forgotten my phone! Adrenaline added to the sugar boost and I rushed back. My mind was racing with obstacles and solutions, how could I get the phone back if someone had already picked it up? I’d purchased a remote security app after my last lost phone scare, so I knew my data would be safe and that I could even track the phone’s location, but I was leaving Petra in an hour! Was that enough time to track down the phone and retrieve it? I’d have to get out of the park and back to the hostel just to get online to look for it. How could I complete my travels without it? I rely on the internet so heavily for everything from maps and bus schedules to airport check in. Oh please let it still be on the bench!

Just then some of my walking buddy travelers rounded a bend coming toward me. One woman called cheerfully to me as soon as she saw my face, “Hi! We found your phone!”, pulling it out of her pocket and waving it in the air. I was flooded with relief and thanked them profusely. They asked if I’d gotten all the way to the gate before realizing it was missing, but thankfully it had only been a few minutes up the trail. Even more thankful that I had met these good people who then recognized me from the photos on the phone and were determined to get it back to me. They told me if they hadn’t caught up to me in the park, their plan was to find me on Facebook and mail the phone back! How awesome is that?

We kept pace the rest of the way out, talking about our evening plans. They were staying in Wadi Musa (the town near Petra) and talking about local bars, restaurants and the ice cream selection at the Movenpick Hotel. Apparently there’s a “Cave Bar” right outside the gates of Petra built in, you guessed it, a cave. I, however, had a bus to catch back to Amman, and later a flight to Dubai. Since the woman who’d found my phone lived in Jordan, her friends asked her to advise me on some cool things to do at night in Amman while I waited to go to the airport. She did do this, and I’m sure they would have been awesome, but between the long day and the cold after-dark weather, I was all explored out.

Return to Amman

I did manage to bargain with a taxi to drive me up to the hotel and wait while I grabbed my bag then drive me back to the JETT bus stop (which is also right outside the Petra gate). I made it in plenty of time, and the bus ticket was cheaper than the online price, so that was nice. The seats were very comfortable and leaned quite far back. The bus wasn’t even half full, but because it was a charter bus and not a public one, it left on time. I ate the last of my packed lunch and settled in to doze.

By the time we got back to Amman it was full dark and getting cold. Since most of my holiday was in warm places, I hadn’t packed any jackets or sweaters, so I just layered on some more shirts. I wasn’t sure which bus stop to get off at as this was not the same type of bus I’d left Amman on, so I pulled out my phone to check the map. I’d decided that I was simply too tired and cold to seek out any more adventure that day, and that I would just head back to the hostel I’d stayed in two nights ago. I could get dinner there at least, I thought, having remembered seeing a restaurant below it. I hoped I could catch a taxi from the bus station, but when I stepped off the bus, there was a man holding a sign with my name on it.

The hostel had actually sent their driver to pick me up! Clearly, these folks know their trade. I gratefully accepted the ride back. I discussed airport times with the manager when I got back, and quickly got some dinner and coffee ordered. I also met a nice young lady from Australia named Fiona who was drifting around between permanent settings and on her way to London to meet up with her boyfriend. She was also flying out of Amman that night, so we decided to share the ride fare to the airport when it was time to go. It was way too cold to go out and explore the neighborhood (although I might have done so if I’d had proper clothing), so we stayed inside and filled our evening hours with conversation.

The dinner turned out to be soup with bread: a huge bowl of soup that was primarily composed of something that looked like really big couscous and tasted delicious served with a heaping pile of different types of bread. Thanking the food gods that whatever it is in American wheat that makes me sick doesn’t seem to extend across the Atlantic, I dug in and polished off the whole thing. A big pile of carbs after a whole day of hiking does not make me feel even slightly guilty. Fiona beckoned one of the younger staff members, addressing him as habibi, a term of endearment in Arabic. The young man enjoyed the familiar attention from a pretty girl, and we got some free coffee out of it.

A Bedouin Crush?

I also got some more texts from Eagle during the evening. His spoken English is much better than his written (“living” means “leaving”), but the general tone was that he really enjoyed seeing me and would like to do so again.

I admit, I was flattered. Eagle had been nice company. He was friendly without being pushy, and like many of the young Bedouin men, quite nice to look at also. However, I’m not really into one night stands, or long distance relationships, which makes meeting interesting guys while travelling a more platonic experience. Often, I have no compunctions about telling someone I’m not into to buzz off, but I really didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I tried to be as clear as I could that yes, I had enjoyed meeting him, but I also had to leave.

He’s actually sent me a few messages since then, just checking in, once to make sure I’d gotten to Dubai safely, and another to check on me in Saudi. I tend to assume the best of people until they give me reason not to, so it wasn’t until about 4 days ago when while browsing facebook I found a page about the Bedouin men of Petra that it even occurred to me that his messages were anything but sincere. It was a facebook page dedicated to helping the women who’d been seduced by Bedouin men find each other and deal with the betrayal. Eagle wasn’t on the site, but other men from Petra were listed, photo’d and had apparently had multiple tourist girlfriends who they would con into giving them money.

Now, I’m pretty liberal minded, so I think if a girl wants to have a one night stand or short fling with a pretty Bedouin man, then as long as she’s protected, she should go for  it, have fun. But really girls, they’re not likely to be interested in marrying you unless you’re Muslim, and do you truely want to live in a cave? Is this scam so prevalent that it has it’s own Facebook group? I was also really disappointed to think that Eagle had only been running a con on me (which I’m sure is how cons work, no one wants to think its happening to them). He hadn’t asked me for anything, though. He didn’t try to even hug me, let alone anything “romantic”, and the only time we talked about money was for tour services that was actually a reasonable tour guide price.

So I did some more research and I found a pretty wide range of experiences. Yes, it seems like a lot of the Bedouin do like talking to pretty foreign girls, but like all humans, some of them are jerks and some of them are nice. This woman had a pretty negative experience, but the men she met were really slimy from the sounds of her story. I realized in reading it that this could easily have happened to me when I’d decided to walk alone into the mountains with Eagle, but then I found another story that was really quite positive. That woman had couch-surfed her way into a furnished Bedouin cave! And that made me really happy to know that many of the people of the village were genuine and friendly and not just out to scam foreigners for sex and money. I also noticed that the facebook page is almost entirely populated by comments from one person, it’s admin, so while some people do have negative experiences, there’s not actually an army of scammed and jilted women out there.

The last time we chatted was about two weeks ago. He texted me from his cave in Petra to say he wished I could be there.

When I talked about going back in the summer, I a) didn’t know about the March holiday yet and b) hadn’t done all that Bedouin research. I knew I wanted to go back to Petra again because of all the things I hadn’t seen, and I also thought that it might be nice to have some friends and guides there, so all of that was my ham-handed attempt to stay friends without “leading him on”. I’m stuck in some awkward half wish state because I really hope his feelings and kindness were genuine and not the beginning of a scam, but I also don’t want him to actually think of me too much because I’m not really available. Yes, women are crazy.

I am going back to Jordan briefly in March, and probably again in July. But I think unless I go back to Petra itself, I don’t think I will try to reconnect with Eagle. Men in the Middle East don’t generally know how to have inter-gender friendships, and I like him enough as a person that I don’t want him to get the wrong idea about his chances as a suitor. So, I’ll be content to join the small ranks of people lucky enough to have a good experience with the Bedouin of Petra and leave it at that.

Leaving Jordan

Fiona and I spent about 3 hours in the lobby of the hostel, but it didn’t seem like a “wait” at all because we were having fun just talking. When we got to the airport, we found out she couldn’t check in for her flight yet, so I checked in for mine and decided to wait up front with her until I had to go board. The Amman airport has a very peculiar security design. When you first enter, there are a small number of shops, followed quickly by a perfunctory security gate which simply checks passports, but doesn’t do anything with them. We passed through this gate and went to the check in counters, which is where we discovered she couldn’t check in yet. From the check in counter area, there is another security point before there are any more shops. However, without a boarding pass, Fiona couldn’t go that far, so we turned around to go back out through the first checkpoint to get some coffee. The security personnel there didn’t want to let us go back out, which I couldn’t understand since it’s not like we could do anything in the airport without passing his checkpoint again. I pointed to the cafe on the other side of his cordoned off area and said “coffee”, which he seemed to accept and let us go by.

It was now after midnight, so we were both starting to yawn a bit, but we traded facebooks before I headed off, so maybe if we’re ever in the same city again, we’ll stop and say hi. Soon it was time for me to head to my boarding gate. Dinner had been about 4 hours ago, so I checked out the shops at the gate to see what I could take with me. I almost caved in and bought a beer (since I still hadn’t had a drink even though I’d been out of Saudi for two whole days), but decided that it could wait until I got to Dubai, after all. So, armed with a chocolate croissant and an apple, I boarded the flight.
The plane was nearly empty, and it seemed like each passenger had a whole row to themselves. I remember there was a meal served, but I was barely conscious for it, and soon after, I stretched out across the seats and dozed again until the flight attendants told us it was time to land. We’d arrived in Dubai and it was 9am.

To be continued… I spent 3 days in Dubai doing more sight seeing and meeting more awesome people, so look out for more Spring Break 2015 and don’t forget to check out all the photos on facebook! 😀
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