Hotels and Hostels, Spring of 2015

So, I meant to do this before I went on my second spring break, also known as the “Royal Decree Holiday”, but I’m clearly not motivated to write every day, which is probably why I’m still not getting paid for my words. Alas. So without further ado, let me tell you all about the places that I stayed during the two (separate) weeks of holiday in the Middle East this spring. Although this is mainly a “review” post to help other people decide where to stay, I still hope some of you will enjoy the stories.

Al Ula ARAC Resort, Saudi Arabia

This was my hotel in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia when I decided to go see Madain Saleh. Al Ula is a very small town and has only 2 hotels. ( swears now there is a “tent camp” option, ooo.) I scoured the internet for reviews, but neither one was well spoken of. It seems that since they basically know that they have a monopoly on a world heritage site that they don’t actually have to provide service and can charge whatever they like.

I will admit, the resort was very pretty. The grounds had well cared for trees and lawns (actual grass!) and even some flowers trying to bloom. The view was stunning, but I get the impression that would be true nearly anywhere in Al Ula since it is surrounded by great sweeping cliff-like mountains. And the room was clean, which has not always been my experience in travelling. However, my positive things to say basically end there.

When I arrived with my guide who had picked me up from the airport, the receptionist was unable to find my reservation, even though I had printed out a copy of the website’s receipt and confirmation number. After keeping me standing around in the lobby for a while (this is after my all day travel and 7 hour layover stuck inside the Madinah airport), my guide told them to just find a room for me and sort it out later. So they did. However, the room had not been prepared? I guess, since the hot water tank was switched off when I arrived so I had no hot water to bathe with, and would have to wait several hours for the tank to heat up.

I also avoided the restaurant entirely because of the price gouging. My guide took me by a local restaurant where I got a very tasty dinner for much cheaper. The prices are rather insane and the quality of the food, from what I gather from others, is nothing to write home about.

Having to bathe cold, I was somewhat grateful for the blankets, but had to put both bed’s blankets on me to get warm, since the room lacked heat as well. I know it’s Saudi, but February in the desert at night is NOT warm.

At breakfast, I went into the lobby to get some coffee from the little shop there whose sign proclaimed it to open at 8am, however it was completely dark and the receptionist told me they didn’t open until 2pm… which would have been less of an issue if they had bothered to update the rather large sign in front of the counter. So I slunk into the restaurant which only served buffet style breakfast (90 SAR) and had no a la carte options. There I purloined a cup of the “American” coffee, but since there was no staff anywhere to ask the price, I gave up and went back out to the courtyard to enjoy my leftovers and coffee with the stunning mountain view.

As if all of this weren’t disappointing enough, a couple weeks after my holiday, I got an email from telling me that since I hadn’t stayed in the room or cancelled that I would be charged anyway. Whut? The fine folks at Al Ula ARAC who couldn’t find my booking registration at check in apparently found it later and filed a claim for payment, despite having been paid when I checked out. And this is why, even though I pay a foreign transaction fee, I like to use my MasterCard to pay for big items like hotel rooms. Papertrail.

After a couple more weeks of sending the original receipt, a print screen of my bank statement and a photo of the room I stayed in, finally agreed that yes, I really had stayed there and they would inform the hotel.

And the rub? I don’t think I can in good conscience recommend the other hotel any better, because it has even lower ratings and more complaints. So, if you’re going to Madain Saleh (which you should if you get the chance cause it’s quite cool), just resign yourself to a cold shower and an overpriced dining experience with unhelpful staff, then get out and enjoy the city where there are cool people, nice restaurants and excellent things to see.

The Jordan Tower Hotel, Amman

My next stop was in Amman, Jordan. I really wasn’t planning on staying there long, just one night before heading out to Petra, so my criteria in booking were primarily about cost. I booked a bed in the all female dorm at the Jordan Tower because it was going to cost all of 7$ (5JD) and included breakfast. I wasn’t expecting too much, but boy was I surprised.

A staff member contacted me shortly after I made my reservation and introduced himself and what services the hotel offered, asking if there was anything else they could do to help. We exchanged a few emails about my plans in Jordan and he gave me tons of information about transportation options and ideas for what else to do. I ended up using their driver service to pick me up from the airport, which was nice since it was about 3am when I came in and was saved all the trouble of looking for or haggling with a taxi.

The manager decided not to bother with the official check in that night and simply showed me to the room so I could go to sleep. My one and only complaint of this whole place is that the dorm was listed as 4 bed and turned out to be 4 bunk beds, so 8 people. I think in the end that didn’t matter too much because all the ladies were super polite and I didn’t even hear them when they got up a few hours after I came in to go on their own adventures, but it still would have been nice to know.

Picture 101Breakfast was really nice, bread and cake with lebnah and jam, also fresh egg and veggies and bottomless hot coffee or tea. I sat by the window enjoying the downdown view as I soaked upt the good food and coffee. During breakfast the staff helped me feel out my options for getting to Petra, looking up prices for rental cars and private drivers as well as bus station information. They really were awesome. When I checked out that morning, heading off to see the Roman Theater and then on to Petra, I didn’t really expect to see them again.

The next day, when I returned to Amman from my overnight in Petra, I had several hours to kill between when the bus arrived and when I needed to be at the airport. I had sort of considered heading back to the hotel simply because it was familiar and I knew they would help me find a place to eat and possibly something to do. I headed off the bus considering how best to flag down a taxi, but to my surprise there was a driver there with my name on a sign!

The Jordan Tower had sent their driver to pick me up at the bus stop based on our emails of my plans, even though I had not made any specific arrangements. I suppose if I hadn’t wanted a lift, I could have just said no thank you, but it was dark and cold by then, and I loved the idea of a car waiting to take me somewhere warm. The driver had thought he was taking me to the airport, but I explained that I still had a long time yet and would he mind taking me back to the hotel instead?

There I got a huge bowl of steaming soup, some kind of flavorful broth with what seemed like giant couscous and a heaping plate of bread. I also met a fellow traveler, who you can read a little more about in Spring Break Vol. 6. We hung out in the lobby chatting and drinking coffee until it was time to go and were also able to split the cost of the car back to the airport.

I cannot recommend this place enough. It’s small, and up a flight of stairs behind some kind of junk shop, but it’s amazing. Best service, really above and beyond, plus clean rooms, good food and nice fellow guests. If you are ever in Amman, go check them out.

The Rocky Mountain Hotel, Wadi Musa (Petra)

Picture 150This place also turned out to be pretty amazing. I decided I needed 2 days in Petra, so I booked an overnight room in the nearby town of Wadi Musa (nearby meaning a few minutes drive from the park entrance, if you felt like adding another 20 minutes of walking to your hours of park exploring, you could even walk there). My bus dropped me off right at the door, and they got me checked in pretty fast, since I wanted to get up to the park quickly. I had planned to get to Petra earlier, but as events transpired it was already after 3pm. When I couldn’t find a taxi to take me down to the park entrance, Jane (the owner) said she had to run down to the market anyway, and gave me a ride the short way.

When I got back to the hotel after dark, I waited briefly with some other guests in the lobby for our ride over to her husband’s property, an outdoorsy tent hotel (heated tents, and a generator for wi-fi) up in the mountains, where we had a Bedouin dinner. The dinner was pretty standard for me, but would probably be a cool experience for someone who doesn’t live in a half Bedouin town already. And the setting was astonishly beautiful. Far from town we had a great view of the stars, and they had set up paper lanterns on one of the nearby rock faces.

Sadly, my one complaint about the Rocky Mountain is the timing of their hot water. I understand the need to conserve both water and electricity where they are, so hot water is only on for a few hours each morning and evening. In theory, I have no issue with this, but since her husband’s hotel’s dinner didn’t get us back to our hotel until after hot water time, it seemed like poor planning. I know a lot of people prefer to shower in the morning, but I like a hot shower before bed, especially when I’ve been travelling all day and want to wash the road dust off before climbing in clean sheets. This was the 3rd hotel in a row with no pre-bed hot shower for me, so it was a little disappointing.

Picture 152Everything else was great. Although the heater in the room was off until I got back (did I mention Petra is cold at night in February?), it worked really quickly and I was soon warm and slept comfortably. Breakfast was again included on the rooftop restaurant where we had a stunning view of the valley with our traditional Jordanian breakfast (eggs, fresh veggies, bread, lebnah and jam).

The hotel also provides a shuttle service to the Petra gate 2 times each morning and each evening, so I got another ride back to the park. I was also able to request a packed lunch for my day, since there’s only a few places to eat inside Petra and all are expensive. I got a simple sandwich with some snack cakes, a candy bar, a juice box and come “all natural” corn puffs. It sounds like a lot of junk food, but when you’re hiking all day, high sugar and carbs is actually pretty welcome. There was enough food for my lunch in the park, a snack on the way out of the park, and a dinner on the bus back to Amman for 8JD.

Jane was also really helpful with information about the area. I asked her several questions about the locals I had met on my first day including safety, general expectations and trustworthiness as tour guides as well as what I should expect to pay for certain tour services. She also helped me figure out the bus schedules to make sure I wouldn’t miss the only bus out of town that afternoon, and kept my bag for me after I’d checked out until I was ready to leave town.

Maybe there’s a better place in Wadi Musa (there is a Movenpick after all), but I can’t imagine you’ll get a better deal for the price than the Rocky Mountain, plus you’ll be supporting small business so it’s really win-win.

Tamani Marina Hotel, Dubai

IMG_1476This was the last stop on my February trip. I had planned to spend 3 days in Dubai, and after being highly disappointed in the quality and price of hostels there, I went into fantasy mode and just started randomly checking the prices of hotels near the beach. Most of them were way outside of my price range, but then suddenly my cursor hovered over one that popped up a really reasonable rate! I checked about 4 more times incase there was a catch, but since has free cancellation, I decided to go ahead and book it, then do more research. If it turned out to have a horrible reputation later, I could always cancel and find something else. However as I continued to research the hotel, it looked like it was a pretty nice place, and moreover that I had something close to a 60% discount on their normal rate.

And thank goodness I did. Because if I had paid full price for that, I would have almost certainly been outraged. As it was, I was just a little miffed.

When I first arrived I had quite a wait while another guest harangued the girl behind the counter about having to show his passport again. I kind of thought he was being a douche and felt bad for her, so I tried to just relax in the lobby and wait it out rather than complain and add to her problems. When they finally did get someone to me, I was chastised for “checking in late”. I had arrived at the hotel around 2pm, which is standard check in start time for most hotels in the world. I flew into Dubai around 9am and knew I wanted to do some shopping, but wasn’t sure how long it would take. Apparently because I had told them I might arrive early, that meant I was now late. And they had given my room away.

The clerk said they were all out of singles now, but I could have a larger suite for just the increase in city tax. I guess I could have stuck to my guns, but I really wanted a bath and a bed after so much travelling, and the tax wasn’t all that much so I agreed. The room was insanely huge. I think two families could have stayed there comfortably. Picture 173There were two furnished bedrooms, plus what seemed like another empty room, four bathrooms, a giant living room, dining room and expansive kitchen. There was also a washer/dryer combo unit, so I dumped in my clothes and went off to bathe. The baths win all the stars. I also took a short nap. But even after all of this, my clothes weren’t done. I managed to pull out everything but two lightweight items so they dried faster, but this left me with a pile of wet laundry.

Why not just leave it running while I went out for the evening? Well, it seems even in luxury hotels, you have to put the key card in the wall to turn on the power, so as soon as I took the key to leave, the machine would stop running, leaving my wet laundry to get stinky. So I called down to ask for another key. This shouldn’t be hard, and it really shouldn’t be a negotiation or an argument, but it took a really long time to explain the situation and make it clear that I was not going to be held hostage in my room by their stupid electricity issues, so they needed to bring me a key.

The next day, I tried to ask their tourism desk, the people whose job it is to know what tourists staying at their hotel can do, where the Big Red Bus stop near their hotel was. I should point out that it’s less than a block away, and one of the largest tour bus operators in Dubai. They actually knew the company, but insisted that there was no stop near them, pulling out an outdated map to try and prove it to me. I had to cut and run, since debating the issue with them was just going to make me miss the bus they knew nothing about. Later on, when I brought them an updated map for their records to help future guests, they treated me like I was something on the bottom of their shoes.

Housekeeping managed to steal or throw away some of the groceries that I’d bought at the Carrefour next door, while at the same time leaving trash and dishes that needed cleaning. One evening I decided to order food in because I was just too tired to go anywhere, but there wasn’t a room service menu in the room. I called down to ask for one and they told me, rather annoyed, that it was in the binder next to the television. Now, the suite is the size of a large house, so not being able to find something right away isn’t all that odd, but there was no menu in the binder. So I called back, and had to argue with them, again. I feel like if I was asking for something odd or unreasonable that the staff might need to disagree, but if you’re asking for something like an extra key, a menu or a towel, there shouldn’t need to be a discussion. The guest says ‘please bring me x’ and the hotel staff say ‘sure no problem’. Even when someone finally showed up with a menu, I had to show them the menuless binder before they would hand it over! At least the food was tasty.

Also, on the day I needed to take a taxi instead of the bus, one of the hotel staff stepped up to me as I headed for the line of taxis and asked if I needed one. I replied that yes I did. This didn’t seem odd at the time since I’ve seen lots of places have deals with drivers or queues and try to make sure that guests get into waiting taxis in order. The guy told me they had metered hotel taxis, stressing the meter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a standard meter and ran almost double the city taxi rate. The car may have been nicer, but I felt lied to. They could easily have been upfront about offering “luxury” or “private” cars at a higher rate, that’s what Uber does and it works just fine. And I might even expect local drivers to try to claim they’re homemade meter is just as good as a taxi. But I was pretty upset about having been deceived by the hotel staff where I was a paying guest.

By the time I was ready to leave, I had more sympathy for the guest I’d seen on the first day than the staff. After several days of being treated this way in a supposedly luxury hotel, it was about all I could do not to loose my cool with the staff too. The only thing that really made it bearable was my discount, but this place is no way worth it’s normal price tag. The best thing about it? Walking distance from the Barasti Beach Bar and Carrefour.

Thus concludes the Spring Break portion of my accommodation reviews. During the Royal Decree Holiday I stayed in 2 more places.

Bedouin Garden Hotel, Aqaba

I have a lot of good things to say about this place. However, when I first arrived I thought I’d made a terrible mistake. I came in after dark, having driven from Tabuk after school Thursday and planning to leave for Egypt on the next day. Aqaba was just meant to be a resting spot in my journey from Tabuk to Sharm el Sheikh. When I was shown my “single” it had three beds crammed in, and there was no TV or (far more important) wi-fi, despite the fact that both of these had been advertised on the website. There were also several large flies in my room.

wpid-20150320_162111.jpgReminding myself that it was just one night, I gritted my teeth and decided to bear it. I got some dinner (which was quite generous and delicious), chatted with the Filapina server and went to bed. My ferry to Egypt didn’t leave until around 6:30 the next evening, but the hostel looked much better in the light. wpid-20150320_094947.jpgThere were flowers in bloom and lots of “Bedouin tent” style outdoor seating areas. I figured I could just enjoy the weather and read my book until it was time to go. Breakfast was simple but good and I got to chat with some Pakistani guests who were also out of Saudi for the holiday and heading to Petra.

There was a dive shop there, but since I don’t have my license, I kind of ignored it. I bid good travels to my breakfast companions and took my coffee over to some cushions in the shade to relax and read. The full story of my Friday adventure will be told in another post, but my plans of quiet reading were fully and enjoyably foiled. I had a great day at the Bedouin Gardens, and as it turned out accidentally ran off with their key, so I came back again the following Friday as I was making the reverse journey and spent several more hours there.

So, yeah, the rooms aren’t much. You’re not going to watch movies on satellite TV in your room or surf the web from your laptop, but if you give it a chance, you won’t miss those things at all and you’ll only be in your room to shower or sleep. Wonderful people, amazing place, beautiful beaches. I recommend it to anyone who wants to get out of the city and see the beach in Aqaba.

Park Inn by Radisson at Sharm el Sheikh

This was another one of the luxury deals that I found online. Not quite as big a discount as Tamani, but Sharm is so insanely cheap because the Egyptian Pound is very weak and business are dropping prices to attract tourists back after two revolutions destabilized the country. I should mention, I felt totally safe the whole time.

wpid-20150321_071427.jpgThe resort is insanely huge. Buildings and buildings full of rooms, two swimming pools, two restaurants, 5 bars, a private beach across the road, a water park on the premises, and a gym + spa. It took me about 45 minutes to walk around the whole thing. Plus there were shops and bars outside too.

My very low price tag included 3 meals a day (but really more, because poolside snacks were served all day) and free local booze, which amounted to pretty low end stuff, but free and unlimited goes a long way to making up for quality. It was a really beautiful place, the staff were if anything too friendly, the food was decent, although not 4 star. In terms of value for money I can’t say enough.

I had a few issues, since nothing is ever perfect. I had some trouble with overly flirty staff pushing me for a phone number or to come out with them after work to some local bars. I think if I had been with a group, that might have been fun, going out with the locals and seeing local bars, but since I was alone it just made me uncomfortable, especially coming from people I would see every day in the dining room or bar. The good news is that the one time I felt something went to far, I commented that I thought it was not appropriate and he stopped instantly, so I think they have just found that more often than not, guests respond well to the attention and so do it to everyone.

I also got food poisoning. Normally this might be enough to turn one off of a restaurant, but I know that it’s a normal hazard of international travel. Honestly, considering everywhere I’ve gone in the last few months, I’m surprised this is the only time it’s happened. I’m less upset about the illness than how the hotel handled it. I know I was already getting a cheap deal, but it would have been appropriate for them to offer some kind of recompense, especially since I had to delay my trip to Cairo at extra expense. Instead they just awkwardly tried to change the subject when I brought it up.

wpid-20150325_095331.jpgHousekeeping was adorable, if overly persistent. If I forgot to put up the do not disturb sign when I went to take a nap, they would just knock and knock and knock. Once they even had reception call me to ask me to let them in. But, to be fair, any time I had that sign up, they were quiet as mice. They also would shape my new towels into various animals on the bed and bring fresh flowers into the room.

I also noticed there was plenty of kid specific entertainment, as well as nightly activities on site like karaoke or dance performances, and daily poolside activities like yoga and water aerobics. I myself was mostly a bum, sitting poolside with a gin and tonic in hand, but there seemed to be a lot to choose from.

wpid-20150321_163956.jpgOverall, I still would recommend this place. It’s a really nice resort with lots to do and it’s easy to see many places around Egypt on day trips from Sharm. It’s less pricey than some of the swankier places, but it’s still more than nice enough to make you feel like you’re on a pampered lux vacation and you can easily spend a week or two there without breaking the bank.

So what have we learned? Well, I can tell you for sure that all my best vacation experiences are shaping up to be at tiny hole in the wall mom and pop stop type places, while the big fancy resorts are somewhere between just ok and a let down. I’m still planning to drag friends and family to some of the resorts because I think they’ll be more fun in groups and easier to do with kids than my solo traveler preferences, but it is sort of a relief to know that I not only don’t have expensive tastes, but might actually enjoy myself more at the cheaper options!

Thanks for reading, I hope it was entertaining or maybe even helpful. Check out all the adventures surrounding these hotels in any of the Spring Break 2015 posts or the soon to be published Royal Decree Holiday posts! 🙂

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! 😀

Spring Break 2015 Vol. 4: To Jordan, to Petra…

After having to break day 2 up into two posts to fit everything in, I thought I could get all of Jordan/Petra in one place, but that was a dream. So here’s the story of my first day in Jordan including a small peek at Amman and Petra. Don’t forget to check out all of the photos on facebook. 🙂

Amman and the Roman Ruins

To get to Petra, I first had to fly to Amman, a large city in Jordan filled with ancient Roman ruins and quaint, steep hilled neighborhoods that make Queen Anne look flat. My flight had changed so I arrived in Jordan at about 3am and shuffled bleary-eyed through customs and passport security to meet my hostel’s driver. (awesome hostel, by the way, I’ll be doing a full write-up on them in another post) I had booked a room in a female dorm, and at nearly 4am, crawled into my top bunk as quietly as possible and fell asleep.

I knew there was no way I was going to catch the 6:30am charter bus to Petra, so I came down for a leisurely breakfast and a think about my plans. I checked on costs for taxis and car rentals, but in the end I decided I’d just go ahead and take the public transportation. But first, since the hostel was a mere 30 meters from the Roman Theater, I decided I should have a look before I left on the 3 hour bus ride to Petra.

IMG_1271Lo and behold, I walked about a block and turned the corner into an ancient Roman ruin of the kind we usually identify with Italy. I spent about 20 minutes poking around the public areas, had to politely pry myself away from a would-be tour guide who wanted to drive me up to some of the other ruins nearby. I was also tentatively greeted in English by a group of Jordanian ladies.

The Muslima fashion in Jordan is quite different than Saudi. Most girls wore skinny jeans and boots with varying lengths of jackets (because it was cold). Some more modestly covered their hips and bottoms, but several wore tops that showed off their assets quite well. Hijabs were in many colors and seemed to be concealing either a cone-head, or the alien skull. This one is about an average size, but some were bigger! Seriously, I have no idea what those girls have under there, but there is no way it’s only hair. Prosthetics are clearly involved.

Eventually decided that if I had more time, a ticket inside would be nice, but I didn’t want to feel any more rushed, so I hailed a taxi to take me to the bus station. (more photos)

Taxis and Buses

I’m still trying to figure out why I’m such a commodity in the Middle East. Men never hit on me this much in the West. At least this one wasn’t as clumsy as the guys in Saudi. It was certainly an interesting test of my Arabic skills. I realized during the ride that I’d really picked up more than I thought. I still can’t form sentences worth a damn, but I can understand a lot more than I used to, and generally make myself understood too.

He tried to get me to come stay at his house, offering to share beer and saying it was nicer than a hotel. But he was good natured about being turned town, and kissed my hand sweetly when I left the taxi.

At the bus station, I knew I needed to find the bus by asking around, since there are no signs or schedules. I found a bus going to Wadi Musa which is the town next to Petra and another enthusiastic taxi driver who helped by telling the bus driver where my hotel was so he could drop me off at the door for an extra Dinar. He also gave me his number and said I should call him when I was heading back so he could pick me up and take me to the airport. When I explained my flight was hours after I’d be returning, he offered to take me to his house where his wife would cook a wonderful dinner for me. (I never called that guy)

The buses don’t run on a schedule, but rather just wait until they are full, then leave. I had arrived just as one full bus was leaving and was the first person on the next bus, so it was a long wait. But I did save over 100$ (US) by taking the bus instead of a car, so I feel like an hour was worth it.

The drive was long and the driver stopped briefly but repeatedly to drop passengers off along the way, seemingly at random. About halfway through, we stopped at a little rest area with a small cafe, a convenience store and a public bathroom. I picked up a cup of sweet hot Turkish coffee and took the opportunity to nab my hijab out of my bag and tie it on. I felt fine walking around Amman without it, but I had noticed that all the other women on the bus were wearing hijabs, and while no one had said anything, I felt more comfortable once I wasn’t standing out so much.

I was really surprised at the landscape. Despite the fact that it isn’t that far from Saudi, it didn’t feel like a desert at all any more. In fact, shortly before we arrived in Wadi Musa we seemed to hit a green belt and were surrounded by beautiful evergreens for the last part of the drive. The mountains snuck up on us slowly, we drove through foothills that had so many ups and downs that it was easy to loose track of the fact that we were gaining elevation until we were suddenly surrounded by mountains on all sides.

True to his word, the driver pulled up right out front of my hotel and let me out. It was already almost 3 in the afternoon and Petra closes at sunset, so I wanted to get a move on. The hotel staff were quite accommodating, getting me checked in quickly and even giving me a lift down to the Petra gate when I couldn’t find a taxi.


Petra is the famous capital of the ancient Nabatean civilization. It’s also the place Indiana Jones went in Last Crusade (don’t worry, I didn’t drink out of any fancy chalices). Not only is it an amazing site on its own, it is also related to the sites in Saudi that I had just seen at Madain Saleh.

The single day entry fee to Petra is 50JD and the two day is only 55JD, so even though I only had a couple hours of light left, I decided that it was worth an extra 5JD (about 7USD) to go in that afternoon. The ticket sellers were reluctant to sell me a  pass, even though it was for two days, trying to explain that I “didn’t have enough time” (nearly 2 hours). I managed to convince them anyway, but they closed all the ticket windows as soon as I had paid and turned to find the gate.

While Madain Saleh is a restricted and private area that we basically had to ourselves and a couple other guided groups, Petra is the classic definition of tourist trap. Even before you get to the gate there are rows and rows of souvenier stalls selling stuffed camels, “authentic” Middle Eastern clothing, hookahs, caps, hats, pashmina scarves, beads, magnets, and other gew-gaws.

Upon entering the park, you are accosted by Bedouins trying to sell you a horse ride. These claimed that the price was included in the ticket, and that it would not be free the next day. Don’t you believe it. They’ll ask for a tip or a gift or something. It’s not free. It’s also not much of a ride, just a trot up and down the first few meters of the park. Even if you have small kids, I’d say skip the horses and hold out for the camels. If you really need help with the long walk, skip the camels and hold out for a mule.

I walked through the open area, following the trail and politely declining about a dozen offers of a ride. Several also told me that I didn’t have time, even though I knew that the walk from the gate to the Treasury was between 30 and 45 minutes, and I also knew that I didn’t have to be out the gate at precisely sundown. But I bet they make a lot of money from the kind of tourists who never read travel blogs before they go.

There were a few carvings that looked similar to Madain Saleh, but nothing spectacular. You have to walk for a long time to get to the spectacular.

The Siq

IMG_1308The next phase of the walk is called the Siq. It is a narrow passage between two towering cliffs. The mule drivers came out here and started trying to sell me a ride and even mule drawn carriages that go to and from the Treasury. The later are obscenely expensive, by the way, considering it’s only about a 20 minute walk, and such a beautiful walk at that. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to go in a covered carriage and miss the upward view!

If my narration seems interrupted every couple sentences by someone trying to sell me something, that’s because the experience was interrupted every couple of minutes by someone trying to sell me something. Petra is beautiful, but it’s hard to take in the awesome splendor of the ages when someone is pestering you to spend money. I had read on another blog that the best way to deal with these merchants is to maintain a polite and sunny attitude and simply say “no thank you”. It was actually surprisingly effective. I think they’ve been conditioned to respond to “thank you” with “you’re welcome”, like a Pavlovian English response, because most of them did just that and moved on. A few were more persistent, but for the most part it worked quite well.

It probably also helped that this was February and none of them were trying quite as hard as they might during the height of tourist season.

IMG_1310The Siq gives this sensation like you’ve fallen down a crack in the earth. The path is very smooth and comfortable to walk however, and there are a couple rest benches and trash bins along the way. I spent most of the walk just gazing upwards, staring at the vertical landscape, ribbons of color in the rocks, waving and jutting formations and the shifting sliver of late afternoon sky far above. Finally, I rounded another bend and in the narrow gap ahead a tiny shard of the vast bulk of the Treasury soared from ground to sky.

The Treasury

The close walls and immense height of the cliffs of this part of Petra make one feel exceptionally small, like a mouse in a giant’s home, and the Treasury does no less. The sheer scale of the monument is unbelievable. I have pictures, and even have some with humans for size perspective, but it can’t convey the way that standing in front of something so immense makes you feel.

Picture 111

And then someone tried to sell me some silver bracelets. Kids who live in the Bedouin village are put to work early learning to fleece tourists. This one probably spoke better English than my college students back in Saudi, and had a whole list of reasons why I should buy from him that day, one of which was that he could only work on the weekend and had to go back to school tomorrow. I’m sure these all would have been harder for me to deal with if I hadn’t spent so long in China where fleecing tourists seems to be the national past time. As it was I replied, Ah school! Good for you! and he ran off to find someone less teachery.

The treasury was really stunning, and I was very glad I decided to come into the park even if just for a couple hours because I’m sure I would have felt horribly rushed if I’d really tried to see everything in one day. What am I saying, I still didn’t see everything. I only managed to walk the main path and had to turn away from all the tantalizing side trails. Maybe if I’d known the layout better, I would have tried to visit the High Place of Sacrifice that evening, because it’s a one way trail that leads to a high platform, but then comes back to the treasury area. (more photos)

And then someone tried to sell me a camel ride. I’ve actually left out most of the sales attempts from this narration, but some are amusing. This on tried to tell me what an interesting experience riding a camel is. MERS aside, I’ve ridden a camel before. Interesting is the perfect word, about halfway between when a small child shows you a scribble of lines and shapes and you say, oh my how … interesting and the old Chinese proverb about interesting times. I’m A-OK not riding more camels. Ever. So I thanked him and declined, saying I’d already had the experience, and that I saw camels every day in Saudi. This created some amusement among the camel drivers around, perhaps they thought it was strange for a lone white woman to talk about Saudi camels?

The Street of Facades, The Royal Tombs, the Roman Theater and a Bedouin named Eagle

Picture 115I wandered around the corner and saw the Street of Facades and the Theater. There isn’t much Roman influence in Madain Saleh, but Petra is covered with it. Not only are the columns more frequent and ornate, but there is a full on Roman Amphitheater against one cliff.

IMG_1326The Street of Facades and Royal Tombs are really neat because it is where you can see the most resemblance to Madain Saleh. There are two pillared doors with peaked arches and five step ziggurats of the necropolis are echoed in this part of Petra quite clearly, like a bridge in time between the earlier developments of Nabatean culture into Roman and even later Christian influences that came into Petra.

Here another young man tried to sell me a mule ride, although his attempts at salesmanship were a little half-hearted. However, after accepting my disinterest in riding (it was getting close to closing time after all) he paced his mule along side me and began chatting. I like meeting new people on my travels, and since he wasn’t trying to sell me anything anymore, I was fine with this. He introduced himself as Eagle and told me that he had actually been born in one of the caves of Petra. He also still liked to live in a cave there most of the time. He was a part of the native Bedouin tribe that had been very gently relocated to a nearby village that the King built for them when Petra was made a National Park and UNESCO Heritage Site.

Picture 128Eagle walked with me from the Roman Theater, past the Royal Tombs and along the Colonnaded Street. He shared tidbits of information about the things we passed, playing tour guide and boasting about his home. He showed me where to walk along the crumbling ancient roadway. He pointed out the two-humped camel rock in the cliffs on the horizon. And he even took some pictures for me on the road in front of the tombs. I asked him questions about his life in Petra, how he had come to learn English, whether he was happy there, and he asked me questions about America and Saudi and how I came to be travelling alone.

The sun began to set and I walked much farther into the park than I had originally meant to, but I knew the path back was clear, so wasn’t too worried about getting lost even if the light faded. Plus a cell phone makes a handy emergency flashlight. He told me how beautiful Petra was at night and I asked about the candlelight tour that I had read about online. He said it wasn’t really worthwhile, since the people operating it were very strict about where people could go and always trying to get everyone to be quiet but failing. But he said that the Bedouins often came into the caves of Petra at night to eat, drink, sleep and enjoy the night.

Picture 133I like meeting people, but I’m not sure I could have stayed in the park at night with only the native Bedouin, so I shifted the subject. The other Bedouin sales people, camel and mule drivers were all packing up and meeting in a central spot before heading home. We walked into a clearing that was filled with camels. Eagle told me that his village was a short walk up the hill and that he could get someone to drive me back to the hotel for 2-3JD (about the same as a taxi would cost from the gate) and that I was welcome to walk there with him so I could see a new view and have some company instead of walking back to the front gate alone.

I decided that was safe enough, plus I wanted to see where these people lived. Some of my favorite travel experiences have been hanging out with natives, not just taking in the tourist attractions, so we set off up the hill toward the village.

To the Bedouin Village

The rock formations in Petra really are stunning and I got to see some of the amazing colors in the deep red rocks. The shapes and colors reminded me of nothing so much as sleeping dragons. We passed a few more tombs, caves and carvings along the way as well as a little lemon grove that the Bedouin cultivated. I was told they also grew olives and made very fine olive oil.

The walk was much farther than the 20 minutes I’d been told, but I don’t think he was being intentionally misleading. We were walking at a leisurely pace, and were passed by many other Bedouin driving camels and mules back at a brisk trot, so I expect it normally is about 20 minutes for him. Eventually, the climb became quite steep. I’d hiked all over Al Ula just the day before, then flown to Jordan and only had a few hours of sleep before setting out again, so my energy was flagging and I finally accepted the offer of a ride on the mule, whose name was William.

Picture 141Watching the sun set in Petra and seeing the first few evening stars appear over the cliffs as we ascended toward the village is not something I will ever regret or forget. As the Maghrib Athan began I realized for the first time why everyone always tells me that they imagine Athan as this haunting and beautiful experience. In Saudi it’s often just a side note in my day, but here in the red striated cliffs and golden light of the fading day as the call to prayer drifted down to us from the village mosque above, I felt the beautiful connection of divine, human and natural meeting in one moment.

Picture 126

We left Petra proper, passing by the park police. It felt a bit strange to be walking out of the park this way, but the guard at the gate nodded and exchanged greetings with Eagle as we passed and seemed to find my presence unremarkable. As we continued up the road, Eagle told me about another route up to the Monastery called “the back way” that included a site called Little Petra. He said if I wanted he could help me arrange a tour up to that part of the park so I could approach the Monastery from that direction and then descend again through the front part of the park.

While I always want to believe the best of people, I am a natural skeptic, so I was unwilling to commit to such a thing until I had a chance to verify the story. Sadly, I’d read accounts online of the Bedouin extorting visitors (though never hurting them or anything) and didn’t want to fall into a scam or trap no matter how nice Eagle seemed. So he gave me his number and told me to call if I wanted to go in the morning.

In the village I met several of the children that had been selling postcards or bracelets in Petra, as well as Eagle’s brother who also spoke excellent English and told me that he had a wife in France. Then true to his word, he had another friend give me a lift back to the hotel, letting me know that I could give him 2-3JD for the ride. I gave him 5. (more photos)

Dinner at the Seven Wonders

Back at the hotel, I quickly checked in with my host there about dinner, since we were supposed to go up to her husband’s hotel (a Bedouin style tent encampment up in the mountains) for a group dinner which sounded way cooler than dinner alone in my room.

While we were waiting to be picked up, I asked her about the Bedouin in the village, what she knew about them and their interactions with tourists. I explained about the invitation and asked her advice, figuring since she’d lived there for five years, she’d know. She told me that mostly they were fine, but to be careful about staying with them after dark. Although the gates of Petra close at sunset, the actual curfew is midnight, so sometimes visitors stay with the Bedouin there and drink in the caves, but the Bedouin get drunk and don’t want to leave, resulting the the tourists being stuck or getting in trouble with the police for being there after curfew.

She also said the back way was legitimate and that she herself charged tourists 60JD for that tour option so as long as I wasn’t paying more than that, that I should be perfectly safe going that option with Eagle and his friends.

Waiting for the ride I met a couple more tourists, one who lived in Jordan and her friend who was a nurse in Portland, but had gone to school in Seattle (small world gets smaller!). The path to dinner was a dark road out of the town of Wadi Musa and into the mountains. The stars were completely out by this time and simply filled the night sky. If it weren’t so cold, I probably would have stood outside and stared at them forever, but Jordan is quite chilly in the winter and combined with the desert climate and mountain altitude I couldn’t stand to be outside for more than a few moments before I caved and went into the fire-warmed tent.

Picture 145The rocks around the permanent camp had been decorated with paper lanterns, similar to what is used in the Petra by Night experience. It was really quite lovely, the dots of soften firey glow-light around the cliffs, offsetting the patterns and edges and casting a gentle light into the camp that showed us the path without interfering with the starlight.

The other two girls were actually staying in that “hotel”. Apparently there are individual tents in the area that are also fire-warmed, as well as hot showers during a few hours each morning and evening, and a generator to provide wi-fi as well. I had actually looked at it when booking online, but decided that while it might be really cool in summer, that during February I would opt for something indoor and thus wound up in the wife side of the husband/wife businesses.

In the main tent it was indeed quite warm with a large cast iron fire pit in the center that had a suspended sort of chimney/flue above it to funnel smoke up and out of the tent. We joined several other guests in the tent and sipped hot sweet tea and enjoyed the fire while we waited for dinner to be ready. It was a nice evening, chatting and sharing stories. I wanted to send Eagle a message about the tour the next day to find out how much his friends would be charging, but it took me a long time to figure out what I had entered incorrectly. What’s App is great for international SMS, but it’s very picky about how you enter a number into your contact list. I finally got in touch with him, but didn’t get a price quote that evening.

The dinner was fairly standard “Bedouin” fare, similar to what I had in Saudi before, kabsa and salad (though not as good as what I had in Madain Saleh), there was a stewed vegetable dish that was quite tasty and some of the cream cheese filled pastries made of the vermicelli-like pastry dough. It was mostly amusing to me to watch the new tourists marvel at the “strange” food which has over the last six months become quite familiar to me.

By the time I got back to the hotel it was after 10pm and I’d vowed to try to catch the 7:30 shuttle to the Petra gate that morning, so I cranked up the heater, set my alarm for 6am and fell asleep.

This story is continued in Spring Break 2015 Vol. 4: To the Monastery and Back. Don’t forget to check out all the photos of the trip on my facebook page!