Charmed by a Bedouin

Petra Panorama behind blue church Jordan by eva the dragon 2013

Our water bottles emptied, we could not take another step.  The empty café next to the Byzantine church welcomed us.

A majlis of red and black cushions surrounded a jewelry case in the center of the room with a full view of the Colonnade.  A young man stood behind the counter.

“Do you have lemon with mint?” I asked pointing to the picture.  He nodded, unable to speak English.

“How about some juice?” I asked my weary friends as they peeled off their hats and camera bags.  Their mouths were so dry, they nodded.

As we lounged on the couches, the proprietor walked between the necklaces houses in glass shelves, lit a cigarette and sat down.

“Salam ah-lay kum,” I said, starting our exchange with peace.

“Ah-lay kum a salam,” he responded appropriately.  “I hope you are having a good day in Petra,” he said in perfect English.

“Yes, it has been wonderful.  Is this your son?” I asked as the young man brought our fresh juices.

“No, he is my friend’s son.  He is from Egypt.  You know how tough things are in Egypt today.  He needed a job so I brought him here to Petra.  He will learn about tourists and learn to speak English.”

“My husband’s family is Egyptian,” I told him.  “We live in Bahrain.”

“Really?” he raised his eyebrows.  “How many wives does he have?” he asked with laughter in his eyes.

“Only me,” I countered.  “That is all he can handle.  What about you?”

“I only have one wife.  She is from Spain and believe me, she is more than enough for me.  I could not handle anymore wives.”  We all giggled.

“You must know Marguerite,” Louise chimed in.  “We just met her along the road.”

“Marguerite used to be the nurse at our clinic in the cave,” he said.  “That was a long time ago when her husband was alive.”

“Do you know which cave she lived in?” Louise asked.  “Is it that one across the way?” She pointed across the canyon above the other side of the Colonnade.

He corrected her finger and pointed out the cave.

“It must have been extraordinary to have lived in a cave.  What a life she must have had.  Cooking over a fire and raising babies there.  Living among the Bedu.  Extraordinary,” Louise said.

“When I was young, we all lived in the caves,” he announced.

“Really?” we exclaimed.

“Have you been to the Monastery?”  We shook our heads no.  “My family, we lived up there.”  He pointed out towards the mountains.

“That is so interesting.”

He smiled.  “We loved living in the mountains.  Now most of the Bedouin live in the village.  Do you like your juice?”

“Yes, very much.”

“The lemons are from my orchard.  I grow oranges too.  Everything you see here is fresh.  Made at home.”  He pointed to the poster over the table filled with Arabic mezza and salads.

“What is your name?” we finally asked.

“Haroun,” he said pronouncing the h softly making it sound like Aaron.

“Aaron,” I asked, “Like the brother of Moses?”

“Yes,” he said, pointing again towards the mountains.  “We could see his tomb from our cave.”

A man wearing jeans parked his donkey in front of the café.  A blond woman climbed off its back.

Haroun shouted out, “Salam!” and got up to greet the man with a hug and many kisses.

“My Uncle Jouma,” he said.  “He is my uncle, but he is younger than me.”

Jouma took off his Ray-Bans and said hello to us in perfect English.

“Jouma means Friday.  You can call me Friday.”

“This is Saturday and my friend, Sunday,” I said.  “You can call me Monday.”

As more men stopped by, Haroun turned his attention to them.  I felt the push of inspiration.  It would be a treat to be guided to the Monastery by someone who lived there.

“Can you show us the Monastery?” I asked Jouma.  “Wouldn’t it be great to go there with him?” I turned to my friends.

Suddenly a great plan was hatched.  Jouma suggested that we go explore the Royal Tombs.  He would meet us there at four o’clock and take us by donkey to the Monastery for the sunset.

Refreshed and excited about our afternoon adventure, after lunch, we gathered our things and said good-bye to the men.

“Please, the juice and the oranges are my gift to you,” said Haroun.  “My orchid sits in valley at the bottom of Mount Hor.  You must come and see it.  I will wait for you there.  My uncle will bring you.”

“Inshallah,” we said.  “We will see you on our way to the Monastery.”

Then I realized, just like Marguerite, the Petra Bedouins had charmed us.  Enchanted, we were ready to follow a man we had just met to his ancestral cave on the mountain.

ABOUT HAROUN AND JOUMA

Haroun’s Café has a terrific view of the Colannaded Street and the Royal Tombs.  The food was good and the atmosphere was much nicer than the crowded restaurants at the end of the Colannade operated by hotels.

Jouma Kublan was a man we instantly felt comfortable with.  His mobile is 00 962 7 7753 5425.  You can arrange to meet him at the Petra entrance, or, if you are lucky, arrange to meet him at Haroun’s for a sunset trip to the Monastery.  He charged us each 50JD for our four-hour tour.  His rate matched the rates quoted on Frommer’s.  His donkeys were well-cared for, and he is a kind, stable individual.

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To Hire a Man or Not

Sign to Wadi Rum Desert Highway Jordan

Planning our excursion into the Wadi Rum desert of southern Jordan and Petra, we debated whether three women traveling alone in Jordan should drive or hire a male driver.

One advantage would be having someone who speaks Arabic.  However, that advantage was greatly offset by my experience with male drivers who drove too fast.  Too fast meaning 120 kph through tunnels marked for a 50 kph speed limit.  Even when asked to slow down, many pretended not to hear me.

None of us smoked.  Not only does the car smell, but I’ve had drivers who, after a couple of smokeless hours, light up even after I asked them not to.

The final advantage was freedom to manage our daily schedule.

When we decided to drive ourselves, my husband officially named us Thelma and Louise.

I booked a mid-size car since the SUVs were double the price.  I figured if the highway was good enough for broken-down Corollas, we would be fine.

Obviously the Eurocar manager felt differently.

Handing over our confirmation and my driver’s license, he looked at me.

“You are driving?” he asked.

“Yes, I am a very good driver” I said smiling.  “We are driving down to Wadi Rum.”

“I am going to drive too,” Louise said handing over her passport.  “Here is my license.”

Reviewing our documents, he made a phone call.

“I upgraded you to a SUV,” he said.  “No extra charge.”

After all the paper works was completed, he gave me his personal mobile number.

“If you have any trouble, please call me directly,” he instructed.

“What a lovely man,” we said, as we walked to the car.

“I was praying we would be upgraded to a bigger car,” Louise said.

Our SUV was an old Pajera that looked like it had been in at least three accidents.  It took nearly fifteen minutes to carefully walk around the car to note every single scratch and dent.

Driving out of the airport, the Pajero rattled so much, I stopped to check whether the back gate was open.  On the dashboard, a yellow light came on but I could not get the manual out because the drawer was broken.  Within a half an hour, the A/C turned off.  We could not seem to get it back on and after an hour pulled over at a restaurant.  I called Mr. Eurocar while Louise checked out the restaurant.

Three, roaming-charged telephone calls, I figured out the problem.  The A/C button had gotten turned off.  By then I was certain Mr. Eurocar’s confidence in our driving skills had gotten even lower.

To be continued…….

ABOUT THE NEW ALIA AIRPORT

The new airport opened on Mother’s Day in 2013.  It is a breeze to float through immigration and collect the baggage.   I think the visas are 20JD.

In baggage claim, if you are facing the Duty Free shops, there is an ATM in the right corner – something Investment Bank.  I withdrew 250JD and was given a mixture of 10s, 20s and 5s, not just large bills.  I thought that was fantastic as most taxis want small change.

The rental car companies – Eurocar, Budget and National? are outside Baggage Claim.  There are a couple more banks and ATMs in that area.

You can book your car reservation online.  You can also book a car and driver through them.  Eurocars has an office in Aqaba also.  If you hire a driver, they will send one up from Aqaba to pick you up in Wadi Rum.  Drivers were 75JD a day.  Whether or not they would be amenable with our dozen photo stops or detours to sites was a question.  You can also book a driver through the Movenpik in Petra.  It was also 70JD.

Note the return time is 6am.  If you arrive later, then you will be charged an extra day.  That became a negotiating point when we returned the car.  Otherwise renting a car was relatively easy.  There are petrol stations all along the Desert Highway (Highway 15).  Coming from the Gulf, the gas seemed expensive.  42JD for 55Liters.

ABOUT THE CARAVANSERAI RESTAURANT

In Sad As-Sultani, about an hour and a half south of the airport, we pulled over into the Caravanserai Restaurant.

This tourist gift shop cum restaurant was clean and set up for large groups.  We ate their “plate” with the choice of chicken or lamb.  It included a huge plate of bread, hummos, rice, spicy salad and cooked vegetables.  We ordered water and coffee.  It all came to 10JD and was very acceptable.  I am comfortable recommending it.

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