Jordan Trip Report- Day 4: Wadi Rum and Petra
As we head off to Rum the next day after a pretty standard but decent breakfast, Mohammed laughs when he spots a couple of tourists waving bashfully at him. He tells us that when he isn’t running his taxi, he works for the government as a driver. He is sometimes called in emergencies to take people from A to B. He got a call late last night from the tourist police about the man in the couple who, he says rather ominously, “lost the path” at Jebel Haroun (Mount Aaron) when trekking. He was eventually found by the police wandering in the dark at midnight. Mohammed drove him back to his accomodation and made sure he was okay.
“My God!”, I exclaimed. “Does the temperature get very low at night, was he okay?”
Mohammed, looking completely unconcerned, replies “No, no. Weather is very nice on Jebel Haroun”.
He points to it as we pass and we stop to take in the view. I ask him how long ago he left Petra and he answers that it’s been 22 years since he had to leave. King Hussein was enthusiastic and obviously saw the potential Petra had as a major tourist attraction. To aid this, he forced the Bedouin people living there to leave. They went one of two ways. Some, like Mohammed, reluctantly integrated and live in Wadi Musa. Others, like the bedouin sellers at Petra, preferred to live a life of nomadity and live in the deserts surrounding Petra, like Wadi Araba and Baydha. Mohammed points out various sites from the King’s Highway with obvious pride and an element of sadness. We stop occasionally for scenic pictures and laugh at the exclamation point road signs. We pass a significant number of bedouin living in tents by the road and keeping goats and camels nearby.
Ali is our tour-guide when we get to Rum. We get a private 4×4 with air-con with a 3 hour tour (including Rum entrance fee) for 55JD. Mohammed’s taxi from Musa to Rum return (including the 3 hours he would wait for us while we were on the tour) was 75JD between the two of us.
Ali buys us orange juice in a small Rum shop as he stops to pick up some petrol for his brother who has broken down in the desert. We’ll be passing him on our path so decide to come to his aid. We see a bit of a commotion of people and Ali tells us there’s a Rum wedding going on. It’s a small village of only 1,700 people so everyone knows everyone. We pass on the petrol to Ali’s very grateful brother and then go on to see the sites. We climb a stunning rock bridge, see inscriptions made thousands of years ago (kind of like open-air cave drawings). The inscriptions are a treasure and I’m struck by the fact that you would miss them if you weren’t being led by a local. There’s no museum or barricades or panes of glass to look through. You can stand where the people who made them stood and run your fingers over the grooves. It was just my friend and I out there and I felt like I was witnessing something very special. These drawings, exactly as they would have been thousands of years ago.
We also paid a visit to “Lawrence (of Arabia)’s House”, a crumbling ruin which allegedly was once home to Lawrence.
We take a break in a bedouin tent (one of a few located around for locals and groups to get out of the sun) and have some tea (of course). By this stage, I was getting quite adept at loading the tea with sugar and powering through my dislike of it. A child approaches with what I think is a biscuit…until he rubs it on my arm.
“Madame, the perfume. It smell nice.” He smiles and sidles away.
A short time later, we rejoin Mohammed at the gates of Rum. The tour was a little pricey, but ultimately worth it. Unfortunately, there is no cheap way to do Rum. We pick up a heavily-veiled Bedouin woman who’s walking on the side of the road to take her to the bus stop to Aqaba, which is on our way. Mohammed doesn’t charge her anything. He feels sorry for her because she will have to wait 2 hours in the heat for her bus to come. Periodically, Mohammed slows beside petrol stations and shops. He has a serious hankering for some ice-cream. When he finds a place that sells it, he buys three chocolate biscuit ice-creams and we happily munch them in the car as he teaches us some Arabic words and we teach him some Irish. Because of this, one of the few Arabic words I have total recall for is ice-cream: Bousa. (At least, it sounds like that).
We stop at a building Mohammed knows and interrupt a guy on his prayer-mat to look at the view of Petra from the roof. It’s really gorgeous. I envy the owner who gets to see this every day. Mohammed drops us off at the entrance 2 to Petra (past Baydha desert) because we wanted an alternative view of the site for our second day of the ticket. He buys us some khubez and bananas to bring in as snacks.
The entrance we go through is very loosely guarded (Petra has a lot of ticket inspectors at the main gate but hardly anyone goes this way). The path we take is completely deserted and beautiful. It’s a stark contrast to the procession of tourists that take up the paths leading from Entrance 1. We are the only non-Bedouin and the only pedestrians around. Kids going by on donkeys look bemused to see us there. We stop for lunch in the tomb of Turkmeniyya. (Sure, it’s technically a grave but the shelter was great).
On our descent to the centre of Petra, a tour-guide pops up over a hill and asks us if we need guiding. We say no. He says what we think is “Paris?” so I reply “Leh, irlandeeyeh” (Irish). He looks confused and says “yes…paddy”?
He asks what we’re doing in this part of Petra. When we tell him we came in the other entrance he looks alarmed and says “You don’t have tickets? You get in serious trouble if you don’t have a ticket. But…I never saw you”. He grins. I assure him we have tickets.
“I still never saw you!” He winks before disappearing back behind the hill.
We come out onto Petra’s main square.
Deciding against climbing to the High Place (the sun getting to us a bit at this stage), we make our way back to ground we travelled the day before. There were noticeably fewer tourists around and the light conditions were great for photos. We watched a tiny toddler getting a slow circular camel ride, held on by his Dad. The rosy colours of the Treasury and Siq were more evident than the day before. There were a lot of burka-clad groups of women and Jordanian men ambling along as sunset drew nearer. For some, it was undoubtedly just their regular evening walk.
We call Mohammed when we come out of the main entrance and he’s quickly with us, smiling his childish smile again. He has one of his sons with him, whom he’s teaching to drive. Thankfully, he’s the one who takes the wheel to drop us back to Qasr. Dead on our feet, we pull up. Mohammed invites us to his place for dinner later if we’re feeling up to it. (This is not uncommon, if you go to Jordan you’ll more than likely be invited to dinner at someone’s home. Jordanians are the last bastion of manners toward visitors). We regretfully decline, pretty ready to sleep there and then.
We grab a very quick dinner across the street from Qasr, in Al-Wadi restaurant. It’s on the main street so a little more than you should be paying, but we just wanted the closest place we could find. I had the Gayadhl with chicken and khubez for 5JD. It was basic, but tasty and the service was friendly.
Retiring to the hotel, we meet the owner for the first time. He presents us with a “welcome basket”, despite it being our second day there. It’s fruit he’s grown in his own garden, including some mouth-watering figs. Embarrassingly, I had never seen a fig that wasn’t dehydrated before.
We call Mohammed to ask him to bring us to Little Petra the next day (you need a car to get there) and then drop us at the JETT bus back to Amman afterwards.
We took a moment before bed to admire the view of Wadi Musa and Petra from our room as the Call to prayer rang out. It looked stunning in the darkness.