I had made up my mind, I knew I wanted to see a Wonder of the World. I was tired of my people telling me how dangerous it was to travel alone, camp alone, or really go anywhere alone. So I shoved those ‘danger zone’ protective voices down deep inside me and decided to Visit Petra, one of the new wonders of the world.
Little did I know that Petra was in Jordan, a predominantly Muslim country. I didn’t know much about the Muslim religion, I had never heard of Rhamadan and only knew that the women were required to wear headscarves and stay quiet…..or so I thought.
Reading suggestion: Rhamadan from an American White Girl’s Perspective
I booked my trip with a tour group called Cruise Lady, a Christian tour group that would take us from Jordan over into Israel to tour the popular Christian pilgrimage sites. I figured that I would tack on the Israel tour since they were already going there, but my primary focus was Petra.
The flight over to Jordan was…..well…HELL. It started off great, then I arrived in Atlanta and discovered with an eight-hour delay I would have to leave the terminals and could not check in until four hours before my flight was scheduled to leave. I was left to utilizing a wheelchair and attempting to sleep from my red-eye flight in the front of the check-in desk right under the air conditioner.
Finally getting into the airport, I flew to JFK airport in New York . This was another three-hour delay before heading to Paris , where another four-hour delay happened. I was overheard some of the other passengers and discovered they were in my tour group. I was too irritated and sleep deprived to try and make friends with the happy couples two aisles away. Freaking city of love, I hated happy people at that moment and was soooo determined to make people pay for my lack of sleep.
While I realize this wasn’t the best attitude, by the time I got to Paris, I had been on planes and in airports for more than 28 hours with very little sleep. Getting onto the plane, I did an attitude check and consoled myself with the fact that this was the last leg of the journey. This last flight was one of the most uncomfortable flights to date, my legs were swollen, I didn’t know at the time how to Combat Jet Lag, but was so exhausted I fell asleep while trying to eat dinner and slept the rest of the way to Jordan (Thank God for that).
Arriving at the Jordan Airport in Amman
Getting off the plane….I almost cried in relief….ok I did cry a little when we got there. I don’t do well when I don’t get at least four hours of sleep a night, and tend to get irritable, then emotional and start crying like the world is going to end.
Then the culture shock set in….I was in the Middle East. There were beautiful dark-skinned men in white robes like angels, that contrasted with the tactical red and white scarves tied down onto their heads with black (what looked like, headbands). Women dressed in headscarves, and long trench coats despite the humid heat the enveloped the whole airport. The medical professional in me wanted to start handing out water bottles to every woman who passed by, but on closer inspection….they weren’t sweating.
I still don’t understand how these women weren’t melting like the Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. My culture shock was interrupted with instructions from Diane and her husband, our guides for this trip – to quickly collect our luggage and head to the border control.
Without getting into too much detail about the laborious process of crossing the border into Amman, answering a thousand questions in English to the policeman – we got on our bus and headed into the heart of Amman at Ten o’clock at night.
Checking into our hotel was a smooth process as any I have experienced. I think I half-expected to just be breathing in dust, have sub-par sleeping arrangements then leave on our adventures the next day.
I have to apologize to the people of Jordan for having a very skewed view of my expectations, I couldn’t have been more wrong about my expectations. Walking into the hotel was like walking into an upscale Marriot hotel with intricate patterns, rich colors and beautiful furnishings. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I am an Arabian Princess’.
I quickly checked in, rode the elevator that fit 2 people with their luggage to my 4th-floor room, turned on the AC, took out my eyeballs (aka my contacts) – and collapsed in exhaustion on the bed. Nope, I didn’t even shower – #noshame.
Traveling to Petra
The drive to Petra was very long, but our tour guide was able to give us an education on the people of Jordan, and their cultural practices along the way. A brief history was provided about Petra, and what it actually encompasses.
Suggested Reading: An Interview with Jordan
The Bedouin Camp
We arrived into the Petra Guest House quite late, but the warm glow highlighting the stone buildings was very inviting. A quick check in, and then off to my room where I had to figure out how to get the water to be warm without scalding me, and not turn the 1/8 of an inch to where I would get hypothermia, lol.
Overall the Petra Guest House fit my needs perfectly, with a small workout room, plenty of stairs to exercise in, quiet mornings where I had ‘Best Day of My Life’ by American Authors on repeat while I ran all over the hotel grounds.
I was told that it would not be safe to run around the town in my tight yoga pants and exercise shirt. This is not because the men are predatorial, they just aren’t used to seeing women in tight clothing, and would attract unwanted attention. While I don’t like running around in circles, I do try and respect the cultures idiosyncracies as best I can. It doesn’t hurt to put a bathrobe or a swimming suit cover over your exercise clothes until you get into the workout room.
I did have a few boys in their early 20’s come to peek in the exercise room at me, which was a little disconcerting – but if you saw a man in short shorts at a business meeting you would stare too right? Not because it is sexual, but more because it would be so out of the ordinary for you. It is the same kind of idea in countries like this. I had a local once told me, “it would be better to just walk naked than wear yoga pants because then the imagination just goes crazy”. So now that you know, try to keep things loose and covered, unless you like that kind of flirtation – then, by all means, have a hay day…. the men there are rather gorgeous.
The History of Petra
Petra comes from the Greek word for rock. In Arabic, it is known as “al-madina al wardi-ah,” meaning rose-colored city.
Petra was once the capital of the Nabatean Empire, a group of nomads that began wandering here from Arabia in the 6th century. Before this archeologists report that this area was inhabited by the Edomites.
The peak of the Nabatean Empire had an estimated 30,000 people within Petra. How did that many people survive in a desert with no discernable water source? The answer to this lies in water cisterns, an extensive and intricate water canal system that is carved into the rocks at the edges of the Siq, or road into Petra. You can see an example of this as you hike into Petra. Eventually, clay pipes were made and pumped water into the city.
This ancient city grew to be a critical control point for trade as it controlled the Spice Road into Arabia, Africa, and India to the West. Due to the skills the Nabateans had from being nomads, they excelled in trading spices, ivory, perfumes, fabrics, iron, copper, sugar, medicines, gold, and incense. You can get a taste of this trade still when you visit today as shops, tents, and even children roam Petra in search for a dollar (or fifty) to help them survive the year.
For 600 years only the Bedouin tribes knew of its existence until Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt heard locals talking about the city while in Cairo. The need to explore something unknown overtook him and he disguised himself as an Arab scholar and had a guide take him to the Tomb of Haroun (Tomb of Aaron, the Biblical figure) – which is said to be near Petra.
Make sure to keep your eye out for God figures carved into the surrounding rock on your journey to the heart of Petra. If you sit next to one of the tomb-like structures, it is often believed by the Bedouin that the wind whistling through the open holes at the top are the voices of the past speaking to those who enter Petra.
Hiking to Petra
The desert and stone absorb the heat and reflect up towards you, making the trek through the shaded canyon a welcoming reprieve. The split rock canyon feeds you down into the Petra valley below, but not before it engulfs you in its 250 foot high walls.
About a mile into the Canyon, I began thinking, “I traveled 2,000 miles to hike in Las Vegas Red Rock National Park”. While the walk down into Petra does amusingly feel like walking through the desert canyons of Red Rock National Park or Southern Utah the water canal systems and statues of Ancient Gods remind you that it is a different place.
Traveler Tip: If you plan your trip right, or stay a few days – visit Petra at night, where there are candles and meditation available for the tourists. While it isn’t something locals do in particular, it is an activity that is provided for the tourists & gives some fantastic opportunities for nighttime shots.
As you get closer, it seems as if the canyon swallows you whole, the sun disappears from view completely, and just as you start to feel claustrophobic….a light at the end of the canyon appears and you see it! The Treasury, it took my breath away and my face split into a wide grin that was infectious to the Bedouin passing by at alarmingly fast speeds.
I was here, I made it, despite all the doubt and fears and the long-awaited journey…I was here. I purposefully slowed my walk, drinking in every moment of triumph and wonder this was giving me. Dreams really do come true, and as the American Author song said – it truly was the best day of my life.
Al Khanza (in Arabic) is the Treasury, and in fact is the treasure of Petra. It was right in front of me in all its 150 feet tall and 100 feet wide glory, the diamond of this desert Oasis. While there is much speculation as to what this particularly lavish tomb was used for, many believe it to be the tomb of a Nabatean King.
Disappointingly, you cannot enter the structure as Indian Jones did in The Last Crusade. The views are well worth it though, to realize you are standing in front of one of the wonders of the world.
Photography Tip: If you walk towards the Treasury, then turn to the right – there is a smaller tomb that you can descend into. Go down the first few steps and turn back towards the Treasury. As you can see the tourists disappear from your shot and you can look like you are a beautiful desert flower against the palace behind you 😉
Our group split up to explore the city of Petra and all its nooks and crannies. I decided to ride a camel into and around the city so that I could scratch another item off my bucket list.
What people don’t tell you about riding camels is how grimy they are. They also so tall that were it not for my iron grip on the reigns and the death like squeeze of my thighs around its midsection I would have pitched right off the front of the camel to the surrounding bedouin’s gleeful laughter.
Pro-Tip: When riding a camel, please lean back as it stands up – imagine you are riding one of those mechanical bulls and you should be able to retain your seat.
The Bedouin People
This is where my story became a little bit dark. As I was riding the camel through Petra and was on my way back to the Treasury – I experienced a little catcalling from the locals. In a way that was explicitly suggestive of riding the animal like I would ride them.
A Bedouin photographer also tried to steal a kiss from me in one of the tomb alcoves. Another man tried to buy me through a marriage proposal with 1,000 camels.
After talking with several different Jordanian men, who live in America and are dear friends of mine now – I discovered that the Bedouin men do not have a good reputation when it comes to integrity.
While their blue eyes, dark skin, and dark hair are alluring and tempting, to say the least – keep yourself, safe ladies. There will be plenty of offers of kissing, sex, and coming home to enjoy dinner with him and his family (except the family won’t be there). They have been taught over and over by women who visit that it is ok to have a ‘fling’ with them and then leave. Many of them would love to come to America or your home country, so just be cautious and firm in your stance of ‘no means no’.
For those men who do not take no for an answer, just loudly exclaim ‘Hakeer Kelb’ while pointing at the pursuing male – and he will likely become disgruntled and back off.
While there are rare instances of some of the Bdoul Bedouin tribe men marrying foreigners successfully, it is best to keep the culture of the area free from any more inappropriate influences. It is easy to get lost in Petra, and according to my Jordanian Police friend, this is not somewhere that is safe to stay overnight unless you are with a tour group.
For those who would like a horseback and carriage rides to the main sites in Petra. Be careful of tricks the Bedouin try to pull on tourists. They will tell you the rides are free, or the rides are included in your ticket – but once you get to your location they demand $50 or more and will be incessant about it. Keep your purses close to you, as pickpocketing can also be a problem for some.
While some interactions may be distasteful, there was one unexpected friend that I found while in Petra. A small girl, dressed in typical garb, selling necklaces and bracelets to tourists. Her business-like manner, hustle, and frankly way of selling herself left me thoroughly impressed. While she was ok with my answer of, ‘no thank you’ – she made me smile, told me her story and sat with me for a spell. I ended up buying a necklace and matching earrings from her that I could have made on my own at home – but have become the prized pieces of my jewelry collection.
I ended up giving her about 20 Jordanian Dinar for the items, I know this is an outrageous amount of money to pay for the type of jewelry she was selling – but I couldn’t help bring hope into her eyes. A girl of twelve, who smoked like a chimney, spoke like a wall street sales woman – call me a sucker, but I couldn’t help it.
It was enough money for her, that she stopped selling the jewelry and came around with me and the tour group for a while. She showed me some nooks and crannies that most tourists miss, gave me photo ideas, tied my scarf around my head properly to keep the sun off and the sweat out of my face, and helped brush me off when I played a mummy in one of the graves. In the end – she became an unexpected friend. It was hard to leave her, and we both became a little teary-eyed when I left – I wish I could have adopted my little bosom buddy.
I think the visit to Petra overall was something that will stay in my heart forever. I overcame a lot of self-doubt and speculation about the dangers in Jordan. I made the journey there alone, despite going in a tour group, I’m proud that I did it alone. I fulfilled one of my dreams of seeing a wonder of the world, learned so many things about the culture, the people and myself along the way. While the culture shock was quite real, I now find my Jordanian friends get so excited to be able to relate to me in a way that brings an unspoken mutual understanding and level of trust between us. There are so many misconceptions about Jordan and its people, but yet they are one of our greatest allies in the Middle East. So if you get a chance to visit Jordan, be sure to make your way to Petra and see how the Arabian nomads made it into a thriving desert city.
Useful Arabic Words (phonetically)
Shukran : Thank You
Hakeer Kelb: A slightly off colorway of calling someone a dirty dog (considered rude, but just under the offensive language)
Hello: Marhaba, Salam Malaykum
No: La-ah ; Yes: Na’am
Where to Stay
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Janiel Green is a Travel Guru with 21 years of National travel experience in the USA, and 17 years of International Travel experience. She is a highly educated, courageous, driven and dedicated individual to both her professional and personal life. She is the Founder of Culture Trekking LLC, and is dedicated to bringing a celebratory passion for humanity into her writing to make meaningful, useful, and heartfelt recommendations for a culturally enriched travel experience. For inquires please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org