The Bedouin experience: our adventure in Petra

I have to tell you about this incredible adventure, and I hope you get to live it yourself. This is about one of those rare moments during a trip, that in themselves make you want to keep traveling. You just have to break the ice and go towards others. That’s what Emmanuel did.

Tired after our first day of walking in Petra, exhausted by the emotions that overwhelmed us each minute, we were about to go back towards our hotel. We had stopped for a while in the mountains to admire the Monastery and the views around, and we now had to go all the way back down the hundreds of steps that took us up there, back through Petra and the Siq. On the way down, we crossed again the nice Bedouin women and their stalls: they hadn’t moved since we climbed up and continued to call on us to visit their shop, always with a smile.

At the end of the trail down the Monastery trail, we got a second wind and started walking a bit faster, just for us to come to a full stop a second later: a young girl sat crying heavily. Her baby donkey had fallen in a crevice and couldn’t get out. Around the animal, a couple young men were trying unsuccessfully to pull it out and were discussing in Arabic how to free it. The young girl’s sadness didn’t abate and it seemed impossible to save her donkey. Emmanuel gave me his backpack and cameras and in a few seconds was on the other side of the ravine to lend a helping hand. After a few minutes of effort, the donkey was free. We were continuing on our way when one of the young men caught up with us to thank us. That is how we met Rami, a 23 year old Bedouin of Petra.

He insisted on giving Emmanuel a “free ride” on his donkey. To be galant, Emmanuel insisted I take the ride (the truth is Emmanuel wasn’t too confident getting on the “Bedouin Ferrari”). So even though I hadn’t saved the girl’s donkey, I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. He accompanied us back to the Siq, and we got to know each other on the way. A few minutes later, before saying goodbye, Rami invited us to have dinner in his cave the next day for a traditional Bedouin meal.

We didn’t completely believe it since he hadn’t given us a specific meeting time or place: “I’ll see you tomorrow, don’t worry, or friends will tell me where you are. Anyway, I don’t have a phone. No need to plan everything, one day at a time. Us Bedouins, we don’t plan anything you know, we live day to day.” The incredible thing to us is that it worked: right before we were about to leave Petra as the sun was about to set, we bumped into Rami. Big smiles, a joyful greeting and we were off: as he had found us, he could begin to prepare the evening. He took us on a walk around the caves of the 25 official Bedouin families living there, where we had some delicious tea. Then, he sent his friend Mohammed to buy some water, vegetables and kefta in Umm Sayhoun, while we were on our way to his cave, away from the tourists. All along the way, Rami blasted a few songs he had on an old boombox. The least you can say is that he has eclectic tastes, from a techno remix of the Cranberries, to traditional Bedouin songs, and even some reggaeton… all on a constant loop. 

Discovering his home was breathtaking: absolute quiet. His cave, although very rustic, was soothing. We let ourselves be guided, lost track of time, and basked in the magic of the moment, without fully realizing how lucky we were at this precise moment.

As the night fell, the stars began to shine, and the full moon lit the landscape around. Mohammed was back with our dinner, we started to cut the vegetables, and as soon as that was done, Rami began to light the fire. A big metal plate with a raised rim welcomed some wood and paper: the fire took quickly and grew on the little platform that served as our rock terrace. The meal cooked wrapped in aluminium foil inside the fire. Some voices came from the cave itself, as Mohammed’s prayers resonated. In the meantime, Rami served us some pita and sour yoghurt, ate too little, smoked too much, and talked to us, a lot, about many things.

He had gotten the cave from his uncle, who was still alive and gifted it to him. He liked his uncle a lot: he was the only person in his family who still took care of him. His father lived in the village, but they didn’t speak since his parents had divorced when he was 13 years old. His mother, who came from Algeria, had gone back home and he didn’t have much news from her. “Believe me, when you end up alone at 13, life teaches you a lot… I know a lot about life now.” Rami was thin. But he didn’t want to eat, he drank tea all day and often he only ate in the morning. “I like it better,” he assured us. We however, who weren’t thin, had to eat everything… he made it clear that it would be an offense not to finish the meal.

He didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his life, and didn’t really think about it, tomorrow was far enough. He wanted to travel, not too surprising for a nomad. He didn’t really now yet if his next planned trip, 3 months in Egypt, would actually happen. “Inch’Allah”.

All this left us pensive… In the intimacy of the hearth, this fragile force of nature had confided in us or in the night. The next day, in the harsh sunlight, he would regain his strong Bedouin look, for the show, for folklore, and for dignity. In between moments of silence and philosophical discussions, we had to go get some more wood for the fire, juggling between spiritual elevation and practical obligations. There, I had this deep sensation of living a real slice of Bedouin life, unedited. And with the best of companions: the penetrating atmosphere of Petra.

With the end of dinner came the time to go back… We imagined we would go back to the official entrance, a 45 minute walk away. But no, that didn’t suit our hosts, who wanted to go back to Umm Sayhoun to spend the night. They insisted on not letting us go back alone in the dark, and wanted to take us back to the village… on their donkeys. The way back was an adventure in itself… 

How could we cross this rocky landscape with just the moonlight to guide us? By being patient, holding on tight to our beast of burden, and trusting it, as it has much better night vision than us, and had the distinct advantage of knowing the trail by heart. Nonetheless, our heart skipped a beat for around 45 minutes. How relieved we were when we saw the lights of the village approaching, to arrive there and finally set foot back on the ground!

In just one evening, we had lived both our best and worst memory of Jordan.

However, after warmly thanking our hosts and getting into the jeep that took us back to our hotel, we were already dreaming of being back there, in front of the cave, around the fire, under the stars in Petra. 

Still today, as I write these words in Pondicherry, I feel deeply nostalgic about it.

Indeed, it was an incredible adventure.

To find out more about Jordan, check out our other articles!

To learn more about the fascinating bedouin people, check out our article!

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