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Travel Guide: Fall in love with Jordan

12th Oct 2011 2:03am | By Editor

Over the din comes a familiar sound – a Kiwi accent from behind, rather than in front of, the counter of a small makeshift jewellery shop.

We’re surprised to see that the voice belongs to a young, traditionally dressed Bedouin man. His name is Raami, and he’s surrounded by tourists. Some are there to buy locally made jewellery but the majority have stopped to chat about his family’s unique story.

Raami is the son of Marguerite van Geldermalsen, the New Zealand author of Married To A Bedouin. In the 1970s his mother visited Jordan as a 22-year-old tourist. There she fell in love with Mohammad, Raami’s father. They were married and she moved into the family’s 2000-year-old cave at Petra, where they remained until 1985 when they were relocated to nearby Umm Sayhoon, to protect the Unesco World Heritage listed site.

Raami is a minor celebrity here. A small crowd has gathered around his tiny shop and he is talking to them about his mother, who often works in the shop with him. He tells us he’s lived in New Zealand and Australia, where he went to university, but has now returned to Petra.

He’s selling signed copies of his mother’s book and boasts that he is the only one who can get her to sign them.

“She’s at home signing today,” he jokes. She isn’t really. She’s in Egypt on holiday. “It is a bit warmer there,” he explains.

Raami is young, smart, funny and devoted to his family – he talks proudly of his past and tells us the book's price is fixed – “I don‘t bargain with the book“.

He’s not bad looking either, and I wonder how many of the girls posing for photos with him are considering whether they too could be married to a Bedouin. Looking across the sparkling landscape, it isn’t hard to imagine waking up to this view every morning.

The rocks shine with blue, red, pink, orange and yellow hues – natural monuments created by years of erosion, next to spectacular man-made constructions such as the Treasury, which reveals itself at the end of a long walk through the narrow siq at the city’s entrance.

The view is better appreciated after, or maybe because of, the long climb up to the Monastery – a building similar to the Treasury, but larger and set into the cliffs surrounding the city. It’s not an easy ascent – unless you hire a ‘Ferrari’ to walk up the hundreds of rock-cut steps – so life up here is more peaceful than in the busy valley below.

That’s why we’re surprised to see that our host – a young Bedouin man who’s invited us in for a cup of sage tea – has a black eye. We ask if he’s been in a fight, but he assures us it was much more innocent than that.

“Who am I going to fight with? The rock? The trees?” he says, with a grin, and an enviable ’no worries’ attitude.

A few days later we find out that Bedouin life has another perk – no bosses. Or so says our young and enthusiastic driver as he launches the 4WD vehicle over another bump in the barely visible track and skids across the loose sand.

We’re in Jordan’s Wadi Rum, a beautiful desert valley, where pastel sands lap at the bottom of impressive rock formations. It is a blur right now though, as we speed towards our camp in time for the sunset.

“I have no boss, we are all friends,” the driver tells us when we ask if the man he appears to be taking instructions from is in charge. “I have God, who needs a boss?”

Later he admits that if he were married his wife would be boss. But, as we bounce across the desert I can’t imagine anyone – even Mystery Future Wife – could convince him to slow down.

“Are you scared?” he turns to ask us after a few stifled screams emerge from the back seat, where we’re ducking to avoid hitting our heads on the roof.

We tell him no, and he’s obviously pleased that we‘re enjoying the ride. This is all the encouragement he needs to veer off the sandy track and turn it up a notch.

Soon it becomes a race, in our minds at least, and as the landscape of the Wadi Rum rushes past the car windows, the sand rushes into our open mouths.

The driver doesn’t understand much English, but he’s quick to recognise the phrase “take ’em on the inside”. We abandon the rules of the convoy and race up alongside the line of white 4WD vehicles. We’re fishtailing through the loose sand and we’re not bothering to stifle those screams any longer.

“Is this your own car?” we ask, astonished by how well he controls it, predicting the landscape and steering his way through the pink sand.

“If this was my car, you would be crying.”

Finally the ride is over, he pulls up with a skid and a screech (disappointingly, only in third position), and we climb a nearby rock to watch the sun set.

It’s an amazing country when you’re alone and it‘s quiet. And it’s an amazing country when you’re surrounded by its people and visitors. You may not marry a local, but you’ll definitely fall in love with Jordan.


Also worth seeing

Amman

Jordan’s capital – once called Philadelphia – is home to the Citadel, a Roman theatre, and the Jordan Archeological Museum, where you can see the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Karak crusader castle
Mind your head while cruising the dark underground tunnels at this impressive fortress. The castle has been used by Romans, Greeks and Ottomans, but is most famous for being a crusader stronghold in the 12th century.

Jerash
Watch a chariot race in this well-preserved Roman city just north of Amman. In its heyday, Jerash was home to about 20,000 Roman citizens. Check out the bagpipers in the South Theatre.

Dead Sea
Don’t miss the chance to bob around in this salty sea – the lowest point on earth – and cover yourself in the therapeutic mud

» Rebecca Galton travelled to Jordan with On The Go (020 7371 1113), which offers six- to 14-day group tours including Petra and Wadi Rum from £499.