Feb 12, 2013 16:16 - helenecooper | 3,652 views
It was on a rather random morning in February that I found myself alone in Aqaba during Ramadan. I had arrived by bus from Amman having left my Iraqi boyfriend behind to continue his studies on ‘How to solve the Middle East Crisis’. I had already visited the main tourist sites of Petra, Madaba, Mt Nebo, Dead Sea and Jerash (by far my favorite) and some of the lesser known sites such as, a newly discovered ancient city that was being excavated towards the Golan Heights near the Syrian border, and a cinema showing eighties movies preceded by a whole hour of trailers in Amman.
As I wandered the somewhat deserted streets in search of suitable accommodation a local shop owner beckoned me into his premises. He was very keen to converse in English and find out what I thought about his country. He plied me with tea and sweet pastries and gave me a variety of goodies he sold in his shop including a keffiyeh, a traditional Arab scarf which he showed me how to wear. He wanted to organize a trip to Wadi Rum for me, home of the ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ and a mere half hour away and somewhere I would sorely love to have visited, being a fan of David Lean movies. However the paltry $20 charge was more than my minuscule budget could afford at the time. He then insisted I return later that day to join him and his family at their ‘break of fast’ which I duly did. So, at 8 o’clock that evening I found myself in a position I would never have put myself in back in the UK, in a complete stranger’s home, sitting on the floor surrounded by the women of the house (the men seemed to use a separate living room), being offered endless local delicacies and tea (‘Bedouin whisky’) and communicating by hand signals as no English was spoken by the females present. A truly bizarre experience, but one I have never forgotten and one that firmly cements in my mind, the genuine warmth and friendliness of the local Jordanian people who have had to suffer from a proximity to some rather volatile neighbors thus putting many potential travelers off from visiting this incredible country.
I have since been back (for a ‘hen party’ kind of blast pre-wedding – not to the Iraqi boyfriend though) and once again enjoyed some amazingly welcoming experiences with the local people, including making good friends with a taxi driver who was supposed to just take us from the airport to our hotel on arrival and ended up becoming our tour guide/mother hen, driving us around the entire country all week. I also eventually made it to Wadi Rum and spent a hugely memorable couple of days in a desert camp there, scrambling up some of the sandstone mountains and overnighting beneath the stars around a campfire with a local Bedouin guide.
Now with family, I cannot wait to take my children to Jordan and introduce them to the delights of exploring the narrow siq leading to Petra, snorkeling over the coral in the Red Sea, being covered in mud then floating surrealy in the Dead Sea, playing gladiators in the Roman ruins of Jerash and playing in the endless sandscapes of Wadi Rum. I am absolutely certain we will enjoy more wonderfully warm encounters with the locals to complete the experience.
This guest post has been written by Helene Cooper who is a keen globetrotter and has spent much of her life travelling to all seven continents including climbing Aconcagua in South America, getting engaged at Everest Base Camp, crossing the leech-infested jungles of Borneo and coming face to face with a rhino whilst on foot safari in South Africa. Helene currently writes for Dragoman.
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