The bus took me to Petra right after I touched down in Amman for the first time, on 14 Sept 2013.
I was not alone, though. I was joined by my mother and there were about 40 of us or so from Malaysia. We were on a 14-day pilgrimage tour, which covers Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories.
You see, arranged tour isn’t my cup of tea. It’s more to mom’s. So for this trip, I was actually dragged by my mother but was glad I came on board. Mainly because I get to visit Jerusalem and the only way a Malaysian can enter Israel, legally, is through pilgrimage trip that is approved by Malaysian government.
It was about 11am, when we arrived Petra. The first place we stopped at was Petra Magic Restaurant for a lunch buffet. It was a quiet restaurant by the roadside with fantastic panoramic view of the historical city from its balcony.Lunch was delicious. In the midst of feeding our hungry tummy , our guide Omar told us a little about our next stop, the Al-Khazneh. I didn’t know much about Al-Khazneh. In fact, I knew nothing about it. After lunch, we boarded the coach equipped with WiFi and I quickly looked it up on the internet.
The coach brought us to a location – apparently a stopping point for tourist buses. We were told there would be a lot of walking to Al-Khazneh and there would also be a lot of souvenir stalls along the way. What Omar didn’t tell us was most souvenir sellers were men who would charm female tourists with their sweet talk.
This happened to me immediately after we made a stop at one of the stalls.
“Where do you come from?”
“You have such beautiful eyes.”
I laughed a little. Not because it was the sweetest thing a man in Jordan had told me but I was wearing grey contact lens at that time. I looked at the man who looked like he was in his 20s. He stared into my eyes, probably trying to hypnotize me into liking him. It was the creepiest moment of my life. But not wanting to be rude, I thanked him and moved to the next stall.
“Habibi! Are you staying in Petra? Tell me where your hotel is and I will wait for you.” The same souvenir man approached me again.
“No. I am not.” I wouldn’t tell him anyway if we were. I stood there and he stood there, smiling. If this was Malaysia, I would have told him off but I politely excused myself, firmly saying I had to go and that it was nice talking to him.
“You are going to Al-Khazneh. It is very hot. Please, wait for a moment.” He grabbed a straw cowboy hat from his stall. “Take this. It will protect you from the sun.” I refused and gave a puzzled look because I was pretty sure this was a tactic they use to get someone into taking an offer and paying it. But he insisted and I was wrong.
“No, no. Take it. This is a gift from me to you. My name is Ahmed. Remember that.” Ahmed carefully placed the hat on my head. I thanked him and left while trying to figure out how to avoid Ahmed when we return to our coach.
The flirting episode did not end there.
At the visitor centre, there were money exchange booth and souvenir shops displaying mostly hats, shawls, and t-shirts. A walk to the Siq (main entrance to Al-Khazneh) begins here but one can opt to ride a horse to the Siq or take a horse carriage to the Al-Khazneh. There will be men waiting with their horses and they will persuade you to take a ride . And of course, this involves money.
“Please beautiful. Take this horse. He is very friendly. You must ride to the Siq.”
“I don’t know how to ride.”
“It is very easy. It is fun. You must ride the horse because you have nice shoes.”
I must say these men were very observant. First my fake coloured eyes, and then my boots. He kept persuading, of course in between sweet talk. I said okay and hopped onto the back of a brown horse like Indiana Jones.
I rode a horse in Petra. While riding it, my Romeo asked if I was married. I told him I had a fiancé. I asked whether this was the only route to Al-Khazneh.
“There is another track. I can bring you up the hill, but your group is here. It would be really nice if I could take you to the hill.”
“Maybe next time.” The conversation was getting weird, I could not wait to end my ride. At the Siq, I paid him $5. He would wait for me. I told him no. I was not sure whether he understands. I turned towards the Siq and made my way to the crowning glory of Petra.
After over 30 minutes of walking under the scorching sun, I finally stood before Petra’s most elaborate ruin. It was an amazing feeling and it was a feeling of accomplishment. I gazed every corner of the Siq and Al-Khazneh in admiration. I flirted with my eyes and fell in love with Petra.
Did I bump into Mr Romeos again? Yes. The horse man, like he said, waited in front of the Siq and again insisted I ride the horse back to the visitor centre. I smiled and said no. And then there was Ahmed. He saw me from afar, grabbed a necklace and insisted I take it as another gift from him. I smiled and said no.
We boarded the bus and settled into Petra Panorama Hotel. Watch my journey to the Al-Khazneh.