Arabian adventures: Petra at midnight by mule

German police men, Bedouin cave pirates, dubious liaisons and midnight mule riding. It was one of those whirlwind adventures travellers lust for. Someone recently told me you attract what you’re open to, I must be on the page of some Indiana Jones novel.

I’d spent a lovely serene 48 hours in my own company. It’d been a fun but hectic few months, and it was so nice to meander Jordan slowly feeling the stress of few heavy decisions melt away.

In the burning heat I wandered the lost city of Petra, admiring the ancient ruins carved into imposing stone cliffs. Suddenly, I felt a huge craving for company. It was around that very moment I ran into the two German guys staying at my hotel. They happened to be policemen. It was an instant friendship.

We walked up the 850 steps to the monastery in the golden afternoon light. Most of the tourists were heading in the opposite direction towards the exit. We sat atop a cliff overlooking the majestic monastery, mountain upon mountain and desert behind us. That’s when we met the cave dwellers.

They looked straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Long black curly hair, red bandanas, loose pants and coal eyeliner darkly riming their eyes. The afternoon desert winds were blowing hard, so they invited us into their cave.

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Being Ramadan, it had proved impossible to find any alcoholic beverages. So when they offered us Bedouin whisky our faces instantly lit up. It turned out it’s actually just black tea with sugar. The immense popularity of the drink is visible in all the local’s rotting teeth.

They told us stories of travellers from all over the world they’d met. A few had picked up foreign wives. All day everyone had been telling me about Barbara the infamous New Zealander who’d married a local and been in the village 40 years.

The most rogue of them all proclaimed the key to happiness wasn’t one wife. “I have many girlfriends from all over the world” he bragged. “Sweden, Japan, China….”

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His current lover, an older Dutch women laughed non-chalantly as she took a drag of her cigarette.

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After many a round of Bedouin whisky we were invited to stay the night, and sleep in their cave. “We’ll cook for you,” they promised. “We have blankets and bedding!” The place was authentic, but filthy. The pirates looked like they hadn’t showered in months. The German guys were keen. Wistfully thinking of my double bed with a view, I agreed to stay. Travel was after all about the unique experiences.

Next thing Ahmed, a Bedouin who’d made us tea earlier clambered up the cliff. A bit of a tiff ensued. Everyone wanted us to stay it seemed. The Germans and I exchanged raised eyebrows, dubious as why they were fighting over who we stayed with. What was in it for them?
Our favourite rogue pirate left rapidly in somewhat of a huff, before taking a photo of me. Silent tensions grew as night fell. Despite the full moon, stars began to litter the sky. We agreed to dine with Ahmed, and then go back to our hotel. In moonlight we began the slow descent down the cliff face.

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Ahmed insisted I take the mule down the 850 steep stone steps. I know he was insinuating my walking was questionable, but I trusted myself far more than some donkey breed with a horse. Yet the blisters of hours and hours of walking were burning. Next thing I was clutching onto a mule who seemed intent on walking as close to the cliff edge as possible.

When we got to Ahmed’s cave, we were somewhat surprised to find three other girls there. All solo travellers, they seemed very at home with their Bedouin locals. Very at home. Nestled around a fire drinking tea, the dinner slowly cooked on the embers.

We ate a local stew with bare hands and bread. I tried not to think about my unwashed hands, or the hundreds of flies that swarmed the mules by day.

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After dinner all the girls were whisked onto the mules, riding double with their Bedouins. My blisters were raw, and I was extremely tired, so easily persuaded to jump on the back of Ahmed’s mule. 

Rather than make the 1.5 hour trek to the Petra entrance, they were going to drop us in the local Bedouin village from where we could take a taxi. Eager to be at home, I left the Germans on foot and we started galloping towards the village.

It started out magically, riding mules by midnight’s moonlight. I felt like the ultimate Arabian bad-arse princess. It was one of those experiences you could never pay for, never create or never find. We’d just fallen into it. 

As all the horses rode in sync, I noticed the other girls seemed to be enjoying the ride far too much. They were groping the men’s chest, hugging, laughing. That’s when I clicked.

As if in a movie, I saw the girls writhing on the back of the horses in slow motion. A montage of events of the day played before my eyes. The pirate taking my photo earlier. The stories. The girls cuddling up to the men around the fire. They’d devised the ultimate pick up scheme. I wondered how many thrill seeking girls they’d lured back to their caves.

I looked back, and suddenly our pack of horses had dispersed. All the girls and their riders had disappeared into the black of the night. I was alone, in the no mans land in the dead of the night. I had a moment of panic.

To be fair, my driver was lovely, and wouldn’t have hurt a fly. The people of Jordan had been some of the kindest, most genuine souls I’d met.

But when he suggested a tea at his place, or sitting to wait for the others I put my foot down. I had a feeling they would be awhile. We rode up to the village, and he ordered a taxi for me. That’s when the Germans guys mysteriously reappeared. Something very reassuring about travelling with German policemen. I beamed at the sight of them.

“We came to find you, to make sure you were safe.”

“Of course she’s safe!” Said Ahmed. “I’m a Bedouin, not a bad one.” I have a feeling he’d used that line before.

The Germans had been picked up by a ranger, as Petra had obviously closed with the sinking sun. I jumped in the car with them, and the day of adventures played before my eyes. We’d met locals, they’d cooked for us, and told us the stories of their lives. We’d left the typical tourist trail, and had a real Arabian nights adventure. So many moments had been so surreal, they felt as if they almost weren’t real.

In life you always have two choices. You can be open in the moment, and see where it takes you or you can go for the safe option. If you leave your comfort zone, you always walk on the fringe of danger. There were many moments were I half wished myself back at the hotel, dining contently in the safety of my own company. Yet what the experience it had been. It’s good to be open, so long as you’re always in tune with your gut. I should’ve never ridden the mule down the cliff, yet I live to tell the tale.

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