On my flight into Jordan I read some information about the country, and among the facts was the statement that their national slogan is "Welcome to Jordan." I was like "Pfff, what a lame slogan, I bet no one ever says that." I was quite surprised to find that people do indeed say "Welcome to Jordan", even after you've been in the country for a while and even after they've known you for some time. In general the people were extremely welcoming and friendly. I spent a week in the capitol city of Amman, where I spent most of my time with a couple amazing couchsurfers who took excellent care of me and made sure that I tried all of the countries best foods. I also got a chance to play in a bi-weekly badminton match put on by some of the Jordanian National Badminton players. I had an excellent time in Amman, but like always I had to keep movin' on. One of the couchsurfers was nice enough to leave me on the side of the highway outside town, from which point I was able to hitchhike my way to Wadi Musa, just above the Petra ruins.
Despite having only two main north-south roads, hitchhiking in Jordan was a bit more difficult than in most of the Asian countries. Though there were plenty of cars with empty space, people were either too busy to stop, or wanted some money. Had it not been for my friends in Amman translating for me via the phone a lot, it would have been very difficult to get by on English or my extremely poor Arabic. That said, the people that did pick me up were extremely nice. So nice in fact, that if they were only going 5km down the road it was impossible for me to refuse the ride, and I ended up making a bunch of short journeys, each of which was it's own small story.
The second car that picked me up was a classic Mercedes-Benz with two guys in it. They were on their way to work at a nearby resort complex. As we were coming into a police check post, one of the men told me that it was to search for drugs. "You don't have any drugs on you, do you?" The other man asked. "Nope" I told them. When they dropped me off, the first man said "Don't do any drugs while you're in Jordan" and the next man instantly followed that with "Do all the drugs." I gave them a smile and an unsure nod and waived good bye. Not long after they left me, a junker pulled up and let me in. A young man sat packed among rubbish in the back seat, riding shotgun was another young man, and driving the car was an old man with a woolen fisherman's cap.
The old man spoke English surprisingly well, while the two young men didn't speak any. He told me he had nine children, used to be in the military where he trained with US soldiers, and that he used to be a boxer. Though the two young men in the car were well within the range of his children's ages (5-32), neither of them were his sons. They were Syrian refugees that I guess he was just hanging out with. They were on their way to the Dead Sea for a picnic. "Stay for a cup of coffee, then you're free to go" the man told me as he pulled his car over near the sea. As I was about to learn, many people in the middle east drive with cooking supplies in the trunk so they can make coffee whenever they want it.
He took out a metal trough and put in some coals, while the Syrian refugees collected sticks for a fire. He swept his hand across the landscape then asked: "Beau, do you ever wonder who made all this?" I could see where this was going, but there was something about his un-preachy manner, and perhaps the fact that he remembered my name after I told it to him in the car originally, that made me want to keep listening. "There are two paths that we can go down in life. One good, one bad. You must decide." It was good advice. "Take care of your parents. When you're older, your children will take care of you." The old man was full of wisdom and advice.
Five rides later I rolled into Wadi Musa. While looking for a hostel I got a call from the nice old man, checking to see if I made it ok. The next day I snuck into Petra. Compared to every other attraction I've been to on this trip, Petra was wildly expensive ($70 to enter, $70 for a guide). I first tried sneaking around the left, but they caught me. Then I tried sneaking around the right, and they caught me. Then I went right up the middle and no one seemed to notice. Because I had waited until the afternoon to enter Petra, security was looser and the morning rush of people was starting to disperse, which means I had sunset all to myself. To prevent anyone questioning me, I put in my headphones so I wouldn't be approachable. I turned on The Mystery of The Bulgarian Voice, a recommendation of my friend Joshua, and started walking through the narrow canyon entrance. It was the perfect soundtrack.
While wandering around in Petra I got a call from the nice old man, just checking to make sure that I was still doing well. The next day I went to go CouchSurfing in a cave out in the desert. The man that was hosting me asked if I know how to add things to Google Earth, and I told him I could probably figure it out. He said his friend was trying to add his business, so I told him that I would help. His friend picked me up and drove me to his house in the desert where he had a computer and a decent connection to the internet. He was a Bedouin and he wanted to make a map of his desert camp so he could send it to someone else. Now that was something I knew how to do. I needed the man to find his camp on Google Maps, so I turned the computer back over to him. It was great to see him navigate the satellite view of the desert. If I was finding my house on Google Maps I'd move in a straight line to where I lived, but I could see the man moving across the desert and navigating by landmarks like rock outcroppings and sand dunes. It was great to watch.
The moon was so bright during the night that I stayed in the cave that I could easily walk around at night with no light. I tried sleeping under the stars but when the wind started blowing it got too cold and I moved back into the cave. The next morning I got a call from the nice old man, checking in once again. That day I hitchhiked south with a German girl that I had met in Wadi Musa. Again it was a series of short rides down the border.
Hitchhiking in Jordan was a great experience, if a bit tricky. People that were willing to give me rides were all quite friendly and usually offered me tea or coffee. The old man wasn't the only person to call and check up on me either. My friends from Amman would call daily, as did many of the other people that gave me rides. The ruins at Petra were cool, but they weren't as interesting as the people and food of Jordan. Hitchhiking has become a valuable way for me to learn about a county, and I hope I don't have to stop doing it.Soundtrack: The Mysterious Bulgarian Voice