Heartbreak in Jordan (2019)

My trip to Jordan turned out completely different than planned when my relationship unexpectedly disintegrated on the first day. I combine this very personal story and life lessons with Jordan travel tips in this blog. Yes, I know it’s very unusual, but the two are so connected that one without the other would not make sense. And since I am learning to be more vulnerable, why not share this ‘journey’ with you.

Dinner in Amman

The first evening we had an incredible dinner with some business relations in one of the best restaurants in Amman: www.fakhreldin.com. It is housed in a beautiful old palace, and it is interesting to watch the local elite and the fancily traditionally dressed waiters. We especially admired the guy in charge of distributing the freshly baked bread, which he did with a vengeance (you could hardly refuse) and a smile… And the food, the food….. Three times the table was fully loaded with different dishes: all pure and tasty. There was too much to eat; so much abundance, I felt a bit bad about the waste.

Wake up call

The next morning was a rainy day. My partner, his daughter and I had one day to discover Amman before going on a week-long tour of Jordan, which would show us the major sites and a camel experience in the desert. During my morning meditation, I felt very peaceful and challenged the universe to bring on ‘the next lesson’… Only a few minutes later I discovered something that completely changed my view of my partner and our relationship. It was a deal breaker. I was shocked by this different reality. I could feel the adrenaline in my body; all systems shutting down, turning to survival mode. I knew only one thing: I had to get away. I had to decide: go back to Holland or stay in Jordan? I decided that since I was here and needed to let this all sink in, why not see at least the highlights of the country?
I found myself in a country and city I did not know, a woman alone in an Islam country, on a rainy day, with not even local money in my pocket, so I used what I had and knew: my phone: I booked a hotel via booking.com and jumped into an Uber for the three hour drive to Petra. There I was, cold, lonely, confused, in my bare, simple, cheap hotel room.
I could not eat, could not sleep, my mind was racing, trying to understand what was going on. The next day when I entered the historical Petra site at 6 am, I was like a zombie. A stone on my stomach, my heart tightly closed, not even feeling sadness, just shock and disbelief. To match my emotional state, it was freezing cold outside and I did not even have a jacket.

I dodged all the guides at the entrance who were offering their services and also the ones on the walk to the main site. I just did not want to have to pretend to be interested, did not want anybody around me. But after two hours of just following the main route, seeing some beautiful buildings, but not enjoying anything, I was wondering what to do: leave Petra? And then, go where? I had already left my hotel room and had not been able to find anywhere to stay another night around Petra. At 5 pm I would be picked up by a taxi to go to the desert camp where I would start a horse ride the next day. What to do with the day ahead? What to do with myself?

Connection in Petra

And then – as often happens when you surrender to the moment – something nice happened. I saw a tiny puppy, also suffering from the cold, in front of a makeshift souvenir store, which was still closed. It was so happy to see me, and I was happy to cuddle it and play with it.
Then it’s owner showed up: a friendly, good looking Bedouin guy of about 25. We started to talk and he asked me what I had seen of Petra so far and where I would go next on the enormous site. I answered that I was just following the main road. He said I would miss a lot of beautiful spots. “I live here,” he told me. “I grew up here. I know everything. Let me show you around so you will have a beautiful experience”.
I gave in; we agreed on a very minimal price for his services. I asked how long the tour would be, fearing it would just be another ‘tourist trap’. He looked at me funnily and said “we Bedouin, don’t talk about time. Just follow me” and he started walking. Immediately I felt that this was a good decision.
The guide was friendly and gentle and was not playing a role or a game that many tour guides do. We just walked and walked and he showed me all the major sites before other tourists came in.
Involuntarily I tried to do ‘my thing’ to give something back for his welcome company. I asked him “what is your dream in life?” Thinking that maybe I could help him move towards his dream. “This is my life,” he said. “I love being in Petra. I don’t need anything else” and with a smile, he added, “I only dream about my mule”. This guy, and many other bedouins, I discovered afterwards, really knew how to be in the moment. It helped me to try and be in the moment as well and not constantly follow my train of thoughts about what had happened to my relationship. Whenever I started to think too much, he would notice and say “you are not here”. I also felt that his presence and quiet energy opened my heavy heart a bit.

Petra by night

After a few hours, as we were enjoying the view from a secret viewpoint, he proposed: “why don’t you stay in Petra tonight, here on the site? You can stay at my camp and I will show you Petra by night. If you drive to the desert camp at 5 pm, you’ll miss the beautiful sunset and you won’t see anything from the desert when you arrive. Stay here tonight and leave early tomorrow morning.” It sounded like an adventure, a distraction; just what I needed. I sent a message to Brenda, the (Dutch) lady who organized the desert trip of the change of plans. She answered that she was very worried about me staying in Petra. Apparently, the Bedouin guys have a reputation for picking up foreign girls. And indeed I had seen that process in action around me all day. But I had made clear that I was not interested in an affair, just the Petra experience. My guide agreed and I reassured Brenda. I would be staying in Petra overnight with a complete stranger, without any plans, without any luggage. I felt more alive! Marid (pronounced as ‘Mahdjid’) took me to various friends who live in rock caves. We had a tea here, a bite there. Everybody was friendly and welcoming. They were also all joking about what a wonderful couple we made…. I  just smiled and let them think whatever they wanted. The last thing on my mind… We had dinner (I could only eat a few bites because of my heartache) in a secret Airbnb that one of his friends had made on the Petra site. It is called Indiana Jones cave. Very basic, but highly recommended. Around 9 PM we mounted his mule in the pitch dark and the animal guided us down the mountain, over the rocks, to Petra by night: a tourist event where they basically project light onto the treasury (the main site), put candles on the floor and play traditional music. The official Petra by night was nice, but the real Petra by night afterwards was spectacular. After the event we mounted the mule again, wrapped in a blanket against the fierce cold, pressed against each other for balance and warmth, and trusted the mule to guide us back up in the mountains; over the rocks in the dark. Above us a pitch black sky full of stars. Never experienced a night like this and then in an ancient site, in such good company: magic! I had no idea where we would sleep. Marid took us to the cave house of his brother, but could not find the key. The mule took us to the next house of a friend, where we had more luck: they had left a key. In this unknown place, with this unknown man on the other side of the room, I slept on a dirty mattress under dirty blankets and felt almost happy.

Pay it forward

Waking up in Petra at 6 am, with nobody else around, seeing the sun slowly paint colors on the rocks, is also magic. Unfortunately, the mule had run away overnight, so we had to walk down the mountain to get me to the entrance in time for the taxi to the Wadi Rum desert. Did we really climb all these rocks in the pitch dark last night, on the back of a mule???
It was such a beautiful experience; the contrast was huge between how I had walked into Petra as a zombie and now left with my heart a bit more open and having experienced a unique adventure, made a beautiful connection and learned about mindfulness from a Bedouin. I paid him more than three times what we had agreed, to thank him for his help in ‘surviving’. If he had been disappointed about the lonely night, he was now also happy for being appreciated for his tour and company and wise lessons. I left Petra a little bit less sad.

White wolf in the desert

Brenda, the Dutch lady who fell in love with Jordan and lives in the desert, received me with open arms. I had just a few minutes to send and receive the messages I had prepared and off we went into the desert. She had arranged everything. For my two days on a horse, we had two Bedouin guys, herself, three horses and a jeep packed with mattresses, blankets, water and food for us and the horses.
Before we got onto our horses, she had me draw a card from her spiritual ‘horse card deck’. The message was – of course- exactly applicable to my situation and gave me something to think about during the desert journey.
The next three days were exactly what I needed to let things sink in. The beauty of Wadi Rum, the desert, the rocks, the silence. I enjoyed the sunrise, the sunset, the changing of light on the rocks during the day, the shade in which we had stops and were served sweet mint tea with simple and easy food while the horses were watered. Peace, quiet, nature, beauty, contemplation, only good people around me.
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Connecting with my horse, who was called ‘white wolf’. I energetically asked him to help me to relax my tense body and my racing mind. I noticed that when I was thinking and following my racing mind, jumping left and right, I felt the stress in my body again, and also I wasn’t present. My body was on a horse in the beautiful Jordan desert, but my mind was elsewhere. I wanted to be present. I wanted to relax. I asked White Wolf for help. Just by connecting my mind with him and shifting my energy to my body, being present in the saddle. Every time I asked him and took a deep breath, he did the same and I could feel the two of us merging together.
Trying to be mindful, but my mind still racing. Enjoying simple but tasty food. I could feel the three of them reaching out to me, opening their hearts, thereby opening mine.
Around the fire at night, we told simple jokes with the Bedouin, whose English was not so developed. But we understood each other. Apart from the jokes, we shared simple wisdoms and life lessons. Everything they said was somehow related to the heart. They touched their heart when they spoke, they were referring to people whether they had a good heart or not and by really being in the present, with an open heart, no matter what happened. It really felt like a warm bath. I don’t think I could have been in a better place than that.

Jordan

Thank you, Jordan. If I look back to the start of my trip in Amman, where I didn’t feel very comfortable as a woman alone, and also my first hours in Petra, cold like a zombie, I may have decided to never come back to this country. But the connections I made after that, are what makes Jordan special to me. Especially the Bedouin in Petra and Wadi Rum really have a unique power to be present and connect from the heart. Even the various drivers that took me places were all friendly and caring. I’d like to also thank White Wolf, the horse that communicated with me to relax, every minute for two entire days. And of course a big thanks to Brenda, for being flexible enough to change the trip last minute, for arranging everything, for making me feel welcomed and loved, by providing a safe container for me to be alone in the desert, sharing her love for this beautiful and unique place. These connections from the heart are what makes Jordan special to me, and I think to everybody who visits and gives it a chance to happen, to open their heart.

Travel tips

Most tips and links are in the text above. Some extras:
  • For an unforgettable trip in the desert, join Brenda of Jordan Desert Journeys.
  • Get the Jordan pass, which includes a visa and one or more days entrance to Petra
  • Uber is active in Amman. Unfortunately, they are not allowed to pick up passengers from the airport, but a ride around town is only 1,5JD. Don’t use the yellow taxi’s, they charge much more.
  • Many tourists hire a driver to drive them around, which is a great way to see more and get local info. However, the drivers take you to roadside restaurants where drivers eat for free, which means they are catered to tourists. I asked my driver to stop at a local cafe next to a gas station, where I ate the most delicious Falafel sandwich for just 0,5JD!
  • A nice souvenir is Za’atar, the traditional herb mix that bedouin eat with olive oil and bread.
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