What was supposed to be a 7-hour hike with a paid guide through the natural beauty and wilderness of Petra, Jordan became a mini-Odyssey when a rather intimidating cave dweller kidnapped me. Or perhaps he seduced me with his nearly toothless smile, philosophical frankness, and romantic culinary skills.
Getting into Cars with Strangers (who could be terrorists):
My guide, Mohammed, looked like a typical Bedouin – dark, thick, and fit. His dark eyes could be intimidating, especially to an American alone in a remote foreign land. He told me to call him “Hubbly Bubbly” a nickname earned because of his constant habit of smoking a hookah (water pipe). But the moniker also suited his effulgent personality because Hubbly exuded the confidence of Don Juan despite a dust-covered countenance and conspicuous lack of teeth.
We met at the entrance gate to Petra, where for US$10 Hubbly agreed to be my one-day tour guide. Off we went into the wild Jordanian yonder.
Three days later, having not showered for days, I found myself atop a high and distant cliff. As Hubbly and I gazed spellbound across the expanse he explained the geography of the former ancient city intricately carved into desert cliffs. He pointed out favorite landmarks like the Treasury and the High Place of Sacrifice. I was a bit uncomfortable with him at first, but he had gained my trust and was entirely respectful of me.
So when Hubbly hailed a camel to take us to a Bedouin tent and join his friends for mint tea and fruits, I climbed aboard. They insisted I spend the night, and one day extended into two. The next day Hubbly took me to other sites – the Monastery, Colonnaded Street, and the Royal Tombs. Before I knew it the sun was setting again, and he invited me to dinner. A bit of fear set in, but sensing my caution he asked how many times in my life I had been offered a home-cooked Bedouin meal. I gratefully accepted.
A truck rolled up with four young males inside and Hubbly told me to get inside where I was squished into the backseat between him and two of the others. He snapped at the others in Arabic, put his arm around me, and I cringed.
“This time I have pushed my luck too far,” I thought to myself. “I barely know this man. He could do anything to me or leave me here to die. Perhaps his people hate all Americans and are going to take out their anger on me. Nobody even knows where I am.”
My mind raced over a hundred awful things that lay in store for me: gang rape, torture, and leaving me for dead in the mountains where I would never be found. We traveled for an hour up a steep and winding road deeper into the remote wilderness and then stopped abruptly. They told me to get out of the vehicle and I half expected whips and chains.
Instead I saw before me a spectacular natural light show of the setting sun and a candlelit cave – with about 25 candles burning in the nooks and crannies of its walls. Inside were an elegant Egyptian carpet, a beautiful dinner, and a tape recorder playing Arabic background music. The men whispered in Arabic and then gestured for me to take a seat. Hubbly uncorked a bottle of red wine, poured me a glass, and we toasted to peace and friendship. I felt calm, energized, and guilty for even thinking that these sweet men would cause me any harm.
Later Mohammed confided in me that had I taken him for granted and made him feel like an object of amusement to be used or bought he “Would have left you out here alone to die.”