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Tourism in Wadi Musa- Petra

Tourism in Wadi Musa- PetraI know that I am getting close to Egypt: everyone is trying to rip me off on everything I buy. I have been quickly absorbed deep into the bosom of tourism and am clearly a walking, breathing, bank chit. In every corner I am met by drawn on smiles and open [...]

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Tourism in Wadi Musa- Petra

I know that I am getting close to Egypt: everyone is trying to rip me off on everything I buy. I have been quickly absorbed deep into the bosom of tourism and am clearly a walking, breathing, bank chit. In every corner I am met by drawn on smiles and open arms that can only lead into traps.

I am a tourist.

I want to go to Peta. Like all of the other tourist.

So I ride out the seas of “Hello! Take a look, no buy, no charge for looking” and return every plastic clown smile with one of my own making. The tourism industry is a performance, and the local people pretend to be grovelers for my money. I do not believe that the people who sell jewelry and donkey rides inside of Petra are true grovelers, I do not believe that the taxi men and mini bus conductors are really as niggardly as they seem, as I have strong assumptions that they are regularly upright and proud people. But when the show is on – when their are tourist with khaki pants, flying saucer hats, and big boner cameras walking by – these people act like beggars.

Tourism is a carnival, if you know what to expect, it ain’t so bad.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Jordan- May, 2009
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“Buy something, buy something, buy something.”


No. Stop following me. I do not want to buy your cheap costume jewelry and I don’t care if it was made by a woman’s collective. No, I do not want to help the women. I don’t want anything. I just want to look at some rocks!


“You want to go to Wadi Musa? Desert tour?”

“I am a tourist guide, I work with tourists.”


I cannot explain that the blood in my pocket book is not nearly enough to feed the most squalid of leeches, let alone fat leeches that are use to cashing in on the aorta.

Tourists with flying saucer hats in Petra.

It is sometimes difficult to find traveling in tourist places truly enjoyable. It is even more difficult if you expect all of the pictures that you have seen of places to represent the reality. Go to any of the Wonders of the World and the only think you will wonder is why you can’t look at the site without someone sticking their face in yours demanding that you buy something.

Since leaving the comfort of Amman – a real to life city where the wanderer is still treated as a human being – and traveling to Wadi Musa, the town next to Petra, I have found every shop keeper, hotel owner, and minibus conductor trying to charge me as much money as possible. If a local person generally pays 1 dinar for something, people are trying to charge me 2.

OK, I understand the stakes. I can acquiesce with my surroundings. There is nothing else I can do: my skin s white and I am a tourist. I cannot expect to be treated any other way.

With a little resistance, I can usually finagle a price that is only a third more than what I should pay, rather than double. I have found that an all knowing – “I know that this does not really cost this much” – sort of look is enough to get a fair price. And a fair price is usually 25% less than the original quote, but 25% more than normal.

But this is the price that the traveler must pay to travel to some of the greatest sites on planet earth. I do not fight anymore, I have come to terms with tourism and my place in a tourist town.

If a liter carton of Mango juice cost .60 dinars in Amman then they will try to charge me 2 dinars for it in Wadi Musa, with a stiff upper lip I can get it for 1 dinar. I will gladly settle for this compromise and drink mango juice than fight my life away.

Ok, you can rip me off a little, but not as much as you do those old crows with pasty white skin, fat bottoms, and American dollars.

This is the way of the world of tourism.

Tourism is equated with money, and rightfully so. Tourists are not people, but great proliferators of money. We are traffickers of a great and precious commodity, and we transport it through airport security without notice and keep it right in our pockets. Sometimes we use it to trade for tourist guides, camel rides, and $2 cans of Coca-cola.

I cannot blame anyone in the tourism industry for their window shopping smiles and bullshit hospitable posturing. If I had to conduct an act all day long to make my living, it would very soon become an all out performance. Who cares if you bother someone? Who cares if nobody laughs when you say that your donkey is a “Jordanian Mercedes” and that it has “air conditioning?” Who cares? Really.

Tourism is a show that is performed a thousand times a day to a perpetually revolving audience. Who can really give a shit about one in a million. But the trick seems to be making the tourist feel real special, that the jokes are for them alone, that they are worth of the full attention of a real 100% Bedouin, that they stand out from the crowd like a black dude in Beijing – That they are having a special cultural experience and are not merely just another fat white seal laying limply on a crowded seal beach.

This is perhaps the wedge that drives itself between the trafficker and their contraband.

Camel drinking a can of Coca-Cola in Petra. A good symbol for the modern age of tourism.

It was delightful for me to watch young pretty French girls being lead away on donkey back into the cliffs and caves of Petra by rather attractive looking young Bedouin men speaking poetry. I cannot blame either party: those long haired and bearded Bedouin boys are pretty hot.

They all seemed to have gotten European girlfriends somehow.

There is a book that is sold all over the Petra region called “My life as a Bedouin,” which is about German lady who found love on a visit to Petra. I am not sure, but I have strong suspicions that there are some very strong romantic callings for European women in Petra.

“My girlfriend is from Spain, she comes here to visit me next week,” a young, long haired Bedouin boy told me from high up on the back of a camel. He seemed pretty happy to boast of his European girlfriend. Lots of the camel and donkey guides in Petra seemed to be.

We then showed each other our tattoos. He had a picture of a girl on one arm and a design on the other. I had a mess all over me.

“Do you want to come to my village, I live in a cave,” he invited me.

It seemed as if we were becoming friends. It seemed as if we may have been crossing the divide between tourists and locals. Under usual circumstances, I would have jumped on this offer, but I had a lagging suspicion. I was in Petra, a place that is full of pasty white people just like me. I am one in a million here. Nothing special. I said maybe.

The next day I saw this camel boy again and said hello. He did not recognize me.

Travel to Tourist Destinations

I fear to think of what the accomplished world tourist must think of the people of this planet. I cannot imagine what a lowly opinion the people who only visit major tourist destinations around the world must have of their fellow man.

“Yeah, I went to the Great Wall, and everybody just wanted my money.”

“I went to the Pyramids, and everybody just wanted my money.”

“I went to Machu Picchu, and everybody just wanted my money.”

“I went to Petra, and everybody would not stop offering me camel rides so that they could get my money.”

If I only went on tours of the major tourist destinations on the planet, I would probably think that the world was full of empty handed greedy beggars who would jump through any hoop for a dollar. I would think that the world was full of annoying poor people who would try any scheme or say any words to separate me from my money.

Boy inspecting my tattoos in Petra. He then offered to trade me a rock for one of my carabiners and then tried to remove the silver ring from my finger – all with a smile, of course.

The world is not like this. Tourism is like this. Tourism is a disease of perception that turns normally proud people into wretched beggars with fake smiles and tourists into megalomaniac proliferators of wealth. It is a degrading angle of perception that works both ways: the tourists become money on legs and the local people become scrounges.

“Hmm, Sallie, which of these natives are worthy of our money today? Come here, boy, sit boy, sit.”

“Good boy, do you accept dollars?”

But I must admit that the people doing deals in Petra are pretty cool about it. There is not a glint of crankiness in their gait and they seem to deal with cranky tourists who get tired of people trying to sell things to them very well. For all their nagging, the guides and jewelry vendors really seem to be having a good time. They talk to the tourists, laugh with each other, and smile in the sing-song sunny days.

They are surely after money, but they somehow do it with a degree of class. They sometimes annoy the tourists but they don’t seem to care a lick for this, they are having fun. Riding donkeys, horses, and camels, the Bedouin here have found a niche in the modern world. They put on shows but they are so evident and transparent that it is not offensive. I know that they do not really want to be my friend, but they will have a real conversation with me anyway.

There are two worlds in Petra: the tourist world and that of the people who live there. When these worlds meet in the center of the ring there are sometimes punches-

Tourists yelling when a donkey boy won’t stop bothering them.

Jewelry selling ladies getting pissed when the tourist who fondled her jewelry won’t buy anything.

Old white dudes getting annoyed because the Bedouin running a mountain top jewelry shop won’t stop offering him tea.

– but when these groups are in their own corners, Petra is smiling.

The tourists laugh and joke with the tourists, the Bedouins laughing and joking with the Bedouins.

And sometimes everyone smiles at each other from their own sides of the ring.

Jewelry shop on a mountain top in Petra. “This is the highest shop in Jordan,” the man behind the counter boasts. The white women buy jewelry for an OK price.

Wade with a woman who he bought some camel bone necklaces from. We both had tattoos so we showed them to each other with smiles.

Bedouin guide turning the tables and taking a photo of tourists in Petra.

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Tourism in Wadi Musa- Petra


Filed under: Jordan, Middle East

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

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  • sgroves December 21, 2011, 1:59 am

    Traveling to Petra in a few days. Your words are insightful, sharp, sensitive and good. Feel one step closer to having a great trip. Thank you. ~

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