Friday, April 15, 2011

Rolling with Mahmoud- Wadi Musa Style

I think I've been Cheated
I make my way to the Amman bus station, where I board a crowded van headed to Petra. The driver asks me for eight dinars. “I was told it was four,” I retort.
“No, six dinars, two more for big bag.”
“Really?” I ask, almost positive I’m getting ripped.
“Yes, yes, I know price.”
Whatever, cheat me a few dollars. “Here you go.”

Now, I’ve booked reservations in Wadi Musa (the mountainous town acting as the gateway to Petra) and like many touristic areas the prices are by no means a steal, so when the bus made an impromptu stop at an inn on the outskirts of town, the driver announced they had vacancy, and the price was half my booking, I jumped at the possibility. After seeing the room, I informed the owner I would be happy to stay if I could cancel my other accommodations. I check the terms of my reservation on the net, no-go.
“No, no, no, I know the owner,” states the inn’s proprietor, “He’ll let you off, don’t worry.”
“I have to hear that from his mouth, and get an email from him stating so.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you kidding me?”
Begrudgingly he dials, mumbles a few words of Arabic into the receiver with little enthusiasm or hope, and hands me the phone. I look at him dubiously as I start speaking.
I explain my situation, the deep voice on the other end refuses to let me out of the booking. “My hotel is much better!” he states emphatically, “why would you even want to switch?”
“Trying to save money.”
“No, absolutely no! You show, you have place to stay, you don’t show, I charge.” Now he asks me to explain how I ended up on the phone with him.
“Stay where you are, I will come get you,” he commands.

The Warpath

Minutes later a large silver van shows up. Out steps Mahmoud- bald, 6’2” and 275 pounds, the Arab version of Andre the Giant.
His first order of business is a “frank” exchange on business ethics with the owner of the inn, but when he comes back to me, he’s more interested in the bus. He asks me details, anger clouds his face. “How much did you pay for the ride?”
“8 JD,” I reply (almost $12).
“Oh you pay very much. Very much.”
I load my bags into the van. Mahmoud is on a warpath, racing to get to the bus station before the driver is able to return to Amman …. SCCCRRRREEEEEECCCHHHH!!!!!! Mahmoud SLAMS on his brakes going down a slope steep enough to double as an Olympic Ski-jumping ramp. We skid to a halt maybe a foot away from a tin-box car, the driver wincing, unable to open his eyes.
“Oh my God!! Are you trying to kill me?!” I yell.  
HOOOONNNNKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!! “This big asshole,” shouts Mahmoud shaking his fist, “he’s going the wrong way. That’s a one way street.” Mahmoud points to the sign.
The other driver seems to shrink in his seat as Mahmoud sticks his head out the window and bellows at him in Arabic. I am unable to translate what he said, but “Have a nice a day,” can be safely ruled out,
Mahmoud is on a mission, he pulls away. Upon reaching the speed of light travelling downhill he slams on his over-used brakes, again barely avoiding another head-on collision.
“Oh my God! You are the worst driver. Discount on my stay!” I shout, attempting to leverage a price-break while my heart is on the verge of exploding.
“No, no! No discount. He big asshole, don’t know how to drive!!” He BLARES the horn with contempt, as he points another one-way street sign on the street the driver just pulled out of- No discount.
Mahmoud races onwards to the bus station; we’re in luck, my bus is still there. Now, the driver is a thin, wiry man, standing 5’ 4”, while Mahmoud is the size of Mount Olympus, his thunderous voice warning of lightning that need never land. Indeed, the Jordanian Zeus doesn’t even bother exiting the van. Despite not comprehending a single word, I know the bus driver doesn’t stand a chance in this argument.
It’s like watching a featherweight boxer who’s just poured his Bloody Mary atop the head of Mike Tyson’s Mom, wearing her Sunday’s Best, on Mother’s Day, in public, while she’s cooing over her infant granddaughter, and when Tyson stands up, towering over him, with the everybody staring, his only defense is, “I’m sorry Mr. Tyson, I didn’t that was your Mother.” And now Mahmoud Tyson has him on the ropes, pummeling him with his deep voice, the bus driver tries to slip away but Mahmoud won’t let him. “How much did he charge you for the ride?” Mahmoud asks me.
“Eight dinars.”
“Eight dinars,” Mahmoud repeats to him.
“No, I charge him four.”
“Eight,” I state calmly.
The driver pulls three dinars from his pocket and hands them to me.
Mahmoud clears his throat. Utterly defeated, the driver drops his chin to his chest, reaches into his wallet and hands me one more dinar. Mahmoud then tells he is reporting him to the police, and to expect a ticket.

“He big asshole,” explains the victor, using his favorite phrase yet again, “he knows he’s supposed to go straight to the bus station. Not allowed to stop. He tries to steal my business. Big asshole.”
“He big asshole,” I repeat, mirroring Mahmoud’s tone. A chuckle emanates from the giant.
Mahmoud drives me to his hotel, and checks me in. “You see, hotel much much better,” he beams.
“Yeah, too bad owner is big asshole,” I reply, getting a hearty laugh from my new friend.  
It is too late in the day to visit Petra so I walk around Wadi-Musa, which economically is entirely dependent on the flow of tourists visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After a few hours, I return, and Mahmoud invites me to run some errands with him. I’m actually excited to see what new adventure will find us.
the mountains around Petra
He generously buys me dinner, we talk. Turns out Mahmoud learned English in the employment of the US Military, working in Fallujah at the height of the conflict, of all things, as head of army base’s gift shop.
“I never left the base,” explains Mahmoud, “If the Iraqi’s found me walking around, they would have slit my throat.”
“How did you find the US soldiers?” I inquire.
“Bunch of big assholes,” Mahmoud states warmly. You can count on him using this term at minimum once every three sentences, you have to tell from his tone whether he means it affectionately or not. “After war, I take all I earn, all I have saved, and my family and I buy hotel. I work hard.”
Indeed he does. “Come on, I take you to meet my friend, he big asshole too.”
Mahmoud introduces me. “I hear you big asshole,” I remark to his amigo. Mahmoud laughs, this coupled with my friendly tone protects me from being punched. We drink the traditional Arab offering of overly sweetened tea watching the sun descend behind the mountains. Eventually we say our good-byes and proceed back to the hotel. As we walk in, and I’m about to head up for the night, I ask Mahmoud for one more piece of information: “Am I big asshole?” I inquire.
Mahmoud chuckles and puts his arm over my shoulder like an old friend, “You biggest asshole of them all.”
It’s nice to be loved.


  1. I want to know where this hotel is. This guy sounds pretty cool and I'm headed to Petra in a week.

    1. Adam
      The guy is super cool and a character. Sharah Mountains Hostel I believe is the name of the place. It isn't the cheapest place in Petra, but damned if it isn't worth the extra few dollars!

  2. I really liked this account. Petra was one of my most aweinspiring trips. At that time there were no relatio s between Jordan and Israel, so we had to go through Elat, down a hundred kilometers along the Gulf of Aquaba, then board a ship bound for Aquaba, Jordan. A rental car took us to Petra. It was Easyer weekend and my three friends and I were the only non-Beduins there. There was only one hotel outside. I was spellbound for three days.

    1. Paul
      Love hearing from you. Very glad you liked my story :)
      Cheers man! See you in SE Asia sometime :)


Follow us + like us on Facebook as well --