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Solo Woman Travel in the Middle East

Ancient Wonders

Experience Jordan's Beauty and Bedouin Culture as a Solo Woman Traveler

Boys in Amman Jordan
A group of boys in front of the Roman theater in Amman, Jordan.

Last year I decided to set my fears aside and make a long-time dream come true: to visit Jordan. I am a freelance travel photographer, and I wanted to start building a professional portfolio to help my career.

Through the Internet I found a travel agency in Jordan, Petra Moon tourism. Its owner, Wendy Botham, helped me design an itinerary based on my time, interests, and budget.

A driver was hired to greet me at the airport, transportation to the site was arranged, hotels were reserved, and a Bedouin family was told of my desire to visit with them for two nights.

I began my visit in the capital city of Amman at the Roman theater, where a group of boys allowed me to take their photograph. At the crusader castles, guides were available for a few dollars and left me as much time as I wished to explore and photograph on my own. When it became too dark and cold to explore any further, I joined my guide who was visiting the Bedouin men living near Shawbak castle. They invited me in for tea and to warm up by the stove.

Amman’s Roman theater.

The Bedouin people are known for their hospitality and seemed to delight in meeting a foreigner. I often took advantage of opportunities to have tea with local Bedouins at the sites, sometimes with a woman and her children, sitting along the path, with a small fire and a teapot set in the flames.

I reserved the most time for Petra and Wadi Rum. Petra has often been called the eighth wonder of the ancient world and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Much of Petra’s attraction comes from its unusual setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge. Though a huge site, it is fairly easy to navigate. The colors of the sandstone and the Nabatean architecture were breathtaking, as were the views from the highest elevations near the “Monastery” and “The High Place of Sacrifice.” I made photographs not only of the most famous monuments, but also of the hidden tombs, rock formations, and animals not found on the main paths.

The Treasury at Petra
The Treasury at Petra.

Wadi Rum is the well-known desert site where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed and home to many of Jordan’s semi-nomadic Bedouins. My guide was a young Bedouin man named Aid, whose family had a small house in the village of Rum as well as a traditional tent dwelling in the desert. In the evening I had dinner with Aid’s family and another couple at his parents’ tent. They taught us to eat the traditional Bedouin dish, mensaf (lamb and rice), in the traditional way, with the right hand. With Aid as our translator, we talked after dinner around the fire before turning in for the night. I was given a corner of the tent to place my mat and sleeping bag.

As a solo woman traveler having come all the way from the U.S., I was a bit of a curiosity to Aid’s family. I brought picture postcards of Boston to show where I lived and small gifts for the children.

The second day I spent some time with Aid’s sister and her husband and children. I quickly felt welcomed and accepted. They were kind to allow me to photograph them, the whole family being very natural and unselfconscious. When Aid and I were leaving, his sister wanted to drive into the desert to visit her parents. She was afraid to drive in the village, so she gave me the keys to the truck and asked me to drive her to the edge of town. It was a small favor, but I was flattered she asked me. I then waited at the edge of town for Aid to pick me up for a short camel tour. We went in search of more Nabatean rock carvings, climbed (and jumped) some dunes, discussed American song lyrics, and tried to cheer up the camel (unsuccessfully). Basically, I learned a little about being a young person living in the desert.

For years I had been afraid to travel to Jordan; it was so far away and exotic. Yet the reputed beauty of the country finally conquered my reservations. Like many women, I had suffered sexual harassment in other countries. Yet, I found Jordan a very pleasant and safe country. I encountered only some of the minor problems that women usually face. The most common being staring, followed by curious young boys trailing me. I wore a wedding band and engagement ring and often mentioned my non-existent husband in order to discourage unwanted advances. These tactics, combined with dressing modestly, not going out late at night, and refraining from drinking helped me avoid most harassment. The background reading I did on cultural etiquette and safety tips for women traveling in the Middle East also proved useful. Though my time in Jordan was short, it was a remarkable trip full of life-changing experiences and cultural enlightenment.

For More Info

Petra Moon Tourism, www.petramoon.com. Contact Wendy Botham, owner, petram@go.com.jo.

Jordan, The Rough Guide by Matthew Teller (Rough Guides Ltd.).

Petra by Jane Taylor (Aurum Press Ltd., London, 1993).

The Traveler's Guide to Middle Eastern and North African Customs and Manners by Elizabeth Devine and Nancy L. Braganti (St. Martin’s Press, 1991).