Monday, May 24, 2010


 Nothing prepares you for the drama of Petra in Jordan. It was used as a location for the popular 1989 feature film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Our guide, at the first "reveal" where you can see the monument through a gap in the rocks said, "Now you should be hearing the Indiana Jones bullshit movie theme." Later when we asked a question about the site, he referred to the writer of the information brochure (the facts were different in the brochure) as an "asshole" who made a lot of mistakes. A Bedouin, he made these references very casually as if the words bullshit and asshole were everyday words without much impact. It was funny but typical of the guides we had all over Jordan and Syria. Always men, they were universally jaded and bored with the job. They'd plod along reciting almost in a monotone, facts and figures which have been pared down to a pitiful few - and since we've been back and I've done some fact checking, I've found much of their information exaggerated and inaccurate. They overcharge and bluntly ask for tips after delivering poor performances. Several spent the first 1/3 of the tour telling us about how great they were - and how they had guided luminaries such as Elizabeth Taylor, Donna Shalala etc. After a few such tedious experiences we chose to skip the guides and just enjoy what we could see, preferring to look things up on our own when we got home. 

In their defense, they have no role models - they only mimic each other. I wish one of the archaeological research groups who send gobs of people there to "dig" would organize a class teaching how to guide through the site. 

The non-official vendors on the other hand were delightful. I spent a pleasant two hours sitting with a 35 year old Bedoiun who'd been born in a cave over Petra and spent his whole life around the ruins. Initially he was trying to sell me a donkey ride but once he realized I wasn't a candidate and business was slow, he passed the time chatting with me. One of his donkeys was named Michael Jackson and another Back to the Future. He had two gold eye teeth, wore mascara (most of the Bedouin men do) and told me he drank camel milk every day. He never attended a school but learned to read and write Arabic by watching people and just picked it up. One of ten children, he had five of his own who were all attending school but who saw their futures in these ruins either selling trinkets to tourists; guiding or for the lucky few going on to study archaeology to join the elite group who are uncovering the ruins a spoonful of sand at a time. 

I couldn't help but compare these awful guides to the many fabulous female docents I've had guide me around museums and historical sites in the U.S. What a contrast!

1 comment:

  1. the thing about guides is so interesting. We had a guide in Spain once and actually he was pretty good - but did share some of the things you've talked about. He talked a lot about himself and also about all the celebrities he had had in the past. Is there some kind of "Guiding for Dummies" book that they all read?