Middle East Trip: CouchSurfing in a Jordanian Cave?

This article is part 16 of 17 in the series Middle East Trip

9 January 2012

Before coming to Jordan, I tried to browse through a number of profiles in CouchSurfing and see if there are any interesting locals I would like to meet. When it comes to Jordan, though, I took an extra precaution in choosing a host to stay with. The number of men registered on this site with a wrong purpose alarmed me. I encountered many profiles with negative references. After all, this is an Arab country with an Arab culture. They are not used to hanging out with women or having women sleeping in their homes. This is not their culture, to say the least. Compared to Turkey and Iran, choosing an open-minded host with true travel spirit in Jordan proved to be difficult.

CouchSurfing in the Cave

One fine day, I stumbled upon Ghassab’s profile on CouchSurfing. His interesting profile stood out to the rest of couch surfers. He is a bedouin — a native semi-nomadic group living in the Arabian and Syrian deserts, who was born inside the cave of Petra complex (before it was gated and they were forcibly kicked out of the site) and currently lived in the cave on the outskirts of Petra. The best thing about meeting him was that the guests had the opportunity to sleep in his cave! How awesome is that?!? I read his profile carefully, including the hundreds of positive comments that he received. There are very few negative comments about how he treated guests, but I decided to ignore them as it could be a misunderstanding between Ghassab and the guest. I knew I need to be mindful and careful with this guy, but I was not worried as I had a guy friend with me. I took that chance and contacted him. He replied and agreed to host the three of us. He gave me two phone numbers that I could contact by the time I arrived in Petra.

After reuniting with my travel mates Asti & Ikmal, we try to contact Ghassab using the two phone numbers he gave me. Unfortunately, he cannot be contacted. It seems that he is out of reach. Disappointed, we head over to a nearby hostel to find a place stay. At the guest house, I make a final attempt to contact him and surprisingly, it gets through! His cousin picks up the phone and talks with a broken English. I tell him about our plan to stay at Ghassab’s cave as was previously agreed. Unfortunately, he responds that we need to pay 35 Jordanian Dinar per person per night in order to sleep in the cave. I am dumbfounded! NO THANKS! I would rather sleep in the hostel!

When a receptionist of the hostel we are staying learns what happened, he shares with me about the negative reputation of Ghassab among the local bedouins here. “He drinks, party, and bring random Western women in his cave,” adds the receptionist. I do not know whether I should believe him or not. My only concern is that I might regret not to take such opportunity sleeping in a cave near Petra! It could be an unforgettable experience that we missed. Oh well! 🙁

Petra By Night

To ensure that we make full use of our time here and the fact that there is nothing much to do around here, we decided to go for the “Petra By Night” tour. We are picked up with a van at around 8 pm and start walking by foot towards the Treasury. It is completely dark and I wish I had a headlamp with me! As we approach the Treasury through a narrow passage, I can see a glimpse of beautiful Treasury decorated with candles laid in front of it. It feels really romantic if only there are not many people here :D. After some performances by the bedouins, we take some pictures and walk back. Unfortunately, I do not have a good camera, hence taking good pictures in low light is not easy.

Petra by NightIkmal in front of the Treasury, PetraAsti and I in front of the Treasury, Petra

What do I think about the “Petra by Night” tour? It is definitely interesting to see Petra at night, but it is not something I am fond of. I do not think it is worth the money either as I cannot really go past the Treasury. I would rather see Petra during the day.

As a side note…

After my Middle East trip ended, Ikmal found this article by CNN about Ghassab and his cave. No doubt that he became more and more popular. However, more negative comments about him started to appear online and his profile was completely removed from the CouchSurfing. I regret that I did not get a chance to stay in a Jordanian cave, but I am more grateful that I did not meet him 🙂 .

This was, fortunately, an isolated case in CouchSurfing. Every time I travel, I am lucky that I always meet nice and helpful locals in different parts of the world. Don’t let this single incident discourages you. Be careful wherever you are!

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