The next morning I’m riding towards Petra, that other touristic highlight in Jordan. On my way out of Wadi Rum I see a guy walking along the desert road. I ask him if he needs to be somewhere. Lakim is his name.
“I have to be at the train station!” he tells me.
“excuse me, the train station?” I ask, being quite surprised he mentions a train station in the middle of the desert.
“Yes and I’m in a hurry!”
He leads me towards an abandoned train station. One old steam strain is parked in front of the station. It seems like the last ticket to nowhere was sold a long time ago.
Another man walks out of the building and greets us. Tea is just ready (that’s why we had to hurry) and he invites us all in. We enter a little room with a non-stop playing satellite TV and a cosy salon. In the middle of their comfortable living room stands a big bloc of metal with little lights and switches; it’s the rail track control panel. My two friends don’t seem to paying any attention to the violently flickering warning lights, and start to chat to each other. When I interrupt them and ask if they shouldn’t pay a bit more attention on what is going on the instrument board, they laugh and wave away my remark.
“It’s been two weeks since the last train past” says Lakim “Our job is to change the tracks but there is some problem with the track up north, so no trains are riding from Aqaba to the capital (Amman) in the north”.
I ask them if I can take a look at the control panel. With only two track changers this control board doesn’t look that complicated. The guys start to turn switches around on the panel for fun and allow me to join. We goof around a few minutes on the control panel and go for a second round of very sweet tea afterwards.
The two guys are clearly having a good time.
“We’re both from around Wadi Rum,” explains Lakim to me. ”I’m saying around because we are Bedouins of course! This job pays the bills which is good because the tourist don’t come in big numbers like they used to!”
Their job in the control room doesn’t demand a lot of effort and it offers them a steady pay. In between the two trains that pass every day the two friends can chat and gossip all day long.
I ask them about the steam train outside. It appears to be used for the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962.
It had to stand for a Turkish train but I can see on the markings that it’s actually a Japanese train. When they see my camera they oblige me to have an extensive photo shoot in front, on top and inside the famous train.
I continue my road to Petra, the old city of the Nabataeans and famous for its rock hew treasury. I find a small hotel and decide to spend a few days around this ancient archaeological treasure. The weather is not what you would expect from Jordan. It’s cold, very cold and it’s even snowing. In summer it can become very hot but in wintertime, apparently terribly cold.
Petra is a gold mine for tourist hustlers. The whole archaeological site is full of tourist booby-traps. Nobody is safe from the horse rides. “Included in the ticket, my friend” all the Bedouin horsemen say convincingly. But you know they will expect some kind of tip. There are also a bunch of small kids who try to sell postcards or little necklaces. One cheeky rascal even tries to put his goods inside my pockets
“It’s a gift! For you, I love you!” he says with big innocent eyes. He almost got me there. But I know it’s one of his many tricks and I refuse it. (For the people who have less experience with these tourist traps, just a small heads-up: it’s not really a gift, they’ll come and ask for their money later.). After I refuse the big innocent eyes become narrow and vicious: ”you’re a bad, very bad person”.
I smile to him. I couldn’t care less. It’s sad to see these kids using their excellent English skills just for begging.