The bad guide
by Elizabeth Willoughby
Three days in Jordan are tacked onto a week in Israel for me and the 27 ladies I'm sharing this bus with. We leave behind our Jewish guide, cross into Jordan at the Sheikh Hussein Bridge and change buses. The new one still has cigarette butts in the ashtrays that are installed in the backs of the seats in a 1980s sort of way.
Our new Christian Arabic guide stands beside the driver's seat and scans us. When several ladies head to the duty free store, he asks them to buy booze for him. They do. Then, without asking, he sifts through our seats and lockers looking for a place to stash the bottles.
As the bus groans and sputters into gear, the guide begins speaking into a microphone. The sound system doesn't work, however, so he sits down in the seat nearest the door and goes to sleep. I presume it is the sound of the engine that wakes him as the bus struggles to get up a steep hill.
He says he has more than 700 hours of guiding experience gained over 15 years; he tells us that he cannot use our first names because it would be too familiar; and then he sits down beside me and says "I like to sit beside you. I feel like you are my fiancé."
Thanks to our guidebooks and tips from our previous guide in Israel, over the next days we are able to ask our Jordanian guide to show us certain things at sites that he is neglecting to point out, like the Gerasa ruins' earthquake-proof Roman pillars that you can feel moving, and we correct him when we notice him making things up. At the Church of the Disciples, or the Church of the Disabled as he calls it, he doesn't even bother; at the entrance he picks up a tourist pamphlet about the structure and simply reads it to us.
Then we go to a restaurant and he negotiates our group discounted lunch with the proprietors. He insists on collecting 10 dollars from each of us directly, so we never find out how much our lunch really cost or how much he pocketed.
On the last day, at Petra, he puts his arm across women's shoulders as he speaks to them – using first names. I ask him if it is customary in his culture for men to be touching unfamiliar women like that, and he blurts out, "I love my wife too much!" and then moments later turns towards a woman in the group nowhere near him and yells out, "Please don't touch me, I am a married man!"
It is time to return to Israel. The bus takes us to the border at Akaba and drop us off in front of a high fence. We retrieve our luggage, file past an officer in a tiny booth at the tall fence and enter a broad, barren field at the opposite side of which is another fence, and another bus. A single line of 28 women begin the long, laborious walk, dragging wheeled cases across the stony dirt terrain. Although it doesn't take 40 years, it still feels like an Exodus.
There's nothing like a great adventure travel story — one that's fun, thrilling and full of the unknown. If that's what you want, check out my WorldGuide Tales from the Road pages. This blog is about the stories a travel writer can't sell. The misadventures. The plans gone awry, luck run amuck. Sometimes with my partner, HB, sometimes with friends, and sometimes I manage to mess things up without any help at all. These are the stories that make your friends laugh and call you a knucklehead. These are the stories you really remember.
Image and article ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2015
This article was originally published at WorldGuide.eu
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