AIRBNB IN JORDAN: CAVE EDITION
It was late in the evening, and none of us had a working phone. Because we were traveling in Jordan, phone credit that normally lasted three months was eaten up in 32 seconds. The weather was getting cold, and we had no idea where we were and what we were going to do.
“Guys, I think I am out of balance,” said Miha as we exited a highway somewhere on our way to Petra.
“Just ask somebody where Little Petra is,” said Abhi.
Little Petra was where our AirBnB host had directed us over the phone, before our call was interrupted by the silence of deficient phone credit.
When we stopped the car and started questioning random pedestrians, everyone told us something different. Most agreed that Little Petra was a hotel. This did not square with our original plan, however, because our host was supposed to be a man living in a cave.
Two weeks earlier, I had walked in on my friend Miha looking at an AirBnB listing for a cave. We had been swayed by the novel idea of living in the mountains of Jordan, as well as the host’s claims to have decent Wi-Fi, so we booked it.
Now that we were driving down a highway in Jordan, however, we were beginning to doubt our plan.
So we did what most people would do: We continued on straight, hoping to see a miraculous sign pointing us to the right place. And there it was — a board showing the directions to Little Petra.
From the expression on Max’s face, I could read the following words: “Guys, I have no idea where we are, but I am not willing to sleep in one car with the three of you, and I also don’t want to die tonight.” So we continued. It was 11 p.m. when we arrived at a dead end of only mountains and desert. I think all of us, at that moment, had lost hope.
Suddenly, a sharp light illuminated our side windows, and we looked over to see an old, pink SUV rolling to a stop next to us. Max put his window down, and a stranger with a big smile on his face repeated the phrase that we had been hearing at least 50 times a day:
“Welcome to Jordan!”
A few minutes later, we were in our host’s car somewhere in the mountains. In addition to the four of us, there were two strangers sitting in the back.
“Sprichts du Deutsch?” Ghassab, our host, addressed Max.
Though Max had been working on a project that required him to take a pledge of silence for the day, Ghassab did not give up. For 15 minutes, he continued his monologue in German as Max occasionally nodded or smiled.
“You know, my friends, you did not call me. I was waiting for you the whole day,” Ghassab explained.
“We are sorry, Ghassab, but we could not reach you on the phone and then we ran out of balance,” Miha tried to excuse us.
“Don’t worry, my friends. It’s OK. You can come anytime, in the evening or in the morning. Doesn’t matter,” Ghassab was trying to cheer us up a little bit, since he probably sensed that things had not gone according to plan for us.
At this moment, however, a strange noise came from the back of the car and we suddenly stopped.
“Oh, what is it now?” I thought. When we got out of the car, my fear materialized — a flat tire. “Great, we’re in the middle of mountains surrounded by desert without water or food.”
That thought suddenly made my other fears, including my future major declaration and recent midterms, seem much less relevant.
“How far is the cave?” I asked Ghassab.
Ghassab pointed at the big rock next to us. “It is right here, my friend.”
Ghassab opened the door and let us in. Though it looked like a big mushroom from the outside, the cave’s interior was really welcoming and appealing.
“This cave is thousands of years old. We built only the fourth wall,” said Ghassab proudly.
The two other strangers, a French woman and a Jordanian man, came out of the car and introduced themselves while Ghassab lit a gas lamp and began making us tea.
We spoke a bit as we got comfortable, listening to Ghassab explain how he inherited the cave from his Bedouin family. He pointed out the lights across the border with Israel, which we could see due to our cave’s proximity.
The atmosphere was perfect. After six hours of traveling, we felt we deserved the most beautiful view in the world.
“You know, I studied in Germany when I was younger,” he told us. “I had to learn the language perfectly in one year, otherwise I would not be able to stay there.”
Later, I went for a short walk and climbed a nearby peak. Sitting on the edge of the cliff, surrounded by darkness, I could only see Israel in the distance. There was something about the atmosphere that made me uncomfortable, and it took me a while to realize that it was the silence.
As I was listening to it, I was struck by the realization that I had not heard real silence for a very long time. There was nothing. No air-conditioning blowing in my room, no people chatting in the library or in the quiet rooms. It was real silence.
Since it was warm outside, we decided to sleep outside the cave that night. I remember waking up at 4 a.m. to the most beautiful sky I have ever seen — pink-blue and with a spread of stars.
When I entered the cave in the morning, Ghassab looked at me and said something in surprised Arabic. I suddenly got scared that I had inadvertently done something inappropriate.
“You have a round face and you are blonde,” he explained. “You look exactly like my daughter’s friend from Europe. Are you him?”
“No, I don’t think I am him. And I don’t think I am blond,” I said.
“No, no, my friend, you are blond. Jordanians girls will really like you. You go to Amman and you will get a lot of girls,” Ghassab insisted.
Miha, Abhi and Max joined us in the cave for breakfast. Ghassab offered us some hummus, bread, donkey milk and what he called camel eggs.
“I brought camel eggs only for you — look how big they are. I also had to milk a donkey this morning!” he said.
“So, is donkey milk healthy?” I asked.
“Very healthy, my friend. Look at me. You will be strong like me,” Ghassab reassured us. “You know my friend, I am a psychic. I can tell you about your future.”
“Ok, go ahead. Try me.”
“Take an egg. I will tell you based on the inside of an egg,” he said.
I did not hesitate and started peeling the egg, sprinkling some salt on the top and digging at the soft white surface with a small spoon. As soon as the yolk appeared, Ghassab sighed. He then glanced at me with a pitying expression that made him look like he had just swallowed something very sour. My heart started to pound.
“Well? What does it mean?” I asked impatiently.
“Oh no, my friend.” He sighed again.
“Ok, what is it?” I joked. “Am I going to die soon?”
“No, my friend. You know. You and ladies, it is not that positive. You are friends, but no more,” he predicted.
Meanwhile, Abhi was opening his egg. Ghassab looked at him and said: “But you, my friend, you are going to have many girls!”
I didn’t like my prediction, so I attempted to open another egg. However, Ghassab stopped me and said, “Only one egg a day my friend — no more.”
After the breakfast we started discussing our origins. Miha said he was from Slovenia. I followed by saying that I come from Slovakia.
“Oh, Slovakia! You know this word Slovak – it is where everybody comes from,” he said to us.
Miha tried correcting him. “Ghassab, the word is Slavic, not Slovak — ”
“Yes, Slovak. Slovenians come from Slovakia. Everybody from Europe comes from Slovakia,” he insisted. While Miha helplessly struggled to accept his new origin, I was suddenly very proud of my country.
We packed to leave, but there remained one problem – the flat tire. After saying goodbye to the cave, we had to wait 20 minutes for another SUV to pick us up. Then we sat in the back of the trunk for the most wild and dangerous ride of our lives since Ferrari World opened.
Staying in a cave with Ghassab had been an extraordinary experience. I would definitely do it again for the silence in the mountains — trust me, you haven’t heard such silence before — the view and, last but not least, Ghassab himself.
All photos courtesy of Peter Hadvab. Peter Hadvab is a contributing writing. Email him at email@example.com.