The Bedouins: Heartbeat of Petra

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Petra has played host to many different cultures over the years, but it’s been home to the nomadic Bedul Bedouin for countless centuries. Under their watchful eyes and love of the land, Petra has survived.

During the summer they lived in camel-hair tents in the valley, then moved into the caves for protection in the harsh winter months. However, Petra’s recent popularity has brought some changes. Government programs have relocated most of the Bedul out of the caves to new, offsite housing.

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But the Bedul are still what makes Petra tick. And everyone has a job – from petulant little girls trying to sell you pretty rocks to the ancient men hawking “antique” coins.


If ever there was a definition of “charm” … the handsome tour guides keep the tourists’ rapt attention.

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The camel jockeys are quite distinctive with their long wool robes and rakish “Mad Max” looks. They’re usually running a string of 2 or 3 camels. This guy greeted us with, “Come ride my camel. She’s the Ferrari of the desert!”

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These two girls are supposed to be selling jewelry to weary pilgrims leaving the Siq, but they found a sunny niche, out of the wind, and they’re playing jacks. Jacks! When was the last time you saw that?


But this little boy cinched it for me. He’s a donkey wrangler, managing three donkeys, helping his paying clients stay upright, all the while keeping up the sales banter with everyone he passes. “Need a donkey? It’s air conditioned!”

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So when he clip-clopped up next to us and launched into his spiel, I greeted him in Arabic and added some funny quip about his donkey. His jaw dropped. “You speak Arabic?”

“Shwaya,” (a little) I replied.

He turned to James and exclaimed, “You”re a lucky man!”

I love this kid!


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We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

21 thoughts

    1. Thanks for the comment Rebecca, and for dropping by the blog. The Bedouins live in time out of time, and they add a very interesting spice to the Petra pot. We enjoy your blogs as well, and someday, you’ll have to tell us how on earth you manage to keep 4 going at once.

  1. I’m curious: twice around the world, travelers for decades — if you could return to visit only one location, which would it be? (When Rick Steves was asked this question, he replied: “I have one word: Turkey.”)

    1. That’s a good question Tom, and actually is difficult to answer. If you had asked this question before our last RTW, we would have said Bali, but we visited there on the second RTW. It’s easy to waffle because places change, we change, etc. We never tire of the UK and Netherlands, and have lived in both places. In the single place category, my answer is Luxor, Egypt and the Valley of Kings, and Terri’s answer is Marrakech, Morrocco.

  2. It is almost as if time has stood still The photographs of the people of Petra are quite iconic. An extraordinary travel experience, and I one I got to enjoy with my morning cafe au lait. Virginia

    1. Hi Virginia, When we arrived in Petra I felt like I’d stepped into the pages of a cherished old copy of Nat Geo … except for the cell phones the Bedouins had tucked in their robe pockets! ~Terri

  3. When we were dating my now husband did a Middle East study tour over the summer after we met. Petra was one of the places he went and he has raved about it ever since. Despite all my years in the Middle East and years going back to that part of the world for visits, I’ve never been. Loved this and it is a must on my travel list.

    1. Marilyn, given all your travel and living abroad experiences I know that you will be thrilled when you visit Petra. We had it on our list for many years before we finally made it … totally worth the wait! All the best, Terri

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