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Couch surfing a cave in southern Jordan

By Alex Pena, Special to CNN
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Mon May 14, 2012
Ghassab Al-Bedoul's cave in Petra, Jordan, is listed on travel site CouchSurfing.com.<br/><br/> Ghassab Al-Bedoul's cave in Petra, Jordan, is listed on travel site CouchSurfing.com.

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Tonight's lodging: Cave in Jordan
Tonight's lodging: Cave in Jordan
Tonight's lodging: Cave in Jordan
Tonight's lodging: Cave in Jordan
Tonight's lodging: Cave in Jordan
Tonight's lodging: Cave in Jordan
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ghassab Al-Bedoul welcomes overnight guests to his cave in Petra
  • He listed the cave several years ago on travel site CouchSurfing.com
  • More than 1,200 people have visited Al-Bedoul in his home

Petra, Jordan (CNN) -- In front of a cave deep in the monochromatic sandstone canyons of Petra, in southern Jordan, sits a bright pink 1982 Jeep Wrangler.

The vehicle's owner, Ghassab Al-Bedoul, calls it the couch surfing flag.

Al-Bedoul, 42, sports long black dreadlocks to his shoulders rather than the traditional Jordanian headdress. He was dressed, during this cave surfer's visit, in a pair of patched-up denim jeans. He's registered as a host in Petra on the popular CouchSurfing.com travel website.

The site, which was founded in 2003, hosts a community of travelers who create profiles to share their extra couches or rooms with visitors. "Couch surfers" can then send a request to sleep on a couch rather than in a traditional hotel when they travel.

Al-Bedoul, a Bedouin who was born in the same cave he lives in today, was taken with the idea.

After spending many years traveling back and forth from Europe where he met travelers using the nontraditional lodging option, he thought, "Why not in Jordan?" 

About four years ago when he returned to Petra, he logged onto the site and posted, "I welcome you in my cave anytime" on his profile posted under the name Ghassab Al-Bedouine.

The same week he registered his cave on the website, he received five requests from potential travelers. The following week there were six more, and within the next few months, he was hosting more than 15 people, sometimes 20, a month at his cave in the mountains of Petra.

"Since I started, I think I've had over 1,200 people come stay at my cave," said Al-Bedoul. "Not all from CouchSurfing, but they hear about me. It's a pleasure to have people from all over the world to learn our culture. Just come and stay with us."

The Bedouin people, who were predominately desert dwellers, have inhabited the caves around Petra for hundreds of years. The ancient city, carved into the side of a mountain, dates back to nearly the 6th century BC and was active through the time of the Roman Empire. Tourists from across the globe descend on the ruins every day.

Just a 10-minute drive from the ruins is where Al-Bedoul's family decided to make their home hundreds of years ago. Now the cave and the property belong to Al-Bedoul.

The cave, which is no larger than 150 square feet, is uniquely modern. A row of solar-powered lights, a gift from a couch surfer, encircles the front of the cave entrance. When the sun sets past the Petra mountains, they are the only visible lights.

The outside of the cave is hard stone, but Al-Bedoul has done some decorating on the inside. The roof is painted black with stars circling the room. Candlelight glows just bright enough to see some of the traditional Jordanian paintings he's placed inside; not included in that collection is the large Bob Marley poster near the cave's entrance.

During a recent visit in April, a litter of newborn kittens had the run of the place. A guard dog, Monica, also lives at the cave. She's friendly, and well-trained, but when she sleeps outside, she tends to get into barking matches with her own echo in the mountains.  It's all part of the experience.

So are the bathrooms. When asking Al-Bedoul for the washrooms, he points to the mountains, and says, "far away please."

Then when it's time to sleep, Al-Bedoul lines the inside of his cave with thin mats. Everyone sleeps in the cave, which could easily fit around 10 people.

"I really didn't have a lot expectations besides being in a cave," said guest Sam Acker, 24, from Omaha, Nebraska, "but it's really been the five-star experience, much more than I would have expected."

On a recent night in April, Al-Bedoul hosted Acker and his girlfriend, Maggie Sheehy, along with an English teacher from Australia and a backpacker from England.

The backpacker, Phil Marsh, had to overcome his suspicions about why hosts would be so willing to let strangers stay in their house, or in this case, cave.

"I think there are some things being a bit Western that people worry about. Like you letting someone into your house, and why is it all free, but I think 99% of the time everything is fine, and you've just got to trust people," Marsh said.

Al-Bedoul hosts his guests for free. It's part of the CouchSurfing policy, but he's done pretty well with gifts. Couch surfers often bring items from their home country to share with him. It's also polite to chip in for food, gas and drinks.

For Al-Bedoul, hosting foreigners at his cave is now his favorite activity.

He often brings them out into the mountains to a hiking route through the ancient city. On this trip, he acted as a personal tour guide, picking the group up in his bright pink jeep, a vehicle all the children wave at as it drives by. When he speaks about his city, his culture and his cave, you can see the pride in his eyes and hear it in his voice.

"I was born here. I stay here, and I live here," he said. "My grandfather is here, my mother and father. So I travel and stay somewhere else, but one day, I must always come back to my roots."

And his sharing of his Bedouin family roots and culture in the form of hospitality to strangers makes visitors want to stay.

"Their flights always come, and they must always leave, but in their minds, they always want to stay longer."

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