Floating in the Dead Sea was surreal. Journeying into the depths of the hidden city of Petra was mind-blowing. But it was the trek across the desert in Wadi Rum that was the real standout of my trip to Jordan.
Arriving late afternoon from Petra, after a quick detour to Aqaba and the Red Sea, my husband, daughter and I prepared ourselves for the unknown. We checked in at a visitor center, and then were directed through a gate leading into the Bedouin community Rum Village, in the Wadi Rum Protected Area, part of the Arabian Desert. But other than a few paragraphs from an online website explaining we were going to spend the night at a Bedouin campground, follow in the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence and watch an amazing sunset, we had no idea what was coming.
What came, was a Bedouin tribesman by the name of Suleman. One of 18 children of a Bedouin tribal leader who had three wives, Suleman said he was related in one manner or another to just about every inhabitant of the little village. He lived on his own, but all his neighbors are brothers and or cousins.
Suleman picked us up in a well used 4×4 Toyota. The bed of the truck had been equipped with two long lightly padded benches and a railing to hold on to. And hold on we did, as we raced across the desert, kicking up a fine deep red sand, bouncing and flailing around the back of the truck and loving every minute of it. Or at least my daughter and I were. My husband felt Suleman could slow down a bit so as not to throw us from the truck, “Suleman, the desert has been here for 10,000 years, we don’t have to cross it in 10 minutes,” he shouted to Suleman.
Suleman quickly explained he wanted to take us to see a natural arch before we met up with a couple of other parties to watch the sun set. So onward we went, grinding our way up sand dunes and letting it fly down the other side. Going as fast as the truck could take us with no speed limits or cops out in the middle of the Arabian desert to hinder our progress. Upon arriving at the arch that was a good 50 feet high, Suleman jumped out of the truck, ran up the side of the outcropping of rocks, in his flip-flops and long bedouin dress, that led to the arch and yelled for us to follow. We all graciously declined and watched him stand at the stop of the arch waving his arms.
Once down, it was off to the races again, to experience one of the most amazing sunsets ever created. Right after being picked up in Rum Village, we had stopped at a Bedouin camp to have a cup of the sweet hot tea Bedouins drink, and we were greeted with more of this tea when we arrived at the mini campground set up in the middle of the desert. The tribesman used dried local brush to create a roaring fire and used heavy teapots encrusted with soot, to steep the tea in. They ran out of cups so they cut the tops off of plastic bottles and used the bottom for makeshift mugs. A little hot to hold, but still very tasty.
Tea in hand, we leaned against the front of our truck and as if on cue, the sun set behind the horizon line, creating a scene unlike any other. The vibrant color of the desert meeting the dark silhouette of the rock formations in the distance flooded with the last bit of bright yellow light and the feel of the temperature dropping as quickly as the sun was dropping – just like we experience in the desert where we live in Arizona.
Then with only the ambient light of the sun and our headlights to guide our way we drove through the darkening desert to our private Bedouin camp where we were served a Bedouin home cooked meal. The tent was made of a hand-woven black with white striping blanket draped over wooden poles, and the dinner table was set up under the stars. We gorged ourselves on more traditional Jordanian dishes. And then we slumbered in an Americanized style of tent, completely enclosed and weather proofed.
I awoke at 5 am, to see the silhouette of my husband sitting atop a rock outcropping, watching the sun rise, sipping on a cup of hot strong coffee. At that moment life could not have been any more perfect or serene and we all wished we had booked to stay longer in the desert. But soon the camp was bustling, we had breakfast and then back to zipping through the desert at high-speed. Not because we were in a hurry, but because it was fun.
We stopped at the base of a sand dune and our daughter climbed it, at times sinking up to her knees in the soft warm sand. Suleman said he had a board we could use to surf down the sand dunes, but taking a header out in the middle of the Arabian desert wasn’t part of our agenda. I’m sure my skateboarding/snowboarding son would’ve tried.
We took in more highlights as we worked out way back to Wadi Rum. We saw an ancient Olive Tree sitting at the base of a ravine. This walls of the ravine showed marks of an ancient civilization, above marks from camera stand used to film scenes from the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Suleman also showed us the remains of the house where T.E. Lawrence lived while spending time in the Arabian Desert.
In our chats with Suleman, we learned he owned 27 horses and multi-day horse tours was his main form of tours. We asked if he had any camels. He did not, but said his cousin did. When we arrived back in Rum Village, we drove by Suleman’s in town corral. His cousin lived down a back alley. Suleman opened the back gate to a small yard and there, lounging in the morning sun chewing on hay, were three camels. His cousin saddled up the stinky, mangy, rough-looking camels and helped us climb on which was a treat in itself. You get on the camel as it lies on the ground, and then when it gets up you lurch backwards, almost perpendicular to the ground, and then you are thrown you forward as it gets up on all fours.
My daughter’s camel was bellowing and screeching and not wanting to move. And then the camel let loose with a flood of green projectile vomit that flew several feet. After that the camel was fine – guess he had a bit of a tummy ache. Then we were off to the races. Well not exactly, although apparently camel racing is big time stuff in the desert. We rolled along in our saddles to the pace of the camels as they moseyed through the desert at the edge of Rum Village. After a snoozy 30 minutes of this we decided we had achieved what we came for – to ride a camel.
Check out more great pics of Wadi Rum in the Global Gallery!