Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wadi Rum

I hate camping. And camping in the desert has zero appeal for me - but the idea of seeing the night sky like nowhere else on earth convinced us to book a day and night at Wadi Rum in Jordan. This is the famous desert of Lawrence of Arabia fame and is incredibly beautiful both at night and by day. In a junky rust-bucket four wheel drive vehicle with a handsome young Bedouin driver, we tore across this desert landscape stopping at one breath-taking vista after another. The broad expanses of sand were peppered with clumps of blueish greenery as they'd had the first big rain of 16 years two weeks prior to our visit. Closer inspection revealed that every square inch of the sand had some small plants growing. The desert was abloom. It doesn't take long for you to be totally mesmerized by the whole romantic scene - the vast emptiness, the exotic Bedouin, the fascinating camels. We'd watched "Lawrence" again just before leaving and the sweeping score was playing in my head constantly.

Camels in small groups were clustered here and there - small herds, dozing like cats - always to conserve energy and water. We saw one with a young baby only about a week old. Watching them get up and down in their graceful but strange slow-motion way was intriguing. Bedouins love camels and many drink camel milk (extremely high in fat and cholesterol) every day.  We appreciated watching them glide along the desert like sand taxis with their colorful "fly swatters" dangling down around their necks. 

Richard and Abdul went clambering up one rocky area which I passed on due to my wobbliness. When they came back down, they had a picture of a rattler they'd encountered curled up against the rocks. Immediately on seeing the photo, the three Bedouin drivers (two other parties had pulled up while the guys were climbing) kicked off their sandals, hiked up their robes and ran up the side of the rocks like they had glue applied to their feet. I couldn't believe their agility. Once they located the snake they ran back down and siphoned off some gas from the vehicle intending to kill the snake with it. Another tourist, sporting a "Green Planet" t-shirt stepped up and objected - she said, in effect, "Hey, the snake was here first - if you kill these things, soon there'll be nothing left". The Bedouins said in reply -"These snakes kill people in 15 minutes. It's happened and we've had kids poisoned. Snakes are our biggest enemies." A bit of a debate ensued, voice raised a little - green tourists (just passing through) versus Bedouin (permanent residents). A comprimise was reached - the Bedouin agreed to catch the snake and move it to an area where tourists were unlikely to go. 

The photo is of our lunch stop in a tent where we were served a can of oily tuna, some kind of British crackers, a banana and water. The tent floors are covered in carpets and pillows so you can lounge while eating or enjoying a visit. The Yasser Arafat head wrap I'm sporting may look pitifully touristy but those people know what they're doing. The wrap keeps your head covered, neck protected and you can pull the front over your face when it's dusty or the flies bother you. I wore it, albeit wrapping it rather inexpertly, for a couple of days and when I tired of it and went back to my regular hat, Richard was sort of disappointed. 

Our night was spent in a goat hair tent on raised cots and because we were exhausted we slept like logs. The worst part, was the shared bathroom lean-two with one regular toilet (non-squat) and a cold dribble of a shower for those who couldn't bear to face the day without some kind of a wash. Unprepared, we didn't even have a towel with us (everyone in the middle east knows you bring your own linens camping). Fortunately, the camp wasn't full and we shared with two French girls and a Dutch family of six. Everyone was thoughtful and considerate about using the facilities which improved immensely once darkness fell and the lighting was by candle, making the sanitation shortfalls fade into the dusk.

After a simple evening dinner (grilled chicken and vegetables) in the main tent with corny but sincere entertainment provided by our driver, the cook and two other Bedouins - sort of wierd dancing and guitar music, we stood outside and looked at the sky until our necks were aching. Overhead was a glittering, twinkling panorama which stunned us all into silence. Every once in a while a shooting star would skid across the scene and elicit oohs and aahs. 

It was Richard's birthday and an unforgettable night. 


  1. This trip sounds so interesting. Can't wait to hear the whole story. We missed you!

  2. Hi Helen,
    I died laughing about the funny translations. Your trip sounds so interesting. Can't wait to hear more.
    Since you were gone I started a new blog. It was inspired by our attendance at a Calif. Avocado Commission meeting. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I'm not sure it's worth all the time I'm putting into it. But it is fun.