Sun, sand and a couple of permanently hungry camels - how to make the most of Wadi Rum
14.04.2012 - 15.04.2012 28 °C
Noone could accuse us of not being German enough when we arrived at the Wadi Rum gate at 9am on the dot. I suspect there is something in the genetic make-up of the Germans that prevents them from being late and whilst there must be some exceptions (I haven’t met them yet), the Duke isn’t one of them.
Immediately surrounded by various Wadi Rum tour operators, the pressure proved too much for us to remember what was our contact person actually called. Having consulted our print out, we were ushered through the gate and instructed to drive to the nearby Wadi Rum village, where we were supposed to be picked up by Ahmed from Bedouin Adventures. Easier said than done. Only after being followed by a beeping Toyota truck for five minutes did we realise that it wasn’t just some nut trying to bully us into going slower / faster, but poor Ahmed doing his best to distract us from ogling at the herds of camels to follow him to the office instead.
Treated to yet another sweet tea, we tried to pick Ahmed’s brains about Wadi Rum, the weather, busyness, popularity of jeep vs camel tours and plenty of other essential questions. Essential for us, mildly irritating for Ahmed, as it turned out.Ahmed is the owner of Bedouin Adventures and after five minutes with him it became clear that he is just too cool. His manner suggested that he has all the time in the world, and having now spent two days in Wadi Rum, he probably does. Having said that, we loved Bedouin Adventures and would recommend them to everyone. But more about that later.
I have to admit that we were mildly apprehensive about spending a couple of days on a camel back in a desert. Not least because our previous record on any animal were a couple of hours on a horseback, which we undeniably felt afterwards. But also because I don’t do heat. Ten minutes, not to mention hours, in a hot weather and I turn from a decent person to Godzilla. My irritation threshold drops so low that there is in fact nothing below it anymore, as the Duke (I am sure) will gladly confirm. This combined with an occasional heat-induced severe nose bleed doesn’t make me a pleasant travel companion into warmer climates. But the money changed hands, the camels were ready and we would be too scared to tell Ahmed anyway, so after yet another tea, we were released to meet our camels.
Oh yeah. Our apprehension was not particularly helped by bumping into an American girl at the office, who just had a couple of hours camel ‘test ride’ and swore not to do it ever again before proceeding to explain that the saddle is just too hard for her delicate American ass. Catching the last straws of hope, we took to contemplate the national levels of derriere delicacy, speculating if Czech and German behinds are less delicate as the American ones and therefore we had actually nothing to fear. But concluding that there was no one around to conclusively prove or disprove this hypothesis, we walked off in the direction of three big-eyed camels and a shy looking Bedouin style-clad boy.
Yusuf was Ahmed’s brother and also our camel tour guide for the next two days. Although he was only thirteen and spoke little English, we immediately liked him. And I would like to think that after a short time together in the desert, he really liked us too. To start with, we demanded to hold the straps of our camels which meant he was free to race around the desert on his own, without worrying that the two clumsy-looking strangers attached to his camel will get lost somewhere in the process.This meant of course, that every now and then he had to return and sort our camels into moving in the right direction again, but judging by his obvious love for camel riding, he considered it worth the hassle. Secondly, we didn’t mind when he cheekily crept behind our camels and made them run, only to be laughing at our desperate attempts to hang on to the camels’ backs. So happiness all around.
Despite our initial reservations, we loved the feeling of exploring the desert on camel backs. Already at the border of the village, we watched the busy traffic of jeeps and short camel tours and felt in harmony with the animals and the surrounding landscape. And it got better the further we got into the desert.
Our first stop were the Lawrence Springs and what a surprise when after 30 pleasant and lazy minutes on a camel we were instructed to climb on top of a very rocky mountain to a) admire a little green oasis set amongst the massive boulders and b) enjoy the views of Wadi Rum. 30 minutes from the Wadi Rum village, the Lawrence Springs is a popular stop for everyone who visits Wadi Rum. This was evident from the masses of jeeps and clusters of camels dotted around the base of the mountain. Also the Bedouin tent offering yet more sweet tea and souvenirs was rather full and so we were quite happy when we (sweltering) reached the bottom of the rocky mountain again and set off in the general direction of ‘the middle of nowhere’.
Little by little, the traffic started thinning and gradually, we were the only ones as far as we could see. The only noise was the regular rhythm of the camel feet hitting the sand and the wind playing a chase in the surrounding mountains. Despite initially being nervousness about prolonged exposure to the harsh desert sun, we soon found out that the wind and dry air combine to create pleasant conditions for exploring the desert. Having said that, we were smothered in factor 5000 sun screen and wore wide brim hats, not leaving anything to chance.
Our next stop was a massive sand dune, which we would swear was also Yusuf’s favourite part. Having parked our camels at the bottom of the dune, Yusuf run up the steepest face of the sand mountain in what seemed to be a blink of the eye. The Duke and I were slightly less impressive. If I was to order our impressiveness of ascent in order of excellence then Yusuf would be clear top, Duke second and me barely making the scale. God did I suffer. To my defence, I did have a big SLR hanging from my neck but still. How could I get so unfit? I must exercise more..... Yes. Definitely. ...... Or avoid climbing sand dunes.
If I was to single out one experience from Wadi Rum that had the potential to cause permanent damage to my self confidence, it would be this one. Whilst I was making a painfully slow progress up the dune, Yusuf run down and up again in the same time what it took me to make five painful steps up and slide four down again. To further demonstrate how unreasonably difficult I was making it out to be, he kept laughing down at me, in which he was eventually also joined by the Duke. The cheek of them! But to their defence, they rejoiced once I joined them at the Olympus of sand dunes and gave me a couple of seconds before we all made a victorious run down the dune. And did that feel great. If only I could do it again without the climb....
In the couple of hours we now spent in Wadi Rum, it became obvious that camel tours are rather rare. In fact, we were the only camel tour we met (if you don’t count the short loop-trips to Lawrence Springs) and the rest of the traffic was accounted for by jeep tours. No wonder than that whenever we encountered fellow adventurers, they immediately fired up their cameras to take a ‘typical’ Wadi Rum picture of sun, sand and three strangers on camels. So if you happened to be in Wadi Rum around this time, check out your pics and if you spot a redhead on top of a camel – Bingo! And let us know, of course.
Generously posing for a few photo shots, we slowly left the sand dune behind and headed towards yet another sight. As soon as we turned the corner, the two jeeps we shared the dune with disappeared and we were once again alone. The camel saddles still felt fairly comfortable and so we sat back and enjoyed the fantastic scenery. After a little while, little Yusuf started quietly singing and when he realised we didn’t mind, he broke into a beautiful Bedouin song which made the experience even more surreal and authentic.
With the only other traffic along the way being a broken down jeep and an old truck obviously used as spare parts for fixing the jeep, we started to make out a massive black wall of rock in the distance. With Wadi Rum largely made of sand stone, the landscape is constantly changing with sheets of rock breaking off, arches forming and wind chiselling away on big red boulders. So seeing a rock face that was old enough to be blackened by time, we started to suspect that it was our next destination. And right we were. This is also where we double-appreciated being on a camel back.
Wadi Rum is a home to number of petroglyphs, and we were about to see some of the most famous. When close enough, we could make out engraved figures of camels, gazelles and people, beautifully preserved after hundreds of years of sun and wind. The only other visitors was a jeep with a family, which didn’t bother us in the slightest as we got into their line of vision and admired the carvings from tops of our camels. The perks of being camel-bound.
Although it seemed like we were moving rather snail-pace, the ever changing landscape suggested we were covering quite a distance. So much so, that our bums started to get tiny bit tender and when we eventually stopped for a lunch break, it felt heavenly being able to stretch our legs and stand on our own two feet for a change.
For a thirteen year old, Yusuf was exemplary professional and responsible. Tying up the camels after offloading bags of goodies from their saddle pockets, he made a fire, prepared a pot of tea and posed for some pictures, whilst ignoring our attempts to help him. Happy to sit back and chill, we tucked into our pita bread and tin of tuna before lying down for a brief afternoon nap. Bliss. This also meant we avoided the strongest midday sun and so by the time we set off again in the afternoon, it was once again perfectly bearable.
With a busy morning schedule, our afternoon was in sign of free riding. Yusuf entrusted us with the control of our camels and when he realised we were still sitting up after five minutes of solo riding, he took it as a sign to ride off and do his own thing. The only problem was, that he didn’t tell us how to control our camels. This would have been helpful as the only thing they were interested in was food. But somehow we managed and Yusuf must have thought we were doing brilliantly, because after few more minutes he started to entertain himself (and either one of us) by hitting one of our camels with a stick which made them to break into a run.
Now if you do have some kind of an experience with camel riding you know that once camel starts running, you start uncontrollably bumping up and down on the wooden saddle and it is not that easy to direct your landing to hit the right part of the saddle again, or the camel for that matter. Plus by this time, our bums were starting to feel the full riding experience which was not particularly enhanced by Yusuf’s little game. But we survived and a couple of hours later, we arrived out our base for the night – a fairly authentic Bedouin camp.
The camp was surprisingly big and well equipped. We were allocated one of the still boiling tents and so dropping our stuff off, we joined Yusuf and Ahmed (who drove over from the village) for a tea in a communal outdoors tent. Whilst the Duke and I kept speculating if we would be joined by some other people or have the camp for ourselves, the air started to fill with increasingly loud voices and eventually a large group of Swiss tourists appeared from between the tents. As we later found out, they were part of an educational programme for blind people doing a field research trip in Jordan.
To our entertainment, they took photos of every detail in the camp, including the toilets, the kitchen and of course, the dining area, before one after another found their own spot in the shady communal tent. With this group started to arrive also other members of Ahmed’s family, which we learn were all employed by Ahmed’s Bedouin Adventures as guides, drivers and other help. It looked like by the end of the afternoon, there would be a decent crowd.
Although we were done for the day, it was still early and high on all the sugar, we decided to take a stroll around the surrounding area. Venturing behind the borders of the camp, we soon realised how deceiving distances in Wadi Rum area as the only point of reference for scale are mammoth mountains scattered all around the sandy desert. After over an hour long walk in the direction of a mountain range, which we thought we could walk around and get back to the camp, the sun started to dim and we started to realise that it might be best to turn back. This is when we spotted a group of jeeps in the distance with one of them turning off track and heading towards us.
As it turned out, the jeeps were all from our camp and their plan was to reach a (apparently known) sunset viewpoint around thirty minutes away from the camp (by car). So without having planned it, we were rescued and treated to another little trip at the same time. Whilst sunset in Wadi Rum sounds great, so far we failed to see any sunset in Jordan at all and so our hopes were not exactly high this time either. Unfortunately, they were right not to be. The lower the sun got, the darker the clouds surrounding it became and eventually, all of the approximately hundred other expectant travellers gathered at the plateau had to admit that there would be no sunset tonight. Well, at least not one that we could see.
With all the Wadi Rum attractions now covered in the darkness of the night, the cosy looking chill-out zone of the Bedouin camp started to fill up. Within ten minutes of our return to the camp, the air was buzzing with excited chatter of an interestingly diverse group of travellers. In addition to us and the Swiss pensioner-squad, there was a random selection of couples and young people, including a couple of guys who temporarily worked in the Bedouin Adventures office as part of their around the world travels. Not a bad way to experience Jordan, dare I say.
It was also thanks to the interesting crowd that the evening turned out to be absolutely unforgettable. Sharing stories and experiences from travels and impressions of Wadi Rum, the evening seemed to go far too fast and before we knew it, Ahmed’s cousin gently nudged us to do our evening bathroom routine before they turn off the water and light for the night. By that time, there were only about six of us left and lying under the stars with a cup of hot tea in our hands, we could see the attraction of the Bedouin lifestyle. But all good things must come to an end (but why?) and so we slowly made our way to the by now cool tent for a night in the Wadi Rum desert.