Thursday, April 13, 2017

Overnight in a Bedouin Camp at Wadi Rum


Mahmoud, one of our hosts
Even the words, "Bedouin desert camp" sounded so mysterious and magical, that this was something I really wanted to try while in Jordan. It was an opportunity to sleep under the stars where the Arabs had united against the Ottoman Turks of yesteryear, as shown in the movie Lawrence of Arabia, one of the few American films about the Arabs considered historically relevant and correct enough that a copy was placed in the Library of Congress.  It's a good movie even if you don't have immediate plans to visit Jordan, though it might inspire travel as it did for me.

My driver recommended I overnight at  Hasan Zawaideh Camp,  a relatively new desert experience at Wadi Rum, where the prices are incredibly affordable.  I call it an experience rather than just lodging, because guests are somewhat isolated at these camps. Meals and entertainment are often included. This one includes breakfast and dinner.

We arrived in late afternoon to small glasses of hot tea in a communal tent, where we could sit on Arab sofas or pillows. My driver greeted, and then introduced me to, one of the brothers who run the camp, Mahmoud. Dressed in a long blue robe and a traditional headscarf called a keffiyeh, it was no surprise that he too bore a striking resemblance to Johnny Depp, just as I had seen at Petra. The male greeting ritual was charming among the two friends. There was hugging and many kisses on the cheeks. Then they called each other "habibi," the equivalent of "bro" or "my dear friend." The shisha, a waterpipe, was brought out and filled with apple tobacco and charcoal, and the men smoked together. Of course, they asked me to join, but I declined.  I had tried it the day before and decided it wasn't really something I enjoyed.
What a view!
Hot spiced tea served in a small glass
About an hour before sunset, one of the young Bedouin men working at the camp took us out in a pick-up truck that had less than 300 miles on the odometer. I enjoyed the ride but felt like crying at how the truck was going to be torn up in no time with this kind of driving. He took us to a few significant places nearby: hieroglyphics on a rock, a sandy hill to climb, rock carvings, and some view points. Each time we got out and walked a bit, filling my shoes with sand.
What a way to break in a new truck

You could climb the sand dune or with the right equipment ride a board down it

A young man with a small herd of saddled camels came by to ask if I wanted a ride. I politely declined, thinking that one camel ride in a day was enough.  Earlier on this day at Petra, I had already been on a horse, donkey, and camel.  That must certainly be a personal record.
Camel rides were available

A few minutes before sunset, we climbed to the top of a high rock and watched the desert swallow the sun. It was magnificent.  Our Bedouin driver told us to buckle up, then took us back to the camp after a few quick jaunts over steep dunes, which left sand flying into the windshield as the truck rocked precariously.  It was somewhat reckless, not really necessary, and a whole lot of fun.
The view was nice from up here

My driver explained that dinner at the camp was sometimes an animal cooked in a pit, but because of heavy rains the previous day, the pit was filled with water.  We had chicken, rice, hummus, and a number of delicious salads instead.  It wasn't only delicious. The Bedouin chef had taken care to make a formal presentation of everything, using peppers and other vegetables to decorate the platters. A group of about 20 people from 7 different countries, we filled our plates and then sat on the Arab sofas with plates in hand, sharing travel stories.

After dinner, there was a bonfire, shisha for those who wanted to smoke, and music. The men danced shoulder to shoulder, and anyone who wanted to join in could. We sat around the fire for a couple hours as the stars appeared overhead.  Unfortunately, it was a cloudy night, so there weren't as many visible. It was still very nice.  The camp lights were turned down, and the rock face protecting the camp was lit up with lanterns, as was the pathway to the tents and bathrooms.
A campfire after dinner

There were maybe 15 tents in the complex, and I had one with had a king size bed, toilet, sink, and shower. All the tents had electricity. It was more like a hotel room because it had a locking door and real furniture, though it was difficult to keep anything clean with so much sand surrounding everything. The tents were quite close to each other, and I found myself awake for a while listening to distant conversations, and even someone snoring. Even though there was a heavy blanket, I was chilled at first.  It got quite cold at night, but warmed considerably during the day.


Inside my tent
When I awoke for breakfast, it was chilly enough to need a jacket. We ate a filling breakfast of yogurt, hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, pita bread, and hot tea or coffee. Most people headed out quite soon after that.  It's not really the kind of place where you'd spend more than one day, though some did and planned tours to Aqaba or Petra for the day. Overall, it was a great adventure. 

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