Americans might want to avoid the Middle East, since so much lethal conflict is going on there. But the friendly little Bedouin kingdom of Jordan is an island of stability and welcoming smiles, with a number of world-class attractions to recommend it. My traveling companion and I immersed ourselves for two days in Bedouin culture at the Bedouin Lifestyle Camp in the starkly beautiful Wadi Rum desert in the South of Jordan. Then we spent two days in Petra in central Jordan, one of the world’s great archeological sites seeing even more extravagant red rock geology.
The tiny village of Wadi Rum was about 20 km off the highway, and we were greeted there by a man identifying himself as Attallah. When we said we were registered for the Bedouin Lifestyle.
Camp, he said he represented a competing enterprise, the Bedouin Meditation Camp, whose storefront was right in front of us. He even offered to credit us with whatever we had prepaid to the BLC. My companion, Barbara, insisted that we stay with the original reservation, after which he laughed and confessed that he was the BLC’s director, and that he had been putting us on. A deadpan artist, I thought, rather rare in the hotel biz. This was going to be a very relaxed, friendly experience.
We had signed up for the camel ride and were assigned to two camels, to be led by a boy of about 11. Barbara was in heaven. I was in pain. With the galumping of the camel, I never could find a comfortable position to sit in; my groin was tense the whole time. I had attached my GoPro video camera to the saddle horn, but it wouldn’t stay on, so I gave it up. About 45 minutes into the two-hour ride Attallah pulled up in a 4×4, and I took the rest of the ride to the tented camp on four wheels.
The Camp itself was a rather stolid looking place, with a row of tents for sleeping that faced the 150-foot cliff, a wondrous piece of geology in itself, with the communal eating and gathering tent on the left, and the communal bathroom & showers on the right, across a sandy courtyard, illuminated by dim ground lamps during the night.
The sleeping tents are small, but comfortable, with a queen-sized bed or twin beds occupying about 50% of the 12×12 foot floor space, with a stool or two, and all surfaces covered in lush carpeting.
After settling in the first order of business was to pile everyone in the camp into four 4×4’s and head off to see the sunset. Riding over the tire tracks in the sand at about 30 mph, the Bedouin drivers showed off by standing on their running board while steering, which confirmed a kind of wild-West feel to the place.
The sunset viewing site was a gently sloping rock with fantastic geological flourishes in the surrounding rocks. I found them irresistible and immediately left the group to walk around the promontory everyone was sitting on, bleacher style, to capture the formations. This was only the beginning of my romance with the rocks of the Jordanian desert, which would culminate four days later in Petra.
Some looked like sinister frozen drips, casting shadows on the recessed surfaces behind. They made me think at times of the style of H. R. Giger, of Gustave Moreau, of Edvard Munch, of Jean Dubuffet–not in the subject matter, of course, but in the rich chaos of their lines.
The cloudless sunset was magnificent, a silent symphony of color, with a crepuscular coda (literally).
That evening, we all gathered in the communal tent for our dinner, sitting around the edges inside to watch the show of traditional Bedouin music on the oud and silver drum, while we waited for the dinner to be ready. Two of our hosts got up and danced and then invited us to join them. Soon almost everyone in the room was up and dancing, having caught onto the simple step that made us feel almost as though we had been brought up in the community.
Then we were all invited outside to see the meal in the “kitchen,” but when we arrived there was just a low mound of sand. The cook proceeded to shovel the sand away, revealing a cloth that was removed, then a metal covering, underneath which was a three-tiered tray of our cooked food: chicken, caramelized onions, and potatoes. This was brought inside and served alongside several types of cut-up salads and the inevitable humus, always delicious and very smooth.
We bounced along in the back of the truck, holding on for dear life, as our driver drove past the ubiquitous goat-herds and took us to seven magnificent desert spots, that included some astonishing Nabatean-era petroglyphs (2,000+ years old), a sand dune we could “surf” down (but very laborious to climb up), a little shop selling desert and Dead Sea cosmetics and some beautiful fabrics alongside a wall that was a part of a dwelling that T. E. Lawrence had stayed in. Wherever we went the fantastic shapes in the rock faces glowered down on us, hovering between abstraction and menace.
In the shade of a cliff, our driver cooked us all a marvelous lunch, while we took a half-hour hike through a nearby canyon. We ate on two blankets.
Then, he took us to a natural arch, which we climbed, then another. Finally, we visited a narrow canyon with water on the bottom, round potholes, probably created by water rushing past twirling rocks, and petroglyphs that included enigmatic archaic writing.
That evening the stars came out before the light of dusk had disappeared; the big dipper loomed overhead, and a bright gibbous moon hugged the cliff wall. Sheer desert paradise.
The dinner was a repeat of the previous night. Toward the end of the evening, I decided to tease Attallah a bit and asked him if his little band took requests. Not wanting to disappoint a client, he said yes, so I asked for Ellington’s “Caravan.” Appropriate, I thought. Of course, he had never heard of it, but we had a good laugh over my attempt to sing it, the tune with a baseline I had played on the piano. But I was no Bobby McFerrin.
Curious about more of what to see and do in Jordan, this great Planning Guide for Traveling to Jordan or Great Hiking in Jordan should help. There are also a few great pieces on Beduoin Culture in the area, Wadi Rum, the Diversity You’ll find Across Jordan and Fun Things to do in Jordan worth reading.