Chasing Lawrence in the Wadi Rum
Trip Start Jan 01, 2009
38Trip End Jun 30, 2009
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We arrived at the top after a couple hours, at a large natural rock arch bridging the gap between 2 mountains that is a famous image for the Wadi Rum. You can climb over this arch but it was fairly windy that day and standing up on the top approach it was evident that we would have to crawl across it (we decided we didn't need to cross it that badly - Andy and Duncan's testosterone must have been at an ebb).
We headed back down for lunch at Kherrad's mothers tent. She lives with his sister in the desert still. While most of the Wadi Rum Bedouins have moved from living in tents into stone houses in the little village, retaining their camps in the desert for occasional use - many older Bedouin prefer their way of life in the desert still. She had a typical large black tent made out of woven blankets, divided into the visitor's area, with pillows and fire pit, and the cooking and family area (where we didn't venture). There was also a small covered corral for the goats and an out building or 2 (the loo?). Water is brought in by tanker truck periodically. A wonderful Bedouin meal was served with pita, hummus, and a vegetable curry - we just broke off a piece of pita and scooped up the food - no plates or cutlery required (my kind of meal!) and washed it down with hot sweet tea that has been heated by placing the blackened teapot directly into the fire. I'm not sure what type of wood is burned in the fire - it is dried wood from a small bush collected from the desert - but it's smell is intoxicating. After the meal, we were given an hour to rest and so we spread ourselves out on the pillows, with contented tummies, soaking in the atmosphere - at that moment I thought "this is why we are traveling!" Andy and I looked at each other and just smiled - he was thinking the same thing.
We then went on a little 4x4 excursion to a spring at the base of one of the mountains. It was dramatic to peer into the dark, dank hole to see the clear cold water that gives life to the desert. Apparently it had only rained for a brief period once this winter and the winters have been very dry for the past 10 years. Birds and animals are disappearing and the low desert plants that provide food for the camels and goats are also dying. The impact of global warming. Then it was off to our camp for the night with Kherrad. This camp can hold up to 20 people but we were the only ones there for this night, along with Kherrad. We spent the late afternoon scrambling on the nearby rocks. At the top of one small 'mountains' we just sat still for a time, taking in the majestic surroundings. It was a quintessential moment of peace, with the desert vista spread out below, the late afternoon sun on the horizon and no sound but the wind. It is moments like these that feel truly spiritual. Later, we walked out into the desert sand and watched the sun set. Back at camp, Kerrad had cooked up another wonderful meal that we ate around the crackling fire, washing it down with more sweet Bedouin tea. Then to bed - instead of sleeping in the tent, we spent the night out in the open around the dying embers of the fire, gazing at the desert star filled sky.
We woke the following morning to, of course, more bedouin tea and breakfast by the fire - for this the pitas are warmed by throwing them directly on to the embers of the fire - they come away very hot and just a little charred but tasty with scrambled eggs and more hummus and sweet tea. Today was camel day. This was on my list of things to do on the trip. The kids had ridden camels briefly at Giza, but Andy and I hadn't yet. Knowing how I feel after even an hour on a horse I was wondering what I had done by booking a day on a camel, but it seemed that it would be a richer experience than the more usual hour or 2 camel ride that was on offer for the tour groups, so off we went. We drove up to our camel guide, sitting in the middle of the desert, surrounded by his 5 camels, drinking tea by a little fire he had lit while he waited for us - it was a postcard picture moment.
We were assigned our camels (mine was El Ehan) and off we went into the wadi. We knew, of course, how to ride a camel properly from watching Lawrence (one leg hooked over the front of the saddle with the foot tucked under the other ankle) so we immediately felt pretty pleased with ourselves. They really are beautiful animals.
The day was spent riding for an hour or so, getting off and exploring (ancient pictographs, climbing and then sliding down tall red sand dunes - NB this looks more fun than it actually is - I wasn't disappointed to miss my chance to sandboard). We stopped for tea at one point, then lunch later. Each time our guide picked up a few twigs and started a fire that quickly took (you can imagine how dry the wood was) and put the blackened tea pot on for tea. By the end of the day we were very pleased with our camel riding skills. With some encouragement "yella, yella!" my camel would break into a trot that would keep pace with the guide. Duncan and Maddie's camels were tethered to Andy's and I think his camel knew that it was too hard to pick up the pace dragging the other 2 behind so they were always trailing in the distance. After my poor riding skills on the horse in Giza (just a brief panic as the horse started trotting and bouncing me all over - but of course the kids won't let me forget this loss of dignity) I felt I redeemed myself as a camel rider and was quite chuffed.
All in all, the family agreed that the experience in Wadi Rum was a highlight. The Bedouin people we encountered were welcoming and gracious. They lead a very simple life still, even with the encroachments of modern society (the guides all carried cell phones and 4x4's are increasingly replacing camels) but many aspects of the old way of life are surprisingly intact. We felt we saw how many Bedouin still live today, and certainly how most lived until very recently - it didn't feel in the least a contrived tourist experience.