We had wanted to set up a program called “living with nomads” for a while and a bit of spare time between climbing mountains allowed me to check out the desert-living Bedouin people of Wadi Rum in Jordan to see if this idea might work. The guinea pigs used to test this idea would be none other than my wife Marni and my two kids Ollie (14) and Izabella (11). Marni was actually the one driving this idea – and having lived in the Sinai for a few years and spent many months with tribes in Africa it wasn’t an unusual idea.
I am not sure how many times down suits, Ice axes and crampons had been lugged to Jordan – it certainly raised a few eyebrows at the customs desk – but as I was straight out of the Himalayan season with no time for a pit stop at home – it was just one of those things!
There is so much to write and so much I could share –but for now I will give you a small insight into the famous Wadi Rum. The magical Petra and awesome Sinai (home from home) will come later.
With our jaws on the floor we drove into Wadi Rum village. Now, we have travelled the world but the grandeur of this place simply had us stunned. Massive walls of decaying red granite approaching a kilometre high stretched out on both sides of a sandy valley and twisted and turned between massive domes consisting of rock that looked like molten candle wax.
As soon as you stop anywhere black sugary tea magically appears – this time followed by an array of simple foods of fool, hummus and salads. We sat on the floor all eating from the one pot which created a familiar atmosphere of laugher and stories – the Bedouins love to tell stories – and the scene was now set.
Loading camels is a noisy business, most of them roar and snarl when they are approached and this can be quite intimidating. Having led many diving camel safaris with Marni it felt like we had stepped back 15 years, this time though we were with our kids and seeing it all through their wide eyes of awe. Our two young Bedu camel handlers assured the kids that females rarely bite and that secretly they did like us. One of the boys was deaf but his way of handling these massive animals was reassuring. Leading a white camel over to Ollie by her head-rope he gently jerked downwards, saying “khrr, khrr” and she dropped to her knees. She then swayed backwards and after settling her hind-legs under her, sank down on to her hocks. She shuffled her knees forward until she was comfortably settled on the ground, her chest resting on the horny pad between her forelegs. Ollie jumped on. We followed suit on our own beasts and led by the Bedu boys the camels reversed their peculiar jack knife motion and we literally set off into the movie set of Lawrence of Arabia.
The afternoon sun bore down on us – but with our African Kikois wrapped around our heads Arab style we had just enough protection to bear the 50 degree heat. The Bedu boys in jeans and T-shirts laughed and the kids joined in with their easy going banter of sign language and mimicry that bonds kids of all cultures.
Dwarfed by enormous shimmering walls on both sides we rode further and further into the Wadi, The Bedu loved the idea and eagerly jumped on the back of Bella’s and Marni’s camels and within seconds we were kicking up some serious dust. Soon outside the reach of tourists we entered a part of the Wadi dotted only with local Bedu camps and camels grazing on the sparse shrubs in small herds. Our camp for the night consisted of two large Bedouin tents, inhabited by the wives of our desert guide. We greeted them with a Salam alaikum (peace be on you) and they replied Alaikum as Salam (peace be upon you too).
As a male I wasn’t allowed to greet the women but Marni sat with them drinking sweetened Bedouin tea while admiring the three week old baby and their scruffy goats held in a pen at the bottom of their tent. The men started a small cooking fire and got a brew on.
Yousef stood as he poured a little into tiny cups bowing slightly as he did so. Each of us was served until we shook the cup and handed it back to him signifying that we had enough. It is not customary to drink more than three cups. After the tea we explored the area we had found ourselves in, jumping and running down the sand dunes that had formed from the winds, and watched as the Bedu women rounded up the goats and began to milk them.
Back at camp the banter carried on, the stories rolled and laughter was intense, mainly surrounding their delight as Bella pulled out her bear. They had never seen a teddy bear before, with its little tartan jacket and this became the focus of a wonderful adult innocence.
A full moon rose over the surrounding granite domes and the firelight threw crazy shadows onto the tent walls. A slight wind picked up and drew the smoke into swirling figures that danced around the men and the tents. Marni and I relaxed back on the blankets stretched around the fire, contentedly experiencing once again the simple nomadic way of entertaining.
Then came dinner and praise has to go to the kids for persevering through what must to them have been a culinary nightmare. The dish was called Fetta and it consisted of ancient bits of flat bread drowned in curdled goat’s yogurt with heaped goat’s fat on top that created a shimmering slight green tinge to the otherwise grey lump. It was eaten with your hands from a communal bowl. This is the staple diet and we embraced it fully.
After dinner we settled down to sleep. Marni and Bella were expected to sleep in the women’s tent but had persuaded Youssef that we would all sleep together as a family. We stretched out on blankets laid out on the sand inside the open-sided tent. Falling asleep immediately I didn’t notice the wind pick up but Marni and the kids certainly did. The wind went from being mildly crazy as it carried streams of sand into the tent to being outrageous as it heaved the tent wall and poles from their moorings and properly bulldozed us with dunes of sand. It was exciting and all part of the bigger picture of experiencing this magical and challenging way of living in the desert.
We woke up in a deep pit of sand but to a spectacular sunrise with Bedouin tea already being brewed.
This new day brought us to communities that rarely get visited and with Oli at the wheel of the 4X4 it was one hell of an adventure – he did incredibly well and navigated the pits of soft sand impeccably (watch this space for 360 4×4!!).
As we approached large cracks began forming and we could make out a homestead nestled in between. The Bedouins little community placed near the Saudi border had probably only been there for only a few days and would certainly be moving on in a few more. It wasn’t the Bedu we had come to visit this time, it was the goats, and amongst the tents where many goats all looking plump from the rains and we were hungry.
To get the haggling off to a good start various clothes from our new friends were discarded in the truck and the shades came off – they were eager not too look as if they were from another community. Within minutes of getting out the car they had spotted the one they wanted and after the formalities they demanded to check it out.
A bit of running left and right and ducking and diving the Bedouin kids soon caught the unsuspecting goat and it was brought over to be prodded, squeezed, lifted up and down and generally visually and physically manhandled. It was decided and the haggling started. After much gesticulation and backs turned it was soon sorted, money was exchanged and the goat was pushed into a tiny space in the back of the 4X4.
Facing Mecca on a high platform resembling a sacrificial rock the goat was flipped over and throat slit, blood slowly drained and quickly the goat became no more than meat, to become lunch, dinner and lunch again.
It struck me while I lay back on the rock in the slither of shade watching Oliver and Izabella help hang the goat up on the 4X4, the skin was pulled off and thrown for the wild foxes (which quickly turned into a mass of black as the flies descended) that it was all done with such simplicity, so little hype.
A bushman’s fire was built and the kids got to work chopping up the goat’s liver, kidneys and lungs, Ollie still bloody from the slaughtering business and Bella in a slight state of shock. The guts were thrown into a stew with chillies and left to bubble over the fire for a while.
Wadi Rum is immense: it is over 720km of desert, sand-blasted towers and twisted forms, with rocks that have been eroded into smooth towers and arches. Every turn has another wadi to explore and more history to learn. Every hour that passes creates new patches of shade, new colours. There are few living things here but somehow it is of equal beauty to that of a rainforest – it doesn’t come across barren and sparse but rich with simplicity.
The evening was yet again spent collecting wood for the fire, drinking sweetened tea and belly laughing while exchanging stories, laughing about crazy characters we have all had to work with, and at the parallels of our religion and marriage traditions. It was followed as normal by another delicious meal of goat meat before lying back in the sand playing games well into the night.
They relished showing us the very complicated game that is apparently like our Backgammon. It involves four sticks for a dice that when thrown represent 1,2,3,4 or 6 depending how they land. There was no 5. You then move balls of camel dung and try to eat each other up. It was one of the most complicated games I have played – which caused so much confusion – much to their delight!
The next game was far simpler: it was their equivalent of noughts and crosses which is actually bloody excellent and can go on for 20 minutes with proper strategies needed!. There was no time this time to teach them my trade mark game of shit head, but I have promised that I would be back.
The next day would see us heading to the incredible and memorizing Petra. Watch this space for the next chapter of what I get up to on down time.
For now though – If you too want an amazing venture to Jordan get in touch as the next trip heads out on 16th May 2014 http://www.360-expeditions.com/expeditions/climbing-and-trekking/jordan-~-desert-trek-to-petra
Or if you want to know more check out these blogs here form past 360 clients and from their leader who headed here only a few weeks ago – http://www.360-expeditions.com/blog/ and http://www.360-expeditions.com/client-blogs/
If Jordan isn’t your thing then have a look at 360 as a whole and see what adventure grabs you. I am heading out the door today to climb Elbrus then thereafter Manalsu and Ama Dablam. So watch this space –
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