Jordan‘s Bedouin people are great story-tellers! If you let them, they’re keen to help you experience their lands through their eyes – and I say, what better way?
With a history of tribes and groups, living in tents and feeding from the land, the grounds of Jordan are etched deep under their skin and into their hearts and souls. Their music, which I heard during ‘Petra At Night,’ their food and drink which I was offered at a Bedouin village home, and their customs, noted the entire time I spent with them, make them a people of pride and tradition whilst getting to grips with modernity (Facebook! I’ll explain below…)
From the wilds of Wadi Rum‘s epic desert sands to the heights of Petra to being invited for tea, the Bedouin people of Jordan are among the friendliest and fastest-evolving of the world. Thanks to the various Bedouin folk that became a part of my Jordanian journey, I gained fascinating first-hand insights into their lives and livelihoods. These instances will become my lifetime memories. All utterly unexpected but unique moments that truly made my trip unforgettable!
MOHAMMD, THE PETRA BEDOUIN GUIDE’S HILARIOUS TALES & TEA:
Let’s begin with Mohammd. He’s my Bedouin guide in Petra. He’s been my rock throughout the Petra experience, helping me hike to heights I wouldn’t have expected to achieve and showing me insights into Petra and Bedouin life that have made me both laugh and cry. Regaling me with tales of his father’s 3 wives which leaves him with a half-sister older than his mother and then seeing the sorrow in his eyes as he described his late Father, who passed away at the tender age of 103, I struggle not to lose my heart to the people so full of soul.
Having developed a real respect and deeper understanding for the Bedouin through his tales and expressions, he reads the genuine compassion in my eyes. So, with feet back on terra firma after the first day’s Monastery hike, Mohammd invites me to his home in the Bedouin village for tea and to meet his wife and children. After a little careful thought, I decide it’s too good an opportunity to pass…
Mohammd lives in a Bedouin village, full of the people that once inhabited Petra’s caves. The entire neighbourhood has been created for them with a school and other essential facilities. To get to it, it’s a mule-back ride through the wilds of Petra that most tourists will never see nor know.
This side, we pass thousands of caves and many more tombs, these the Christian Tombs, that are remarkably out of the way and very challenging to access due to rough terrain and sheer intense desert heat.
A 45 minute ride through the undiscovered part of Petra leads us to a long main winding road at the top of which lies the Bedouin village.
Passing the entrance gates, I spot rows and rows of solar panels. Pointing at them, Mohammd tells me they were only installed weeks ago by the Government, as a source of energy for the village. It’s reassuring to see the future being considered in this renewable and infinite way.
As we wander into the village, it’s late afternoon. Children have finished school and are playing in the streets. Toddlers are waddling in the middle of the street with older siblings and donkeys and horses. The few drivers passing go slowly knowing the streets are full of children. It reminds me of my childhood, playing outdoors all summer, feeling safe without a care in the world. The sense of community is stronger here than I’ve seen in years of travels. Everyone knows everyone and looks out for each others children. Many houses have no doors, and, if they do they’re left open.
Mohammd invites me in through his yard into his living room. Furnished minimally, I rest on cushions on the floor before a large Plasma TV. His wife brings us fresh tea. This ritual is significant in Bedouin tribes. Being offered tea and welcomed into a home is a great show of trust, respect and friendship. Then comes something I’m not expecting…his youngest daughter brings in his laptop. To my surprise it’s a Fujitsu modern laptop with all the frills. Mohammd amazes me as he turns it on and logs onto his Facebook site! I see pictures of him and his family camping in the wilds of Petra on weekends, shotguns in hand to hunt pheasant and partridge to barbecue. I can’t get past Facebook. His daughter is eating an ice cream cone. As I talk to her she tells me it cost half a Dinar. That’s about 50 pence. It strikes me that’s quite a lot for Bedouin. She points to a ring on my finger and tells me it’s beautiful – I didn’t even realise I was wearing it and am more surprised that a 13 yr old girl has noticed it. I can clearly see how life has changed for the Bedouin in just one generation. Mohammd then leaves his mule at home, grabs the keys to his Jeep and courteously drops me off at my hotel. The Bedouin: a people of living contrasts undergoing a massive change in lifestyle and clearly adapting.
WADI RUM JEEP SAFARI:
Having left Petra, en route to the Dead Sea for some seriously deserved R&R, I take a day to explore the wilds of Wadi Rum, ‘The Valley of the Moon‘ or even T.E. Lawrence land. It’s a deep valley that’s been carved through the granite and sandstone formations, about an hour and half’s drive from Petra.
The Bedouin here have forged a career for themselves in eco-tourism, helping visitors hike and backpack through the desert and mountains. Most recently, you may have seen Wadi Rum used a film set in the film ‘Prometheus.’
THE APHRODISIAC POWERS OF CAMEL MILK:
I climb into a 4×4 anxious about what to expect on this Jeep safari through the desert of Wadi Rum. En route, my Bedouin guide, Ali, bumps into his cousin. He has many. This one he stops to talk to for a few minutes. I understand nothing but the chuckles and laughter permeate every now and then. After the chance encounter, Ali tells me his cousin has 3 wives and…wait for it…36 children! I’m amazed that’s even possible, feeling immensely sorry for the women who’ve endured such continuous recurrent childbirth. He then reminds of the naturally stimulating properties of Camel Milk. It’s considered across the Middle East as a potent aphrodisiac. Camel Milk is drunk fresh and touted as ‘the natural Viagra’ (other brands also available!)
After a burst of giggling, it’s down to desert business.
4X4 ING, DRIVING & PULLING DRIFTING STUNTS IN THE DESERT:
The Jeep gets off-road and onto sand. We’re in the desert and within seconds, the atmosphere transforms. The village is left behind with it’s noise, people and life. Wadi Rum is atmospheric and epic. The silence is profound. All I hear is the tracks of our jeep and my bottom sliding from side to side in the back. Before us, the red-yellow sands are infinite and vast, whirling up around the jeep as it skids through.
I begin to panic a little as we head deep into the unknown. This is not just off-roading but venturing through unmarked, off-the-map territory. The farther we enter, the more off the radar it feels. We pass endless mountains and before us, endless more. Losing control of my bearings is unsettling, for someone who usually knows and finds their way around pretty well. It’s the loss of control and power that are insurpassable experiences. But once I succumb to it, I begin to feel an incredible sense of freedom.
At this point, Ali takes the moment to show off his desert driving skills.
‘Hold on tight!’ I’m instructed. ‘Uh-oh,’ I mutter under my breath.
At that, he powers the car sharp to one side, hits the breaks whilst throwing the steering wheel in the opposite direction. The car skids and drifts into that direction at high-speed, throwing me into the corner and almost lifts onto 2 side wheels. He does this side to side. As I’m thrown around the back seat, I’m squealing with delight, laughing in shock and screaming with fear all at once! It’s a pure adrenaline-filled thrilling experience. Buzzing from it, I ask if I could possibly drive, ‘just for a second.’ To my surprise, he agrees!
As I try to adjust the seat, I realise these jeeps are barren and ‘well-used’. The seat can’t be adjusted so I’ll have to make do if I want to give it a go. He explains the rules:
1. Do not use the breaks in the desert
2. All you’ve learnt about driving on roads, forget it! On sand, it’s counter-intuitive. Be free with your movement and steer into the bends
3. No speeding or killing us!
Into first gear, foot down and I’m off. Instantly, this is a very different experience. The sand loses all traction and grip. The car is literally sliding on it’s surface; free-plaining. It’s very difficult to un-learn all you’ve ever known, in an instant. But I keep thinking, ‘go with the flow.’ As I do, I move up into third gear. We’re at good speeds now. My eyes are glued to the sand ahead, looking out for rocks, swerving to avoid them without touching the breaks. As the momentum gets going, I attempt 4th gear. I feel his stare but he lets me.
It’s simply surreal. I’ve no clue where I am, deep in the heart of the Wadi Rum desert valley, surrounded by sandstone mountains and cliffs, and driving a Jeep at speed through this dramatic landscape. How different this is to my real life! Relishing every second, he continues to give me tips and hints to make it easier and I really start to ease into it. I feel like the guide. Oh wait, I don’t actually know where we are though. It’s a feeling I may never get again… losing fear, losing control but relishing the unknown. It’s as if all the stresses of the world are lifted for those few moments. Letting the jeep slip over sands, driving into bends, steering into moments that feel unbalanced and ignoring all the ‘normal’ rules. That latter part, at least, I know I can do! I feel so free, so far from home, so far into somewhere, nowhere and anywhere…this, I will not forget.
SHEESHA WITH THE BEDOUIN UNDER A TENT IN THE DESERT:
During the Jeep safari, we stop to admire plenty of sights with Aramic inscriptions, canyons and gorges. Once such sight is the natural rock bridge formation. It’s a bridge atop a sheer cliff face. Many people climb it, for the photo opp.
As I attempt, two friendly Bedouin boys, who live in a tent in it’s shade offer a helping hand. I look across at their tent, pitched up in the midst of the Wadi Rum desert, pindrop silence all around and not a soul in sight. The silver of a Sheesha waterpipe just catches the suns rays and glimmers, calling me through the still arid land. I take one look and decide instead to invite myself in for tea.
The Bedouin boys are thrilled. My guide and I wander in. In the shade of the intense desert heat, I plonk myself down onto comfy kitsch cushions on the floor. Fresh mint tea is quickly brewed and as I sip on it, looking out at the incredible vast desert surroundings, my mind drifts onto how surreal this moment is. I realise how vulnerable I am, but I’m a strong believer in instinct, and the boys’ eyes speak a kindeness and earnesty I can’t deny.
One of them fires up the Sheesha waterpipe – I’m tempted but decide it’s not the smartest move in this heat, so I sit and watch as they smoke, I drink tea and we pass time swapping tales of travels in the Middle East. Conversation follows a labyrinthe avenues from sheesha to drugs to politics to philosophy. During this, I realise that these are the instances I crave when travelling; these are the times that stick in my mind for years to come; these unique moments that are so unexpected but bring me to life and allow me first-hand access into the lives of completley new people. I thrive off this. In this surreal moment, I feel strangely peaceful and content.
If you take a trip through Jordan, don’t pass up any opportunities to speak with the Bedouin people. Their knowledge and history will not only help you gain a deeper understanding of the country and it’s past and but also a glimpse into it’s future.
FROM HERE IT’S OFF TO RHE BEAUTIFUL DEAD SEA TO FLOAT IN IT’S SALTY SEAS AND COVER MYSELF IN MUD! NEXT POST…