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Wadi-Rum Camel Trek
By
Belkis Kambach

Photos Rob Kambach

Wadi Rum is famous for three things: the spectactual desert scenery; the Bedouin tribe whose tents you can visit ; and as the background of the legendary Lawrence of Arabia -- whose footsteps you can  trace.

Just a  four-hour drive south of the Jordanian capital of  Amman, close to the Red Sea port of Aqaba, brings you to the magical, majestic Wadi Rum--a vast, silent landscape of ancient riverbeds and pastel-colored stretches of sandy desert. 

Wadi Rum is a Bedouin settlement in a valley with giant 2,000-foot desert cliffs, ancient valleys and towering weathered sandstone mountains that rise out of the white and pink colored sands. Stunning in its natural beauty, Wadi Rum, epitomizes the romance of the desert. Tucked away, remote and splendid in both landscape and culture.

Not being a sand dune style of desert, Wadi Rum has intriguing hills and rock formations known as "jebels" that reach a height of about 1,700 metres. Thousands of years ago, this area was part of the silk and spice route between China and Arabia. Here is an unspoiled natural beauty forged by millions of years of geological formation, erosion and evolution. The word "Wadi" means valley, and Rum a settlement, the home of several semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes of about 20 Bedouin families that have inhabited the area for generations. Wadi Rum preserves a centuries-old lifestyle that has been practiced in the Arabian desert for thousands of years. Bedouins, "people of the desert,"  make up  30 percent of Jordanians. Their culture is old and has remained more or less unchanged for centuries; they herd sheep and goats in the desert and wear long dark robes, with red and white checked "tablecloths" wrapped in a specific intricate manner on their heads. 

These kind and friendly desert people settled around the 'Beau Geste' Camel Corps Fort in Wadi Rum, and in scattered nomadic camps throughout the area. You will enjoy their hospitality, perhaps sitting by the fire under a starry desert sky sipping a welcoming cup of Arabic coffee with cardamom or rosemary tea (Jordanian tea is very sweet and minty and drips down your throat like a warm liqueur). One shouldn't  leave without tasting Ntepen (eggplant sauce).  Dining under the family tent affords the opportunity to experience this way of life firsthand.  Samir our Local guide said that when a Beduoin invites you for diner he is responsible for your life until you leave his tent, an experience you will remember but it is the Bedouins' roguish humor and warm hospitality as much as the magnificence of these deserts and mountains that make a visit to Rum a unique experience.

For history and antiquities lovers, Wadi Rum is a vast house of clues from the past--for almost every valley, mountainside or large fallen boulder has some vestige or hint of human activity that took place here during the past several thousand years. Everywhere there are pictographs of Thamudic, Safaitic, Nabataean, Greek and Arabic texts and some formal inscriptions, rock art depicting hunting scenes. Traces of ancient civilizations exist in the many of these carved inscriptions.

Wadi Rum is famous for three things: the spectacular desert scenery, the Bedouins who live in the area and for being the background of the real Lawrence of Arabia. You can trace the footsteps of  David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, since much of the film was shot on location here,  and let the fabled T. E. Lawrence come alive where he was based during the Arab Revolt during World War I, whether through memories stirred from the screen version or from the pages of history and the actual exploits of the legendary British officer.

The camels are an indispensable part of life in Wadi Rum. They were domesticated thousands of years ago by frankincense traders, from southern Arabia to the northern regions of the Middle East, and went on to become the desert dweller's primary source of transport, shade, milk, meat, wool and hides. 

Ata Allah, "God's gift," is the Bedouin name for Camelus dromedarius, the 'one-hump' dromedary. The behavior patterns of this amazing creature are unpredictable at best as they have the reputation of being bad-tempered and obstinate creatures who spit and kick. In reality, however, they tend to be good-tempered, patient and intelligent and are animals of beautiful mannerisms, one of the few animals whose mum cries when she leaves her young ones to work until the minute she is reunited again with her young one. 

A calf  needs only to rub his mum's neck to have fresh milk I tried  rubbing my head to the neck of a young mother and it took only minutes to see milk running to feed her young one.

A camel's gestation period is 13 months, and a camel cow usually bears a single calf, and occasionally twins. The calf’s are walking within hours of birth but remain close to their mothers until they reach maturity at five years of age. 

When the camel places its foot on the ground, the pads spread, preventing the foot from sinking into the sand. This gait suggests the rolling motion of a boat, explaining the camel's "ship of the desert" nickname. 

They can go five to seven days with little or no food and water and come in every shade of brown, from cream to almost black. Their preferred foods are dates, grass and grains such as wheat and oats, bones, seeds, dried leaves -- and even its owner's tent! .  A fully-grown adult camel stands  6 feet at the shoulder and  7 feet at the hump, weighing up to 1,542 pounds.  The normal life span of a camel is 35 - 40 years, and a working camel will typically cover 25 miles a day.

Samir our Jordanian guide/driver insisted that although these camels have no leash they know who their owner is and can easily find their way home and that Bedouins themselves don't deposit money in the bank; instead they buy camels, and in Jordan it is still a social class status how many camels a Bedouin owns. This wonderful animal retains a special place in my heart and my memories of Jordan!.

For the rest of my life I will remember the camels, the sunset in Jordan over flaming red rocks, Arabic music swirling with the desert wind, our car blazing through the sudden mountains, driven by Samir taking us deep into the Jordanian desert valley. And  Wadi Rum, one of the most impressive deserts I have ever seen. The rock formations of Wadi Rum are undoubtedly the largest and most magnificent of Jordan's desert landscapes and  one of the most beautiful desert regions in the world. Wadi Rum is hauntingly beautiful.

GETTING THERE: The following information will help you plan your trip and enjoy your visit especially if you are visiting  Jordan for the first time. 

Entry Requirements: Visas  & Passports may be obtained from Jordanian consulates outside the country, or from Jordanian immigration authorities at the airport on arrival. Visas issued at the airport are valid for one month and can be extended at the Directorate of Foreigners and Borders in Suleiman al-Nabulsi Street in Amman.  In the US at the Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan 3504 International Drive, NW Washington, DC 20008 Tel: (202) 966 2664 / Fax: (202) 966 3110 

Airlines: the most frequent international flights are served by the following airlines: The Royal Jordanian Airline which links Amman with many of the capitals of Europe, South Asia and the Arab World, and operates wide-body jets to New York. Many other international air carriers also operate regularly to Amman.  Other airlines that fly to Jordan include: Gulf Air, Aeroflot, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines , Air France , Air Yemen  , Olympic Airways , Alitalia  , Austrian Airlines  , Qatar Airways , British Airways , Emirates Airlines etc. The Queen Alia International Airport south of Amman is one of the most modern facilities in the Middle East.

Driving: Taxis are available and offer a fixed rate per vehicle or per person to all points from Amman.  There is no public transportation into Wadi Rum but there is good international roads linking Jordan with surrounding countries, travel within Jordan is efficient and enjoyable with a good road system constantly being expanded and upgraded, and most of the sites a visitor would want to see are at most within a few hours drive from Amman. Jordan's road signs are marked in English and Arabic, and there are petrol stations and rest houses at regular intervals throughout the country. 

From Amman, head south on the Desert Highway or more scenic King's Highway. Allow around four hours for the journey. From Aqaba, head north - the journey time is less than one hour.  At the Wadi Rum rest stop, you can hire a four-wheel drive vehicle to explore the area. Or - for the more adventurous - hire a camel it's easier than you think, and surprisingly comfortable, taking less than 20 minutes lesson from a Bedouin to learn all the ropes.

Where to Stay: Wadi Rum makes a perfect combination before or after a visit to Petra because preserving the pristine wilderness, there are no hotels in Wadi Rum itself, but Petra and Aqaba make good bases from which to explore the desert. The Rest house offers the only restaurant in Wadi Rum, and there is a small general store beyond the Desert Patrol Fort. This is also the place to find a guide to help you explore the desert safely.

Camping is permitted (for a minimal fee) in the grounds of the Government Rest house, which also provides showers and luggage storage. Note that desert nights are cold, even in summer.  Camping is also permitted in the Dana reserve, and the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature can provide pillows, blankets, mattresses and tents.   A bathroom and kitchen are available. To make a reservation, contact the RSCN Tel. 837931/2 fax 847411.  Private stays with a Bedouin family are a must and can be arrange there as well.

Safaris: there are many travel agents organizing these including ones from Wadi Rum to Petra -and range from 3- 7 or 10 days    An expedition deep into the desert areas of Wadi Rum all the way down to the Saudi Arabian border and the Disi mountains living with Bedouins can vary from Rates: from Aqaba, AP, 3 nights in hotels, 6 nights in tents, transfers, 7 riding days, 10 Days /9 Nights for  $ 1,895  All incl  and a ( single room / tent  supplement of $ 75 ).  There will also be this year a Millennium Ride on Dec. 26-Jan for $ 2,150. I booked my trip starting in Israel for a 3 day tour that included a Wadi-Rum safari and included Petra, two nights hotel and private guide for 3 days with Amsalem Tours & Travel LTD. (03)9792323  for 210.00$

Riding Skills: For most riders you will ride 5-6 hours each day on camels or pure-bred Arabians and Arabian crosses.

More Jordanian information and related links can be found at: 

http://www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Cabana/2973/WadiRum.html

http://www.neptune-tours.com/wadirum.htm

http://www.dahlan.com/Sights4.html

http://www.geocities.com/TheTropics/9600/about.htm http://raingod.com/angus/Gallery/Photos/MiddleEast/Jordan/index.html and The Jordan Information Bureau  2319 Wyoming Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20008 Telephone: (202) 265 1606  Fax: : (202) 667 0777

GENERAL DATA: Official name: Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan • Capital: Amman • Population: 4,434,97 Main port: Al Aqaba. Population profile: Predominantly Arab, with approximately 90% Muslim and 10% Christian. Other communities are Circassian, Shishan, Armenian and Druze • Land area: 92,300 sq km • Language: Arabic is the official language • Currency: Jordanian dinar (US $1=0.6648 dinar) divided into 1,000 fils • Government: Monarchy, under the 1951 constitution. Head of State: His Majesty King Hussein Ibn Talal just died this month • Official religion: Islam • Electricity: 220 volts, 60 cycles • Weights and measures: Metric • Time zone: GMT + 2 hours.

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Belkis Kambach is the travel editor for Finland-USA in Helsinki, Greenline and a frequent contributor to Toronto’s Globe & the Mail and Epicurean. Married to a Dutch she often writes about the Netherlands Antilles. She can be reached at travelwriter@att.net , or through her Web page, at http://home.att.net/~travelwriter/ .

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