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Wadi Rum

It was our 25th anniversary and we wanted to celebrate by doing something special. So, after considering flights to various destinations we decided on Jordan, since neither of us had spent much time there. We took the bus to Eilat, crossed to Aqaba, and visited Wadi Ram and Petra, with a final day, for relaxation, on a beach south of Aqaba. This posting talks about Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum was great, if expensive. We had a recommendation to take a tour with [Mohammad Hussein al-Zalebeh->http://www.wadirumadventures.com/mohammed.htm] but it seems like anyone who contacts him ends up negotiating with his relation, Mohammad Sabah, a wily Bedouin whose prices are way above those advertized on the younger Mohammad's [web site->http://www.wadirumadventures.com]. At least that was our experience.

After outlining our desired trip with Mohammad Sabah, at his home office in Rum Village, we left for a two-hour camel ride up the Wadi to Sunset Camp (though there seem to be a few nearby camps that share this name). I must admit that when I thought about a camel ride, I had just a vague conception of what that meant. On mounting the beast, I understood that it is not so trivial to ride a camel. At first I was scared by the height and the lack of convenient handles. However, I quickly found that the mount is fairly stable. Comfort is another thing. Most people who are not used to riding camels find that the inner muscles of their legs hurt after a few minutes. I was comparatively OK, and did not suffer much muscle fatigue afterwards. Dorit experienced pain in the back that took a couple of days to go away.

Sunset Camp is blessed with a beautiful location. Accommodation is in large shared Bedouin tents. Sleep was not a problem, though we missed sheets. I substituted a {dhoti } I had with me, and Dorit used her shawl. Meals are taken in a circular hut with a blazing fire in the middle, since the evenings are cool. The dinners were excellent (even for us vegetarians) and, after the meals, on the two nights that we were there, there was music - the Bedouin one-stringed fiddle (rababa), accompanied by singing.

The worst thing about Sunset Camp is the toilet and shower block, which is primitive and filthy. Most of the guests tried to avoid it. With minimal expense, and better upkeep, that could be improved - for instance, solar panels could provide hot water, as they do all over the Middle East.

In the daytime, according to the kind of tour we had asked for, we took off in an aging Toyota Landcruiser, which took us to a variety of scenic locations, where we got out for long walks. The driver, a young Bedouin with little English, let us off, pointed to a distant location where he would meet us, and then we were free. The walks were delightful, and gave a true impression of the desert. Fortunately at this time of year, temperatures are quite comfortable and the walking was easy, except for the extra effort required when crossing soft sand.

Many of the guides speak better English than Anaad, our driver/guide. Possibly we received him as our guide since Dorit quickly acquired a reputation in the camp as the woman who speaks Arabic, much to her amusement. At least she was able to make simple conversation with Anaad, and I was able to follow it for the most part.

Wadi Rum is probably one of the most beautiful deserts in the world, for the varied hues of its sands and the fantastic shapes of its rocky eminences. The time we spent there was magical.

The local Bedouin tribes who live there today make a living mainly through tourism. They seem to take reasonably good care of the desert, and it deserves to be they, rather than outsiders, who derive the benefit from their scenic location. Unfortunately, by charging high prices, and offering fairly primitive accommodations in return, they are opening the door to competition from outsiders. The taxi driver who took us from Wadi Rum to Petra said he could offer us a better deal on Wadi Rum visits than the one we received from the local Bedouins. His brother owns a camp in Disi - just outside the protected area.

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