This year, the Muslim observance of Ramadan began on June 18 and will end around July 17-18. So it seemed like a good time to post a little about our travels to the Middle East, even though it was several years ago now! (How time flies.)
In 2008 my husband and I did a group tour through Egypt and Jordan. While Egypt had fascinated me for many years, the only thing I really knew about Jordan was from watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when they went to Petra. Jordan was a surprisingly interesting and beautiful country full of incredible sights, wonderful food and friendly people.
One of our stops along the tour included a night spent at a Bedouin camp, in the picturesque region of Wadi Rum (Arabic for “Valley of the Moon”).
The Bedouins are a semi-nomadic people, meaning they are nomadic for part of the year, but return to their homes for agricultural purposes during planting and harvesting seasons. Some have abandoned their traditional lifestyle altogether for more urban dwellings.
When we arrived, we were shown where we were going to sleep. When I read about staying at a Bedouin desert camp as part of our tour, I somehow pictured us sleeping under the stars, surrounded by camels. Our accommodations were simple, but we weren’t expected to sleep on the sand after all (though that would have been okay with us). Instead, we had a row of goat-hair tents with real beds inside!
We spent some down time with one of the Bedouins at the camp, who proudly claimed to have five wives. “How do you manage to handle so many women?” one of the men in our tour group asked, half-jokingly. “Camel milk,” the Bedouin replied with a grin. “Camel milk makes you strong.”
We had the rest of the afternoon to just hang out, catch up on our travel journals and explore the scenery around us. The area had a bit of a desolate, lunar feel, but the rich colours of the sand and rocks offered a comforting warmth.
It wasn’t all sand and desert though. A few plants do manage to survive here, adding shocking pops of colour:
When suppertime rolled around, our Bedouin hosts led us in a sort of impromptu procession through the camp. They had been cooking supper all day in pots that were buried in the ground over hot coals. They led us to where the pots were buried, and we watched as they uncovered each one and carried them to the long tables in the supper tent. We were treated to an amazing buffet-style feast of chicken and goat dishes, rice, vegetables and bread.
After supper, we were encouraged to gather around the fire pit to relax and let the food settle. We all became incredibly lethargic, slumping against each other against the pillows, while two men from the camp played guitars and sang to entertain us. At one point they asked us all to get up and dance, so we peeled ourselves off of the long couches and danced around the fire like care-free nomads.
In the morning we got to why we had really come to the Bedouin camp – camel rides! I admit, I was a bit scared. Camels can be mean, and they spit, not to mention bite. But they are so very cute!
We each got paired up with a camel as well as a camel-handler. My camel-handling man was a diminutive fellow, but what he lacked in stature, he more than made up for with a fabulous head of hair.
We rode for about an hour, which, frankly was enough. It’s not a smooth ride. Camels lurch, and you bounce, and every once in a while they come to a sudden, unexpected stop if they find a bush to nibble upon, throwing you forward in the saddle. (Speaking from experience here!) I can’t imagine riding one all day across the sand dunes. But getting on my camel and riding it were the least of my problems. The getting off part….now that was a true challenge. Because my camel? Decided I wasn’t getting off. Maybe ever.
My camel only let me think he was going to let me climb off of him. But every time my handler got him to kneel down on his front legs, pitching me forward, Camel decided he was going to stand up again, throwing me backward again. It was the slowest, worst rocking horse ride ever. It took over half a dozen tries before Camel finally decided to stop toying with me and kneel down fully, long enough for me and my jelly-like legs to hop off, back onto solid ground. Is it my imagination, or is my camel laughing at his own games at my expense in that picture?
Overall, the experience of staying at a Bedouin camp was a welcome one, and was also one of the memorable highlights on our Middle Eastern journey.