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Published: August 4th 2009
It has always been Valeri's dream to take camels across the desert for several days and camp under the stars...that dream came true in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Our hope was to learn everything we could about camels and riding techniques, but it turned out to be so much better than just Camel University. I know that there is no way to convey what we experienced, but we will try...
We went to Wadi Rum to retrace Lawrence of Arabia's footsteps on the backs of camels and, at night we camped with a Bedouin family. When we first arrived, we met with the head trekker to discuss camels and camel saddles. Kyle contacted him before our trip to inquire about buying camel supplies. He showed us his camels, his saddles and he looked at the pictures of my camels. He could not believe how big our camels were...in fact, he kept calling them fat! He even asked if all the camels in America were as fat as my camels! Easy buddy, these are my babies! I could tell he was jealous of all the green grass in the pictures. Ultimately, we decided that we would buy a camel saddle in the
USA or dad will make one.
The next step was to meet our camels. We mounted them and headed off with our guides--two teenage boys who rode barefoot, smoked like old sailors and occassionally stood up in the camel saddle just to show us their skills! They guided us through the wadi's and the sand dunes. The landscape was breathtaking. We had been to Wadi Rum before, but we were still amazed how the sun reflected off the red mountains and how our voices would echo in the wadis.
Lunch was on the side of a mountain. Our guides and their little brothers ran up the rocky slab like mountain goats as we gingerly and awkwardly followed. The guides' father was there with our meal: hommos, tuna, fish heads, bread, pickled eggplant, a salsa-like mixture and sardines. We were so hungry we gobbled up what was available, with the exception of the fish heads! Then, the father instructed us to "rest" on the side of the mountain. It was siesta time. We climbed to another side of the mountain and slept on the rocks. It still amazes us how quickly the temperatures drop when you step out of
the sun and into the "shadow" (shade).
After we rested and the camels heartily munched dried up, stick-like bushes, we took off in the desert. We rode past a huge camel herd that was being monitored by a Sudanese herder and saw all the different shades and sizes of camels. We also rode by some old inscriptions of camels.
After a few more hours of riding, we arrived at our campsite. The Bedouin family was already there setting up. The family had planned some time in Wadi Rum and the guide we contacted via email arranged for us to eat dinner with them and camp with them. We are not sure how we got so lucky because we were orginially supposed to camp where the other tourists camp. The campsite and dinner were legit. We just happened to be crashing the party.
Our host family consisted of the grandmother, the father, his three wives and eleven children. Yes, it was Jordan's version of Bedouin Big Love((HBO series for those of you that don't watch TV)! When we dismounted the camels and introduced ourselves to the family, we noticed the side of goat hanging from a huge rock,
cooking supplies and a large bag of sugar. Kyle was getting worried because of his love of goat and lamb!
We set up our sleeping quarters which was a large mat in the sand with three pads, three pillows and some blankets. While we made ourselves at home, the women gathered twigs for the fire, the teenage guides were tying each camel to a dried-up bush and the children were playing in the sand dunes. The children, especially the young ones (4 y.o., 5 y.o. and 6 y.o.) were fascinated with us and spoke enough English to chat with us. At one point, we were concerned that we would be taking the 5 y.o. girl home with us...she followed us around camp whenever her older siblings allowed it.
As we waited for dinner, the men sat in one area and the women sat in another area. Other villagers joined us for dinner---probably just to gawk at us-- there was a big group at dinner. We joined the men around the fire and drank tea. (There was a fire to heat the tea and another fire to cook the food.) I was invited to go sit with the women,
but I broke all the rules and sat with the men. They were all interested in trying dad's binocculars and see the moon in a new way--they were a big hit, even some of the women got the nerve to give them a try.
As we were waiting for dinner to cook, the sun set and and most of the older men stepped aside to pray. It was quite a scene. The moon was out, the stars were starting to twinkle, the camels were bellowing occassionally and the men were saying their prayers and kneeling in the sand. In the middle of the prayer, the 2 or 3 year old boy walked over to his dad and began imitating the kneeling motions of the prayer process. It was adorable and fascinating...priceless.
Dinner was served around 8:30 pm by the light of the moon and stars. The father offered to get us plates and silverware, but we opted to eat Bedoin-style, even though we did not know what Bedouin-style was. When the food was ready, the women fed the children near the women-only circle. Then the father brought a large, round metal tray that was scalding hot and loaded
with rice and chunks of goat. Everyone ponied up around the tray and sat on our knees in the sand. Then everyone put their hands into the goat-rice mixture, grabbed a clump of rice, squished it around in their hands and started eating. It was an incredible site but also an incredible sound--lots of smacking. We sounded like a bunch of animals at the trough, but we did not care because it tasted so good! Dad stopped eating when his knees and feet feel asleep and I stopped eating when I realized that I had been at the trough longer than anyone else! Kyle survived the goat because no one could tell what anyone was eating--it was too dark.
We went to sleep not long after dinner and tea. It was hard to sleep because it was so beautiful, there was a camel sleeping only a few feet from us and there were other camels chomping twigs all night. We slept well that night. The temperatures dropped in the desert and we ended up using blankets before the night ended.
The next morning we had breakfast at the campsite. Our meal consisted of tea, bread, jam, muffins, cheese
and some seasame thing. After breakfast, we played in the sand dunes with the kids and then we mounted our camels. It did not take long to get ready because the camels kept their saddles on all night long--even when they rolled around in the sand. Before we left they had to adjust Kyle's saddle and two Bedouin men had the age-old debate: Should the cinch go in front of or behind the camel's pedestal.
We spent ther rest of the day riding through the wadis, eating lunch with the family and taking the camels to Lawrence's Well to get some water. After we returned to the village, we said goodbye to our guides and to our camels. We were so worn out, tired and very sore, but everyone agreed it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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