Learning from the Bedouin in Wadi Rum – Experiences from the Desert

Visiting the desert is one of the most unforgettable experiences to have. Despite the plain landscape, you will find beauty and magical colors.

Wadi Rum is a protected desert in southern Jordan because it has one of the most extraordinary landscapes in the world.

The area is predominantly populated with people of Bedouin origin. Until recently they led nomadic lives relying on goat herds, and camels. Today, they are largely responsible for developing the area as a tourist destination while protecting their heritage.

It is important to protect Wadi Rum and its special character. The area is facing environmental challenges, there is rising pressure of visitor numbers which increases the number of off-road vehicles. The combination of these issues is damaging the ecology of the desert.

Jobs in environmental sustainability can make a difference in protecting natural beauty.

Learning about the simplicity and challenges of nomad Bedouin life while sitting around the campfire and sipping sage tea is a truly special experience.

How to Visit the Protected Area

Seven tribal groups are living in the Wadi Rum area. The largest one, the Zalabieh tribe populating the Rum Village, is mainly responsible for running the tourism services, operating the jeep and camel tours.

They established the Rum Tourism Cooperative, a locally run society to share the tourism businesses between the villagers.

There are different small Bedouin groups offering tours. You can choose to explore the desert on foot, on a camel, or by jeep.

You can also spend the night in the desert. There are base camps where little hut tents are equipped with beds for a good-night sleep.

I chose to stay with Wadi Rum Nomads, and it was the best decision. They offer a wide range of tours for up to 5 days and 5 nights.

Visiting Wadi Rum was part of my tight schedule touring Jordan. I could only stay in the desert for one day and one night and signed up for the jeep tour. Although there is much to explore in Wadi Rum, one day was enough to see the main sights and to get a feel of the Bedouin life.

Programs differ based on the seasons. During the summer season – April to October – the number of sunny hours is longer which allows for a more flexible schedule and longer lunch breaks with siesta.

During the winter season – November till March – tours start as early as 8:30 am because the sun sets at 4:30 pm.

A Day in the Desert

On a late November early morning, I arrived at the Wadi Rum village to encounter an adventure.

There I met fellow travelers who also opted for the jeep tour. Our local Bedouin guide introduced himself, then we hopped into the back of his pick-up truck and took our seats on the padded benches.

We made our way into the desert and the first stop was the red dunes, which are a rare sight in Wadi Rum. Red sand is not typical in this desert.

It is surprisingly difficult to climb sand dunes. Even though they are not very tall, you will need a lot of effort to climb to the top. It is easier to do it barefoot. Once you are on the top, the whole desert will come into sight, and it is something breathtaking.

The next stop was the famous Jabal Khazali which is also a canyon. It is an easy climb inside the canyon, and you can walk all the way inside the rock.

On the two sides of the canyon, you will notice inscriptions. Nabatean inscriptions show men, women, childbirth, snakes, pairs of feet, spirits, camels, and horses. They uncover special stories of the Bedouin culture.

These inscriptions are well-conserved as they are tucked away from the elements.

Next on the itinerary was the little bridge where you can climb up and take cool pictures with the backdrop of the orange sand and red rocks.

We also visited the Mushroom Rock. It is a special monument because beyond the mushroom shape, it looks as if someone put two huge stones on each other. The question of how this is possible naturally comes up while sitting in the nearby Bedouin tent drinking a fresh cup of tea.

For lunch, we drove to an empty spot where we could take in all the beauty of Wadi Rum while our guide made a fresh Bedouin lunch on an open fire.

After lunch, walking through the Abu Khashaba Canyon and climbing the Um Fruth Rock Bridge were the highlights of the tour.

Sundown in Wadi Rum

Watching sundown is a humble experience. Around 4:30 pm we arrived at the carefully chosen spot, climbed a little, and placed ourselves on a rock, waiting for the magical moment.

It was an emotional experience being surrounded by towering rocks, seeing the whole beautiful desert in front of you. It makes you feel small, but in a way that you appreciate the power and beauty of nature.

10 minutes later the colors started to change as the sun lowered. Different shades of yellow, orange, and pink appeared on the horizon.

It didn’t take much longer for the sun to dip behind the rocks, which painted the clouds pink on the baby blue sky. Once the sun was out of sight the temperature quickly dropped and the wind felt cooler.

This makes you especially appreciate it when you make your way back to the jeep and see your guide preparing tea on the open fire. Sipping the warm spiced tea warms you up instantly.

A Night in the Desert

After feeling like I spent a whole day on Mars, and when the temperature starts to become too chilly, we finally make our way to the camp.

The icy wind makes the ride freezing and we are all glad we packed warm jackets.

The drive took about 15 minutes, but by the time we got there it is almost pitch dark and you could see the stars come out.

We gathered in the communal tent and took seats around the fire. Tea and homemade sesame biscuits were served, and conversations started. Meeting other travelers in the camp who are also touring Jordan was exciting. Discussions started about tips of places to visit, things to do in Jordan, and what are the top 10 jobs from home.

Dinner was prepared in a traditional way, cooked underground, insulated by sand. The highlight of the dinner was the Bedouin meat, but as a vegetarian, I gave my portion to others.

A wide variety of foods were served including hummus, baba ganouj, baked vegetable, vegetable stew, rice, different salads, and flatbread.

Finishing the delicious and hearty dinner, once again we crawled up around the fire. Sitting around the warm fire with a full stomach made conversations slow, and soon we all admitted we cannot keep our eyes open any longer.

But just before we made our way to the beds, you had to look up. Millions and millions of bright stars lit up the night sky. It is a mesmerizing moment. And when you catch a falling star, you know exactly, that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, in the whole wide world.

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