Helwan is foaming at the mouth. Literally. Sometimes he blows impressive pink chewing gum-like bubbles, but without the strawberry taste. Helwan’s in rut and he’s the lead camel, our Wadi Rum Bedouin guide Salem explains. He has come to pick us up in Rum Village with Helwan (his own camel) and two other camels, Belhan and Waraan.
How to mount a camel
Mounting a camel isn’t so easy. Even lying down they are relatively high, and then the Bedouin saddle makes them even higher. Once you have folded your legs around that saddle (think lotus position on stilts) the camel is given a sign to stand up which it does in stages throwing you to the front and to the back or the other way round, anyway somewhere where you don’t expect to be thrown. And sitting up there finally the ground seems rather far away.
Belhan, Natascha’s camel, is a male, too, and Helwan’s rut makes him nervous and a little bit aggressive. He starts jumping around and Natascha has a hard time holding on to his back.
How embarrassing – we are ten minutes into our one day camel ride in the desert of Wadi Rum in Jordan, and one of us is already falling off the camel!
But with a rope through his nose (quite uncomfortable, we imagine) Belhan gets more quiet and we start on our desert trip.
The bedouins of Wadi Rum – a long story
Our little three-camel caravan strides through the quiet desert of Wadi Rum. In 2011 the desert became a mixed natural and cultural UNESCO World Heritage site, due to its varied desert landscape and its permanent human occupation for 12 000 years.
In one day we manage only to see a tiny bit of the 74 000 ha large sand area. The Wadi Rum desert is not primarily yellow and brownish like the Sahara or the Taklamakan. Instead, different shades of red and pink alternate and sandstone formations make for a varied landscape.
Lawrence of Arabia
After a long lunch break we make our way to the remains of the T.E. Lawrence house. The British officer – “Lawrence of Arabia” – passed through this area several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917–18.
Suddenly we hear engines roaring through the tranquillity of the desert: Five tourist jeeps pass by, flashing their cameras at us. We try to keep our posture on those unsteady camels although clearly we can’t compete with Salem in his white Bedouin garb and with his small moustache for T.E. Lawrence authenticity.
Climbing Wadi Rum rocks
In the evening Salem cooks a fantastic bedouin meal at an open fire out in the desert. We watch an extraordinary sunset and get teary eyes – on account of the burning smoke of the campfire. Although the setting is quite romantic, we get a bit bored (it is too dark to read) and are glad when it is time to crawl into our sleeping bags under the stars.
The next morning a jeep brings us back to the village of Wadi Rum and we spend the day climbing a few routes on one of the sandstone cliffs.
Is a camel tour with Wadi Rum bedouins worthwhile?
It was our first longer camel ride through a desert and we really enjoyed the fact that all three of us were on a camel (on all the other camel rides we did later, the guide usually walked). This way we could go quite fast, which was not always easy but a lot of fun. On the other hand we think that one day is not enough for such a big area as Wadi Rum, and there are also a lot of petroglyphs to see if you have a bit more time. We clearly want to come back for that, and for more climbing perhaps.
How to get to the Wadi Rum bedouins
Wadi Rum is about 25 km off the main road from Amman to Aqaba, and around 60 km from Aqaba. Buses are not exactly frequent but run every day.