28 September 2011

Camel Adventures, Wadi Rum

If you could have but one camel ride in your lifetime ~ should you be so inclined ~ I strongly recommend you book yourself to Jordan and the Wadi Rum desert. If camel rides were rated on a scale of 1 to 10, trust me, it’s a 10.
Police Band, Jerash; Photo BDM 2008
The germ for this post preceded recent widespread events in the Arab world. Beyond my obvious sympathies, the blogger in me self-centredly regrets the sadly diminished camel opportunities. Yet somehow I have faith that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will retain its stability in the unpredictable Middle East volatility.

Better scribes than I have written glowingly of Jordan’s magnetism. A relatively new nation, the country includes some of the world’s oldest inhabited sites. It’s not only on the ancient Fertile Crescent, it’s also on the Rift Valley. If you are into archaeological, if you are into biblical, if you are into cultural, if you are into photography, or just plain scenic awe, the country amazes from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. Truly majestic.

At Petra; Photo BDM 2008
One could spend days in Madaba absorbing the local flavours, the celebrated mosaics. Or pondering the recently uncovered site of  Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. Aqaba is still a small town, not yet a developed tourist destination apart from savvy scuba divers. Fabled Petra is a magic time warp. Few would go so far as Married To A Bedouin but I was pleased to meet her son.[1]. The warmth of the people is evident ... with little of the vendor hassle experienced elsewhere.

Wadi Rum desert is in the south; descending into it from a plateau is spectacular, certainly one of the world’s most extraordinary places. We cross the railway famously bombed by T.E. Lawrence, to access the modest Welcome Centre in the protected area. One of the local women’s co-op handicrafts shop is here. The tiny support village is full of camels. I know because it’s my second visit here and each time was different.
Photo BDM 2007
What do most tour companies offer, encouraged by entrepreneurial young village men? Careening across the sand in a 4-wheel-drive jeep or truck lacking shock absorbers. Go figure! Environmental irony. Camels were not on the agenda but I had persisted.

Like most Jordan women, my guide Nadine spurns the hijab. Myself is wrapped up more than she is, against the sun and the possibility of blowing sand. We go well beyond any sign of civilization and on my behalf she haggles fiercely with some camel handlers in Arabic. Nadine does everything fiercely, including telling raucous jokes.

Finally. The others tear off in their kidney-splitting jeep to bash some dunes and inspect ancient inscriptions. I get a couple of hours as Queen of the Desert. The arrangement involves a female and her baby who must not be separated. This tells me the colt is less than five years old. The boy who leads me is very serious with responsibility for the animals. Good thing he’s along because he knows where we are going. All is sandy desert in every direction to the horizon, with gigantic mystical rock outcropping here and there. If by some flight of imagination I were allowed to trek alone—unthinkable of course—no question I would be lost, wandering from one isolated cliff to the next, until someone finds my dessicated corpse splayed across the hump of the steadfast camel.

Photos, BDM 2008
The boy-who-won’t-tell-me-his-name (not under-standing my question) disapproves whenever I lean to touch the baby. Experimenting with saddle positions also earns me scowls and rapid verbal orders. I am so relaxed I don’t even try to interpret. Nevertheless I emulate the leg-hook favoured by bored camel police. Baby’s hair on the hump—which is as far as I can reach without falling off and disgracing myself—looks bristly but feels soft. Of course! That’s why we have camel’s hair coats in North America.

Photo by Jerome Enger, 2008
My guide stops remonstrating with me. I am one with the stately undulation of my steed and her sidekick. “Oh the desert is lovely in its restfulness. The great brooding stillness over and through everything ...”.[2] We are in the heart of silence. Separation from everything in routine life! No cares. Just be.
Photo by Jerome Enger, 2008
Bedouin tribal memory still reveres Lawrence here in places where he camped. “To those bred under an elaborate social order few such moments of exhilaration can come as that which stands at the threshold of wild travel. The gates of the enclosed garden are thrown open... and behold! the immeasurable world.”[3] Yes. “Wild” in that special sense of the unfamiliar becoming an unsuspected, thrilling gateway.
Photo Mary Ann Waring, 2008
It had to end. Dismount at a Bedouin camp. Until the next camel experience, insh’allah.

Camel Adventures continue from here on anotherfamdamily.blogspot.com.

[1] Marguerite van Geldermalsen, Married To A Bedouin ( London: Virago Press/Time Warner Book Group, 2006). 
[2] Terry Kelhawk, “Skirts on Camels: Early Women Travel Writers,” The Huffington Post  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com : accessed 24 October 2010); citing Lilias Trotter, Journal 1885.
[3] Gertrude Bell, The Desert and the Sown, (London: William Heinneman Ltd., 1907). 

© Brenda Dougall Merriman, 2011.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Good story and great photos, I had not seen them ...