20 July 2014

Wadi Rum, Jordan 2008

In the year 2008, visiting Petra was not my last camel experience.

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. On a scale of 1 to 10, although considering I haven't been everywhere yet, Wadi Rum is a 10.
My second visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan preceded widespread events of the "Arab Spring." Writing of it at the time, I had (and have) faith that Jordan will retain its stability in the unpredictable Middle East. 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.

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 part of the railway line famously bombed by T.E. Lawrence in 1917, 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.
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 our tour's agenda but I had persisted.
Like most Jordan women, our 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 bargains 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 in his 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 outcroppings here and there. If by some flight of imagination I were allowed to trek alone — unthinkable of course — no question I would soon be lost, wandering between one isolated cliff to the next, until someone finds my dessicated corpse splayed across the hump of a steadfast camel.

The boy-who-won’t-tell-me-his-name (not understanding the 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 decipher. Nevertheless I want to practice the leg-hook favoured by camel police and born-to-it Bedouin. 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 humans have cold-weather coats made of camel’s hair.

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 ...”.[1]

We are in the heart of silence. Separation from everything in routine life! No cares. Just be. Another writer put it well: "Breathing is easier out there. There is something particularly powerful about the desert scenery, it extends your horizon endlessly, and cleans your soul like a strong wind, deprives it of everything that’s not important."[2]
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 a momentary, thrilling gateway.
It had to end. Dismount at a Bedouin camp. Until the next camel experience, insh’allah.

[1] 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.
[2] Ivana Perić, "I fell under the spell of Wadi Rum," 18 June 2014, Your Middle East (www.yourmiddleeast.com/travel : accessed 27 June 2014).
[3] Gertrude Bell, The Desert and the Sown (London: William Heinneman Ltd., 1907).

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.
labels: camels, Jordan, Bedouin, Wadi Rum 

No comments: