Christmas with the Bedouines - Across the Wadi Rum

by Hidden Trails 02/25/2011

Story by Jessica Kiefer

In early November 2010 I decided that I was going to escape dark and dingy December and finally joining the Wade Rum tour in Jordan – something I have been wanting to do for a long time. I quickly signed up for the Christmas tour, ready to spend my holidays with five other participants from Switzerland, France and Canada. Luckily, I just barely made it out of Europe before the snowstorm hit and soon I was at the Amman airport purchasing my tourist visa for 10 JD (about $15).

As I exit the airport the driver waits for me with a friendly smile. Our first day is dedicated to the ancient city of Petra; it is beautiful. I marvel at the impressive siq (throat), the ancient ruins of Nabatean tombs, Roman temples, and the red, pink, and yellow sandstone. Our knowledgable guide is very impressive as he relays all sorts of facts – including how to ride a camel! I climb on top just for the photo then quickly dismount.
The next morning we leave Petra along the desert highway that travels through the Wadi Rum. After an hour we reach the stable in Rum Village. The horses are matched and ready and within ten minutes we are in the saddle. Maryse from Canada takes on Antar, a stallion and I get a relaxed brown gelding named Saim. We begin the ride at a nice walking pace, before finding a huge rock wall where to stop for a picnic lunch. Afterwards, we ride on through the impressive pink and yellow shimmering desert, with rocks jutting out everywhere. The vegetation is sparse and consists mostly of arid shrubs.

Generally the Christmas tour has a solid base camp but due to our good luck and stable weather pattern, we spend the first two nights under the stars with a fire. When we reach the camp on the third day, we get a tent to store our belongings. I elect to sleep in the open, Bedouin-style tent, as it is warmer with a fire than the closed one without.
Each night we sit with our guide Suleman and the other tour staff. Suleman has 17 brothers and sisters that have each worked as horseback guides. His trainee, Ali, is learning the trade from his older brother. The conversation and company entertain us with games and stories. Some nights we climb the surrounding rocks where, in the light of the full desert moon, there is a magical mood.
Throughout the six riding days we roam through new canyons and plains, each time delighted by the colors and shapes. The first couple of days were not perfect; one of the French riders proved to be a beginner and slipped off his horse. At first we thought we could continue if she had a more quiet horse, but it soon became apparent that he was not skilled enough to do the ride. Let this be a lesson – never sign up for a ride you are not qualified for; he spends the rest of the tour following behind in jeeps. 
Once he is safe and satisfied with this alternative, we trot and gallop freely, sometimes for long stretches. Most of the time we spend walking, but it is never boring because the landscape around us constantly keeps us under its spell. Highlights include huge sand dunes and a great bridge under which we all pose for a photo. Along the way we admire rock carvings and ancient Nabatean dams.

On the third day I say goodbye to Saim; he has colic and needs to rest. Now I ride Saba who is tireless with excitement. Now, our order is much clearer: in the front, three fleet mares, geldings, and Antar the stallion bringing up the rear. Saba is sensitive but friendly and she seems to like me. For Nabataean dams and buildings she doesn’t have much interest, so I ride past these things rather than stopping to inspect them closely.
The last day of riding brings us a surprise: Mufleh, our guide’s brother, invites us to watch the Dromedarrenntraining. We race to the event in the jeep – riding helmets still on – with no way to know how fast we are going (all speedometers in the desert seem to be broken). We arrive to meet Mufleh’s huge camel, who was funny yet friendly. He has a small box attached to his hump which allows the trainers to give orders by radio, so a rider is no longer necessary. Mufleh explains to us that this is a very popular sport in Jordan and that men will spend entire days training their camels. For Europeans, however, it is a totally wild experience.
Once we are back with the horses we set off for the last ride back to the bard. One last time we enjoy the plains and the memories of sipping sweet black tea. The twenty horses live together in a large and open barn. Smaller bites and kicks cannot be completely avoided due to animal nature and temperament. On our return to the camp, we can see the horses become boisterous in their excitement to get home. They are left here in the sand to snooze.
Our cruel driver brings us back to Kerak, to the citadel, where the ancient Crusader Castle is perched high on a conical mountain; the view is impressive. The check-in into our 5 star luxury hotel seems to take ages, like the airport, but after a week of unleavened bread we fully enjoy the buffet. As we prepare to board flights back home, I check the news in Europe and hope that the snow chaos would keep me on the ground in Jordan. However, there are no problems with my flight, so I’ll just have to come again another time.

More details on this trip can be found on the Hidden Trails website at:

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