Not all Bedouins are the same…

Most visitors to Jordan are told that the single-most tourist destination for them should be Petra. In deed, no visit to Jordan would ever be complete without admiring the ancient site that is Petra, a city carved entirely into the rocks by the Nabataeans, but it ranks among the most exploited sites of Jordan. Locals, by contrast, tend to flock elsewhere, and the vast desert of Wadi Rum may rank among their favorite getaways. Even Queen Rania of Jordan celebrated her 40th birthday in September 2011 out here in the Wadi Rum, a birthday bash much criticized as overly excessive by most Jordanians (see… for further details). For average visitors both foreign and local, a Wadi Rum getaway usually starts at the Visitor Center, and it was here that our adventures with the local Bedouins began.

As soon as visitors descend from their cars to stop at the Visitor Center, they are preyed upon by countless locals posing as “guides” and offering 4-wheel excursions of various length to uninitiated tourists. The prospects sound tempting and the potential beauty of the desert may make many book such an excursion right away – nonetheless, the insistence and shameful omni-presence of these local guide “vultures” made us reconsider – even our local taxi driver encouraged us to seek alternatives to our Wadi Rum visit, citing the “bad aura” of these alleged “Bedouins” posing as local guides. We therefore decided to simply pay the 5 Jordanian Dinars entrance fee per person and make our way to Wadi Rum village with our own vehicle. There we stopped for a while for pictures & drinks until we were approached again by locals there but in rather more subdued and moderate ways. Reconsidering our options we then decided upon a 2 hour excursion by 4-wheel drive & to this end deliberately approached a trustworthy looking Bedouin guide driving by in his new truck.

During our 2-hour excursion through the vast Wadi Rum desert we learned from our local guide that the “vultures” at the visitor center are not all actual Bedouins. Many hail from the nearby village of Disi, others from further away and their mission is to snatch away as much business as possible from the local Bedouins of Wadi Rum village. To our own local guide´s distress, many of these insistent individuals at the Visitor Center give local Bedouins a bad name and leave an unfavorable impression with many visitors. Most of the local Bedouins from Wadi Rum village, by contrast, are highly committed to showing visitors their true hospitality along with the scenic beauty of the vast desert landscape. In deed, we felt pleasantly welcomed throughout and a bit like Peter o´Toole in the 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia, which was filmed in different settings of the Wadi Rum desert. We explored several Bedouin camps and learned that most local Jordanians book 1 or 2 night getaways to spend the night at these camps preferably during warmer times of year, since in winter it may get unpleasantly cold at night here.

We set out on our explorations close to Wadi Rum village at the famous Nabataean Temple, not quite as overwhelming as the Nabataean´s architectural legacy in Petra but nonetheless impressive. Driving out into the open desert from here we learn that it is not monuments that matter in the Wadi Rum but the scenic beauty of the desert landscape. We pass several imposing rock formations and sand dune sites and a few scenic lookout points particularly beautiful for enjoying desert sunsets. We also stop for 30 minutes at nearby Burrah Canyon, where we walk between narrow rocks and feel a bit like the school girls in Peter Weir´s 1976 Australian movie “Picnic at Hanging Rock”. In fact, with every passing of 15 minutes or so, the colors of the desert rocks change in nuance according to the sun´s respective position. As we return to Wadi Rum village following our 2-hour excursion by 4-wheel drive we bask in the beauty of the Wadi Rum experience, determined to come back soon for longer, may be for a weekend camp and well aware of the fact that certainly not all Bedouins are the same out here at Wadi Rum in Southeastern Jordan.