It’s hot out. REALLY hot. Jordan desert in the middle of the day hot, and I am all alone in a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum, surrounded by tall rock mountains and sand for as far as the eye can see. It’s deathly silent and I’ve been here alone for hours. I’ve been chasing a small patch of shade the size of a hankerchief, and it’s getting smaller and smaller. In a spaghetti western, this is where they’d cue the tumbleweed.
I and my bag have been unceremoniously dumped in this Wadi Rum camp without further instruction by a driver named Mohammad. Normal people book this experience through their hotel or hostel. Not me. Instead, when my taxi driver told me his uncle Mohammad has a cousin Mohammad with a Bedouin camp, in the spirit of spontaneity I just said yes. I’m beginning to regret this decision.
I’m also planning my exit strategy. Around 5:00 PM I’ll look for firewood and build myself a fire, sleep here overnight, and take off at first light. I think I need to go in, um, THAT direction to get back to civilization. I hope.
Just when I have it all planned out, the Bedouins show up. For a moment I’m relieved, but then I wonder if it’s going to be just me and the Bedouins all night. Awkward! A few minutes later another truck rolls up, and out hop my two favorite people in Jordan: Mike and Jacek (“It sounds like Yahtzee!” he tells me). We met last night in Petra and clicked so fast that we were truly disappointed that we’d be going to different Bedouin camps in the morning. We can’t believe our luck that despite the odds we ended up in the same place. Suddenly this is starting to look like the fun adventure I hoped it would be.
The three of us wander out across the sand to find a spot to watch the sunset, and we’re rewarded with a tall rock with an arch cut out of it by eons of sand and wind. We scramble to the top and wait for nature’s show, all the while cracking jokes at each other. I’m reminded once again what a blessing it is to make real connections with strangers in far-flung places. Jacek is a Polish chef living in Norway, and Mike is from New Zealand living in London. They just met two days ago and have been traveling together since. Together, we’re three peas in a pod.
The September air in Jordan is clear and the sunset creates brilliant hues of orange, pink and purple on the surrounding rocks. Wadi Rum is spectacular in its rugged desolation, and I begin to understand why the Bedouin are such a hearty breed. Nomadic by culture, the Bedouin tribes of Jordan are typically sheep or goat herders, although in recent decades many have become more sedentary, often serving the tourist trade in urban areas. Surviving off the land is still endemic to their culture, and most Bedouins in Jordan still retain much of their tribal, polygamous culture. “When we have a problem in the community we take it to the tribal elders first,” one of them tells me. “They know our culture and have been chosen for their wisdom. Why should we bring in government from the outside to help us?”
Jacek, Mike and I hurry back to camp because Jacek wants to watch the Bedouins prepare dinner. We’re having zarb tonight, an ancient and traditional meal of lamb, chicken, desert herbs and vegetables cooked on coals in a sand oven dug earlier in the day. The coals and the sun’s heat slow-roast the meal, and the succulent meat falls off the bone. It’s amazing to eat and even more fun to watch the process.
It’s dark when we finish eating, and one by one people wander off to their huts to sleep. I didn’t come to the desert to sleep in a hut, so I pull my thin mattress out and lay it on the sand under the stars. Mike and Jacek follow my lead, and in minutes we have a cute little nest for three where we talk, laugh and gaze at a billion stars in Jordan’s desert sky long after everyone else turns in.
Waking in the morning to go our separate ways, I’m again reminded that even though I love solo traveling, having great people to share an experience with is so much better than doing it alone.