Our fantastic time in Petra quickly came to an end, and lead directly into the most fulfilling experience of our whole trip.
The Bedouin people are nomadic. Traditionally they live within the harshness of the desert and are regarded as a separate selection of people in this part of the world. It is becoming increasingly popular for tourists to spend time living within the desert, much like the Bedouin people still do. Our only previous exposure to this was hearing Karl Pilkington moan about his time with the Bedouins during his visit to Jordan. In truth we had nothing to complain about whatsoever and I will personally put our time with Salman and his friends as the best part of our travel.
We left Petra with a taxi we had previously arranged and negotiated a good price for. To make it easier on the pocket we were joined by 2 French girls. The 4 of us made the individual taxi fare cheaper than the public bus. It took roughly 2 hours to reach Wadi Rum. When we did so we were dropped off at what resembled as an entrance to the desert, whereas the girls continued to their camp via the taxi. Unlike most visitors to Wadi Rum we had not booked ourselves on a prepaid tour. The tours were offered to us at around £40 but we were convinced we could stay and enjoy the experience cheaper, despite being advised against it.
At the point we were dropped off we were quickly quizzed by crooked men trying to deceive us into paying them money. Soon enough our man turned up: Salman. We had contacted him via the Internet and he very kindly picked us up from the road and drove us by jeep to his camp deep in the desert. He was accompanied by his sidekick who spoke good English and gave us a brief history lesson as we drove through the desert, including a little mention of Lawrence of Arabia.
After a few nervy moments where the jeep got stuck in the thick sand we arrived at Salman’s camp. It is a small civilisation in the middle of nothing. A few tents in the vastness of the desert. The heat of the desert made it hardly believable that is at all habitable.
At the camp we were joined by two teenage boys who immediately made us feel welcomed. They allowed us to sit in the shaded area which had been fashioned out of rock. They then provided us both with incredibly sweet tea from the fire on the sand. They told us that the tea is special tea from Yemen and they drink lots of it to stay hydrated. Up until this point we had been treated like kings, we were a little cynical that there must be a catch (especially as we had only agreed to pay £7 for a night with them).
We were wrong to be suspicious as these people were genuinely, perhaps innately, hospitable. None of them made any push to make money from us by offering a tour of any kind and were just happy to have us with them. There were no other tourists there, and it didn’t seem as though many ever came to the camp.
Some might say we were foolish not to take a jeep or camel tour through the desert, but this was not our ambition. We just wanted to live with and as a Bedouin.
As the afternoon went on several local people popped in for a chat and a cup of tea. All were keen to practise English and share a conversation with us. Oddly they also seemed to have nice cars. One of them explained that they pop over to Saudi Arabia for cheap fuel when they need it.
We spent the majority of the afternoon in the shaded cove with our hosts. Briefly venturing out one and again to bask in the heat and enjoy the emptiness of the desert.
The air began to cool as the sun dropped and we prepared ourselves for one of Wadi Rum’s most amazing spectacles: sunset. The sand was now cool enough to walk on so we made our way to the top of a dune and watched the sun descend beyond the rocks in the distance. Both myself and James sat in poetic silence as we observed the sun disappear, pausing from our reflection only to take a few photographs.
Wadi Rum translates to ‘Moon Valley’ and for that reason we were not in darkness for very long. The moon shone on the desert floor like a path and the stars illuminated the sky. It made for a spectacular image for the eyes but a sight too detailed for our cameras. We sat with our hosts and enjoyed traditional food cooked by the eldest of the teenage boys. It was delicious. As perfect hosts they let us eat first before they had their fill. They were overjoyed that we went for seconds and were clearly happy that we had joined them.
At some point during the early evening Salman left us to go to his own home and he was replaced by another young Beduoin man, who was a little more confident in his English. All of the people in the camp were now wearing traditional dress clearly designed to make them cooler.
When we had finished dinner we were offered some Shisha (it appears to be a regular pastime at the moment). I can honestly say I have never felt as relaxed and chilled out as I did for the next hour. Myself and James had full stomachs, clear minds and a sky full of stars. Once our shisha was finished we lay back beneath the stars, and neither said or heard anything.
Following our little trance we were joined once more by the teenage boys who had been left to look after us. The eldest of them introduced a game to us which we played in the sand. It was basically a primatial version of Connect4, using fag-ends instead of plastic coins. All the boys were terrible at it, almost convincing us that they were letting us win.
Shortly after our fire died out the boys headed to their beds. Rather than sleep in the tent we decided to remain outside beneath the bright stars. The desert became chilly but we were armed with blankets and had a very peaceful nights sleep. It was probably the best sleep I’ve had this summer.
We were woken by rays of the sun around 6am. In fact it seems that time is irrelevant here and days are dictated by the sun and the moon. We both found a nice perch on a rock to watch the sun come up. As it did a caravan of wild camels invaded the camp. James had to wake up the boys before the camels could delve too far into their stashes of food. Farag, the youngest boy, shooed the camels away with rocks.
As if their hospitality hadn’t been good enough already Salman returned with his jeep in the morning and offered to drive us to Aqaba, the border town with Israel. It was a welcome offer as the daily bus left in the early hours and a taxi from the road would have been expensive. The Bedouin people have been the nicest that we have met.
Once we paid our small debt and said our goodbyes we had the tricky task of re-entering Israel. Aside from some very unhelpful customs staff on the Jordanian side, our exit from Jordan was simple and easy. Our entrance back into Israel was not…for James anyway.
We arrived at our security check point and a couple of customs ladies stood for a while giggling at our passports. They then called James over for interogation. I was a little disappointed that they did not pick me as I would have liked the anecdote. However, James was asked a series of odd and deliberately intrusive questions about his political intentions, his personal life, his family and quizzed about his decision to grow a beard. I have a feeling he loved it.
We had expected to be interrogated on our re entry but at no point did we fear we would be declined. For this reason I feel that Israel do themselves no favours with such questioning. They play a power game with tourists and I am sure it rubs many people up the wrong way…and Israel could do without losing any more friends.
Once through we were back at the hostel in Eilat to pick up the things we had left in storage and head to the train station for our 5 hour trip to Tel Aviv.
During this bus trip I noticed how nice and polite the Jordanian people are in comparison, particularly as the whole bus was full of idiots. It appeared that they were mostly pre-national service boys, all of whom personified the reasoning behind national service. They smoked despite the no-smoking signs, were continuously play fighting in front of girls and shouted at each other all the way to Tel Aviv. James was surprised that it annoyed me so much, but I wouldn’t expect my Year 5 class to behave how they did on a coach.
We arrived back at the Florentine Hostel where we started our trip and were greeted with the same faces that we left behind a couple of weeks before.
This was now R&R time and we used the next 3 days to relax on the beach, drink a few beers and have a day trip or two.
One such day trip was to the city of Haifa, just north of Tel Aviv. We were joined by Yohan for the day who had arrived at the same hostel just as he had done in Eilat.
As we traveled to Haifa during Shabbat we had very little time there, but we did have the opportunity to see the famous Gardens of Haifa and chill out for a few minutes in the beach.
Aside from relaxing we also took our last opportunities to each falafel and shawarma as well as take advantage of the sports bar to watch the start of the premier league season.
Tuesday came around quickly and we were back on our way through customs to exit Israel. This time I was interrogated and I loved it. The man asked to see all pictures I had taken during my time in Israel but I managed to skim over the Palestinian pictures. Despite loving being questioned I couldn’t help but wonder why they felt the need to ask me about my objectives in Israel, why I went to Malaysia, what my salary is, why I am traveling with James and why I didn’t plan every day of my trip before I came. When he was checking my emails I asked him why he needed all this information. He replied ‘because we are worried you have been at risk of talking to people who might put a bomb or other dangerous things on you’. I didn’t believe him, instead I remain cynical and just believe its a power game that just adds to people’s fears about travelling to Israel.
We were eventually granted permission to leave the country and spent a couple of hours in the departure lounge before our delayed flight to Budapest. This meant we didn’t arrive at our hostel until 2am but, as it’s positioned above a bar, we still managed to have a good time of it downstairs.
I am now sitting in the departure lounge of Budapest Airport ready for our final flight back to London. It has been a very quick 3 week visit to Israel, Palestine and Jordan but I feel as though I have learnt to much about a region I was not very clued up on previously.
James has once again been an uplifting and openminded companion who is willing to give everything a go, for which I would like to thank him. There are so many stories that I will take home with me, some of which I might not have written down.
Despite what people are told on the news, Israel is a safe place to travel and has a diversity of history, religion and culture. I would particularly recommend Jerusalem to anyone as it is a magical city. However, my own favourite experiences were certainly in Palestine and Jordan.
Thanks Hungary, thanks Israel, thanks Palestine, and thank you Jordan.