A Guest of the Bedouins–Tips and Pics

Atayak's brother

Atayak, Bedouin Guide and Camel Racer

“Want to help me find my camels?”

I was in Jordan—one of several Middle Eastern countries I visited this past summer—traveling on my own and loving it, but facing a few challenges due to the fact that it was the end of high season. While it’s nice to visit places that aren’t overrun with tourists, the down side is that you’re not always able to  jump in on other travelers’ tours or to share transportation costs. There just aren’t that many options.

But as luck would have it, things just sort of fell into place—as they often do when I’m traveling. I was on the verge of committing to an expensive couple of days (I was going to experience Wadi Rum no matter what) when something wonderful happened…

One of the Bedouin guides I’d been talking to, a man named Atayak,  decided to invite me as his guest.

“I’m finished working for the season and I’m now officially on vacation. I just need to get back out into the desert and find my camels that I left there. Want to join me?” he asked. I would only need to pay for food, he said. He’s a camel racer, by the way.

“Really? Are you sure?” I didn’t know what to make of  it.

“Yes, I’m sure,” he said. “You sound like you really want to meet us and be here….I think you’re open to it. And we like to have guests,” he said. He mentioned that he’d traveled a bit—low budget—and had been the guest of others, so he understood my situation.

“So…what do you think?” I could see that he wanted an immediate answer.

“Of course,” I said—as if it’s something I did every day. “I’d love to.”

Magical moments…and trippy tea

Twenty-four hours later, I was in the magical desert known as Wadi Rum, spending time with my new friend’s family and meeting the locals in what is known as Wadi Rum Village—a small town on the outskirts of the desert itself.

The way things worked out, my friend ended up searching for the camels on his own, but we did make it out to the desert a couple times….we walked, sat in the shade, chatted about Bedouin culture and of course, shared that magical tea that they make—with loose tea and and old tin pot—over a fire. There’s something about it–the desert and the tea—that makes you feel giddy and sort of high. You might wonder what they put in it, but…I promise you that it’s just black tea, sage, sugar and maybe some rosebuds.

Hours later, I was in the family’s home in the village, meeting everyone, including the children and everyone else…brothers, sisters, cousins. The extended family extends pretty far, and I found that I was part of it. My time with them—and other villagers—is something I will never forget. I truly felt like a guest and will always be grateful for it.

Wadi Rum Travel Tips

Aside from drinking tea and hanging out, there were many amazing things I did while there—each of which I recommend to you:

1. Sleep in the desert

.  The tents and camps are quite nice and well-equipped, but…nothing beats sleeping out there, in the desert. I slept on a small mat, on the sand, out in the open. I’ve seen the sky, clear of smog and other obstructions, in some beautiful places and must say that this setting was perhaps the ultimate.

2. Don’t worry…be happy.

Worried about insects? Generally not a problem. Your Bedouin guide knows where to sleep and what to avoid. Generally, they stay away from the scrubby areas with vegetation, etc. and opt for the smooth sand and dunes.

Afraid of the dark? Not to worry…the starry sky, whether it’s moonlit or not, will provide you with just enough light. Still, you should pack a flashlight. It’s dark enough that you will need one.

3. Be open to meeting the locals

If you walk around Wadi Rum Village, you will definitely meet people. They’ll be curious about you, especially if it’s off-season. They’ll invite you in for tea and offer to take you out to the desert. If it’s high season, then you’re paying for a tour. But off-season, you might be their guest as I was.

Whatever the case, their hospitality can’t be beat. One evening, as I was heading out to the desert to catch the sunset, a local man and his sun offered to drive me out to a better spot. They wanted me to have the best view possible. I took them up on their offer, of course.

4. Get involved with the culture.

While tea is nice, moving beyond it is something I recommend. I suggest spending some real time getting to know the people and participating in their daily lives. Help them with their chores. Chop some veggies if they’re cooking you a meal. Gather some kindling for a fire. Check out a camel race. Most importantly, ask them about their culture, customs, beliefs, etc.  They love to explain it to you.

Many choose to live in tents, and others live in houses, in Wadi Rum Village. Most, especially the men, prefer to sleep out in the desert…right on the ground. The reasons? They find an actual shelter too claustrophobic. Once I slept outside, I felt this way, too. If you really get to know the Bedouin, you’ll discover so many things—about them and yourself. Perhaps, as a traveler or seeker, you can relate to the nomadic lifestyle?

5. Take some time alone

As nice as it is to immerse yourself in the Bedouin culture, it can be intense at times. Also, if you’re on this sort of trip, chances are—you’re probably looking to have some quiet time and a chance to reflect.  This is definitely a great place for it.  The beauty of the desert lends itself to this. I do recommend, however, using a compass, hiking GPS or, at the very least, be sure you look for landmarks (maybe photograph them) to ensure that you can find your way back.

Beyond words

Being with the Bedouin–experiencing their beauty—is something I will never forget. And in many ways, what I saw and felt is beyond words.

How does one describe…
…a sky full of stars that is so beautiful that you can’t sleep when under its spell?
…a tribe of people so warm and welcoming that you become part of the family?
…a desert of silky sand, whispering wind, surreal sunsets and nocturnal mystery?

It’s hard to….so check out this photo album I created in an attempt to bring you along for this unforgettable journey.

Are you a women considering a trip to Jordan? Check out these links:

Tips for Planning a Trip to Jordan (on the Journeywoman website)

Ruth’s Jordan Jubilee (not sure how up-to-date it is, but….the information is great; I returned to the site many times)

Wadi Rum Mountain Guides (this is Atayak’s company; as you can see, it’s extremely professional. He is one of the best in the area)

45 Responses to A Guest of the Bedouins–Tips and Pics
  1. Kathy Kelly
    September 24, 2010 | 12:29 am

    Sleeping in the desert sounds magical! Your pictures are beautiful and the travel advice is great! Keep writing!

    • CB Driver
      September 24, 2010 | 7:57 am

      Kathy–Thanks so much for visiting the site and checking out the latest! It was magical…definitely….and I hope to return someday!

  2. therese haddad
    September 24, 2010 | 6:01 am

    I remember those days when you came back from the trip to Amman and told us all about it. I consider it a great experience,courageous at your side. The photos are amazing,I also like your style in writing. Hope to see you again

    • CB Driver
      September 24, 2010 | 8:01 am

      Therese–Hi…Glad you like the photos and the writing. Thank you!

      Yes, that was fun sitting in Lina’s living room with the entire family and sharing this adventure. How amazing to be in Jordan with a family (yours) and to be sharing what it was like to be with the Bedouin family. One of the things I truly loved about the Middle East was that sense of community and family and how people stick together. I felt very comfortable being part of it and missed it the minute I got back to the U.S.

      It was all quite an adventure–one I’m happy to have had–and I look forward to seeing you again someday, perhaps in the Gulf! xox

  3. Jeff Stroud
    September 24, 2010 | 2:48 pm

    Lisa,

    Where do I sign up! This is brilliant! Of course I am not a women traveling alone, yet to have the immersion experience, to trust you intuitition, to trust yourself and the people you are with!

    • CB Driver
      September 25, 2010 | 1:26 am

      Thank, you Jeff. It was definitely an immersion experience…and a test of trust and intuition, etc. I felt very much in the moment there. It was also a great time all around.

      I hope to return there someday…

  4. Sprite
    September 25, 2010 | 4:40 am

    Hugs, Lisa, another wonderful blog :) I so love being on the chickybus with you… and Jeff, lol

  5. Sprite
    September 25, 2010 | 4:41 am

    now, to find some bedouin! the men are HOT, giggle, now were is M? Did she make it back from the bathroom yet?

    • CB Driver
      September 26, 2010 | 2:47 am

      Hello, Sprite. Yes, the men are quite handsome…and sweet. Not sure where M escaped to. Thanks for joining us on the CB! It’s always better when you’re on board, you know?

  6. mimi
    September 25, 2010 | 12:44 pm

    Really enjoyed going on the trip with you here. It looks so “clean” and uncluttered. Stunning photos.

    • CB Driver
      September 26, 2010 | 2:46 am

      Mimi–Hi…wow…feels like old times seeing you here!! Thanks for joining us. Thrilled you liked the photos! xox

  7. Sue Johnson
    September 26, 2010 | 1:50 am

    I can’t count the times I’ve fallen for that “Wanna help me find my camel?” line. Sigh. Seriously, what an unmitigated delight to experience the world through your words. Many perfectly starry nights to you, Lisa.

    • CB Driver
      September 26, 2010 | 2:20 am

      LOL…yeah, it’s a great line! They also like to say, “I drink camel’s milk, and it makes me really…strong.” Love their sense of humor!

      So happy you visited the site, Sue, and thrilled that you experienced this with me…here. I hope to bring much more of this to you and others who are interested.

      Thank you for joining us on the bus! :)

  8. margo
    September 26, 2010 | 4:53 am

    how cool Lisa! loved the photos… and you probably know by now i do have an affinity for the desert!
    great job, you rock1♥ maybe some day i will experience sleeping out in the open desert, sounds heavenly! :)

  9. Emma
    September 26, 2010 | 10:51 am

    Wow. Reading this, I can imagine I am there…even if I never will be. Beautiful, beautiful photos!
    Emma recently posted..RealignmentMy Profile

  10. janet
    September 26, 2010 | 11:24 am

    Hey Chicky~ This is great! So proud of you for jumping and making such a great site. Keep on sharing :-)
    janet recently posted..narrow hot pursuitMy Profile

  11. Sue L
    September 26, 2010 | 9:54 pm

    Lisa,I knew this would be an awesome site of your travels!!!! The photo album of the desert tells your story; this is a serene, beautiful place where people make time to enjoy their lives and experience nature. Keep writing and sharing your experiences and beautiful photos!!!! Sue L

  12. CB Driver
    September 27, 2010 | 4:05 am

    Margo–Yes, hi..and thank you! .awesome that you’re a desert lover. It’s quite magical there, isn’t it? I hope you have the opportunity to sleep out there in the future…you’ll love it, I’m sure!

    Emma–Hey…hi. I’m so glad you were able to connect and feel it through the photos…and that you saw the beauty. Cool!

    Janet–Hey, chicky. :) Thank you so much…it’s been a lot of work, but I think it’s finally coming together. Will share more soon!

    Sue–Hi, Sue. Glad you like the album. Yeah, the people there really do have a certain way of enjoying life that’s different. A simply cup of tea is something really special. Speaking of that…the way they make it (which you can copy here) is:

    –black tea
    –sage
    –sugar
    (and sometimes rose or cinnamon buds or something)

  13. Iskandar
    September 30, 2010 | 5:09 am

    Hi Lisa, Thanks for the sharing. The way you describe it really .. makes me wanting to share the same experience that you had. It is not something that you see and feel everyday especially when you in 9 to 5 routine :) … I’ll be coming back for more of your stories ….

    • CB Driver
      October 1, 2010 | 2:00 pm

      Thanks, Iskandar. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really enjoy bringing people into the moment I experienced so that they can feel like they’re…there. I’m glad you’re coming back to read some more stories. Hopefully, there will be some very soon!

  14. Sabina
    October 3, 2010 | 8:36 am

    Hi Lisa,

    How have I not heard of you and your blog before? Another solo female travler who loves the Middle East?! You are right up my alley ;) I’ve never been to Jordan, though. I’m sorry, but it seems like it would be boring. I am sure it’s not. That’s just my image for some reason – too much empty vastness, I guess. Well, I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong some day, when I actually travel there.

    Till later!

    Sabina

    • CB Driver
      October 3, 2010 | 3:52 pm

      Hi, Sabina. Thanks for stopping by! I just set this up in August, so it’s still very new. Meanwhile, of course, it’s always nice to meet someone who’s into the Middle East!

      Re: Jordan…I think that it does have the image you mentioned–and if doesn’t approach it right, it might not be as good as it could. It’s a pretty compact country, though, which means you can move through it quickly. Also, it’s a great intro to the Middle East for those who might not be as adventurous (as us). Almost like Costa Rica might be for someone going to Central America for the first time.

      The key, I think, is do it in 5-7 days and to do it in a certain order–and to do it before Syria (which has so much going on that Jordan can pale in comparison). I recommend going right to Madaba and staying there vs. Amman and then doing Petra first, then Wadi Rum, then heading back up and doing the Dead Sea before heading to Syria or Israel. Or if you’re really short on time–and just want some time chill and reflect and be in the moment–then Wadi Rum is the place to go (min. of 2 nights and preferably 3)!

  15. Gray
    October 3, 2010 | 3:11 pm

    Wow! What an amazing experience! Certainly not everyone can say they’ve done this. Great photos, too.
    Gray recently posted..Shiny Travel Objects- October 1- 2010My Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 3, 2010 | 3:41 pm

      Thanks, Gray! It truly was amazing. Glad you enjoyed it!

  16. Catia
    October 9, 2010 | 5:18 pm

    I’m so happy to have found your blog! What a wonderful story. I’ve also found that the best experiences travelling are the ones that just fall into your lap like that. Knowing when to say yes (which is most of the time) leads to some great adventures! This sounds like a perfect example!
    Catia recently posted..Chichén Itzá – Mayan Ruins in The Yucatán- MexicoMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 10, 2010 | 5:02 am

      Catia–I’m happy that you’ve found it. Welcome…or afwan, as they say in Arabic! I totally agree with you. If you’re open to the experiences, they find you. And yes–saying yes–really helps make it happen.

      So glad you stopped by–will come by and visit you soon! :)

  17. Kelly Harmon @hiptraveler
    November 13, 2010 | 4:16 am

    Wow, experiencing the Wadi Rum with Bedouins is an incredible adventure… reminiscent of 1,001 Arabian Nights!

    Thanks for sharing. ~cheers, @hiptraveler
    Kelly Harmon @hiptraveler recently posted..hiptraveler- @d-a-n-k-i-m- Id lean towards Roatan vs Utila although if you visit both you could settle the Honduras islands debate of which is betterMy Profile

  18. CB Driver
    November 13, 2010 | 5:59 am

    Hi, Kelly. It was cool….and thanks for joining me on the adventure here!

    Also–good point re: 1001 Arabian Nights…and perhaps a good idea for something. I’m writing a book (travel memoirs) and need a name for the Middle Eastern section. Perhaps I’ll call it “40 Arabian Nights.” Thanks!

  19. The Arabic Student
    December 21, 2010 | 2:47 pm

    When I was in Jordan me and a friend would try out a different flavor of tobacco each time we smoked a hookah. In addition to the normal flavors (apple, lemon, watermelon) there were some really strange ones like chocolate and Red Bull. At a restaurant called Faroujna (فروجنا) they had a flavor called Zaghlool (زغلول) which the waiter described as being “very strong”, but we figured we’d give it a go anyway being the 20 something strapping young lads that we are. This wasn’t such a good idea. The waiter brought out the hookah and we started smoking it like normal but soon we got very giggly and started feeling dizzy and lightheaded. After we had been smoking it for a while we just sat in silence looking at each other. My friend said he felt like going back to the hotel and “staring at a wall”.

    I have never found out exactly what Zaghloul was, but I’ve read online that it’s very popular in Egypt. Novel experiences are what makes traveling so much fun!
    The Arabic Student recently posted..Ya Reit يا ريت – if onlyMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 21, 2010 | 3:22 pm

      What a great story….wow! I love the sound of the chocolate tobacco. I wonder about that Zaghlool (زغلول). I think it was super-charged with something extra perhaps. Hmmm. Did either of you feel like eating more falafel or hummus or maybe even desert later on? LOL

      Most of the flavors have a lovely aroma and are appealing (to me). I’m not a cigarette smoker, but I did smoke the hookah (aka, nargile) in Jordan (and Turkey). It was really fun, especially when I did it outside on the street in a public setting.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • CB Driver
      December 21, 2010 | 3:25 pm

      PS: How did you find my blog? On Twitter? If so, what’s your name there. I’d love to follow you. Thanks!

      • The Arabic Student
        December 21, 2010 | 3:30 pm

        Yeah, hookah smoking is something I feel like I have to do when I’m in an Arabic country even though, like you, I don’t smoke cigarettes. It’s just a relaxing thing to do while you people watch :) . I think I found your blog from stumbleupon actually :) . I spend way to much time on that. I haven’t got a twitter, just YouTube and my blog. Keep up the good work here!
        The Arabic Student recently posted..Ya Reit يا ريت – if onlyMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          December 21, 2010 | 3:44 pm

          It is relaxing…definitely.

          StumbelUpon? No kidding. Nice to know. As for Twitter, yeah…you should stay away. It’s really addictive! But it’s a great way to expose your blog to more readers. Anyway, even if you’re not on Twitter, I’ll be visiting your blog. I know some Arabic and would like to learn more. I see that you’ve got some lessons there. Cool!

  20. souzan
    December 25, 2010 | 6:03 pm

    Hey lees you should talk about the first day in amman ,,, the Nebo mountain journey which ended at a dentist clinic ha ha that was hilarous

    • CB Driver
      December 25, 2010 | 10:43 pm

      I will definitely!! But…it’s such a great story that I may ask people to sign up for my monthly newsletter in order to have special access to that. As you know, it’s a great story!! Thanks for stopping by, by the way… Ahlan wa sahlan!

  21. Katrina
    December 31, 2010 | 7:22 am

    Lovely post. I’m heading to Morocco in March, so I’m reading about peoples’ experience in the desert. It will be fun to compare and contrast the cultures. Wondering a bit about the customs between men and women, especially visitors. Also wondering a bit about hygeine and such. Words of wisdom?

    Cheers! :)
    Katrina recently posted..The Cork AccentMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 31, 2010 | 7:30 pm

      I would say the best thing do do is to read up on the culture (google some travel blogs, perhaps) and then when you’re there, observe things a bit. Then, perhaps you could arrange to stay with the locals if at all possible. As far as hygiene goes, I think a lot depends on the water situation. It’s definitely a bit easier for those living in house with running water vs someone living in a tent.

      Enjoy your trip!

  22. [...] not making life more difficult than it needs to be, etc.  Made me want to go back to Jordan and sleep in the desert again! (c) 2010 [...]

  23. [...] the interim, you can always go to Jordan and hang out with the Bedouins as I did. Here’s a photo essay plus tips. Or you can “hang out in Hopkins“; this post shares tips for grooving with the Garifuna [...]

  24. Alan Horton
    December 25, 2011 | 9:20 pm

    Loved this article. I know little about Jordan, the Bedouins or the desert, this filled me in nicely. It looks like a nice place to visit for a few days, but I couldn’t see myself living there – heat doesn’t agree with me. The thought of sleeping under the stars sounds romantic, nice to get rid of the city smog. I loved your photo album, really takes you there, I bet you see some great sunsets in the desert.

    • CB Driver
      December 26, 2011 | 12:27 am

      Thanks, Alan. It was quite an experience! The heat did get a bit intense during the day, but…the shade made all the difference. In those areas, it was nice and comfortable. I think the key is that it was dry and not humid.

      Re: the photo album…thanks! The sunsets were lovely, and so were the starry skies. I may write about a post about what it was really like to sleep out there: how we grabbed our things, looked for a spot and also, how the sky seemed to go through 4 or 5 different stages each night, from sort of dark to very bright to very dark, etc. Could be interesting.

  25. Alan Horton (@TravelFlag)
    December 26, 2011 | 3:51 am

    An article about sleeping in the desert could be very interesting, not too many westerners have done it. I just thought of darkness as darkness but it’d be interesting to know the various stages.

    Now I know how you love to travel, so I found this – http://www.desertdiscoveries.co.uk/index.shtml – They have a guided tour of deserts in Jordan and Saudi Arabia covering Petra, Meda’in Saleh, Al Bad and the Red Sea. Maximum of 9 people. Might be right up your street?

    • CB Driver
      December 27, 2011 | 9:21 am

      Those trips look very cool–especially the Saudi Arabia part! When I was in Wadi Rum, my buddies told me that they did tours out to the border so one could see. They were expensive, however, due to the price of gas and the distance that had to be covered. Wadi Rum itself was quite wonderful, so I was content with just that. Still, a part of me wondered what it would have been like….

  26. Wil @ Where's Wil
    March 20, 2013 | 12:27 am

    Seems like such an amazing experience!

    There are a few opportunities on work exchange sites to work with Bedouin guides and it’s defiantly on my ‘to do’ list. The stars must be amazing so far from light pollution.
    Wil @ Where’s Wil recently posted..How to Make Money from Anywhere – as a Self Published AuthorMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 21, 2013 | 8:48 am

      Hi, Will. I think a work exchange with the Bedouins would be fantastic. The stars are definitely mind-blowing when you’re there. If you go, I hope you have a wonderful time!

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