The ships of the desert

Salem’s command was a soft “Ngrrrr” to get Mush-Mush, my camel to kneel down and let me off his hump. Owner of two Arabian dromedaries, Salem has been proudly guiding visitors through the moonscape of Wadi Rum over the past six years. The camels are his assets, each worth €1,500 and regularly, he would lovingly stroke their manes in return for a sweet and obedient demeanor. Loaded with water and food supplies, the camels provided my partner and I with a unique opportunity to explore the expansive plains and the towering razor-toothed granite, basalt and sandstone mountains. Feeling the endless motion of a rolling boat, we could imagine being part of a vast caravan crossing the wind sculpted canyons to the Arabian Peninsula carrying supplies of spice, incense, gold and silks.

Once home to over 1000 Bedouins and their goatskin homesteads, Wadi Rum today is filled with endless 4×4 vehicles that traverse this harsh terrain. Numerous camps have been set up to give visitors a taste of desert life. Luckily, we escaped their prison-like feel and the noise of the SUVs – Salem guided us to the remotest parts to enjoy the rare treat of sleeping under the stars. The desert now belonged to us. The day visitors had either retreated into the camps or had left the desert, leaving a serene quietness. We could now truly appreciate the nothing and everything of this landscape with its ever-changing colours of white, yellow, brown and red. Sitting around the open fire, we relished a traditional Bedouin meal while gazing at sky television showing a million stars in the warm night.

Salem, a father of two makes a living from taking travellers into this inhospitable yet magical space and is pragmatic about ‘no tourists, no money’. Since being declared a national park, Bedouin families have set up homes in the village that now boast concrete houses, schools, shops and endless jeeps. It is clear the traditional life of this nomadic tribe has now changed forever. The national park provides valuable employment for the men and allows people like Salem to continue using camels as a livelihood.

On the last morning, we were ferried into the village by jeep, which sped across the dunes, throwing sand and making a horrible mechanical din. We missed the gentle ships of the desert silently marking their paws in the sand and the click, click and ngrrr of Salem, our chivalrous Bedouin guide.

Written by Middleeast special contributor Dolar Vasani

Each month we invite readers to contribute to the website. This month Dolar Vasani writes about her travels in The Wadi Rum, Jordan.