THE WADI RUM DESERT
Wadi Rum means Rum valley, named by the village located in it’s heart, the place having been occupied since ancient times (under the name of “Ram”).
The name of Wadi Rum then extend to the whole surrounding desert, those impressive sand stone rocks, sculpted by erosion.
Since the end of the nineties, Wadi Rum also means “Wadi Rum Special Regulation Zone”, or “Wadi Rum Protected Area” (which has become quite unproper lately) : a surface of 720 km2, beginning south of the Desert Highway – Diseh road, until southern Wadi Sabet, enclosing the most beautiful mountains.
Quite modest in dimensions, but incredibly rich in marvels, the Wadi Rum desert is unique in the world, deserving a stay of 2 or 3 days or more, especially for those who love walking.
Narrow siqs (canyons), wide wadis (vallees), impressive jebels (mountains) with so many goat paths.. and everywhere astonoshing landscapes !
Hot in summer and cold in winter, with wide amplitudes between sun and shadow, the air is always dry, without any kind of morning humidity disturbing when sleeping under the stars.
Sleeping outside happens to be possible all year long (except during some extremely strong wind time, happening mostly at the end of winter), thanks to our heavy and warm covers still locally handmade.
Much more than a site to visit, Wadi Rum is a place to live in, adopting a particular rythm, adapted to seasons : long winter evenings spent around a huge woodfire, drinking hot tea, talking and joking, confortably sheltered in a beautiful cave of the rock (these many natural caves being so typical of Wadi Rum desert, and so welcoming !), whose coloured walls are being illuminated by the dancing flames.. sweet summer midday resting hours, when, lazily lying in the fresh shadow of a high stone cliff, we listen to the many birds who live there..
Wadi Rum desert is since long time the land of beduin families, living there with their goats and sheep, a few camels, dogs and donkeys.
Until a recent past, goat hair brown tents were so many, moving according to seasons and graze.
But, since the eighties, growing tourism (a tourist costs more to feed than a goat, but brings also more money !), children going to school and the new taste for a all-furnished home (a just married bride refusing to live under the tent) slowly brought most families back to the village, which developped meantime.
A noticeable rarefaction of the volume of rainfalls, with a lowering of the spring time graze as a consequence (2012 is a specially dry winter, without grass and crops in desertic areas) made life still harder for breeding beduins (who receive very little help from government).
Last, the concrete permanent camps, bigger and bigger although perfectly illegal, are eating the space always deeper inside desert, pushing back beduin families always further from the village, where their children go to school, while being a true nuisance to them.
Presently, there are no more than a few beduin families living permanently in Wadi Rum desert.
But they are still there, these families, because they like this desert life, and it belongs also to us to help them, by all means, to preserve their way of life as long as possible.
How ? By a tourism respecting desert and beduin traditions, by meeting each other, you, westerners, curious of this life so far from yours, of this beduin culture still alive, and them, equally curious of your customs and habits, and so proud when showing you their world !
The tent at first, hand made by the mother, the new born baby goats and camels, the milk, freshly brought from goats and sheeps and kept cold in the skin bag, to be shaken afterwards during more than one hour until it turns into butter, plus this famous “leban”, basic in the beduin food !
Traditional coffee will be done on fire, at men’s side, while, at women’s, “arboud” (bread) will be cooked under ashes..
And we will drink tea, all together, beside the fireplace, at this quiet moment when shadows get longer..
When visiting these families for tea, or to spend the evening or why not the whole night, it will be for them an acknowledgment of their way of life, of its value, and of course a financial help, for feeding the animals.
Your pleasure to share a moment with them will also give them a little more energy to resist to the growing pressure of the “builders”, these cousins of theirs who apparently forgot their origins, getting their money by selling to tourists concrete called beduin !
TOURISM IN WADI RUM NOWADAYS
The choice is wide, of websites promoting Wadi Rum, all of them offering a large variety of activities.
Beduins, agencies, tourist companies, local hotels.. all offering and selling “desert adventure”, “beduin life”, under of course the mythic name of Lawrence of Arabia !
The word “beduin” is used everywhere, and it’s logic : the desert is the land of beduins, and you’re also here for them !
When reading the attractive presentations, you may think you’re gonna meet beduins, discover their life, spend the night in a beduin camp (a beduin tent).
Well, not really.. not at all, to speak the true !
It was the case before, but that time is over now.
A new way of handling tourists has developped in Rum since 5 to 10 years, boring and repetitive
What about adventure ?
It consists in a “tour”, a kind of circuit, always the same according to the choosen duration (counted by hours, until the “full day”). (See “Desert discovery”)
A driver, often very young, executes the work, meaning stopping the 4×4 at the first “site”, the time for the tourists to take photos, and for him to have a chat with his companions working the same tour, then starting to the next site, and so on until the end of the program.
The beduin driver finding his friends at each stop, it helps him pass the time.. For the tourists, as Wadi Rum landscapes are gorgeous, and as they don’t know the desert, they wouldn’t complain.. They think that’s the way..!
Now, what about the evening, the overnight ?
It shows at first glance : the “beduin camp” where tourists eat and sleep has very little to do with a genuine beduin tent ! And with a “camp” either.
Most of them are real touristic complexes, where electric lightening replaces wood fire and stars.
Dining room with tables, bungalows aligned geometrically, plus concrete toilets and kitchen, with an egyptian cook, just as in a hotel !
Theses so-called beduin camps (hotels in fact), of quite wide dimensions and built without license for more than a half, are expanding farer and farer inside the desert, severely damaging the virgin landscapes.
Their purpose is to offer all facilities to customers, which a total nonsense : if bathrooms and toilets are built all over the desert, and electricity provided, the desert will not be a desert anymore !
It’s even more of a nonsense because a large choice of accomodations offering all facilities are available at the true border of Wadi Rum, a 5 minute ride from the deep of the desert !
Even on a hiking program, you will have to go back to sleep in the same hotel-camp, or at best spend there the last night.
By a sort of imitation effect, most of the locals, who are working as employees for the camp owners (who do nothing except supervising), are dreaming of becoming themselves a camp owner, a hotel owner, for themselves or to rent it to an agency (practice forbidden, but who cares ?).
And, as soon as they get the chance, they do it. They build, without any care of existing rules, without any authorisation.
Meantime, the authorities make no move in order to apply these protection rules established to prevent uncontrolled constructions.
All of this give a rather pessimistic idea of Wadi Rum future.
Unless visitors, meaning you, who are reading this, cleary express their wish to live a true desert experience, and consequently refuse to sleep in these concrete camps !
And that’s possible, for, happily, the other way exists, and it’s ours.
FOR AN ECO-RESPONSIBLE TOURISM
Developing responsible and true ecotourism is the only hope to save Wadi Rum as a desert.
A few beduin guides are working differently, within respect of old traditions, of the desert, and with a creative mind : they will take you along to discover Wadi Rum and its beauties, for a real desert adventure.
These beduin, it’s us !
We are not doing a tour, then back to hotel at evening time. We start, the jeep loaded with all equipment, for a true expedition throughout the desert, and settle a nice and welcoming camp at the end of day, sheltered in the heart of the rocks. We visit also our families still living in the desert.
On seeing the obvious happiness of our customers, and eager to work for themselves and not for a “boss”, many friends wish to join us.
All of us, we are just waiting for you, to live the desert together !
(More informations in “Discover Wadi Rum desert”)