Features & Images » Travel

Travel and Adventure

East contrasts with west in the Jordan Desert



A short road trip through Jordan revealed that nomadic and desert people, the Bedouin, are adapting to Western ways. Driving from Amman in the north, through dry and rugged terrain, to Aqaba in the south, we encountered mostly Bedouin men who, with their families, have settled into a semi-sedentary life.

They live in the large goat-haired tents (dark brown, often with a few white or black stripes) pitched along the two-lane highways that bisect the country, or on the lower mountain slopes, surrounded by goats, maybe a camel or two, and some kind of vehicle. Or they've invested in a basic breeze-block dwelling in what has become a Bedouin village.

Our first face-to-face encounter was near the Dana Nature Reserve, a more than 300 square kilometre desert wilderness extending from the Jordan Rift Valley, in the west of the country, down to the lowlands of Wadi Rum.

Half a dozen men - wearing both Western jeans and traditional caftans, and some in the red-checkered Arab head-dress or keffiyeh - had been hired to drive us 10 kilometres to the Feynan Ecolodge, at a remote location within the reserve.

These cheery if grizzled-looking men bundled our luggage and us into what's known as the "Bedouin jeep" - usually a battered Toyota or Nissan pickup truck that appears to have done many hundreds of challenging kilometres.

These guys spoke next to no English. As we headed into the reserve, our driver pointed to a cluster of buildings in the distance and said "Bedouin school," apparently proud of at least one advantage of a settled existence.

The drivers dropped us in the darkness of Wadi Feynan - entirely "off the grid," as Palestinian-born lodge director Nabil Tarazi put it - and headed back to their village. These Bedouin, we were assured, would be reimbursed the entire cost of the transport.

The Feynan Ecolodge is a gorgeous 26-room hotel (where classic adobe meets contemporary architectural detailing), set in a desert wadi surrounded by strange rock formations and wily acacia trees - in other words, utterly enticing. National Geographic Adventure Magazine has named it one of the 50 best eco-lodges in the world.

An excellent vegetarian dinner was served on a patio under a night sky as rich as you'll ever see. And while a few in our group walked down a track to meet with a Bedouin elder, I reveled in my rudimentary if oddly elegant second-floor room - with mosquito net (not needed in April), red-clay jug of filtered water, wall brackets with candles and just enough solar powered-light in the bathroom to take a quick shower and brush my teeth.

Add a comment