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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sleeping in a Bedouin Tent in Jordan

Bedouin woman
The bus from Tiberias drove south, as far south as you can go in Israel.
We slowly descended to the Dead Sea which, at 417 meters below sea level, is the lowest spot on earth. Crusted salt deposited clung to the shore line. The air was hazy with sand blowing in from Egypt. All day we drove along a solid wall of light brown mountains to the east - behind which we knew was Jordan.
Via Jericho and Masada, we drove south through the Negev desert. Considering that the bus cost us only about $25.-, the bus seems to be one of the most economic ways to travel throughout Israel.
Eilat, the southern most town in Israel, was a disappointment. It seemed a dusty, run-down version of Las Vegas with glitzy hotels, a small strip of beach and lots of amusement places. The worst thing was the airport. It is right smack in the middle of town. Huge airplanes come thundering over, missing the mall by a few feet. You can sit sipping beer on the beach and watch the belly of an airplane come right overhead.
We were glad we hadn’t planned on spending more than one night here.
Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

The next morning we took a taxi to the Jordanian border. The paperwork on the Israeli side took perhaps a half hour because of line ups. The Jordan side was faster. Then we sat sipping Turkish coffee until our taxi showed up. We had booked this via our accommodations in Petra. A beautiful new car with a lovely guy who spoke English picked us up and drove us the 2 hours to Petra, at a very reasonable rate.
Driving along we noticed large white tents with U.N. logos. “Tents given for free to Syrian refugees,” our driver explained. Then he grinned. “Once the refugees move to the city, they sell these free tents for a profit to the Bedouin!” Probably not what the U.N. had in mind...

The camp at night
The accommodations I had picked from the internet. Petra is surrounded by regular hotels: the Ramada Inn, the Marriott. But, I thought, why would you want to stay in a normal hotel when you visit a place as unusual as Petra? Especially when you can stay in a bedouin camp?! On the website, Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp looked like fun. (
We decided to be brave and booked a 3 night stay in a tent. And we were glad we did. To us, three nights was the perfect length of time.

The camp turned out to be a collection of square white tents, with inner and outer shells, a sold frame with a door. Inside were two metal bed frames with a big soft mattress, topped by 3 heavy blankets. When we crawled in at night, we felt like we were in a big warm nest surrounded by cool desert air and no sounds at all. Until 6 AM when bleating sheep strolled by. And until our last night when we laid awake listening to the distant thunder of shooting in the Gaza strip.

Me in the bedouin tent where we spent the evenings sipping tea.
We only had electricity between 7 PM and 11 PM but didn't miss anything. Internet was turned on for about an hour at night and one could see why it was so limited. As soon as they had internet, guests were staring at their devices instead of talking to each other! We met people from all over the world in this camp, and there were only about 14 people there at the same time, which was lovely and quiet.

Besides the 20 some guest tents, there were several very large, black traditional Bedouin tents. These had carpets on the floor, and many large woven pillows for reclining. At one end was a primitive wood stove belching smoke into the tent. And heat. We were toasty warm and ended up eating most meals here. We also drank endless small glasses of tea. We liked that this camp, as many Muslims sites, was alcohol free. But tea, in contrast, flowed freely. A sweet black tea with sage. Very addictive...
On the first night we were told that they made a point of serving something different for dinner every night. Every night we had rice, chicken, salad and potatoes. It was good - but no variety :-)
The camp was run by several very nice, friendly young guys. They were very thoughtful and kind, bringing us tea, offering rides, etc. At night they played a traditional string instrument and a drum, singing long, soulful ballads in Arabic.

A sleeping tent.
At US 45.- p.p. for one night, including breakfast AND dinner, this was likely a fraction of the cost of one of the fancy hotels and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

On our first afternoon, we strolled down to “Little Petra” - a small version of cave dwellings and carved facades, which is still ‘in the wild’ without entrance fee or any protection. It was a Friday afternoon - weekend for the Muslims who were out in full force: family after family squatting in the shade of rocks, making campfires, cooking tea and grilling meat. Children were running everywhere, women sat in the shade visiting. Smoke twirled up behind every rock from their little fires while they laughed and sang and enjoyed a sunny afternoon.
The evening entertainment.

When I watch a real shepherd, complete with crook, walking through a field of boulders with his flock, wearing a long black dress and flowing head scarves, I marvel at how little seems to have changed in this area over the ages.
Until he whips out his cell phone...

One night they cooked dinner in a deep pit in the ground.

This metal basket held layers of chicken, veggies and potatoes and cooked in the ground for 2 hours.

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