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Modern Bedouins offer desert glamp of old

AAP logoAAP 21/11/2016 Rebekah Ison

There's more to Jordan than just desert. But even if the expansive dunes and sunburnt peaks of Wadi Rum covered the whole country, I wouldn't have been disappointed.

Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon due to its lunar-like landscape, is immense - 720-square-kilometres to be exact. And like most attractions in this Middle Eastern country, this protected desert wilderness is cloaked in history, with rock carvings and archaeological sites telling only part of the story of 12,000 years of humanity.

A rock engraving in honour of a relatively modern figure, TE Lawrence, greets tourists at a camp among cliffs, where timid Bedouin men offer newcomers Arabian herbal tea.

It's claimed Lawrence, whose experiences in the Arabian peninsula are retold in the influential Hollywood epic Lawrence of Arabia, stayed here when he traversed the intimidating landscape.

From the tent I can see a cliff face naturally decorated with pinkish hues. It is getting towards sunset and the shadows cast from and amid the structures are imposing.

There's definitely been changes to the Bedouin lifestyle since Lawrence's time over 100 years ago. Back then, of course, camel was the usual mode of transport.

While these four-legged vehicles are still a regular site on the dunes, tourists now travel in utes. The Bedouin men, who often offer their camels for rides, now match their traditional clothing and head cloth with fashionable sunglasses and smartphones.

I suspect the accommodation has also improved.

Set among sandstone structures but untraditionally close to a main road, the Captain's Desert Camp gives you an experience of desert exclusion in relative comfort.

This is glamping, Bedouin-style, with beds and colourful decorations adorning goat hair "tents", some of which are really more like little sheds.

It's all very decadent, but words of warning: tents in the desert are still hot at night, and wild dogs do not stop howling when you yell at them.

I barely slept but I suspect the heat and noise is all part of the experience.

Strong mosquito repellent is also recommended in hotter months. I was barely touched by insects but the internet is home to horror stories of desert visitors being eaten alive.

The camp puts on a modest but filling spread, including pickled vegetables, yoghurt, flat bread and curry.

Dinner is held in a long tent fit for a celebration, while a blind musician from the nation's capital sings traditional songs.

Red is definitely the Bedouins' colour of choice when it comes to decorations and I make a note to look for cushioned dining benches like theirs when I return to Australia.

Meowing, hungry kittens stare me down as I eat. The workers chase them away but they quickly return.

I am enamoured by the soft-spoken musician as he talks about his Oud, an Arabic pear-shaped lute, and jokes in impeccable English.

On a more sour note, he tells us of the downturn since the Syrian crisis broke out next door; his nightly audiences have dramatically decreased.

Afterwards, I wonder about the future of the camp's staff amid the crisis and our guide tells me they are mostly Egyptians, who have left their homeland to take advantage of Jordan's stronger currency.

Another camp nearby has been temporarily closed due to lack of business, he says.

There's little doubt the public perception of Jordan has suffered due to issues in nearby countries.

After dinner I walk away from the camp to look at the stars that dazzle against the blackness of the desert.

As I do, I think about how lucky I am to have seen the natural beauty of Wadi Rum and what a shame it would be if negative perceptions stop others others from experiencing it.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: A number of airlines fly from Sydney to Amman - a 3.5 hour drive to Wadi Rum - through connecting destinations. Qantas flies through Dubai in partnership with Emirates. Their fares in November start from $AU 1585 return.

STAYING THERE: There are numerous accommodation camps in Wadi Rum. The Captain's Camp has tents of different luxury starting from $US92 a night on booking sites.

PLAYING THERE: Entry is about $AU9. Jeep, horse and camel tours can be organised at the visitors centre. It's possible to hike but apparently maps are hard to come by so it may be best to get a local guide. For more information visit: http://wadirum.jo/

* The writer was a guest of The Captain's Camp, Qantas, Emirates and Visit Jordan.

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