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But it was certainly a treat!

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Wadi Rum is a desert (dry place, one s) in southern Jordan. The story behind that title is a silly one that is probably funny only to me and one other (very confused) person. In an email to family and friends during my recent Middle Eastern trip, I wrote about Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, Petra and Wadi Rum, camel rides, and a host of other things I was seeing and doing. A few days later, a respondent who shall remain unnamed marveled at the itinerary, following up with a question: “Did you have the rum dessert on the camel ride or did I misread?” I am very easily amused.

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Wadi (valley) Rum (high or elevated) is a protected area of open desert wilderness punctuated by mountains and canyons of reddish sandstone and granite. People have lived here for millennia; these inhabitants range from the famous Nabateans who founded nearby Petra and the nomadic Bedouins who remain in the region today. Wadi Rum was mentioned in Lawrence of Arabia’s writings about his role in the Arab Revolt of 1917-18, and the corresponding David Lean movie, “Lawrence of Arabia,” was filmed here. With its red-colored sand and rock, Wadi Rum has also stood in for Mars in many films over the years, including “Red Planet,” “The Last Days on Mars,” and Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” and the Palestinian “Arab Idol” which both just wrapped here in the last few months.

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Nowadays, Wadi Rum is a venue for hiking, rock climbing, camping, 4×4 jaunts, and camel and horse safaris, all supported by the Bedouin-led eco-adventure tourism industry. We spent one day here, starting in a vehicle, stopping for a short rock climb to see some ancient inscriptions, and ending up on camels for a 40-minute ride led by a young boy with less-than-full control of his herd.

My camel awaits

My camel awaits

Abandoned temporarily by the adult driver and guide we had hired, we put ourselves in the hands of Abdullah, an 8-year-old charmer who was kind to his beasts of burden (a prerequisite for me to do an animal ride) and the speaker of about three words in English. Sparing the rod, Abdullah had obviously spoiled his camels, for one young calf in our group had a mind of its own and seemed to prefer walking in circles to moving straight ahead. The resulting camel cluster led to some awkward jostling as well as the placement of stereotypically maloccluded camel teeth within spitting (and biting) distance of my ankles. I confess to a few moments of nervousness about being stranded in 110-degree heat with 12 ounces of water, 3 irritated camels, a husband with no husbandry skills, and an adorable child whose language I did not speak.

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In time, Abdullah wrangled his recalcitrant young camel and our mounts, Godane and Al-Wafi, and we jounced through the desert to a Bedouin encampment for a cup of tea and a reunion with our driver. In the smoky tent, we happily bought headscarves after lackadaisically shopping for them throughout Aqaba and Petra and even Israel. We sailed back out of the wilderness in the truck, flying over the sand dunes and rosy gravel, sun on our faces, and the dry wind in our new Arabian headgear, making the desert a fitting end – a dessert after all – to our stay in Jordan.

Abdullah and his camels

Abdullah and his camels

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