The kid driving us through the desert is 16 years old, and he’s a veteran 5 year smoker. He has 10 brothers and sisters, from his dad’s two wives. Like most of the rest of the world, he likes Obama, but not George Bush. And he makes a mean cup of sweet Jordanian tea.
Hussein is the second oldest son of Eid Ateeg, the patriarch of a Bedouin family making their living in Wadi Rum, the red sand desert in the south of Jordan where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. We’ve ended up under their care after being handed off by the nice folks at the Petra Sun Set Hotel. It kind of cracks us up that we keep getting passed from one friend to the other as we travel through this desert landscape—every place we’ve stayed so far can be tracked back to the Black Iris Hotel in Madaba. It’s like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Jordanian-style.
We set off into the desert and Hussein dutifully drives us from one site to another, first a spring where the camels get watered, and then a giant sand dune, which we scale with considerable effort, leaving our shoes full of sand and our lungs void of breath.
We check out some ancient hieroglyphic carvings, see the ruins of Lawrence of Arabia’s house (not sure if this was built for the movie or if it was actually Lawrence’s house, and we can’t get an answer out of Hussein either way), and walk across a rock bridge:
But as usual in our travels, it’s not the sites themselves that make our experience, but everything that happens in between as we take in this stunning desert landscape…
…and get to know this man/boy whose life is so different from ours.
Our final destination was Eid’s family tent out in the middle of the desert, and we’re pleasantly surprised to find that the camp has a number of unexpected amenities. There’s a large covered area where you can hide from the sun, a squat toilet, and even a shower!
The camp is strategically located to offer excellent views of both the sunrise and the sunset, and as the sun lowered into the ground, we watched as the colors of the desert grew soft and fuzzy. We ended our day with a delicious chicken dinner cooked by one of Eid’s wives, and fell asleep counting the shooting stars lighting up the desert sky. Truly one of the more magical experiences we’ve had so far on the trip.
Early the next morning, we were once again watching the desert change colors as the sun grew out of the red sand landscape and our 24 hours with The Eid & Hussein Show came to an end.
Make no mistake, there were some culturally shocking moments (beyond the underage smoking and the multiple wives), like the time when Eid responded to a girl’s fear of their family dog by kicking the poor pup. But as the day wore on, we found that our awe and appreciation for Wadi Rum’s stunning natural landscape was matched only by their affection for the desert they call home, an affection that is not at all diminished by the amount of time they’ve spent here. Common ground can be slow to reveal itself at times, but it’s no less stable once you find it.
Details: We highly recommend Eid Ateeg as a Wadi Rum guide. Not only were his jeep tours cheaper than what you would pay at the visitor center, but the camp was impressively well-maintained, with excellent views of both the sunrise and sunset. He can also arrange camel rides. We paid 50 JOD each (US$70) for the jeep tour, food, and lodging for the night. Contact Eid on his Jordan mobile at 0777309249 or 0776470477, or on his email at eidateegz (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Transportation from Petra to Wadi Rum: For some reason the bus from Petra to Wadi Rum (5 JOD each, approx. US$7) leaves at the ungodly hour of 6AM. But don’t worry, if you go with Eid, you’ll be plied with Jordanian black tea all day long. If the caffeine doesn’t wake you up, the sugar will.
Where we slept in Wadi Rum: At Eid Ateeg’s Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert. You can choose to sleep in the tent, or pull the mattresses out and sleep under the stars. Guess which one we picked?
Check out all our photos from Wadi Rum: