Day 17: Eilat to Jordan, Bedouin Tent Experience

Trip Start May 14, 2008
Trip End Jun 17, 2008

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Where I stayed
Bedouin Camp Kutaish

Flag of Jordan  ,
Sunday, June 1, 2008

We are well rested as we prepare to depart the Kibbutz Ein Gedi.  We have enjoyed our stay here in the Arugot rooms, which have been recently renovated and face the Wadi Arugot.  The location of the rooms with the nearby landscaped botanical gardens made it a special place.  The meals were buffet style and plentiful.  There is free WIFI internet accessible in the lobby, and a computer with internet access is available for a fee.  Included in the room rate is the Ein Gedi spa, which is a must do and the kibbutz is right next to Ein Gedi, so it is convenient for hiking. All and all, we would definitely recommend this accommodation!

It's getting easier to move on from one location to another; we're getting into the rhythm of traveling.  We have no attachment to these places like when we were leaving home at the beginning of the trip.  Walking back to our room after breakfast, we stop at the plant that Zabu had showed us with the seed pods.  I open one up and let the wind take the seeds into the air.   It feels like some kind of metaphor for our life, but I can't put my finger on what it is.    It just feels right.  

We fill up the car with gas for the three hour drive on Route 90 down to Eilat.  We receive a call from Gil at Desert Eco Tours checking on our arrival time and letting us know that it will be too hot for the hot air balloon ride we had scheduled for tomorrow morning over Wadi Rum.  I am a bit disappointed; I love to see broad landscapes and this one promised to be extraordinary at sunrise. Harvey explains how the balloon rises and hot/cool air play against each other.  It is a reminder that every season has its special qualities and that you must make the most of the one that you're in.  Our next trip to Israel will be in a cooler month so that we can take in the agriculture and also ballooning!  We were in France about 10 years ago staying at Chateau de Lugny and for my birthday Harvey surprised me with a balloon ride over Burgundy.  The balloon was assembled in the courtyard of the hotel and took off for a great ride over the countryside.  When we landed in a farmer's field we had champagne and strawberries.  Harvey knows how to treat a woman!  So I decided to give him a ride in a balloon over the desert.  I'm sorry it isn't working out.

From our photos, you can see a bit of the landscape on this drive south.  However, the main thing to watch out of the window is the Israeli drivers!  Route 90 has one lane in each direction, so in order to pass, you are driving in the incoming lane.  At one point, there were three cars next to each other trying to pass at the same time! Crazy!

As we approach Eilat, we pass through a checkpoint, and then see large high rise buildings in the distance.   As we get closer, there are more and more cars as well as buildings.  We're amazed at how different this is from the sleepy little town it was thirty-seven years ago.  Of all the places we have been so far in Israel, this is the one that has most obviously changed.  We fill the car up with gas, commenting that the price is the equivalent of $8 a gallon.  It makes gas in the U.S. seem cheap! At these rates at this gas station, it's full service, so we speak to the attendant who is born in Israel and whose parents emigrated from Argentina.  We are reminded of our next scheduled trip that is to Argentina!  We ask for a recommendation for lunch and once again we hear the name "Sante Fe"; since three people have now recommended it, we're off to find it and have a quick bite before turning in the car.  We think we are following the driving directions that we have been given with one of those "you can't miss it" instructions, when we of course can't locate it, decide to be flexible and start to look for an alternate.  Just then, we turn a corner and you guessed it, the Sante Fe restaurant appears with a parking spot right in front!  Was this a Kabbalah moment?

The restaurant isn't open yet, but they are really nice and point us in the direction of the promenade by the water for a short walk.   Wow!  We could not believe how built up the beach is, with rows and rows of lounge chairs, and just across the pedestrian walk way are restaurants, stores and more stores!  Visual overload! Where is the natural beauty that we remember?  We walk back to the Sante Fe restaurant, choosing to sit inside in the air conditioning.  We have a really good salad in a quiet atmosphere, since we are the only ones there this early.  Maybe this was the new Eilat, eating in a southwest style restaurant, listening to Brazilian music, with a British hostess.  We are glad to move on.  

We turn in our rental car and shortly thereafter a jeep pulls up from Desert Eco Tours.  We load up the jeep and the driver heads out, without much discussion. Within 10 minutes we are at the Jordan border and he is ready to drop us off.  We had thought we were being taken to the Desert Eco Tours office to drop off our luggage, so we call Gil, our contact, and he apologizes for not telling the driver.  No problem, we go back to Eilat and the tour office.  We deposit our luggage, along with a plastic bag with driving maps and trip materials, in a corner of the office.  I ask Gil about our Israeli guide who will be with us and it becomes clear when he responds, "did you ask for that?" that this was not going to be the case.  I had made the assumption that since I was dealing with an Israeli company that there would be an Israeli guide.  Gil explains that they coordinate with another company that operates in Jordan and that during the past four years wrinkles have been worked out and that everything will be fine. For the Israel portion of the trip, we will have one Israeli guide.  I had planned the itinerary in detail with Gil and was comfortable with our activities and lodging.  Thinking positively, I accept that everything will be fine; it's just different.  Harvey checks mail one last time and I sign the credit card invoice for our remaining balance.  We put our two backpacks in the jeep and we're off!

At the Israeli-Jordan border crossing, our driver gives us a tag for our clothes that says "ECO" so we can be identified on the Jordanian side.  He walks with us through the Israeli passport control and then points to a gate and area for us to walk across to get to Jordan (see photos).    Once we reach the Jordan entrance gate and pass through the guards, another person is waiting for us.  This person guides us through security and passport control and to a driver who is waiting for us. Our guide points out some things as we start on our drive to our Bedouin camp, Camp Kutaish, in Wadi Rum. At some point, the car stops and the guide gets out; he was evidently only our guide to help us through Jordan customs.  We continue on with our driver for a few hours, at some point he pulls off the road into the sand in the middle of nowhere and there is a four wheel air conditioned pickup truck waiting for us. Two young men have big smiles on their faces and wave us into their car.  This is now the fourth hand-off from one person to another that we have had, and we're a little bit confused as to where we're going and what we're doing, but OK, we get in the truck.

We drive into the desert towards a large mountain, and we see tents, which must be the Bedouin camp we are staying in tonight!    We are welcomed by another young man, shown to our tent and also shown the shower and toilet facilities. I am relieved that there is actually running water and regular bathrooms and showers.   We are invited to the large tent area to rest.   I see a place to lie down and go for it.  During our drive from the Jordan border, I had started to get a headache and it had gotten progressively worse.  I am now feeling a little nauseous and just want to lie down.  The young men drive off.   We think we're alone here in the camp!

In Harvey's words:  while Marge takes a nap I spend the time talking to our young friends.  Normally I have difficulty remembering words in different languages, but for some reason I am able to remember every Arabic word they tell me.  Within an hour I'm ready to go to the bathroom, find the camp, go to my tent, call a driver crazy, ask about someone's camel etc.  I can't believe that I can retain so many words.  It seems easier because there are so many similarities to Hebrew.  Anyway I'm getting along great with Bilal, Amir and Tamir.
After a while we have the great idea that for $40 we can take the truck into the desert for a few hours.  Marge is a bit out of it, but I put her in the truck and off we go.  First, you need to get used to driving in deep sand.  It is a little like driving in snow.  Bilal drives the truck up a steep dune and stops at the peak.  We get out and take some pictures, trying to show the extreme angle of the drop off. Then he guns the engine and we go flying over the ridge down the dune.  It was exhilarating! Next we drive off to see rock formations.  At each site we get out and the boys and I climb the rocks.  Marge stays down by the truck to make sure no one sneaks in to steal it. She also takes the opportunity to snap some photos of us climbing to the top of some arches.  We also visit a Bedouin watering hole. I have no idea how these guys know where they are going.  There are no signposts in the desert.

As we drive along they turn on the radio and a woman is singing.  Since I am now an expert Arabic speaker they ask if I understand the song.  I listen and respond that she is telling someone how much she loves him.  The guys get all excited and start yelling that I am right.  So I follow up by saying that she also is complaining that she loves him, but he loves his camel more.  At this point the guys are incapable of speaking because they are rolling around laughing.  When they calm down they ask if I want to try driving.  After I have driven around for awhile Marge starts to really feel sick.  I stop the truck and Marge jumps out. During this process the guys joke about how many wives I have.  Since Marge is sick I might want to trade her in.  I respond that I could not choose a Jordanian woman because they are covered head to foot with a burkha and I can't tell if they are pretty.   After this I decide that we should head back to the camp.  On the way back we stop to pick up firewood.  A reasonable question is how you can get firewood in the desert where no trees grow. The answer is that little tough bushes grow.  At this time of year they all look like they are dead. The ones that are dead are easy to pull up. The ones that are still alive are so strong that you cannot yank them out of the ground no matter what you do. Eventually we fill the truck bed with wood and return to camp.
Apparently Marge's illness is not unheard of.  A number of tourists have had similar symptoms as a reaction to the heat.  The guys make some herbal tea and tell us that she should be OK in a little while.  Marge lies down to rest.  As sunset approaches we get up and walk away from the camp to an overlook.  Despite her illness Marge cannot miss the opportunity for sunset photos.  Tamir and I are chatting.  He keeps calling Marge auntie and wants to come live with us in the U.S. so that he can go to school.  Amir has gone to a Muslim school in India but got thrown out for fighting with some Hindus.  Tamir wants to study electronics.  He is an engaging, funny young man.  We get along very well.  My only concern about him is that he watches Al Jazeera and believes everything it says.  He believes that Israelis kill Arab women and children and that the entire region should be Islamic.  On the other hand, he likes the Jewish tourists he meets.  It seems to me that his natural instincts are stimulated when he has personal interactions, but he is being brainwashed by the media.
It is at this point that we learn that there is another couple in the area.  They are Canadians who will join us for dinner and then return to Aqaba.  After sunset we return to the camp for dinner and meet the other couple.  Marge is lying down by the fire and I go over to meet them and get some food.  It turns out that they are a young American couple from California.  They are telling everyone that they are Canadian because they have had some anti-American experiences in the Middle East. The young woman is a nurse practitioner and has a small pharmacy with her. She offers Marge some pills.  The combination of pills, rest and tea does the trick.  By the next morning Marge is ready to go.
After dinner Bilal drives the couple back to Aqaba.  He is anxious to go because he is in love with a young woman in the city and hopes to see her.  Unfortunately her parents do not view him as a suitable match for their daughter and he is heartbroken.
Our guides inform us that we have a phone call.  So here we are in the middle of the desert and we get on a cell phone to coordinate with the Jordanian travel company when our guide will arrive the next morning.  We agree on 8:30.  Now it is time for bed.  There are about 24 tents in this camp.  Each tent can hold around 4 people. Fortunately for us we are the only guests that night.  We are told that a large Danish group will be arriving in a few days.  We prefer the quiet solitude of the desert.  In the middle of the night we look out to see more stars than we had ever seen before. All is quiet until Bilal returns at around 1:00 or 2:00 AM.  He comes roaring up in the truck. The other guys come out to greet him and make lots of noise.  I go out of our tent to see what is going on.  They are going out to collect more firewood.  I get the impression that the authorities do not look kindly on this so 2:00 AM is a good time for the job.  

Click here for today's photos!
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