Our guide had arranged for us to stay at a bedouin-style camp in Wadi Rum on our final night, so when my travel buddy was back from Petra, we packed up and got into the car for the 1.5-hour drive. I didn't exactly know what to expect - my previous experience of camping was a simple nylon tent that you had to prepare yourself upon arrival, and for the price we were paying I didn't imagine this to be much more glamorous than that.
We arrived at our camp in late afternoon, and from the first moment I glimpsed the tall red cliffs I was awestruck at the scope of Wadi Rum’s beauty. It was like stepping onto another world - it was of little wonder that the landscape had once left T.E. Lawrence speechless. The desert was beautiful for its emptiness, and we stood together on the red sand for some time, gazing out at the cliffs in the distance.
"Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of the stupendous hills."
-T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Our tent was simple, but nicer than I had expected. My travel companion went to the dining area to socialize and I lay down in a hopeless attempt to rest from my fever. I had only been asleep for an hour when she returned and persuaded me to join the rest of the camp for dinner. A traditional Bedouin-style feast known as zarb had been cooking for several hours in an underground pit, and our hosts were about to uncover it.
Zarb is a delicious part of Jordanian culture. It consists of meats such as lamb or chicken and a variety of vegetables being placed onto a 2- or 3-tier rack which is then placed over coals in an earth oven. It's covered and left to cook for around 2-3 hours. Watching them pull it out of the ground was fascinating. As we watched, it began to lightly rain, which I imagined must be refreshing for the chefs who stood surrounded by hot clouds of steam.
The video below shows them starting to uncover the ovens; sadly I lost the second video, which showed the racks being pulled out of the ground.
Once the racks of food had been pulled up, we made our way over to the dining tent, where everything was laid out buffet-style. My appetite returned with full force as soon as I saw and smelled the food, and I was glad it did - the meat was so tender and the vegetables were full of flavour. I highly recommend that every visitor to the Wadi Rum area experience a traditional zarb, even if you don't stay at a camp (many organized tours will include it as part of their itinerary).
The dining tents were completely open on one side, and as we ate the small drops of rain turned into a downpour and thunder began to boom, almost echoing through the desert. Flashes of lightning lit up the dark sky; for only a second we could see the cliffs silhouetted against the brilliant streaks of light and then they were gone.
We watched the storm, half hypnotized by its power, but also partly stuck under the shelter of the dining tent until it subsided. I was about to head back to my tent when music started to play, and my guide pulled us outside to where a circle had formed; our hosts had started a Jordanian folk dance and we were encouraged to join in. We did, reluctantly at first, and soon we were stumbling through the steps of a Dabke with the rest of the group, laughing at our clumsy attempt at the traditional dance.
I fell asleep that night listening to heavy drops of rain hitting the roof of the tent and reflecting on the past couple of days. We would leave in the morning to head back to Amman airport, and even though I would have loved more time to explore Jordan, the short trip had still been worth it.
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