Camel Trekking in Wadi Rum

Up Close and Personal with "God's Gift"
By Belkis Kambach
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Camels are an indispensable part of life in Wadi Rum. They were domesticated thousands of years ago by Frankincense traders, from southern Arabia to the northern regions of the Middle East, and went on to become the desert dwellers' primary source of transport, shade, milk, meat, wool and hides.

Ata Allah, "God's gift," is the Bedouin name for Camelus dromedarius, the 'one-hump' dromedary. The behavior patterns of this amazing creature are unpredictable at best as they have the reputation of being bad tempered and obstinate creatures who spit and kick. In reality, however, they tend to be well tempered, patient and intelligent, and are animals of beautiful mannerisms, one of the few animals whose mum cries when she leaves her young ones to work until the minute they are reunited again.

A calf needs only to rub his mum's neck to have fresh milk. I tried rubbing my head to the neck of a young mother and it took only minutes to see milk running to feed her young one. A camel's gestation period is 13 months, and a camel cow usually bears a single calf, and occasionally twins. The calves are walking within hours of birth but remain close to their mothers until they reach maturity at five years of age.

When the camel places its foot on the ground, the pads spread, preventing the foot from sinking into the sand. This gait suggests the rolling motion of a boat, explaining the camel's "ship of the desert" nickname.

They can go five to seven days with little or no food and water and come in every shade of brown, from cream to almost black. Their preferred foods are dates, grass and grains such as wheat and oats, bones, seeds, dried leaves, and even their owner's tent! A fully-grown adult camel stands six feet at the shoulder and seven feet at the hump, weighing up to 1,542 pounds. The normal life span of a camel is 35-40 years, and a working camel will typically cover 25 miles a day.

Samir, our Jordanian guide/driver, insisted that although these camels have no leash, they know who their owner is and can easily find their way home, and that Bedouins themselves don't deposit money in the bank; instead they buy camels. In Jordan how many camels a Bedouin owns is still a social class status.

This wonderful animal retains a very special place in my heart and my memories of Jordan! But for our butts' sake, we decided to pass up the opportunity of seeing more sights by camel in Jordan as taking a longer trek deeper into the desert would have killed us all. This was the beginning of our Middle Eastern trip and another camel trek safari was scheduled in Cairo after this trip.

We can't say we regretted a minute of it but to be honest with you any comparison to horse riding is faulty, especially if you have ever dreamed of an obstinate camel deciding to take off running, leaving you bouncing on top of his hard back, like Timo's did—a sensation roughly akin to repeatedly landing on a tree trunk or the jebels themselves.

As we slid off our camels' backs and confronted the mystery and the grandeur of Wadi Rum, I was sure for the rest of our lives we would remember the camels, the sunset in Jordan over flaming red rocks, Arabic music swirling with the desert wind, our car blazing through the sudden mountains, driven by Samir taking us deep into the Jordanian desert valley. And Wadi Rum, one of the most impressive deserts I have ever seen. The rock formations of Wadi Rum are undoubtedly the largest and most magnificent of Jordan's desert landscapes and one of the most beautiful desert regions in the world. Wadi Rum is hauntingly beautiful.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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