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Visiting God in a 1978 Toyota Landcruiser

Your's truly from the back of a 1978 Toyota LandcruiserWe boarded the bus at Petra around 9am bound for the village of Rum, a small and dirty village where many of the bedouin that live in Wadi Rum have homes. It is clear, however, that they prefer to sleep in the desert. It’s easy to see why. The village is reminiscent of any third-world hole in the world – lots of raw cinderblock, the ubiquitous blue tarps that seem to cover the developing world, rubbish and some scruffy dogs and children running around.

We arrived and were greeted by our guides, driving two almost identically decrepit toyota landcruisers not unlike the one my dad had when I was a kid. Except these had tires as bald as our tour guide, Kamel, the engines seemed to be held together with plastic shopping bags, and the truck beds were decorated with plenty of rusty metal. I kept thinking what great farm trucks they would make.

Our guides were bedouin, one a sixty-plus-year-old grandfather who would go out and gather scrub grass at every stop in the desert. When asked about it, he simply replied, “hungry camel!” with a toothless smile.

Our other driver was about fifteen, wore a 1980’s era desert camouflage uniform and smoked. At one point he let me drive his truck for a bit, and when we stopped he said, “You better driver than me!” no kidding, I thought. I’m twice your age.

UndauntedUndaunted by the cracked windshields and bent fenders of our rides, we piled into the two vehicles and headed out into the desert. It wasn’t long before we started to feel a pervading sense of the vastness of this place. The mountains were so incredibly stark, jutting skyward at right angles to the sand, and every once in awhile we’d see tiny black specks at the foot of one of these massive monoliths. They looked for all the world like bugs, but turned out to be goats!

This being springtime, there were actually some plants growing, but it is easy to imagine how completely devoid of plant life this place is the rest of the year. I know they are supposed to be plant eaters, but I wouldn’t turn my back on a sheep or goat in Wadi Rum.

Bedouin Tent we lunched inWe stopped for a time at the tent of a bedouin family. They were evidently expecting us, the tent was open and there were mats laid out on the sand for us inside. We entered and were served hot tea, and i pulled out a book of pictures of my home and family that i carry for such occasions, and began showing the pictures to the bedouin men. They looked carefully and at length at every picture in the album, discussing each one vigorously amongst themselves. When i pointed out that i have five children, they all smiled and declared, “you bedouin!”

i asked if it would be okay if i went and looked at their animals. They happily agreed, but ushered me quickly by the right side of the tent, which is where the women were. Behind the tent were some small pens, and about twenty goats who were roaming free, but seemed content to stay as close as possible to the water tank. i don’t blame them. They had two children running around, one boy who looked about six and a girl who looked about five. As it turns out they were nine and seven, respectively. Come to think of it, the bedouin all seem kind of short in stature. The girl spoke enough english to tell me the names of the animals that they owned – a turkey, chickens, camels, goats and sheep. There was a very cute baby camel who made the saddest little cry because he was locked in a small pen.

i plan to write a more in-depth article about the bedouin and their farming practices for a magazine later this year.

After about a half hour at the bedouin camp, we headed out into the open desert. The vastness of this landscape takes your breath away. it certainly looks like somewhere that God made just to store extra space until he needed it elsewhere. But even here, the six-hundred-foot cliffs spoke His name, and the natural designs in the cliff face looked almost like God had been taking notes on them. We stopped at a few of the more interesting landmarks – a canyon filled with ancient graffiti from the various peoples who passed through the area, a couple of natural bridges, which made for some fun pictures and strenuous climbing. Last, we stopped to wait for the sunset, and just took some time to walk out into the desert and contemplate the silence. It was nearly deafening.

More about that later. For now, go check out the gallery and see the pics for yourself!

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