Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Woe in Wadi Rum

The next day we were picked up from our hotel along with two other ladies and we set off into the desert to see the natural beauty of Wadi Rum.  Unfortunately, before we even managed to get into the 4x4 to start the tour, the driver, Housan, came across as very unfriendly and aggressive.  The ladies we were taking the tour with asked him when he arrived if there would be a second car arriving for them as they had booked a private tour (as had we, but we weren't too concerned about sharing the ride).  Housan simply pointed out a taxi and told them to go back to town if they weren't happy about the travel arrangements and got in to drive away.  His response shocked us all a bit as the ladies simply wanted to know if we should all get in the one car or wait for a second one.  We all looked dubiously at each other, shrugged it off and loaded into the 4x4.

So we set off into the desert with our unfriendly chauffeur and drove non-stop until the first tourist point which was to see some cave paintings.  We were slightly confused when we arrived as we’d read that on the way into the desert you need to stop at the Visitor’s Centre to pay the entrance cost, and the cost of our tour had included the entrance fee however interestingly we never saw the Visitor's Centre and instead took a back way into the desert.  This annoyed us a bit as the fee goes towards conservation of the area and we would've much preferred our money to go to keeping the desert beautiful than into the back pocket of our dishonest driver.

Camel train in Wadi Musa
We got out to examine the cave paintings, although we actually had no idea what they were of or who had done them, and Housan had no interest in explaining anything to us (he was distracted by the famous Jordanian TV star who happened to be there and spent his time trying to get a photo with him).  Housan then retired to the Bedouin tent to enjoy a tea with his friends, while we sheepishly asked the tour guide of an Italian group to explain to us what it was we were looking at.  We were finally invited in for the customary welcoming Bedouin tea which was essentially a small cup of mint tea that took 5 seconds to drink followed by 10 minutes of trying to escape the hard sell of all the items on display nearby...

After escaping buying any combs or cups, and avoiding climbing aboard a camel, we visited the “Forth Rock Bridge” and Sarah climbed up to the top for a photo while the rest of the group remained down below as they all decided the view was sufficient from the ground.  We then saw the remains of the house of Lawrence of Arabia, which were not overly impressive as all that remains are a few mud bricks, but the location is stunning!  While we were there we noticed a few other tourists had a useful map with the major sites shown and described and we enquired as to where they got it from.  They told us that when they'd paid their entrance fee at the Visitor's Center they'd received a map of the desert.  This confirmed our suspicions that our driver had deliberately avoided the center so that he could keep our money.

Out of interest we asked one of the guys if we could take a look at his map as none of us knew really where we were.  Housan noticed us take the map and came directly over and asked the young guy if he spoke Arabic, he said yes, and then the situation got tense and weird.  From what we could tell through tone and body language, Housan started threatening the young guy who then told us in English that he didn't want to get involved, took his map and retreated, shaking from the incident.  Housan then turned to us and angrily said that the tour was over and he'd take us back to Aqaba.  We were all very confused about what had happened and thankfully another tour guide who spoke better English intervened and was able to smooth over the situation and after a few minutes we were able to continue with our tour. 

We figured out later that Housan must have realised that we knew that he’d been dodgy by not taking us to the Visitor’s Centre and he probably thought that we were discussing it with the other tourists and if he was reported he would be in a lot of trouble, which may explain his aggressive reaction.  Regardless of the reason, all four of us were fairly uncomfortable with continuing the tour with him, but since our only other option was to return to town we decided we did want to see what else the desert had to offer and bravely got back in the car.

The Mushroom Rock
The rest of the tour included the Burdah Rock Bridge, which we only saw from a distance as it’s a half days hike to climb up it, we saw the famous red sand dunes and the mushroom rock (which was one of those things that only looks like a mushroom cause someone called it that, otherwise it would’ve just looked like a large, strange rock).

By 5.30pm we arrived at the Qutaish Camp where we would be spending the night, however our travel companions had only booked a day tour and they gratefully left once they’d seen the camp we were to stay in.  We farewelled them and they wished us the best of luck for surviving the night…  The tent itself wasn’t too bad – the tent that is.  Inside was a dirty mess with blankets that we were afraid to touch, let alone sleep on.  We were glad we’d thought to bring our silk liners as it’s in situations like these it’s nice to be cocooned in a protective layer!  We won’t go into details about the state of the toilets, suffice it to say that behind a rock in the desert was a much nicer option and any form of shower was completely out of the question as neither of us could hold our breaths long enough…

Carving of Lawrence of Arabia
Strangely we were the only people in the entire camp, asides from the six or so ‘staff’ who were lazing around.  When we’d put our stuff in the tent they told us we’d be served a welcome Berber tea so we sat in the open dining area and waited for half an hour.  When nothing had arrived we went and got the UNO cards to help pass the time and some of the free water we were promised.  They tried to charge us for the water until we insisted that we’d been sold the tour with the promise that all water was included, which further enraged our ‘driver’ (who we had worked out was actually the camp owner) into a screaming fit at us, then he left.  Ten minutes later, he had a personality change (again, which probably is a sign that he has schizophrenia!), and offered us our free tea – he was truly insane.

Soon after a busloads of girls rocked up and soon the place was filled with kids being typical teenagers.  We had a half decent buffet dinner that fortunately we got first dibs at before the teenage horde… although being all female there was quite a bit of food left over.  After dinner was cleared away the ‘party’ started, i.e. terrible, loud music with interesting dance moves mainly done by the teachers.  After about 20 minutes of being deafened and watching old people grind each other to the pervy leers of the camp staff, we were bored and decided to go for a walk out into the desert to watch the sunset. 

Thankfully once we were out in the desert the experience improved.  The change of colours was beautiful, as was the solitude and peace and quiet, and we sat and watched the moonrise from behind the cliffs.  It was a full moon and it was so bright that we actually had moon shadows!

Moonrise over Wadi Musa dunes
When the distant boom boom of the music died down, we decided it was time return to the hellhole camp.  We were surprised to find that all the girls had left which meant that it was only ourselves staying the night.  We felt a little uncomfortable being the only two tourists in the camp with six burly male staff out in the desert a long way from anywhere - so we quickly retreated to our tent to try and sleep as we needed to be up early anyway to catch the morning bus to Wadi Musa.

Needless to say, if you’re considering going with these people or booking a tour in Aqaba – you should avoid Qutaish Tourist Camp and Wadi Rum Desert Services in Aqaba at all costs.  They are dodgy frauds and shouldn’t be operating a business and don’t care at all about their clientele or the state of their camp.

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