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December 26th, 2010 | Asia

Bedouin Meditation Camp…

I have stayed in some pretty grotty places during the course of my journey, and usually, the price of the accommodation matched the conditions I stayed in… My concrete cell in Wadi Halfa springs immediately to mind…!!

I had wanted to experience the renowned beauty of the Wadi Rum region of the Jordanian desert, and on my arrival at the Valentine Hotel in Petra, I noticed that they were advertising an all-in trip to Wadi Rum which included an overnight stay in a Bedouin Camp…

Zidane should do some meditating of his own, and consider cleaning up his act... and his camp...!!

I paid the JD 35.00 asking price (about €35.00) and looked forward to the genuine “Bedouin Experience” as advertised…

This was almost double the price I was paying at the Valentine Hotel, which is a very popular hotel in Petra, and deserves all the visitors it gets…

It is clean, the staff are super-friendly, and the dinners were the best I had enjoyed since Panni’s meals in Hungary…!!

On arrival at Wadi Rum village, we were ushered into a large warm room, and greeted with good bonhomie by the owner Zidane al-Zalabieh, a tall and distinguished looking Bedouin…

He welcomed me and the only other guest present, a Malaysian named Rory, and wished us a happy stay in his camp out in the desert… I had no idea what to expect, but Rory had booked his stay after choosing Zidane’s camp over all the others he had read about on the internet…

Rory was quite excited about our imminent trip into the desert, and described some of the highlights he had read about: Zidane personally hosted his guests, showing them how bread was baked under the hot sand; a local musician would play traditional Bedouin music for the guests, and we would enjoy an open air BBQ, etc, etc…

I was surprised to discover that Rory and I were to be the only guests that day, this despite being told that this was one of the busiest times of the year for visits into the desert, a tiny alarm bell began ringing somewhere in the recesses of my brain…

Our transport left a lot to be desired... The frame that covered the back was broken in places and tied together with bits of rope and wire... Sharp edges on some of the broken welds led to Rory cutting his hand...

When I took a closer look at the vehicle which Zidane indicated would be our transport for the next 24 hours, the alarm bells began to ring a little louder…!!

The vehicle was in a sorry state, broken welds, a door that needed a piece of wire to stay closed, an exhaust that sounded like a truck with asthma, and a back bumper which hung at an angle that made getting up over the tailgate a delicate operation, if you wanted to preserve the integrity of your wedding tackle…

The driver's door had to be shut using a piece of wire...

Our driver Mohamed, also turned out to be our so-called “guide”, cook, waiter, camp manager, aspiring musician and protector of Zidane’s “reputation”…

His driving left much to be desired…

He was more often than not in the wrong gear when we encountered thicker sand, and drove far to fast and recklessly to make our trip through the desert the special event it was meant to be…

We often had to bang on the roof to tell him to slow down, or get him to stop so that we could take a photograph or two…!!

The first room we were offered...!! It looked like the last occupant had left in a hurry... A bomb scare, perhaps...??

The fact that Mohamed knew perhaps only a dozen words of English, and could not string a proper sentence together, made communication rather difficult…

He was unable to give us any information about the various sites we stopped at, beside their names, and always seemed to be in a huge hurry to get to the next stop…

I do not blame him for this, as he was clearly doing his best with what little command of the English language he possessed…

His employer rather is the one at fault here for providing a guide who was clearly not cut out to do the job…

On arrival at the camp, we were shown to a long tent-like structure and told me could choose any room we wanted… Rory was walking ahead of me, and on pulling aside the metal door of the first room, I heard him gasp in astonishment…

“This room has not been cleaned…!” he said in surprise…

We walked over to the next one, and this one looked even worse…!! By now I was standing next to him, looking in on a room that looked as if it had not been used in a long time… A layer of sand covered the unmade bed, if you can call a thin sponge mattress and a filthy duvet, a bed…

The pillow was supposed to be white, but it had been a very long time since it had seen any water, and the dark smudges spoke loudly of the many oily heads that had rested upon it in the past…

Litter lay strewn around, and the hair of the many cats that called the camp home, covered everything…

My heart sank at the sight of all this…It looked like it was going to be a memorable Christmas for all the wrong reasons…

Surely Zidane would have sent someone to tidy up the camp before his guests arrived…??

“Mohamed… Are you sure you have brought us to the right camp…?” I asked, hoping he would stop in his tracks, look around him, and then apologetically tell us that he had mistakenly blundered into a refugee camp for the terminally filthy…!!

In one of the rooms, left-over food and litter lay all over the place... The pillow cases had not seen water in a long, long time...

We managed to find two “rooms” at the end of the row that had not been used in recent times…  The duvets had at least been laid flat on the beds, but were still covered in a thick layer of dust… A thin woven blanket acted as the partition between my room and the one next to it… People staying here and wanting to indulge in a bit of “horizontal entertainment”, would be sadly disappointed…!!

Although the toilets were clean, there was no running water while we were there, and the building that housed the showers was barred and locked by a large metal gate… On my return to the village the following day, I questioned Zidane about this, and he advised me that the showers cost an additional JD 2.00 …!!

At no time was this mentioned the day before, and his arrogant attitude to my query made me realise that taking the matter any further, was pointless… We had been scammed…. Pure and simple…!!

Zidane should consider changing the name to "N.W.C." ... No-Water Closet...!!

While Mohamed prepared our dinner, peeling vegetables while sitting on the floor of the dark and filthy little mud-walled building that served as a kitchen, Rory and I walked a few hundred metres to a camp we had seen from up on the rocks above our own one…

This camp was neatly laid out and spotlessly clean… Each tent stood a little apart from it’s neighbour, giving guests at least a modicum of privacy…

The staff greeted us warmly and invited us to look around… We took a few photos and when we asked about the price, were dismayed to find that they were charging the same as Zidane the Scam…!!

At 5.00pm, Rory managed to get Zidane on the line and asked why he was not there to host us… Our slippery friend trotted out a host of lies, one of which included a story about “being on the road to Amman to collect 150 guests from the airport”…

This one at least got us laughing out loud, until Mohamed started strumming the guitar… Clearly it had not been tuned in some time, and even more obvious was the fact that our driver/guide/whatever, had absolutely no idea how to coax a tune out of the instrument…  At one point he even changed hands, hoping that if he played it left-handed, it might sound better…

Eventually Rory and I insisted he put the guitar away in order to give us a little peace and quiet…

Hard to eat chicken off the bone with a spoon...!! And of course there were no serviettes, and no water to wash your hands with either...!! We had to use the bottled water we had brought with us...

Although our dinner did not taste too bad, all we had to eat it with was a spoon…!! What was left over was thrown outside for the cats to eat… No surprises why the place is crawling with them…!!

Some rooms required a little maintenance...

Not everyone leaves Zidane's camp alive... Bones from various animals that had been roasted in camp, littered the area...!!

What annoyed me most was Zidane’s attitude when we eventually made an appearance while we waited outside his “offices”… He came out from a back room, scratching his crotch, his shifty eyes darting all over the place but refusing to settle on either Rory or I…

When I asked why the camp was in such a sorry state, his response was to ask me where I was from…

“What does where I come from have to do with the filthy camp…?” I responded…

“It is usual for your nation to complain…!!” he replied…

What a load of bollocks… We South Africans are used to camping and roughing it…!! We do however tend to draw the line when we are ripped off for the privilege…!!

His complete lack of interest in our attempts to question him about the glowing reports his camp got on the Wadi Rum website, and his arrogant attitude to our complaints was almost breathtaking…!!

At the very least, I was expecting some sort of apology, which I would probably have accepted, but all he could do was smirk and tell us “we got what we paid for”…

It was impossible to argue with this idiot, and we gave up and went to look for our bus…

Spread the word…:

Avoid “Zidane’s Meditation Camp”, if you want your memories of Wadi Rum to be fond ones…!!

©GBWT 2010

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