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november 5, 2004 -> bedouin libido in wadi rum, jordan  

“It is every white woman's dream to sleep with a Bedouin man in the desert.” 

I would have laughed at that comment had I not personally witnessed evidence of its truth.  We were deep within Wadi Rum, a huge desert park of red dunes and mesas in southern Jordan.  Three Bedouins were sitting on carpets rolled out over the sand.  One played a lute-like instrument; the second a simple drum; the third belted out traditional songs, replete with the high-pitched trills popular in the Muslim world.  Two enraptured white women sat between them; three others were gazing lustfully from the across the carpets.      

I have to admit that Bedouins can be quite dashing.  With their long, white robes; their turbans secured with a double loop of thick, black cord (a la Arafat); their long, regal  noses; and their mocha-colored skin, they can cut quite a figure as they stride across the desert.  According to local lore, Bedouin men are also extremely well-endowed, although naturally, it is the Bedouin men who are spreading the rumor.  Two theories exist for their purportedly titanic tumescence.  First, that they do a lot of walking, but do not wear underwear.  (Which is of course, utterly ridiculous, or no man would wear underwear, and we would walk everywhere.)  The second, somewhat more plausible explanation is that they engage in sexual congress with donkeys and need the extra “reach.”  It must get very lonely in the desert. 

Wadi Rum is only a few hours' drive from either Aqaba or Petra.  The easiest and most economical way to experience the park is on a one or two-day driving safari.  These well-established tours take you to the most beautiful mountains and in sight of several natural stone bridges.  We had arrived into Wadi Rum with a fairly large group.  Most went on the driving safari.  We were meeting up with Chris and Rachel, a British couple that we had met over the Internet and agreed to do the walk with in order to share costs.  Quirin (a fun Dutch girl who we had met in Petra) also joined us – she had visited Wadi Rum before, and wanted to try something different. 

We had signed up for a two-day “Scrambling” adventure.  It was unclear, however, what “scrambling” actually meant until we started doing it.  The tour operator's website suggested that the trip was for the “moderately” fit, and that it involved “the occasional use of the hands in difficult areas.”  In fact, the trip involved almost constant use of the hands, often in highly dangerous areas.  It was exhausting and challenging, but a lot of fun.  Our shoes had incredible grip on the sandstone – we soon became comfortable walking up and down 30 degree slopes – and the rocks had excellent natural handholds.  There was also a lot of butt-shuffling down incredibly steep declivities; more than one of us ripped our trousers.  

We started off with an exhilarating traverse of the Zabetak (?) Canyon.  Our guide was Saleem, a wiry young Bedouin with a great sense of a humor.  A huge wall of rock rose just behind the little town.  It looked impassable.  It was not until we had climbed for an hour to a high ridge that we were able to see the network of canyons that sliced through the massif.  Lunch of tuna salad, hummus and pita bread was enjoyed in the surprisingly frigid shade of a mountain, as we looked out over the desert towards a pyramidal peak.  In the afternoon, we began scrambling up a high peak deep within the park.  An hour and half later we came to a deep fissure in the mountain.  High above us, a natural bridge arched over the chasm.  Our guide scaled up first, and then rigged up a simple harness for our safety.  It was not a difficult climb, but we were all a bit tired from the morning's scrambling.  At the top, Nori and I walked together to the center of the arch.  It was fairly wide – about five feet – but the combination of gusting winds and the precipitous drop on either side had our adrenaline pumping.  As far as the eye could see, great tracts of desert were punctuated with towers of stone. 

Even as you are walking among the mountains, it is hard to believe that such a landscape exists.  Mountains are supposed to have foothills, or gently sloping approaches.  In Wadi Rum, the stone towers rise straight up from the desert sand.  Here and there, blood red dunes have snuggled up to the pinnacles; they can move no further.  As in Petra, the landscape is bizarrely eroded.  Entire mountains look like melted wedding cakes.  Wide expanses of stone appear to have bubbled and burst like sheets of warped plastic.  Atop these skyscraping mesas are the same white, rippled plateaus that we saw in Petra, only much higher.  According to Saleem, the border between the red cliffs and the white plateaus marked the water level of ancient seas. 

Like most successful philanderers, the Bedouin's chief advantage is not his appearance or his equipment, but his persistence.  During our scramble on the second day, our two guides ceaselessly pestered two Slovenian girls (there they are again) who were walking with us.  One was a pushover – she was holding hands with the other guide before we even reached the mountain.  The other girl was either disinterested or playing extremely ‘hard to get.'  Saleem, for his part, refused to acknowledge her lack of amour.  During the truck ride back to camp, we all watched him perform the classic ‘yawn and reach around' move – though she quickly squirmed out from his embrace.  The day before, he had been winking at Q.  On the way to the top, he vouchsafed to me that his “French girlfriend” was arriving in two days.  “Don't tell anyone!” he begged.  I didn't, except to Nori, who I had already firmly established was not available.  Who am I to stand in the way of White Women trying to realize their Bedouin Dreams?     

After a long day of hiking and a disappointing dinner, a number of us walked out into the darkness to sit beneath the stars.  The moon had not yet risen; it was so dark that we could not even see the stone massifs all around us.  For one of the first times in my life, I was sitting in one spot long enough to witness the stars moving.  As we sat, the constellation of Orion slowly climbed above the silhouetted mountains; it was as if the archer were sneaking up on prey.  The only thing breaking the silence was the occasional titter from a white woman being groped by Bedouin somewhere nearby.