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Words can’t fully describe how amazing this experience was…
The visit to Petra at the start of the trip allowed us to meet our group and then take in the history of the country with a very knowledgeable guide. Petra is epic, and we spent around 8 hours inside, looking at all of the monuments, enjoying lunch and having a cheeky donkey ride when our legs got tired. For horse lovers, I would recommend the donkey rides that have adults looking after them rather than children, who tend to hit their donkeys with a stick a bit too much for my liking (around 10-15 JD is the usual price). I would not recommend the horse carts as some of the going is very rough and uneven, and we all felt a bit sorry for the horses negotiating this with some larger build tourists sat on top. Comfortable shoes are a necessity for this aspect of the trip, and taking the 800 steps to see the Monastery and the views of the mountains from so high up is definitely worth it. The majority of the workers inside Petra now live in the purpose built village outside of the UNESCO site, and they are all very friendly and offer you tea and to show you what they are selling. The language spoken most within is English, which is helpful to have a common language.
The next day we took the car to the Wadi Rum, where the stables are situated. The company, Jordan Tracks, is very well organised and all of the connections between the various hotels/destinations are well managed and punctual. One of the drivers is a relative of the owner of the company, and he ensures that the journeys are very comfortable and points out landmarks along the way. Upon arrival at the stables, we met our guide and the support staff. After a short chat about our experience of riding and what horses we like (over tea, naturally), we met our horses and began the trek…
I had a fantastic horse called Shareef, he was definitely the fastest and most forward going horse that I have ever ridden. We had a small group of 5 guests and then Salem our guide, and this felt like the perfect number; we were able to ride together in a group and have a lot of long canters and gallops. We also had the opportunity to gallop on our own and have races a number of times, with Salem taking a lot of photos and videos for us. At the start of the week, the horses were extremely fresh and I would advise taking gloves as some of the reins are lacking a bit of grip. I found Shareef pulled a bit at the start of the week, when we took in some controlled canters to allow us to get the feel of the horses. Later in the week, we let them off the rein and went full tilt for a lot of stretches. I think this may have been due to the small group and the fact that there were some very experienced riders in it (I have been riding on and off for 24 years and would certainly not c onsider myself the best rider of this group, that’s how good some of the girls were!), that Salem felt comfortable with us letting the horses have their heads. The feeling of galloping with the wind in your hair, laughing with your new found friends as they gallop beside you, and wondering whether or not the horses will ever run out of steam has got to be my favourite part of the trip. The horses will always pull up, so slightly nervous riders need not be too concerned; they listen to you but do like to be free at times.
The only downside to the horses as a group is that they can get a bit excitable when they are all together. Particularly at the end of the day or before lunch, when they know that they are going to be fed and watered shortly, they like to trot and pull a little bit, and get right up behind other horses, who can sometimes flick a leg at each other. I found that Shareef settled a lot more at the back of the group during this stage, as he did not get involved with vying to be at the front of the group. But, other than being a bit of a pain on the hands, this was not a problem.
The camps were very comfortable each night; we had a “shower” tent every day (some hot water in buckets to be able to rinse the sand off and wash your hair a couple of times) and the tents were very warm. We had a sleep talker in the group, which woke the camp and the horses one night, but they provided a spare tent for the girl sharing with the sleep talker to ensure that they were both able to sleep more comfortably for the rest of the week at no extra cost.
Salman was our cook, and his character and food are legendary! He pertains not to speak English but we all felt he knew a lot more than he let on. Every day the food was well prepared and enjoyable. It is vegetarian at dinner time and then meat with rice or potatoes and vegetables at tea time, there is also always fresh bread available to snack on. One afternoon we met our guide’s family in their traditional Bedouin tent, and had tea with them and were able to experience their way of life looking after camels, sheep and a donkey. Their neighbour’s little boy also came down for tea and enjoyed looking at our photos on a digital camera, as well as posing for us. They made us feel very welcome and at home. Most evenings by the camp fire we seemed to pick up Bedouin waifs and strays! A particular favourite was “Saba the camel man” who likes to talk about his camels and perform the infamous camel dance. Saleem, the owner of the company, visited every night also, which was a lovely gesture as I do not know many Western companies where the owner would have that much hands on experience with their guests. He played a traditional guitar for us most nights and the rest of them would sing songs for us whilst we clapped. I felt very at ease within their company and spent many happy hours after a long day in the saddle relaxing by the fire.
It was a joy to sleep out in the desert and hear the horse’s soft movements during the night. For those that have never experienced a night sky away from any artificial light or pollution, it is truly awesome. The night is black, and it stretches as far as you can see, broken only by the shadows of the mountains around us. The stars come out in force, and you can see them all. You can even see wisps of what we believed were the Milky Way or the atmosphere; it really is that clear. One night we all lay back to watch as the stars put on a show for us and we saw about nine or ten shooting stars, one after the other.
We looked after our own horse each day; grooming and saddling them. I was unsure of the particular martingale that was being used, and Farej (the camp jack of all trades, assisting with cooking, setting up the camp and the horses) kindly helped me with this and showed me how to attach it all properly. None of the horses particularly liked being groomed, especially after lunch, so a quick dusting was all they usually got. All of our group were very happy with the horses that we were allocated, nobody needed to swap or had any complaints; we were all very well suited. I found Shareef quite an independent horse, but when he felt like it, he could be very affectionate and posed handsomely for many photos (well, his name does mean noble in English).
Salem and Saleem were excellent hosts; telling us of the Bedouin way of life and pointing out landmarks along the way. They are very proud of their horses and the company and rightly so. We were made to feel welcome and we felt that they wanted to make the experience the best that it could be, not just so we could enjoy it, but because they seemed to be enjoying our company and the trek just as much as we were.
All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to the horses. The long ride back to the stables felt sad, as we all knew that we had turned in our direction due to the sun shining on us from a different angle. The horses also knew that they were going home, and were quite excitable again, surely to get back and tell their friends at the stables of their six day adventure! The huge sand dunes, red and white sand mixing, giant rock formations, natural bridges and wells were all sights that I had never seen before, and probably never will again, and to be able to see all of this from horseback was perfect for me.
Having bid farewell to our hosts, we headed to Aqaba for our last couple of days. The first proper shower after six days in the desert was wonderful, and I think I stayed in it for about half an hour getting rid of the sand! In my opinion, both Madaba and Aqaba could have been a lot cleaner. This is not a reflection of the hotels, which were both lovely, but of the streets outside where rubbish is just cast away. Everywhere was well sanitised though, and not one of us had any sickness during our stay. The visit to the private beach for snorkelling and relaxation on the final day was very pleasant. The cold water from the pool felt amazing on tight muscles, and the sun did not seem so harsh with an iced drink to cool you down!
Again, all of the transfers between destinations and the airport on the final day were well managed; two of our group extended their trip ad-hoc and were catered for, to take them to the border with Israel so that they could visit Jerusalem. Hotel and taxi staff were very accommodating and friendly.
In summary, I could not have asked for anything more from this trip. When I booked with In the Saddle (after a lot of helpful correspondence from Tracy and Cathy, thank you!), I wanted to have an adventure. I set out with this in mind; I wanted to do something and see places that I would not normally do or see, to clear my head and experience a totally different way of life. (Do not expect on phone or Wi-Fi signal and take a good book to read during the long lunch breaks) I did not read a lot about The Wadi Rum before I visited, as I wanted to experience it with no expectations. It was all that I wanted and more. I can only say a huge thanks to all at Jordan Tracks and In the Saddle for organising such a trek, adieu to all of my new friends and to Shareef my (mostly!) trusty steed, I wish I didn’t have to leave you behind…!
Rebecca Fernley, 16th October, 2012