My Jordan Journey: a day with the Bedouin

Jordan is filled with incredible sites and people. Spending a day in the desert among the bedouin is a highlight of visiting Feynan Ecolodge in Dana. (via thetravellingmom.ca)

I have more incredible memories than I can count from my journey in Jordan. One of the most special was the opportunity to enjoy a bedouin experience at Feynan Ecolodge in the Dana Biosphere Reserve.

The Dana Reserve is the largest natural reserve in Jordan, with over 300 km of land that includes the four different bio-geographical zones of the country and over 800 species of flora and fauna. You can stay and access Dana from the world-renowned, off-grid Feynan EcoLodge, which is an amazing experience in itself. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive south from Amman to Feynan.

The Bedouin have traditionally been a tribal, desert-dwelling people, connected by their tribes, clans and customs. The majority of Jordan’s population is of Bedouin origin, and while most have left their nomadic lifestyles and become urbanised, a small minority remain nomadic and move seasonally while tending to their livestock of sheep and goats.

The Bedouin Experience at Feynan Ecolodge

The Feynan Ecolodge employs quite a few local Bedouin as guides and interpreters for the area. This helps sustain the local economy, and showcases Bedouin traditions with visitors from all over the world.

We began our day with the Bedouin with a sunrise hike to the local mountains overlooking the Ecolodge, led by our energetic, impish 25-year old Bedouin guide Suleiman.

Jordan is filled with incredible sites and people. Spending a day in the desert among the bedouin is a highlight of visiting Feynan Ecolodge in Dana. (via thetravellingmom.ca)

A sunrise view of the desert mountains at Dana Biosphere Preserve

It was a mid-level strenuous hike, not too steep or fast, but with many loose rocks that made me grateful for my proper hiking shoes. The desert here has a unique beauty that is quite different from Wadi Rum, with more mountains and valleys than its more famous desert cousin to the south. The view as the sun rose to hit the mountain peaks of the Wadi were stunning and made the early wake-up time worthwhile.

Jordan is filled with incredible sites and people. Spending a day in the desert among the bedouin is a highlight of visiting Feynan Ecolodge in Dana. (via thetravellingmom.ca)

Hiking down towards Feynan EcoLodge

While we hiked, Suleiman identified traditional medicinal plants, animal habitats, and the history of the site. During Roman times, the Dana area had been mined for copper, and countless slaves had worked and died in the region. You can still see the glistening copper in the rock as you hike in the hills. For all of the quiet and solitude of Dana today, learning of its past was a reminder that this part of the world has been inhabited and traversed for many centuries.

Bedouin Tradition

After a delicious breakfast of labneh (thickened yoghurt), hummus, dates, honey and shrak (bread) at Feynan Ecolodge, we walked over to Suleiman’s family encampment. It consisted of a large, black and white goat-hair tent structure, with an adjacent open-air tent covered in rugs and carpets for dining and meetings with visitors and clan members.

One of the strongest characteristics of Bedouin culture is hospitality. This is a vestige of harsh desert life, and as such, no traveller is turned away when he appears at a tent or home. A traditional three days of open hospitality is offered, no questions asked, and on the third day, the host will inquire why the guest is visiting.

In our case, Suleiman’s father welcomed us into his home, and invited our group to remove our shoes and sit in the open-air tent as he prepared coffee, Bedouin-style. Our first etiquette lesson was in the importance of sitting cross-legged, and not having feet outstretched or pointed at anyone across the tent. This is considered seriously impolite.

Bedouin Coffee Ritual

The preparation for strong Bedouin coffee begins with beans being roasted over an open flame, then ground, and the coffee boiled over that same fire. The roasted coffee is ground in the copper mibash (mortar), and whole cardamom pods are pounded and added to the coffee water for a unique and delicate flavor. We all took turns pounding the beans and pods – it was tough work.

Jordan is filled with incredible sites and people. Spending a day in the desert among the bedouin is a highlight of visiting Feynan Ecolodge in Dana. (via thetravellingmom.ca)

Pounding the roasted coffee beans in the Bedouin dining tent

As in the Japanese tea ceremony, ritual is critical. After boiling the coffee, Suleiman’s father tasted the coffee to ensure it was strong enough, and Suleiman proceeded to serve older people first, as a sign of respect.

Jordan is filled with incredible sites and people. Spending a day in the desert among the bedouin is a highlight of visiting Feynan Ecolodge in Dana. (via thetravellingmom.ca)

Drinking the freshly brewed coffee in tiny cups

The boiling hot coffee is served to seated guests in tiny cups, held in the right hand. Each person receives a maximum of 3 cups, and you shake your cup to indicate that you’re done, and then place it on the carpet. Talk, negotiations, and community problem-solving can begin after guests have enjoyed their coffee shots. If for some reason a guest doesn’t drink the coffee, it’s a sign that there is no agreement to the discussions.

Bedouin Bread 

Jordan is filled with incredible sites and people. Spending a day in the desert among the bedouin is a highlight of visiting Feynan Ecolodge in Dana. (via thetravellingmom.ca)

Baking Bedouin bread, called arbood, in ash

Our Bedouin education continued post-coffee ritual, with Suleiman’s mother demonstrating the traditional preparation of arbood, bread baked in ash. You’d think that the simple combination of flour, water and salt wouldn’t become anything special to write home about, and you’d be much mistaken. The bread was incredible. Chewy, salty and warm from the ash (which comes right off the baked loaf), we enjoyed it with a stew of tomatoes and potatoes, along with endless cups of sweet Jordanian mint tea. Foodie heaven in the desert.

Jordan is filled with incredible sites and people. Spending a day in the desert among the bedouin is a highlight of visiting Feynan Ecolodge in Dana. (via thetravellingmom.ca)

The baked arbood served with stewed potatoes and tomatoes. Delicious!

Bedouin Beauty

I didn’t pack any make-up for the desert, but we did get a beauty lesson at a neighboring tent on the art of making kohl. Kohl had a very important use in the desert, as both men and women would apply it around the eyes for sun and sand protection.

Kohl is made from the soot collected in bowls placed over burning oil lamps. The soot is mixed with a little oil, and then applied to the eye area with a stick. It takes quite a while to collect enough soot to make kohl, and the application process is a bit rough, but just like with modern eyeliner, a little goes a long way.

Jordan is filled with incredible sites and people. Spending a day in the desert among the bedouin is a highlight of visiting Feynan Ecolodge in Dana. (via thetravellingmom.ca)

Getting my kohl beauty treatment in the desert

Jordan is filled with incredible sites and people. Spending a day in the desert among the bedouin is a highlight of visiting Feynan Ecolodge in Dana. (via thetravellingmom.ca)

A village of Bedouin tents in Feynan

While a Bedouin tent might look poor and ramshackle to our eyes, judging a traditional, nomadic lifestyle by urban standards doesn’t seem relevant or worthwhile. The people we met were warm, generous, and rich in culture, interrupting coffee service to take calls on modern mobile phones.

There is a choice and respected tradition in living a Bedouin lifestyle in this manner. While it is not for everyone, not even for many Jordanians, it is a privilege for us to discover, experience, and appreciate Bedouin life for what it is.

Photo Credit: All photos by C. Laroye.

The writer visited the Feynan Ecolodge and Dana Biosphere Reserve in Jordan as a guest of the Jordanian Tourism Board. All opinions and views are her own.

Have you ever met a Bedouin? What were your impressions? Share your comments below.

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21 Comments

  • Tamara says:

    I would LOVE to camp with the bedouins in Jordan, talk about bucket list! So glad you got to experience this and had a great experience 🙂

    • Claudia says:

      Thank you Tamara. It was an incredible day of learning and appreciating how other cultures live and survive.

  • Lillie says:

    Love this article and these photos! I’ve always wanted to go to Jordan, in particular to visit a Bedouin camp. I especially love the details about the bread and kohl. Someday!

  • Barbara Wagner says:

    JOrdan is such a magical country. I loved it when I was there last year. I have also spent some time with the beduins in Morocco when I was there. It was a very interesting experience.

    • Claudia says:

      It is an incredible, magical place, with wonderful people. Glad your enjoyed your time there and in Morocco with the Bedouin.

  • Annie says:

    I would love to get to Bedouin sometime, it looks like such a wonderful adventure! I love any reason for a good sunrise hike 🙂

  • Nat Deduck says:

    Wow! This seems to be an amazing experience! Especially the coffee one! Jordan is getting high on our list!

  • Never met or been to a Bedouin village before but I guess it must be an incredible experience. To be taught all those desert knowledge and be able to be part of the traditional cerimonies. A visit to remember, I’m sure.

  • I’ve met Bedouins in the UAE but I would love to try actually staying with them and learning more about their traditional customs like cooking. Such a fascinating way of life and such a big part of the history of the Middle East. My best friend is from Jordan, I should suggest a trip like this for her, it looks like so much fun! I’d also love to get some beauty treatments too 😉

    • Claudia says:

      The Bedouin culture is incredibly interesting, and an important part of Middle East history, as you so rightly point out. I hope you and your friend gt to experience it one day soon.

  • Bryanna says:

    That is so cool that you were able to learn about and do these amazing things. It is one thing to have someone show it to you but a whole other experience when you can actually be part of it. Amazing!

  • carla abanes says:

    Such an amazing experience. Adding it to my bucketlist! Thanks for sharing this!

  • Megan J says:

    Wow, what an experience! I would love to spend a day with a Bedouin family, the culture seems to be one of the last remaining nomadic cultures that still maintains it’s traditions and authenticity. It’s fantastic to hear that the ecolodge employs many local Bedouins and that you can hire them as guides and for this type of experience.

    I’ve never heard of baking bread in ash before, but that’s the whole draw of the experience – to learn from other cultures and see how the live and do things completely differently to our own 🙂 Thankyou so much for sharing your experiences … this is real travel to me!

    • Claudia says:

      Thank you for your lovely comments Megan. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the piece. It is a truly authentic travel experience that I’d highly recommend. Cheers!

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