The tribal system
The Bedouin are a people of tribes who live across the deserts of Wadi Rum, Jordan and the wider Middle East. Every Bedouin tribe has its own history, culture and a strong, independent sense of identity, along with its own territory or 'deera'. The territories of some Bedouin tribes cover gigantic areas - often bigger than modern nation states - and whatever its size, every tribe remains deeply connected to its territory today. Historically, Bedouin tribes relied on the water, grazing and other resources of their lands to survive and everything that happened within them was controlled closely. Bedouin tribes once customarily ruled that anybody passing their territories - whether traders, pilgrims or ordinary travellers - had to be accompanied by a Bedouin guide. This guide would be one of their own tribesmen and would remain with the travellers until the borders of the next tribe were reached, whose members would then take over. This custom remains in place in some regions today, including the Bedouin deserts of Egypt and the Sinai, and it is still the way hikers walk the Wadi Rum Trail's sister projects, the Sinai Trail and Red Sea Mountain Trail. The Bedouin of Jordan are different in that they now allow independent hikers to move freely in their territories. Nevertheless, sensitivites still exist around Bedouin of one tribe working in the territory of another. Wadi Rum is home to Bedouin families of the Anaza, Bani Atiya, Billi, Howaytat and Tarabin tribes and whilst all work in Wadi Rum's heartlands, they prefer Bedouin from nearby areas - such as Bedouin from the nearby settlement of Deesa - to work in their own local areas. Whilst this might sound complicated, it is easy and more guidance on fixing a hike with Bedouin operators is given in the next section.
Whilst independent hiking is permitted in Wadi Rum, the Wadi Rum Trail was created as a route to be guided by the region's Bedouin tribes and hikers should use Bedouin guides in journeying along it today. The Wadi Rum Trail runs deep into remote, little-known and hard-to-navigate parts of the region's deserts and a Bedouin guide firstly helps keep everybody on-track. Good Bedouin guides do much more than just show the way though; they explain their territory's place names, legends and tribal history; they identify plants and show how to use them for food, medicine and other things. They make excellent trackers of desert wildlife and smooth introductions with other Bedouin on the way, opening doors to a kind of social interaction that might not happen otherwise. Hikers should not have concerns about a Bedouin guide limiting their independence. The Bedouin are a proudly independent people in whose culture a love for freedom and adventure runs deep and walking with a Bedouin guide will feel liberating to many, opening new horizons to explore and different ways of seeing the world. As much as anything, it is discovering something of their age old knowledge, skills and wisdom and learning more about their identity and how it is evolving today that is the most memorable part of a journey for many hikers.
Guides for climbing
Wadi Rum has a climbing heritage of great antiquity, with its mountains home to some of the oldest recorded rock climbs on earth. Whilst little is known about the first chapters of climbing in Wadi Rum it is commonly supposed the early peoples of these deserts climbed to hunt ibex on the high mountainsides. For at least the last few centuries, the region's climbing traditions have been kept alive for the same purpose by the Bedouin tribes who live here today. The Bedouin established climbing routes all over Wadi Rum's mountains and the Wadi Rum Trail integrates at least some of these into its main route seeking to raise a wider awareness around the precious, little-known part of the region's heritage they represent. Bedouin climbing guides with additional skillsets to those leading hikes and scrambles are required for some sections of the Wadi Rum Trail, including Jebel Rum and perhaps Jebel Birda. Some of Wadi Rum's Bedouin have received climbing guide training from the UK's National Mountain Centre and IFMGA-qualified guides, equipping them with range of rope, rescue and leadership skills, and some have official certification. Look for the most experienced, highly-trained climbing guide available, bring as much of your own equipment as possible, and arrange well in advance as these guides are in high demand in Wadi Rum.
Camels & 4x4 support
The Wadi Rum Trail is for the most part a wilderness route. Except for a few Bedouin camps on the first two days of the circuit there is no permanent settlement along the way; no shops, lodges or everyday convenience of any kind and almost no perennial water sources. Everything needed must be carried over challenging terrain from beginning to end and hikers attempting the 10 day circuit will need logistical support. Wadi Rum bustles with 4x4s carrying tourists around the desert and 4x4s have become central to the everyday lives of most Bedouin families too. 4x4s can be used to support a hike on the Wadi Rum Trail, carrying heavy loads over long distances and offering a means of quick evacuation if needed. Nevertheless, it is recommended hikers use camels wherever possible. Camels have been at the heart of Bedouin survival for millennia, carrying water, food and tents on long desert migrations. They allowed the Bedouin to move into areas that would have been otherwise unreachable and were the main pillar holding up their mobile way of life. On a long hike, camels carry heavy baggage including the water and food supply, tents, sleeping bags and other bulky equipment, allowing hikers to walk carrying only daypacks. Camels do not follow the main trail; they take an easier route with Bedouin cameleers, meeting hikers at a rendezvous each evening. Hikers have access to their full gear every night before starting again the next morning. Moving with camels is a slower, lower-impact way of moving and it helps keep the skills around travelling with them alive in younger generations. It is only on Jebel Rum and perhaps Jebel Um Adami that hikers will have to carry what they need in backpacks for overnight bivvies; the terrain on both is too rugged for camels or 4x4s.