A Quick History of Wadi Rum
When you're in the middle of the Wadi Rum desert, it's easy to imagine the camel caravans with hundreds of camels making their way between the mesas. The Jordanians still use the Wadi Rum desert as a water source due to the vast amounts of water within the mesas and underground, which means that you'll sometimes spot a pipe going all the way up the mesa with fresh water coming out. Despite being a desert, the land is quite fertile and supposedly there's a lot of interesting plants that bloom in better weather. (For more info on traveling in Jordan and Petra, part I is here.)
While you're driving along the Desert Highway or even in the Desert itself, you'll just see tents, people going about their daily lives, and lots of livestock. Despite living out here, people aren't roughing it in: they're staying in warm tents thanks to a constant burning fire, replenishing their supplies by going into town every 1-2 weeks, carrying large water tanks out to their tents, and sometimes getting things they forgot at home. Despite it being a very cold January, the tent that we visited was very toasty.
I promptly hid my hair under my hat as I didn't have a head scarf and luckily, I figured buying snacks just in case were a good idea earlier that day. One of the best gifts that you can bring to a Bedouin family is a good package of quality dates, so try to buy one if you think you'll be visiting!
We were immediately welcomed into their warm, large tent and offered sweet black tea. Guests are allowed up to three cups of a beverage, which is exactly the amount that we were offered. Coffe is also traditional though tea is considered to be social. Despite the language barrier, our guide's uncle tried quite hard to make conversation with us and asked us some questions about our time in Jordan.
Within what seemed like a minute, fresh pita was made over the pita stone over the fire and we were offered fresh goat cheese along with the pita. Despite both of us being allergic to dairy, we couldn't help but partake in the delicious farm-fresh cheese made from the goats just outside. Combined with the fire-fresh pita, it was a great meal. Something to be aware of is that it's considered rude to use your left hand to eat/do anything with, even if you're a lefty.
After enjoying a little conversation, we both thanked our hosts in Arabic (Shukran اﺮﻜﺷ) a touch that they very much appreciated, before showing them our small token of thanks: some snacks for the kids, which the kids excitedly grabbed (and saved for after dinner). In retrospect, I wish I had loaded up on quality dates to thank them properly. Below, a photo of our guide, his wife, the kids, and the tents.
For the record, you cannot stay with a Bedouin family's tent when visiting Wadi Rum as this is a very personal area where strangers will be welcomed, but staying over in their tent is something that is not possible.
Experiencing Bedouin Hospitality and Staying out in the Desert
The only catch: you need to pay for everything in cash. There is no ATM in the desert and the closest one is in Petra, Amman, or Aqaba. You can use functionally ANY currency, but if you have an uncommon debit card company (like Maestro), double-check that you have enough money to pay for everything you'll want to do in the desert.
I should note that we were in Jordan in January, which can be cold. By cold, I mean 35-40 degrees F (4 degrees C) at night, Our tent (pictured below) was wind-proof with two beds, but that was it. We really had not planned for weather this cold, but on our budget, this was a good deal: only 40 Jordanian dinars per night. We bundled underneath the 4 blankets given to us and vowed not to leave the tent, which was a good decision. If you stay in a tent like ours (tent with 2 beds), you can use the shared facilities (incredibly clean and well-maintained) for toilets, meals/drinks, and showers. Meals can be included for a small extra price.
There are MUCH nicer "tents" available at Bait Ali that are functionally luxury hotel rooms with private bathrooms and air conditioning, You still have access to the shared dining room, but a little more privacy.