x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The desert's civilising influence

Travelling used to be about sampling exotic bites of food in picturesque settings, imbibing culture and calories in equal portions. It still is to some extent, but our style of eating has changed since the arrival of our daughter.

Travelling used to be about sampling exotic bites of food in picturesque settings, imbibing culture and calories in equal portions. It still is to some extent, but our style of eating has changed since the arrival of our daughter. Now, we wolf down shwarmas, inhale sweet tea, and then chase Iola as she makes a beeline for the door. If I can hold food in my hands while I walk or run, I'm happy.

On the other hand, John's sister Melanie, who accompanied us to Jordan, savours the flavours of her dishes and expects to eat a relaxed meal. If there are old caves with carvings in weathered sandstone where you can sit in the atmospheric shadows of twilight and be served drinks while reflecting on the Nabatean ancients, Melanie is ecstatic. By the time we pulled up our little shoebox car rental at Petra Gate, we had spent several nights at hotels, gotten lost on the King's Highway and paid too much for unremarkable food more than once. In spite of the cold winter nights, we decided to stay at the Ammarin Bedouin Camp, about six kilometres from Petra Gate, to get that picturesque setting for our exotic bites and still be able to let Iola run around to her heart's content, investigating woven tent fabric doors - open, close, open - and rolling around on pillows on the floor.

So after spending a gruelling day walking for miles down ancient streets, being carried by camels along the ancient paved colonnade and then by donkey up to the monastery, we collapsed in a Bedouin tent. Iola enjoyed spending so much time on John's back, her camel, and she loved Petra because there were so many horses running back and forth for her to neigh at. By then end of the day she needed nothing more than to sleep, and was as happy in a rough tent as she would have been in a five-star hotel. She was warm in her snowsuit, sound asleep, while the three of us adults, her support crew, crossed over to a larger tent where there was a fire and small group of people drinking tea. We ate dinner, drank tea, chatted and sang with fellow travellers from France, Bangkok and Tel Aviv, as well as Ammarin tribe members.

We slept under heavy blankets and woke to a large breakfast. Iola, John and I walked down a nearby canyon while Melanie packed up, and then we were off, back in the car heading north to the airport and Abu Dhabi. To book an excursion to the Ammarin Bedouin Camp, about six kilometres from Petra Gate, call 009 6279 975 5551/5552 or e-mail reservations@bedouincamp.net. Tented accommodation costs US$46 (Dh170) per person, per night including breakfast (www.bedouincamp.net). Bring your own sleeping bag and a torch.

Do you have family travel tips that you would like to share? Send an e-mail to Rose at rdakin@thenational.ae