Wadi Rum is one of those places where you lose yourself in the endless maze of sandy desert ground surrounded by enormous rocky mountains and steep cliffs. We learned that the valley was once under sea water, which stimulated the imagination for hours. It’s now a virgin desert virtually untouched by man. We spent hours driving around in a 4×4 with our guide and hardly saw a soul…… besides the occasional Bedoiun living in their tent. The serene feeling we had while listening to the sand blowing in the wind and hollow echoes, is like no other in the world. Our Bedouin hosts seemed un-phased by the desert after several generations wandering around nothingness. They probably think tourists are crazy for paying 65 JOD ($90) to tour around and camp out in the sweltering heat.
Our drive 60 km east from Aqaba brought us to “The Valley of the Moon”, beginning our journey into the desert. There is evidence that Wadi Rum has been inhabited by many cultures since prehistoric times. Ancient rock carvings and paintings, and structural remains have been discovered throughout the desert. Currently the only inhabitants of the desert are local Bedoiun tribes who are prospering from the tourist boom.
We set out on an early morning expedition with our Bedoiun guide “Ali” and a British couple, Alan and Nicola. They rode a camel to “Lawrence’s Spring” while we opted to ride in the truck (once you ride a camel there’s not much desire to do so again). We did snap a few shots with their camels before one started snapping at me (Christie) and tried to bite my arm off!
Our guide took us around the desert lands to some of the best known sites. Riding through the desert can feel like you are running in circles as every turn starts to look the same. We almost got stuck in the sand a few times but our driver was quite skilled in the art of weaving through sand dunes. He took us to one of the largest red sand dunes where the four of us attempted the climb to the top. While not a far scramble up, we quickly began sinking a few feet down and wondered if we were crazy for attempting the climb. If you’ve ever walked up a dune you know what I mean, it’s ridiculously hard and sometimes with the wind you feel like you aren’t moving anywhere. Once we finally made it to the top of the dune, the views and feeling of self-accomplishment were overwhelming. All we wanted to do was shout and jump high! Too bad our guide forgot his sand-board/snowboard contraption!
Two extremely high rock bridges are part of the sights. The highest is Jebel Burdah at 300m, which requires ropes, time and large guts. We opted for the 15m climb to Um Fruth. When Ali motioned us to climb up, we thought he was joking. He was serious and started to climb the steep rocks barefoot. Christie, Brett and Alan followed closely behind, starting to make the ascent, while Nicola fearfully stayed behind. Half way up Christie’s fear set in, at the thought of once reaching the top, having to scatter back down the steep slippery slope. The biggest issue really was the narrowness. Ali continually talked her through her fears, helping her make it to the top of the rock bridge. The views above are spectacular, while having the feeling of being free on top of the world alone in the desert.
After our dramatic climb, we visited a Bedouin souvenir tent nearby. The Bedouin man provided us with hot tea flavored with na’an or meramiyyeh. Nicola negotiated several gifts for her girls and we picked up some white sage for room cleansing. Our time touring the desert had come to an end.
We reached our desert camp site just in time for a sandy shower before sunset. There are about 45 sites throughout Wadi Rum….. with none providing good bathroom accommodations. They all show great bathroom pics, but it’s the desert! Our tent #5 offered simple single beds with blankets and sheets. A lock kept our stuff secure during the evening. Sunset unfortunately was very hazy. We tried several angles, but couldn’t turn out any good shots with the sun hiding behind the orange mountains.
Our camp consisted of 12 total guests. We met a few nice college guys from Holland and a sweet couple from near Paris. It’s amazing how quickly you bond with people while experiencing such unique things. One minute we were at “hello” and the next exchanging emails and meeting up in Petra. Our dinner was buffet style and wonderful.
Our Bedouin hosts prepared a traditional spread using a technique called “Zarb”. Zarb means “underground oven” in Arabic. It involves the use of a multi-tiered tray filled with veggies, potatoes and meats. It is covered and placed into the ground for several hours. The crew then digs it out of the ground for serving.
The late evening shisha session took place under the beautiful desert stars. We learned about our new friends lives while whispering to dodge the mountain echoes. An older French couple came over at one point to nicely complain about the noise. Our young French friends were mischievously giggling out of embarrassment. Our college friends talked of career life aspirations in Physics at Oxford University after finishing up studies outside of Amsterdam. The night was peaceful and perfect.
We awoke bright and early for breakfast and our two hour drive to Petra. Wadi Rum is just amazing in itself. Yes, our Bedouin friends enhanced our experience…. but, it was more through their external aesthetics than anything. We’re happy we didn’t put too much effort into choosing the right Bedouin camp. Because, they must all be very similar. Tourism money has provided riches beyond the Bedouin’s wildest dreams. Unfortunately, the atmosphere has become very competitive and business-like. Our camp was magical because of Wadi Rum and our new friends…. not because of our Bedouin hosts.
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Wadi Rum, Jordan