Sometimes you come across a place which takes your breath away. For me, a dry and hot desert somewhere in the Middle East, which shares its name with an alcoholic beverage, happens to be one of those places.
I cannot imagine anyone would leave Wadi Rum without feeling overwhelmed with the magnificence of the place. For some reason that has also made it extremely difficult to write this blog entry, because writing inspirationally about a place of sand, rock and dry heat is rather difficult.
Our visit to Wadi Rum
After a day of snorkelling in the Red Sea, we went to the absolute opposite extreme with a Bedouin guided tour to the desert area of Wadi Rum. We had originally planned for a few nights stay in a Bedouin camp and a painful trek on camel, but a few days before our departure the Danish newspapers had begun writing terrifying stories about the new version of SARS.
The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus also known as MERS has caused several deaths in Saudi Arabia over the past few years and has recently been linked to camels.
As we were packing for our trip, the Saudi Government issued an international warning in the beginning of May, while people in several countries had been infected – including Jordan.
It is fair to say that I got a tiny bit stressed out at the thought of our entire vacation being overshadowed by such news. It is no surprise that, it is pretty difficult to avoid camels in Jordan, particularly in Wadi Rum and Petra.
We had quickly realised that while Jordan had not had any direct outbreaks of the disease, it would be wise to drop the planned camel trek. Moreover, we decided not to spend our nights in the desert camp and instead only make it a daytrip on our way to Petra.
Some might call us way over pre-cautious while others would think we should have avoided Wadi Rum altogether. To me it was most of all a calculation in regards to stress. I didn’t want any unnecessary concerns to disrupt my vacation, so rather not sleep in the desert camp than worry excessively during the following 14 days, which would be the incubation period for MERS.
But I didn’t want to forego Wadi Rum altogether. It has been the one place on our journey that I knew I had to see. Desert camps we can always visit in other countries, but Wadi Rum is unique.
Therefore, we ended up with a one-day Jeep tour through the wonders of Wadi Rum. It might have been as a compensation for not having more days in the desert or perhaps for losing the 400 pictures in Tel Aviv, but at the end of the day we had taken more pictures than in all of Israel together.
The Desert of T. E. Lawrence
Internationally Wadi Rum is mostly known for being the place where T. E. Lawrence led an Arab revolt during WW1 – an episode in history which has been immortilised by the 1962 classic movie Lawrence in Arabia. Unfortunately, the movie was not filmed in Wadi Rum, but in Morocco.
Yet, as Jordan is quickly becoming the only tourist option in the Middle East, Wadi Rum has received ample attention by tourists going to Aqaba and Petra.
We had booked our trip with Ali Attayak, the owner of Bedouinroads, who had also arranged for a taxi to take us from Aqaba to Rum Village. The driver who was a friend of Ali bought us water and chips for the journey and as we arrived at the Visitor’s Centre on the outskirts of Rum Village he got us through without paying the optional fee of 5JD each by saying that we were guests of Ali. According to our driver, Ali is a highly respected member of the local community.
Rum Village is a strange place, which to me looks like a refugee camp. A temporary place that has grown to be permanent. I would imagine that the feel I got from the village stems from the fact that the people living there are mainly bedouins from Wadi Rum – people for whom home is in the desert. However, the village is beautifully placed as an entrance to Wadi Rum.
We began the tour with stops at Lawrence’s Spring and Lawrence’s House – which we beforehand had read was not actually Lawrence’s house, but a caravan station.
At Lawrence’s Spring, we climbed to the top of the rocky hill where a jotted tree stood as living proof of the spring underneath. It was a pretty rough climb, but the view was astonishing and well worth the effort. For the rest of our drive, we would over and over again be exposed to amazing vistas and natural wonders, and looking back I am so very happy that we decided to go.
One might think that as a desert Wadi Rum is pretty much a lot of sameness throughout the horizon, but while it is made up of rock and sand it varies from place to place. The sand and rock itself changes colours. The red sand dunes are proof of this.
Large dunes of ochre red sand represent a stark contrast to the yellow sand which dominates Wadi Rum. The rock formations are made up of thousands of variations of yellow to red to black colours and nature has created intricate patterns in the rocks.
Humans have added to this with cave paintings which are to be found in several different areas, while the black desert camp tents hide in alcoves protected from the desert wind.
The reason we had chosen a tour with Bedouinroads was the added detour to Barragh Canyon, which is off the beaten path of mainstream one-day tours. The detour also became the high point of our trip.
After a quiet lunch near the canyon, our driver left us at the entrance, where a one kilometre long walk awaited us.
At first it felt as if we had been placed in the middle of nowhere with a bottle of water and only the instructions to walk straight, but with time the rock formations began to close in on us and at times we had to climb over fallen rocks and debris in order to move forward.
En route, trees grew out of the red cliffs in what would seem impossible conditions. At a particularly beautiful place far enough along for us to trust that we were on the right path, a particularly beautiful vista opened up. Here we spent a couple of minutes just taking in the surroundings and feeling extremely happy and fortunate.
Another ten minutes walk let us to a defined path down to where our driver was waiting for us to drive us to yet another marvellous view of Wadi Rum.
However, those quiet and peaceful minutes in Barragh Canyon, just the two of us, remained the highpoint of our tour.
And that was without even a single drop of rum.
Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End