Jordan’s Majestic Wadi Rum

After touring the spectacular beauty of Egypt’s White Desert I was a little sceptical that Jordan’s Wadi Rum would measure up… but I was wrong. While the white desert is… white with golden sand and beautiful rocks sculpted by Mother Nature, Wadi Rum glows with rust red coloured, coral pink and a deep orange sand surrounded by mountains cut by an ancient ocean, powerful winds and blasted by sand for tens of thousands of years.   Some of the mountains look like melting candles, the sandstone rocks dripping onto the earth while others have massive holes cut into their face creating huge stone arches that look like they were created by an ancient civilisation. My driver Qassim prepared me for the experience as we made the trip from Petra to Wadi Rum, literally translated to Valley of Big Mountains and also known as the Valley Of The Moon.  As we drove through the desert the landscape changed before my eyes, from a dirty yellow, barren frontier to the jaw dropping beauty of the desert valley.  We met up with my guide Mahmoud, a Bedouin father of 7 who took me on a tour of the land that he has spent his entire life exploring.  My jaw dropped as we drove across the sand dunes, shocked at the unbelievable beauty laid out before me.   Wadi Rum was made famous as the base of operations in the early 20th century for the Arab Revolt, an uprising for liberation from the Ottoman Empire, dramatized by the movie Lawrence of Arabia which was filmed on location in the desert.  We checked out Lawrence House, a cave cut into the side of a mountain where actor Peter O’Toole would change into his ‘costume’ for his starring role as British Lieutenant Colonel T.E. Lawrence.   We made a stop at a Bedouin rest area where we sat drinking tea while a young man played a Bedouin guitar in a goat hair tent… that set the mood for the rest of our journey.  We checked out some of the windblown rocks like the double arch which I climbed for a view from the top, pausing on the way up to see a big lizard scramble across the rock face.  Next stop was the small arch, a perfect window to the blue sky and the mountains beyond followed by a 200 meter walk to the Giant Arch that was exactly what the name implies.  I scrambled up to the top, exhilarated by the view of the valley below. The jeep then cut across the desert, the mountains of Saudi Arabia visible through the haze,  just a few kilometers away,  and the red sand laid out in waves from the winds that never seemed to stop blowing.  Near the top of my list was the chance to see the sunset over this amazing landscape and it was everything I could have imagined. As the orange glow of the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the sand glowed red with the long shadows dissolving into darkness.  It was time to head to camp, the Jabal Rum Bedouin Camp, not your typical 5 star resort. It’s a field of canvas tents spread out across the enclosure, inside they provided the basics but were very comfortable. I should also mention the washrooms that were clean and well organized and best of all they have powerful HOT showers to scrub off the dust of the day spent out in the desert and to warm you from the night chill.  After cleaning up, all the guests gathered on mattresses spread out over a circular concrete bench with a big firepit in the centre.  Normally during high season 150-200 guests stay at the camp but when I was there the crowd consisted of 10 of us and a few guides, many tourists have been scared off by the revolutions in nearby Middle Eastern countries.  Jordan though is one of the safest, cleanest and friendliest countries I have visited.  We sat around, smoking sheesha and drinking Arak a Jordanian alcohol, milky white with a hint of anise flavour as we awaited the feast to come.  When dinner was ready we were called to the area behind the kitchen where a couple of the waiters used a spade to shovel the sand off a small firepit.  Hours earlier the chef had heated up coals before adding the lamb, chicken and vegetables to roast in the natural oven.  After dinner it was time for the entertainment, the sound system blasting Bedouin folk music and the waiters and camp workers performing a traditional dance.  Of course they grabbed my hand and dragged me and a few of the other guests over, reluctantly, to join them.  I have never felt so uncoordinated.  The dance was two small steps to the right and then a step (and occasionally a knee lift) to the left and the right, but I just couldn’t seem to catch the beat… maybe it was the alcohol.  It was a relatively early night, everyone exhausted by our day in the desert so I decided I would try to wake up early to catch sunrise.  My internal clock woke me at 5am and I could see light filtering in to my tent… I jumped up and quickly dressed to see the sky and the surrounding landscape lighting up by the rising sun.  I climbed on top of a huge mound of rocks with my camera to capture the moment.  The desert positively glowed, with the light reflected off the face of the surrounding mountains. Soon a herd of camels wandered by, disappearing behind the camp where they foraged around the camp’s garbage dump for their morning meal.  Later as I sat eating breakfast (not often am I the first one at the breakfast table)   a man flew by on his ultralight plane, waving as he passed the camp.  He continued to soar around the skies over the valley for the next two hours, getting his own birds-eye view of the mountains and red desert.  We packed up and got back in the van for the 4 hour drive back to Amman but I couldn’t stop looking behind me as the beauty of Wadi Rum dissolved again to the brush covered desert.


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