We’ve seen a lot of deserts on our travels, and to be honest I don’t think anything will be as memorable or impressive as Utah and Arizona in the States. So I wondered if it was worth visiting Wadi Rum desert in Jordan and began google searching “if I’ve seen Utah or the Sahara is Wadi Rum still worth a trip?” Everyone seemed to say yes. I guess each desert has its own style and while the Sahara has sand dunes shaped by the wind, and Utah has slot canyons carved by water, Wadi Rum has a mix of red sand, rock formations and mountains and it’s an area that has been inhabited for centuries by Bedouins and tribes of southern Arabia. In fact this is where Lawrence of Arabia stayed during the Arab revolt. So it was decided, we’d check it out for ourselves.
We wanted to plan our trip from Wadi Musa (Petra) as we heard it was easier to arrange and get more people together for a cheaper tour. After reading a good review about the Cleopatra Hotel we decided to enquire about what tours they offered. It was a great decision to go there because we were greeted by the delightful Mosleh, a well travelled local who had such great experiences from strangers around the world that he wanted to give back that kindness. He offered us a good price for the trip; 50JD per person which included a 6 hour jeep ride, one night stay in a Bedouin camp and three meals. He told us lots of funny stories and the mint tea was always flowing…we weren’t even staying at the hotel but he treated us like family. Anyway, when we asked what time the public transport headed to the desert where our tour would start he said around 5:30am!! But – he would see if there were any other tourists heading there as a shared taxi would be the same price but a later departure.
When we returned a couple days later to finalise the trip Mosleh had great news for us; a Belgium guy staying at his hotel also wanted to do the trip and he had a rental car so we could travel there with him and after the tour we were all going to Aqaba which meant we got another ride. How convenient! Michel the Belgium guy spent the day exploring Petra while we relaxed and in the afternoon we made our way through the barren landscape, passing camels as they crossed the highway.
At the entrance to Wadi Rum Bedouins gathered to ask who we had a tour booked with, “Madullah” we said, and they pointed us towards him. He was a young chap and introduced himself as “Adullah” at which point we said “oh I think we’ve got the wrong guy” and he said “I am the son of Madullah, my name is Adullah”. We all giggled and parked the car up, transferring our luggage into the back of a pick up truck. Then we left the rustic village and followed tyre tracks through the sand.
The sun was getting low and making all of the red rocks glow around us. After about 20 minutes we arrived at our desert camp for the night. There were about 20 goat-hair tents and then one big communal one for dining. Much to my amazement there were modern toilet blocks and the toilets were cleaner than our bloody hotel in Petra. We were given a tent each with rather messy bedsheets that had clearly not been washed in awhile. There was sand on the sheets and the pillow stuffing was bursting out the cases. I was grateful that we travel with sleep liners so we had a clean cocoon to sleep in.
We shoved our bags into the tents and quickly headed off to get a vantage point for sunset. We climbed up some rough rocks and eventually made it to a flat boulder where we sat and watched the sun go down. It set behind layers of mountains and the sandy desert floor turned the colour of Autumn.
When it was time for dinner our hosts got everyone (there were about 20 guests) outside to see how the food was prepared. It was buried under the ground, cooked by hot coals in the sand. One guy used a spade to move the sand away while the host giving the speech said “and we lift up this rug to reveal…nothing!” He was a right joker. The guy pulled back the sort of rug to reveal three-tiers of veg and meat that had been slow cooked.
We headed back in to enjoy the buffet with plenty of salads, hummus, vegetables and chicken. It was our first proper Jordanian meal since we had just been living off the cheapest options of falafel and hummus. There were sweet treats and tea to finish and then the hosts put some traditional music on. The local lads were wearing the long gowns and traditional scarfs around their heads while some had cozy suede jackets wrapped around them like sleeping bags. A few of them got up and linked arms, doing a funny shuffle dance together. It was nice to see them just giggling and having fun, I got the impression that even if we weren’t there that’s how they would be spending their evening. Sadly the hosts felt the need to cater the music to tourists and the Macarena came on. Dear oh dear. Craig and I began backing out of the room and continuing until we were standing alone in the dark desert. The Macarena was still audible though, it seemed to bounce off the mountains and echo towards us. But we also wanted to come outside to see the stars which are said to be amazing from here. I don’t know if it was the half moon or just an unlucky night but the stars just weren’t popping. Yes they were nice but nothing special and the Milky Way wasn’t even visible. Our Belgium friend said they were the best stars he’d ever seen so we kept quiet about our disappointment.
When it was time to go to sleep I brushed the sand off my not so clean bed and unfolded the blanket at which point a silverfish scurried out. I hate silverfish. For some reason I had loads of them in my room as a child and they freak me out. To be fair though I think the experience helped me become the minimalist that I am today and I can remember just throwing away beloved scrap books and toys with the hope that the silverfish would leave too. So I killed this one with my flip flop and crawled into my sleep liner, trying carefully to not allow any dirty bedding to touch my face.
The following morning we had a buffet breakfast which wasn’t as tasty as dinner and the boiled eggs were that foul grey colour. Most people had finished their tour the previous day and were heading back to the village but for us it was the start and at 8am the three of us set off on our 6 hour jeep tour with a local driver. Our first stop was to a tree with a fence built around it. Our driver quickly headed towards the tree with big containers of water and gave the tree lots of liquid. We asked what sort of tree it was and he said “just for shade, no fruit”. It was planted beside a big cliff which I thought provided enough shade, but I did like his dedication to this tree. There was a little tent behind it so maybe this was actually his house and garden in the making.
Finally we were ready for the real sightseeing, but to be fair just driving through the desert was a beautiful sight with the burnt orange sand and rocky mountains. Our first proper stop was at one of the many natural bridges, the guide advised a route to reach the top but we were surprised they encouraged people to stand on the actual arch, which was very thin. In the USA they ask people to stay off them to prevent erosion, I guess Jordan will just learn when the first one collapses.
We stopped at a lone mushroom shaped rock where a juvenile camel was tied up. It’s owner came over to bring the camel towards us, thinking that’s what we wanted and the camel became pretty angry and vocal. We didn’t even want the camel near us so had to quickly tell the old lady to leave it alone before the camel spat in her face.
There were more natural arches on the way and pretty canyons where our driver dropped us off and met us at the other end. One canyon was particularly impressive as it was really narrow and curvy but everyone seemed to arrive there at the same time. The canyon wasn’t big enough for the 20 or so people so it became totally back-logged. On the walls were petroglyphs and ancient rock art depicting women standing with legs spread and each foot on a rock, ready to just squeeze a baby out because apparently that’s how it used to happen. But we weren’t really able to appreciate the art or nature of the place as we were having to carefully find a way back out without falling into a deep puddle. People were precariously walking along the edge of the murky water while others tried to get some grip along a ledge around the other side of the puddle.
Once we were out of the canyon we passed three Bedouins waiting for their guests to finish viewing the sight. They were sat beneath a huge honeycombed wall and luckily they said yes to a photo. Actually it was one young guy with shades looking very gangster who spoke on behalf of the two older chaps and seemed very happy to have his picture taken, like a true celebrity.
Our guide drove us beneath a rock wall to find a shady spot for lunch. The scenery was lovely, but he strangely picked a place just a few meters from a dead camel. It was laying on the floor with tight leathery skin like a preserved mummy. It’s teeth were sticking out and our guide was very jolly about the sight “we have lunch next to a dinosaur” and he giggled, following it up with “this camel die one year ago – no smell” which was a relief. So, out came a picnic blanket which we laid onto the sandy floor, sitting with our backs to the camel, with the hope that it wouldn’t ruin our appetite. We were served pittas with bread, cheese triangles and tins of tuna, which reminded me of our trip in the Sahara when our jeep broke down and we sat in the sand for an hour, making some sandwiches while our driver opened tins of sardines and we watched in horror as the stinky oil oozed down his hands and up his wrists like it was no big deal.
There were some live camels roaming the desert nearby so after lunch we wandered over to check them out. Their legs were tied together so they could still walk where they liked but couldn’t run away. They seemed to really like the dry shrubs on the ground and nibbled them while we awkwardly stood beside them for photos.
After lunch we headed to the red sand dunes which turned out to be one singular dune of rust coloured sand. It was pretty but not a very grand view. Camels and goats gathered together near the Lawrence spring which we hiked up to for a vast view of the desert landscape with the odd lonely tree visible.
At around 2pm we were returned to the village where we would get a ride with Michel to Aqaba. Overall we had a very nice trip, I wouldn’t say the desert was a ‘wow’ attraction, but it was worth a visit for sure.