Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jordan Challenge 13: Roughing It in Wadi Rum

Change a few factors and a place you've already been can be a whole different experience.  Not exactly a startling revelation, but a true one, nevertheless.  Only a few weeks ago, I visited Wadi Rum for the first time ever with my good friend and fellow Fulbrighter, Elizabeth.  My second visit, this time with Chris -- who has been wonderful in so many ways, beginning with his willingness to take the plunge and come for nearly a month of whatever I had in store for him here in Jordan.  Unlike Elizabeth and I, revelling in our tent containing towels folded up like swans, Chris was interested in roughing it a bit, and our driver and guide, Salamah, was more than willing to accommodate.  From the truck we rode in, which Salamah reported was the same age as its twenty-five year old driver, to the night we spent under the stars -- no tent, no sleeping bags and no artificial light beyond Chris's headlamp and Salamah's tiny light on his cell phone.

The beige truck is Salamah's, and he's sitting patiently next to it, waiting for us to climb down and head to the next site.
We started out from Aqaba, with intentions to take a local minibus.  But alas, it was Friday morning, and no minibuses were going out, so we had to take a cab, with the driver insisting all along the way that we meet his "friend" who would take us to an undisclosed camp and some equally vague sites within Wadi Rum.  We opted for the Visitor's Center in Wadi Rum instead, to our driver's great disgust, and contracted with Salamah to take us out in his ancient truck to a whole range of sites.  Salamah was as good as his word and took us to, among others, the site of Lawrence of Arabia's home when he lived in Wadi Rum (the house is not there any more, though); Lawrence's Spring; the Red Dunes (which are just about the best workout I can think of as a climb.  I thought I might die slogging up them, but Chris, of course, sprinted to the top and then rolled back down, just for the fun of it); cliffs we could climb up to view Nabatean drawings; Jebel Khazali (a siq that you can climb through for about 150 meters);
The siq was pretty narrow in parts, and lots of fun to explore.
and (my favorite) Little and Big Bridges, two sandstone formations that have been carved by the wind to resemble rock bridges high off the ground). 

Here we are on top of the Red Dune -- after some strenuous effort to get there....

...and Chris rolling back down (rolling, that is, til he ran into the scrubby bush standing in front of him in this picture).

One of the great glories of Wadi Rum is the sand itself.  It's a uniform, beautiful orange-pink color, and guaranteed to bring out the inner child in anyone.  You can't help but run your fingers through it and start scheming about how to bring some home.
Big Bridge is also a good workout, but there's no motivation like having a Bedouin child fly past you on the ways up and down, as you're trying to negotiate the rock face.
Chris and I on top of Big Bridge...

and coming back down -- which is scarier than the uphill part.

Of course, Chris also needed to try out camel riding, so we did some of that before we began our tour, and about midway through the day Salamah made the suggestion that we not go to a camp in the evening. 
First stop on the tour: a couple kilometers on the back of a camel.

He offered to pick up some blankets and food, and set us up at a site in the desert instead.  We knew it would be a full moon that night, and the idea of sleeping directly under the stars with a minimum of gear, noise or other people had a lot of appeal.

Salamah made roasted chicken for dinner over the fire. Note the cell phone-as-flashlight function.
One thing we learned is that the Bedouin are quite social.  No sooner had Salamah lit our fire for the night when his friend and fellow driver/guide, Salaam showed up, and an hour later another friend, Khaled came as well.  They sat on the camp well into the evening, and when Salaam finally left he was so out of it that the next morning Salama realized he had taken one of Salamah's sandals and left one of his in its place.  Khaled decided to spend the night at the site as well, and slept in the bed of his truck.
Salamah's friend, Salaam, showing off his favorite cigarette brand in between extolling the virtues of the carefree Bedouin existence.

The next morning when I woke up, Chris was nowhere to be seen until I looked up.  In the wee hours of the morning he had woken up and hiked to the top of a sand dune with his cushion and blanket in order to sleep get a full view of the morning sunrise and early-morning creatures-- two and four-legged -- who would be out on the desert tracks below.  When we were all up, we gathered some more wood and Salamah brewed still more sweet tea and put some bread on the fire for a camp side breakfast before we broke things down and headed back to the main road to catch a local ride back to Aqaba.
Nothing looks quite as scruffy as a campsite the morning after sleeping around the fire, but it surely served us well.

An expression you hear a lot in Jordan is "as you like".  It can take on a whole range of meanings from "okay have it your way, but you're an idiot" (when, for example, you're about to foolishly disregard someone's obviously sound advise) to "whatever you want, but don't be stingy" (when a taxi driver doesn't turn on the meter and wants to guilt you into paying a generous fare). But in the case of Wadi Rum, I think it means that the choices you make, from which sites to visit, how you get there, and how many creature comforts you part with along the way, will have huge impacts on the experience. Roughing it in Wadi Rum left me with sore calf muscles, a lot of sand in my hair, and tons of great memories and images.  As experiences go, it's a winner.


  1. this is on my list now, thanks for the post!

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