The guests in the next room decide that the best way of disciplining their noisy child is to lock him out in the hotel corridor. His response is to keep screaming while trying to bash the door down. Now the whole hotel is awake.
Today we start our two day adventure to Wadi Rum, which is about four hours south of Amman, and then to Petra. Our driver and guide introduces himself as Fadi. He says that he is Palestinian and that his parents first came to Jordan many years ago after they had finished studying. He tells us that 70% of Jordanians have Palestinian roots.
The landscape starts to get a lot more arid as we drive south on the main highway connecting Amman to country’s only port of Aqaba on the Red Sea. We pass a military vehicle with a machine gun mounted on the back of it manned by two soldiers. Fadi tells us that one of the military’s main roles here is to patrol the country’s eastern desert border with Iraq, and to help refugees. If I was a refugee and I saw this vehicle coming towards me I think my first reaction would be
to run the other way. Settlements become more sparse as we move further into the desert. As we pass through one very small and isolated desert village we see that it has a Chinese restaurant. I’d heard it said that you could get Chinese food almost anywhere; I just hadn’t quite expected this to extend to remote villages in the Jordanian desert.
We come down off the central plateau and the landscape becomes even more arid. We turn off the main highway and enter the Wadi Rum protected area. We pass sections of a disused looking railway. Fadi tells us that this is part of the Hejaz Railway which was built by the Ottomans in the very early 20th century. The stated aim of the project was to transport pilgrims from Constantinople to Medina, but it soon became clear that the Ottomans were far more intent on using it for military purposes. Lawrence of Arabia was involved in a number of attacks on the railway near Wadi Rum as he helped the locals during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in 1917.
We say goodbye to Fadi, and are transferred into the back of a four wheel drive
tray truck. Our driver introduces himself as Bakir.
The scenery is already stunning and we haven’t really gone anywhere yet. It consists of desolate sandy valleys surrounded by steep barren rocky outcrops. Bakir says “welcome to Mars”. This seems entirely appropriate. Fadi told us on the way here that several Hollywood movies have been filmed here at Wadi Rum including Matt Damon’s “The Martian”, Will Smith’s “Aladdin”, and parts of one of the “Star Wars” movies.
The bitumen runs out and we head off into the wilderness. First stop is a camel watering station fed by a spring in the side of the rock above. We climb a sand dune for some more spectacular views. From there we move on to a narrow chasm with ancient Nabatean texts carved into the rock, and then climb to the top of a rock arch where Bakir practices taking happy snaps of us. The arch looks a bit fragile and Bakir is looking a bit impish. I think he might be hoping that today is the day he finally gets to take his award winning snap of a couple of luckless tourists riding the collapsing rock arch to the floor of
the canyon below.
Bakir drives us to the mouth of a canyon. He tells us that we should walk through to the other end where he will meet us, and that this will take us about twenty minutes. I think that maybe time is measured a bit differently out here in the desert. After half an hour we come across a wall of rocks blocking our way. I try to scramble over them, but it’s tough going. I don’t remember the tour brochure mentioning anything about a prerequisite for Level Four rock climbing skills. Issy doesn’t look very happy. She starts calling me David Sheehan. This is never a good sign. She says that it is all my fault that we are in this predicament. She tells me that I must have known that the tour was going to involve scaling near impenetrable piles of boulders in the middle of a scorching desert, and demands to know why I had neglected to pass on this critical piece of information.
We eventually make it through to the other side of the canyon and are driven from there onto our home for the night, which is the Desert Moon Bedouin
Camp in the sand at the foot of one of the mountains. Our room is a small tent. We think we‘ve got the camp to ourselves but as the sun starts to set we’re joined by a dozen or so other adventurous travellers. Dinner is cooked in a underground pit using a traditional Bedouin method known as zarb.
The guide for one of the other groups demonstrates how to find directions using the stars. He tries to point the constellations out by shining his torch at them. Perhaps unsurprisingly this doesn’t seem to be particularly effective.
After dinner the locals try to get all the tourists to join them in some traditional dancing. I really don’t like dancing. I try to hide in the corner and pretend that I’ve got a sore back, but Issy has seen through my little ruse, and I soon find myself cavorting away with everyone else. Fortunately it’s quite dark in the tent so I don’t think too many people have noticed that I’ve got no idea what I’m doing. We sit down as others launch into the Macarena. I wasn’t aware that this was a traditional Bedouin dance.
We wander across
the sand away from the lights of the camp to gaze up at the stars. The night sky out here is an amazing sight. The almost absolute silence is broken only very occasionally by the roar of a camel and the call to prayer from a distant mosque. We retire to our tent. We agree that today has been a very special experience.
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