Wadi Rum - red sand, red rocks and red faces


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Middle East » Jordan » South » Wadi Rum
August 19th 2008
Published: October 19th 2008
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Our guide, AoudaOur guide, AoudaOur guide, Aouda

Aouda watches as I scramble about Jebel Khazali
Wadi Rum - land of dramatic canyons, red scorched sands, and heat-stroke impaired tourists. Touted as the most dramatic desert scenery, ever, its one of those must-sees on any Jordan itinerary. Its also the hang out spot of the Bedouin (as is much of the desert area in Jordan), those mysterious nomads of the desert that feature in the rare oppressed minority section of the Lonely Planet of every Middle Eastern country.

The typical tourist activity in Wadi Rum is to hire a Bedouin guide to take you tromping across the desert, either in a 4WD jeep or a camel. Camping out under the desert sky with the hospitality of a Bedouin camp is another favourite, while the adventurous enjoy rigourous scrambles up the gargantuan rocky hills scattered across the desert.

We started our day though from the city Aqaba. If you've ever watched the epic, Lawrence of Arabia, you would recognize the city of Aqaba as the tactically important port that Lawrence and the Arabs covertly captured by sneaking across the uncrossable Nefud desert. Of course, Aqaba doesn't look anything like a desert port today. Rathers its been transformed into a seaside resort for Gulf and foreign tourists
Trolloping across the red desertTrolloping across the red desertTrolloping across the red desert

Interestingly despite the heat, most drivers don't turn on the air-conditioning in their jeeps because the sand clogs up their air-filters. Thankfully it wasn't too hot when we were there, but apparently the normal temperature is mid 40s (centrigrade)
alike seeking to dive and splash in the Red Sea. Unfortunately, we weren't in Aqaba for the beaches, but rather as a convenient transit between Egypt and Jordan. So our sum total Aqaba experience was a brief gander at 10pm the night before, and a glimpse of empty streets at 7am, when we left for Wadi Rum.

Alas, this is when a minor hiccup struck. Melenie had spent the night before battling with a bout of gastro - which leaves one particularly dehydrated, and thus, not in the best state to venture into the scorching desert. Thus we decided to pop into a local clinic enroute to Wadi Rum. Alas, nothing was open that early in the morning except for the emergency wards of hospitals. So, what was supposed to be a quick stop to pick up a packet of antibiotics and something to hydrate turned into a 2 hour spell in a hospital bed at the Islamic Hospital of Aqaba, with IVs, blood tests and two attending doctors. Two hours later, she was pronounced to have ... a bout of gastro. What was nice though was that the total cost was a measly 40 Dinars (~$60), which was astoundingly cheap considering most other countries love to overcharge foreign tourists that are cashed up with travel insurance.

So then, we started on the 1 hour trip to Aqaba. Although Melenie was all drugged up, frequent stops on the side of the road clearly demonstrated that antibiotics were not going to hold back her nausea bouts. We arrived at Wadi Rum with a red-faced sickly wife, that was not in the mood for carousing around a blindingly hot desert, no matter how beautiful or reclusive it was. Yet, brave soldier that she was, she pushed on, and so we boarded our 20 year old battered jeep, complete with no air-conditioning and no suspension - the perfect chariot for someone in a constant state of nausea. Meanwhile, Sesame was having a ball. Free from the watchful eye of a disciplined mother, and now in full care of a father who was hopeless at enforcing sleeping schedules, our gleeful daughter enjoyed bouncing across the sandy desert.

So, onto Wadi Rum itself. Let me simply say ... gorgeous. It immediately reminded us of the many beautiful scenes you see of red rocky canyons in the Australian great outback. Except most Australians
Sesame and Aouda enjoy a snoozeSesame and Aouda enjoy a snoozeSesame and Aouda enjoy a snooze

This was our compulsary afternoon nap time.
don't ever go see the outback. Instead, they travel to far out countries like Jordan to see much of the same. The Wadi Rum national park is actually an area of red sand desert, with rocky neanderthal monstrosities of all shapes and sizes scattered about. Much of Jordan actually once used to be underwater, so what you see at Wadi Rum is the bottom of the ocean bed. I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

Our day tour started with a visit to a large 100m sand dune, which was fun to run down, except that my foot sunk into the sand half way day, leading me to almost trip head over heels all the way down. Melenie alas had to watch from the foot of the dune while continuing to throw up. We then headed over to a place called Lawrence's house - a rock hewn wall providing shelter from the sun, which we thought was originally the house of Lawrence of Arabia We later discovered that it was where the actor in the movie had spent his days cowering from the sun. We moved from place to place, seeing canyons, a 300m high rock
Lawrence's houseLawrence's houseLawrence's house

The remaining wall of Lawrence of Arabia's house. Alas, this is the real Lawrence's house, but rather the shelter built to shield the actor Peter O'Toole from the desert sun.
bridge (alas, this was quite a distance away thus not making it particularly interesting), and of course, more of Wadi Rum's staple neanderthal monstrosities.

For lunch, our Bedouin friend brought us to a long, wide canyon that provided plenty of shade from the midday sun. He prepared a lunch of bread, tuna, vegetables and tahini, which was delicious considering its simplicity. He then spread out mats for us and instructed us to 'have a nap'. Yes, much like kids in a kindergarten, we were ordered to have a snooze for 2 hours, while the scorching sun made its way across the heavens. Ten minutes after, our friendly guide was snoozing away beside the truck. Melenie and Sesame managed to do the same, though I was much too restless and anxious about wasting away valuable 'tour' time to have a snooze. So I wandered around the canyon, accidently discovered a few spots where previous tourists had relieved themselves and snapped off one too many shots on the camera, before finally declaring defeat and settling down for a nap myself.

After our compulsory rest, we headed off to a few more sights, the most interesting of which was a rock bridge called Um Firth which I actually got to climb. Poor Melenie continued to watch from the car, throwing up continuously - must have been at least 10 times in 5 hours. By now, she really was not doing too well, and the guide was suggesting taking her to the local village hospital for a dose of 'magic' (as he described it) that would make her feel all better. We were a bit concerned about taking needles at a local village hospital though, and so my poor wife had to sadly just grin and bare it.

It was now late afternoon, and so we headed on to our campsite for the night. This was an isolated set of three large rectangular tents, arranged against a rock wall to form an enclosed courtyard in the centre. This was to be our private little home for the night - very quaint, very isolated, and with a wide open sky above our heads for star gazing. We lazed about drinking Bedouin tea, which tasted great as it was overdosed with sugar. Melenie conked out on a mat and that was her for the rest of the night. We hoped a nice long
Scaling the mighty Um FirthScaling the mighty Um FirthScaling the mighty Um Firth

Well, it wasn't that tall, but it was the first and only bit of scrambling I got to do in Wadi Rum
sleep would get her well for our next day. A bit later in the day, we were joined at the camp by a couple from Italy and an American, all of whom were to share our camp for the night.

That night, the Bedouins whipped out some old pots, produced some hunks of meat, and soon were feeding us a delicious meal of lamb stew and bread. We lay back gazing at the stars while munching on shanks of lamb. The stars out in the desert are simply jaw dropping. Bereft of city lights, the night sky is a veritable stellar chorus, its soloist the mighty full moon. Its also rather spooky, particulary with the shadowy backdrops of the desert mountains and the complete silence.

In the complete stillness of that desert we revelled at the fact that we were halfway across the world and more importantly, that somebody else was washing the dishes that night. There is something about a wide open sky that makes the mind wonder about idiotic things, like why the sky is blue, how animals as stupid as sheep ever survived in the wild before they were domesticated, and most importantly, whether that
Our bedouin mealOur bedouin mealOur bedouin meal

I'm not sure how specifically Bedouin this meal was, but it was fabulously tasty. Then again, anything would taste good after sweating all day in the desert.
scratching noise you can faintly hear is the paws of that jackal that is planning to storm your camp that night.

The following morning, we were woken bright and early to a breakfast of bread, cumin-and-garlicy-paste stuff and fried eggs. We packed our stuff and headed out to one of the largest, deepest canyons in the area, Jebel Khazali (I think). By now, I was pretty tired of red rocky monoliths, so I did the customary oohing and aahing before moving on. Melenie was still feeling fairly sick, so we headed back to the Wadi Rum village and sat in the cool shade until the bus to Petra arrived.

Overall, Wadi Rum was definitely an enjoyable and gorgeous experience. Nevertheless, I do regret that we didn't have the time or inclination to really engage in the environment, perhaps through climbing or scrambling some of those gargantuan rocks.


Additional photos below
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Waiting for the sunsetWaiting for the sunset
Waiting for the sunset

Our italian camp buddies await to setting sun.
Sunset over the desertSunset over the desert
Sunset over the desert

The best of a bunch of failed shots


19th October 2008

Excellent account of your experience. We should talk off-line about having you on our show. www.traveln-on.com

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