Dates: Sep 20-22, 2016
Route: Drove from Amman using private hire car with driver.
We awoke from a light slumber as our driver announced that we were entering the Wadi Rum area. After hours of driving after visiting Mount Nebo, we were finally leaving the great Desert Highway which runs the length of Jordan. The drive had been relatively boring with miles of beige desert on either side occasionally broken with clusters of concrete buildings with bored camels standing tethered outside. The excitement of seeing a camel in the back of a pickup truck had worn off after about the fifth time. After taking the exit (and almost immediately losing cell signal), we drove along a flat, paved road with some towering stone mountains in the distance. After about twenty minutes, I was shocked to see a brightly painted train, complete with a steam engine right out of Lawrence of Arabia. My dream as a kid was to be a train engine driver so had to go look at it. We pulled into the single-building Wadi Rum train station which was literally in the middle of nowhere. There were a few people about and they told us they were filming a remake of the 1962 movie and we were free to look around and inside the engine and train. We were like two kids being let loose in a candy shop and spent the next hour reliving our childhood. Our driver finally told us we had to get to our campsite and check in.
We had spent time researching Wadi Rum and knew that it was a protected desert wilderness that was home to the famed Bedouin who had lived and wandered there for thousands of years. One such group had set up the Sun City Camp which promised “the serenity and spiritual soothing experience of living in the desert and enjoying the simple Bedouin life”. Based on TripAdvisor reviews, we knew that this was one of the best such camps and in a secluded location. About 10 minutes’ drive from the station, we pulled off the main road and onto a sand “path” and arrived at the camp which is located deep in a siq (canyon). We pulled into the centre which is a collection of tables with carpet seats and a small group of buildings with open fronts. My phone also picked up a few bars of signal (no data) which is provided by the camp operator for voice calls. We were warmly welcomed at check-in and taken to one of the many white tents dotting the canyon. The inside is well protected from the elements though it was hot this time of evening. Being desert, we knew it would cool down a lot at night. The tent also has an en-suite bathroom and shower. We settled in quickly and set off to do a camel ride into the desert to watch the sunset. Having done it before in Dubai, I can say that riding a camel is no pleasure at any level. They are bony creatures that walk in a manner which demands you hold on and that your bottom will be in some pain a short time after. We spent about 20 minutes going into one of the other canyons and got some beautiful shots of the orange and purple hues the setting sun provided. After returning and a quick shower, we joined all the other guests in the main area for dinner and some musical entertainment. We ended the evening outside our tent looking up at and photographing the stunning cosmos above as there was no light pollution. Sitting in the cold sand (bring a jacket for sure) and looking out into the silent desert provides one of the best chances for introspection and feeling oneness with nature. As if to validate our choice, nature provided many shooting stars upon which to make all our wishes..
We had planned to spend the next day with a Bedouin driver who would take us deep into the desert and show us some of the known sights. The first thing we noticed as we came out of our tent was the very usual texture of the sandstone mountains all around us. In the bright morning sun, the details lay starkly before us and the only way to describe it is “otherworldly and alien”. Formed by millions of years of sandstone erosion, the towering cliffs look like alien cities as viewed from a distance. There are many prehistoric inscriptions and carvings on stone structures throughout the region. What really stood out for us was that none of the other mountains and cliffs we had seen so far looked anything like this. We set out with ample amounts of water, food, and sunscreen (cap + sunglasses is a must) in an old Toyota pickup that had seen better days. I wondered how exactly we would call for help given there is no cell signal anywhere but quickly forgot about this as the landscape around us came into focus. The lunar-like landscape (Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon) is stunning in its unique features and absolute desolation and shifting sands. But our Bedouin guide seemed to know the way with no map/GPS/etc. and we saw some amazing sights. Rock arches where you can hike to the top, dunes that fall away with no warning for the roller-coaster experience, and caves with all manner of inscriptions on the wall. Our photographs don’t do this place justice and something that must be experienced in person. We returned to the camp late in the afternoon to watch another beautiful sunset.
For our final day, we took a half day journey to Aquaba which is the port city on the Red Sea and across from Eilat in Israel. After getting back, we spent the day exploring around our camp and also going to a few Bedouin villages. Wadi Rum is an experience that offers a glimpse into the desolate and isolated desert world of the Bedouin along with some of the most unique landscapes we had ever seen. Only Uyuni in Boliva offers a similar, but very different, experience. The desert will trigger reflection and introspection and the night sky is something to behold. The fact there is connectivity to the Internet is the absolute icing on the cake.
(Click on gallery images below for details)