Wadi Rum. I’m on a camel, bobbing violently through a surreal, endless landscape. Surrounded by stretches of sand broken only by treacherous rocks looking down at us. The sun swelters overhead with it’s harsh, unforgiving gaze while our invisible path stretches on to infinity. For a brief moment, the clock stops. Our three caravans comprising 11 camels, 11 riders, and 3 camel-herders fall silent. We weren’t travel bloggers in 2015. We could be modern day Bedouins, sharing an instinctive bond with the land. We could be King Hussain bin Ali’s men, accompanied by Lawrence of Arabia setting out on the Arab Revolt in 1917. We could be the hardy Nabateans of the 4th Century or the South Arabian tribes leaving inscriptions in the stone. We could be the passing Greeks or Romans, marvelling at the desert vineyards, and olive and pine trees. We could even be the prehistoric peoples that left behind Petroglyphs and burial mounds as we hunted across the region.
Whatever we were, we were insignificant specks in its vast presence. Such is the illustrious past of this deceptively virgin terrain.
Coming in from the fantastic Arab Revolt show at the Al Hejaz Railway, we continued tracing the region’s significant role in history as we were dropped off in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Ahead of us sat lines of absent-mindedly masticating camels, tied to each other, kitted out with rustic saddles of wood, carpets and cloth. With trepidation, I made my way to a smaller, docile looking fellow, when the camel herder caught me. “Not that one, the first one,” he gestured, towards a large beast. I later figured he was just going by my weight and doing the math. Mounting a camel isn’t for the faint-hearted I muttered, stuck with my right leg halfway up the girth of this creature’s hump. Flailing about, I finally managed to catch the herder’s attention as he came and pushed me up. There were no stirrups and my legs swung freely, too short to touch the ground. I looked around, and I’m so glad I did, for I caught sight of what happens when the camel suddenly decides to stand up. He begins with his hind legs, making you buck forward abruptly and steeply before bringing up his fore legs. Watching what happened to someone else, I was prepared, holding on to the stump of wood on the saddle for dear life as the camel took his sweet time to even out. After several near-accidents, the camels finally moved away from each other. Trudging through the desert for what seemed like forever, I was glad this wasn’t a “camel ride” but a real means of transportation. One with purpose. It felt like a trampoline at first, and I understood why the camel is called the Ship of the Desert – because it rocks like one! But pretty soon my body began to move in the time to the Camel’s swaying rhythm, allowing me to let go of the saddle, and look around, both with my camera lens and my eyes. I exchanged pleasantries with the camel herder, learning to shout “Yallah Yallah” to make my camel go faster, as he entrusted me with the reins.
We hopped off at a Bedouin camp for lunch, where we scarfed down the most succulent lamb with the sweetest carrots I’ve ever eaten. Looking around, made me wish we could have spent the night there, because it certainly seemed kitted out with most amenities and was borderline glamping as opposed to rough-it-out camping. But we had somewhere to be, and that was further within the Wadi (Arabic word for valley) of the Moon. Hopping into a Mitsubishi 4WD we began a bumpy, sandy ride through the desert. It did however feel much tamer than our crazy dune rides in Dubai. Over dunes we flew, following the trail of tyre tracks, looking at the fascinating stretches of nothingness all around. Save for the odd camel caravan, there wasn’t a soul for as far as the eye could see. The striations in the rock painting fantastic patterns across this surreal panorama, even the sun and clouds seemed to participate in this glorious extravaganza nature was setting out for us. It was strange that these rocks were weathered in almost the same pattern as the one’s we saw at the 12 Apostles in Australia (but that those had been weathered by the sea). We stopped to take a peek at some ancient Nabatean rock carvings, beautiful, minimalistic illustrations of camels and more (that had oddly and thankfully been preserved by the elements).
Bedouin are not gypsies, our tour guide had explained. They don’t live in tarpaulin tents, but in ones made of very expensive camel hide instead. They’re gold rich, and hold on to their way of life with pride. They still follow an ancient code of conduct, one that requires they be hospitable to all that pass their home. And we experienced that at the couple of tents we stopped at. One of the Zalabia Bedouins would jump into action the moment he saw us approaching, warming up the tea, and serving it out in cups. The tea was hot, dark, and sweet. Not something I’d normally go for, but in that weather, I couldn’t have asked for much more. While so many of these tents probably serve tourists as opposed to the traders their ancestors once served, the humility with which these peoples spoke to us, welcomed us, and just shared some quiet unspoken moments with us was heart-warming to say the least. Legend has it that they are required to welcome you into their home for 3 nights, where they feed you and shelter you before they ask you what your business is. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could live like that out here in the modern world? Such a beautiful lesson in trust and humanity. PS: Does anyone know the secret to their pristine robes? How do they manage to keep them so clean and crease free out there in the dust and heat?
Lawrence of Arabia
No trip to Wadi Rum would be complete without referencing Lawrence of Arabia, the famed Englishman who adopted the region, and fought alongside the Arabs as a messiah of sorts. Opinions on him are varied, but one can’t ignore the stories and fame it brought to the Valley of the Moon. One of the popular tourist spots along the Wadi Rum 4×4 route is Lawrence’s home. Although not much remains of it, carvings into a rock show his portrait alongside that of the Prince.
If I haven’t repeated it enough already, Wadi Rum is vast. A single day isn’t enough to cover all there is to see and when we return to Jordan, we shall certainly be setting aside enough time to explore the Visitor Centre and Museum, the Rock Bridges and Siqs, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Jebel Umm al Ishrin, Jebel Rum, Rum Village and Plaza, the Nabatean Temple, Lawrence’s Spring (Ain Ash Shallalah), Ain Abu Aineh Spring, Al Hasany Dunes, as well as the Alameleh and Anfaishiyya Inscriptions.
This post was made possible by the Jordan Tourism Board. Opinions as always, are our own.
Explore the Wadi Rum in more detail at the Jordan Tourism Website.