My Trip to the Wadi Rum Desert
Google Maps makes places look a lot smaller
than they really are! I have this terrible habit of viewing something that is small enough
for me to walk across from one side to the other, then I zoom out and think that, since
I can still see the thing I could walk across, that I’d still be able to walk from one
side of the screen to the other. Since it’s only twice the size of Plymouth, I must easily
be able to walk across Dartmoor. Or since the width of the Thames takes up a sizeable
portion of the screen, I could walk across London. Yeah why don’t I just walk from
Las Vegas to the Hoover Dam. It’s only next door. Obviously, I can’t do these things.
I only have to remember how inconvenient it is to have to the corner shop for milk to
know that places are a lot bigger than they seem when browsing Google Maps from the comfort
of my desk! You’d think I would have learnt my lesson
by now. But when preparing for my trip to Jordan, I checked out the Wadi Rum desert,
did my usual flawed analysis of its size and asked myself: is that it? It doesn’t look
like you could swing a cat there without hitting a road, camp or mysterious green thing.
But obviously, you can. Because it’s a desert. And it’s big.
We started our day in Aqaba, which is right by the coast. What separates this place from
the desert are these mountains. Judging them on Google Maps, they look like little more
than muddy hills! You might think you could walk over them in a matter of minutes.
But obviously, you see them in person and they’re actually really big and impressive.
What beautiful mountains they were! Jagged, cracked peaks and precarious boulders that
look ready to tumble down the mountain the moment you’re stood beneath them. Similar
to the canyon leading to Petra, I think the mountains you pass through to reach the Wadi
Rum desert really help to get you feeling like you’re going on an adventure… and
that maybe it was a good idea not to have walked there.
At the entrance of the desert is the Wadi Rum Village. Looks like nothing on Google
Maps, but approaching it looks like a tropical paradise from Assassins Creed or something.
It’s here that you sit in a small building and get offered a drink while you’re waiting
for your tour truck to arrive. Visit Wadi Rum and you’ll have a lot of
tea. Well I call it tea, but it’s nothing like that- it’s mostly sugar and spices,
in what looks like a shot glass. It’s odd to be drinking hot tea while in the desert…
but it’s got electrolytes! This desert is inhabited by the Bedouin. These
people have lived here for hundreds of years and are masters of desert survival. Lawrence
of Arabia stayed with their great grandfathers here, during World War 1. They have their
own unique way of life but are adapting to a modern world. They still keep (and love)
their camels, but now drive trucks, which has transformed desert travel. Perilous journeys
that used to measured in days can now be done for fun in a matter of hours! Vehicles are
jolly convenient for them. Their children are driven to the town for education. And
they have made tourism a large part of their life, hosting tours for visitors… which
is exactly what I was doing here! All of the guides know -and are related- to
each other. This is their lives. It’s a nice community and it looks like they have
fun, driving in formation around the desert planes! They’re the boy-racers of the desert.
We spent our tour in the back of a truck with 2 other couples, approaching landmarks, getting
out and being told we had X amount of time before moving on. There was a good supply
of cold, bottled water in the back, so there was no excuse to be thirsty.
This was the first- a spring, part way up one of the cliffs. We were told to climb it!
It wasn’t particularly easy, but I think nicely summed up what the tour was like. You
never knew quite where you’d be going next, or how much would be expected of you. The
climb wasn’t hard, but don’t expect steps and handrails. And do expect it to be hot,
with the sun beating down on you. We reached the top, where there was indeed
a small bit of water still coming out of this mountain after 7 months of draught. Then we
climbed down again, and headed on to the next place.
This was a sand-dune we could climb! If you’ve ever climbed one on a beach, you know what
to expect. It’s one step forward, half a step back, all the way up. I’m not a fan
of Transformers, but I notice they used this dune in the second movie… even if youtube
commenters, in their infinite wisdom, state otherwise.
And actually yeah, running down a sand-dune is super cool to do, it’s like you’re
running on butter in slow motion, or are jumping on the moon.
This canyon was a highlight for me. It’s not like you can do much there- you go along
a path until it gets too steep to carry on, but you can look through the gap at the seemingly
endless cliffs towering up either side, and the sunlight illuminating the entire canyon.
Pictures don’t do it justice, but it’s like something right out of Indiana Jones.
There are 3 arches. The first is this one, which the guide took pictures of us all on.
You don’t know when you’re stood on this one because it starts sooner than it looks.
The second you can’t reach- you simply see it far away up the side of one of the cliffs.
And the third is this one, which is one of the last places we drove to. It’s pretty
difficult to get up there- the passage is narrow and there’s a stream of people coming
the other way. A bit of advice (because I saw a lot of bad pictures taken here): don’t
use portrait and zoomed in- instead, zoom out, in landscape, and get the true scale
of it. Or take both, then discard the zoomed in one because I was right.
We also got to see Lawrence of Arabia’s house- though later were told it probably
wasn’t, since he tended to stay with the Bedouin people in their camps and stuff. There
are hundreds of stone cairns here, as well as another silly, busy climb you can do to
get further up. It’s down below here in the tents where we stopped for a tea break.
We happened upon some wild camels, who seem to know that trucks equal food.
For lunch we drove to the mouth of a canyon, and were given a little packed lunch to eat
and 2 hours to relax. If you wonder where you pee in the desert, the answer is: wherever
you like. It’s the desert. But maybe go somewhere secluded, and not in a canyon cos
it does make the place smell, as we noticed in some parts of our visit. Not that you’ll
be peeing much in the desert. I don’t know where all that water goes. Now, it doesn’t
take us 2 hours to eat lunch. So we decided to explore- as this was the best opportunity
we had to do our own thing. We walked straight out of the canyon and across the desert. I
thought I saw some horses! And they were. We encountered 2 women and their guide, who
had been camped out here for several nights. They were out of dry shampoo, but seemed to
be enjoying themselves. Seems like we had only just scraped the surface of what there
was to do in the desert. We were told to keep an eye out for ‘Mark’, who was apparently
a free soul who had walked off and had spent the last few days camping out in the desert
alone. We never did find him- though everybody we talked to seemed to know about him. I wonder
if he did exist, or if he was just a dank meme of the desert.
As the we approached evening, the colours started to change. Shadows began creeping
across the planes. At one point we were dropped off and told to walk through a canyon and
to meet our guide on the other side, which was pretty cool. As we emerged, we watched
people surf down the sand dunes for a while. Our last stop was to watch the sunset. As
we drove towards our destination, we could see groups climbing to look out points, perched
in all kinds of weird spots, waiting for the sunset. We certainly weren’t alone!
But it didn’t matter. We were all there for the same reason. We got ourselves a wonderful
view, with the other people on our tour who we had grown fond of through our journey.
If I’m honest I think it was the worst sunset we had in Jordan… but it didn’t matter.
It was more about the vast expanse. The feeling of the unknown at what might be out there,
or just over the next mountain. I thought I had kept a good idea of what direction we
were headed all day, but realising we were facing West made me realise that at some point
in the day I must have completely lost my bearings.
I don’t know where we were. And you know what? I don’t want to. I want to preserve
that bit of mystery. I spend my life documenting and learning things. I live to transform the
mysterious into the boring and explained. And with it, there is a certain magic and
wonder that’s lost. So it was nice just to sit there, completely lost, and to appreciate
it for what it was. And to take lots of pictures. And, of course,
to have tea. As night fell, we headed to our camp. I don’t
know what I was expecting, but it was a lot more luxurious than I had prepared for! There
were flushable toilets. Working SHOWERS! Even charging ports for phones and cameras. It
was a lot more sophisticated than some of the places we stayed in Jordan! We went around
the back where food had been cooking beneath the ground all day. Then we went to an extravagant
food-hall for dinner. There were people from Italy there. Australia. China. People from
all over the place, of all ages. It makes you think maybe we weren’t being that adventurous
after all! I didn’t film the next bit, but we went
outside and sat around a camp fire and one of the Bedouin people talked to us about their
way of life. I won’t be able to do justice to what he said in this video, but we listened
to him walk about what life was like out there in the desert, what they thought of the rest
of the world and what they want the rest of the world to think about them. I think it’s
fair to say that the Middle-East doesn’t have the best reputation in Western countries,
but from our time in the desert- and in Jordan in general- I can say that it’s a real shame,
as we were made to feel nothing but welcome there.
If I had to sum it up- if you were to be randomly teleported to anywhere in the world right
now, you could do a lot worse than the Wadi Rum desert. The Bedouin people have transformed
this inhospitable place into somewhere safe and welcoming.
The camp was big, but the night was quiet. Being a place with low light pollution, it’s
recommended you have a look at the stars. I’ve already made a video talking about
this, so won’t repeat myself here. The next day, we had breakfast, then drove
back to the village. As opposed to nomads, who travel from place to place, the Bedouin
people of Wadi Rum have made this place their home. They have been here for countless generations,
and they respect and preserve it. I asked them a few questions. Now they had
vehicles, did they still have need for camels? They assured me that, unlike Lydia, camels
were good for more than just storage space and that they still had a valuable place in
their community. I also asked their thoughts on climate change- being in the desert I thought
they might have a unique insight into it. But they just assumed I was talking about
the seasons… which I guess in a way answers my question.
I also asked them how they made their tea cos it was some good shit, and they said the
trick was to boil the water with the sugar already in it, then listed all of the herbs
and spices that went into it. Which I have since forgotten.
The previous day, my girlfriend complimented our guide’s mats and asked him where they
could be bought from. He said she could have his! Nothing more was said about it at the
time, we thought it was just a nice gesture. But he remembered. And just before we left
for Petra, he hopped out of his truck and handed us the mat. My girlfriend was so happy.
I was mortified, cos we were travelling with Ryan Air with just hand luggage. We managed it.