When I accepted this post last July and knew I would be moving to Jordan, the first place that came to mind was Wadi Rum. My Dad’s all time favorite movie is Lawrence of Arabia and I think I was about seven when I watched my first installment of the four hour marathon. Anthony Quinn, in his gruff voice, barks something like “Welcome to Wadi Rum” and that really dramatic music comes on as the camera opens onto the valley. Though I probably fell asleep a half hour into the movie, even then I remember thinking how incredible the desert looked. Recently I spent a weekend in Wadi Rum and got my first real taste of the place.
Rakabat Canyon on the Eastern side of Jebel Um Ushrin
I would like to say I’ve always had a love for the desert but in truth it was Edward Abbey that moved me in that direction. After reading Desert Solitaire a few years ago, I have thought about planning a trip to the red rock of Southern Utah almost constantly. As of yet I have not made it but Wadi Rum had a similar appeal.
View from Camp facing Jebel Khazali
I received an invitation from future anthropologist, Nadia, who is studying Arabic in Amman in preparation for a research grant starting this spring where she will live with the Bedouin and study changes in tribal lifestyles due to tourism. A classmate of Nadia’s, Florence (Flo)- an air traffic controller at Charles De Gaulle, has been traveling to Jordan to explore Wadi Rum for the past five years and developed a friendship with a local Bedouin named Suleman. Flo & Suleman organized a tour of the famous Wadi for around a dozen of us. We left Amman after work Thursday and made our way south.
The desert highway is poorly lit at night and trucks tend to change, block, and merge into lanes without warning. Occasionally you have to swerve around pedestrians or livestock, so it’s a bit of an adventure. After making it through a couple of close calls, Andrea commented on my skills behind the wheel. I appreciated the compliment and a few minutes later we stopped in a small village to take a rest and get some tea. After we had our tea we packed up the car and started off again. Around 15 minutes had passed since my driving ego boost and leaving the tea shop I put the car into reverse and backed into a concrete building. I left a small chunk of my car in that village and sped away looking at a group of laughing shebab in my rear view mirror.
We arrived at Rum Village a couple of hours after sunset, met Suleman, drank tea, and hopped into the 60s Land Cruiser and headed off into the desert.
Suleman has 19 sisters and five brothers and during the early 80s his father was one of the first tour guides to bring climbers, trekkers, and adventurers to explore the far flung peaks of Wadi Rum. Previously, only the Bedouin explored these ancient routes to hunt oryx. Suleman and his brothers run a touring business called Bedouins of Wadi Rum and from what I gather Rum Village is comprised entirely of his family.
We did two long scrambles and a few short walks over the course of the weekend. On the first day we drove from our camp into Rum Village, onto the lower peaks of Jebel Um Ushrin (Mountain of the Mother of Twenty) and through beautiful Rakabat Canyon. Our guide, Knife as he was called, skipped up and down the red sandstone, in sandals and sometimes barefoot, with incredible ease. At one point he dug up and de-stingered a scorpion, which in the end we decided was better to kill than leave without a stinger. What I was most impressed with was how he went through two entire packs of Marlboros in three hours.
On Um Ushrin in Rakabat Canyon looking towards Jebel Rum
First night dinner, bbq buried in the sand and slow cooked for hours
Post hike lunch
Sunset at Camp
The following day Nadia, Flo, Victoria, and I set out to climb up to Burdah Arch. A fun scramble up to around 300m and a short climb to the final ascent brought us to the arch and a panoramic view of the incredible desert.
On the way up to Burdah Arch
Each night the stars lit up the sky and you couldn’t miss the milky way. The sunrises were equally incredible and I am continually amazed at how many different colors the desert has: red, green, yellow, purple, and more. The views from each peak we reached were varied and continually spectacular. The adventure of scrambling over narrow passes with death falls on either side makes you think about how safe we are most all the time, at least when we’re not behind the wheel.The solitude and quiet of the place is something that you don’t forget and as soon as you have to leave you’re ready to go back.