Wadi Rum is a desert valley. This landscape was used in many science fiction movies to depict Mars. Although, this is a protected environment many of the local Bedouin tribes have developed Bedouin style camps which tourists can hire to stay for a night or more. We drove into the Wadi Rum desert just as the sun was setting. The landscape was nothing like I have seen before, I could see why many science fiction movies (Star Wars and the Martian) would film here for an out of this world effect. Our tour guide quickly brought us to our tent. Up to this point I was a little uneasy about the idea of sleeping under the stars by the way Róisín had described it to me. The thought of a sleeping bag and a carpet between me and the sand which to my mind was filled with scorpions and snakes and killer spiders, well honestly, I was not looking forward to it. We passed a few of these camps in the valley and it was clear to me that this is big business here, but we eventually got to our camp. The car is parked and we are quickly guided through a covered walk way to a bustling camp at the end. This was not what I had expected. This was a very well organised and professional resort similar to any luxury tourist resort that you might find on the French or Spanish coast. But this resort was developed around the Laurence of Araba romanised version of desert living with no hardship to be seen anywhere. We were indeed glamping!
We went through the common area with a big open camp fire with chairs surrounding it's flames for anyone to sit on. Our guide pointed out the canteen on an elevated building over to the right and told us to meet back there for 7 pm dinner. Via a paved and well lit pathway we were guided to our tent by the porters carrying our bags. There was a wooden door to the side of the tent and as you go in you realize there is a solid concrete foundation with no little critters underfoot. It only got better from there. This is more like glamping than any canvass stretch tent I had been imagining. Inside the walls, ceilings and floors are covered in heavy woven fabric in the style of the classic Prussian rugs we so covet in the west. There is a coffee table, sofa, super king size bed, lamps and believe it or not air conditioning! The cherry on the cake was the en suite with sink, loo and shower. Finally, the curtains are drawn back to reveal a huge window facing out onto the desert with the sun sinking in on the horizon. We rested there for an hour before heading to the canteen for dinner. When we had arrived at 4.30 pm we were the only tour to have arrived but now and for the past hour many tour buses and groups had arrived. Our guide thought it a bit of a waste not to get to the desert before sundown as you were missing a big part of the experience and I would entirely agree.
We arrived at the canteen but we were not allowed enter immediately. Instead we were directed to what I can only describe as a big sand box to the side of the canteen. Roisin, the other camping guests, and I stand waiting to see what was to be revealed. The chefs start to dig in a few places around the pit and within a few minutes they have reached the hot coals below the sand and push these aside. Two chefs slot a long pole through a handle protruding from the ground where the hot coals had been. They then haul from the ground this circular cake stand style BBQ with each section having joints of lamb and whole chickens cooked to perfection, succulent and juicy, ready for our dinner. We had a buffet style dinner with lots of choice and plenty for all. Although there was entertainment we had had a long day and decided to head back to our tent as we had an early start in the morning.
Morning came and we had left the curtain open so the we could see the first rays of the morning sun light up the desert. It wasn’t difficult to imagine you were on mars as the sun rose to highlight the blood red sand dunes all around. We got ready and packed up before heading back to the canteen where we had a self service breakfast. Our guide organized a porter to collect our bags and bring them from our room to the car. We tipped the porters, said goodbye to our hosts and headed out into the desert to meet our drivers for our next desert adventure.
The drive from the camp site to Wadi Rum village was very long. We arrived at a car park and there we were transferred from our tour guide's car to the Wadi Rum Jeeps. Only the members of the tribes, those who live in the Bedouin area can drive in this protected area. The community control all business activities relating to desert commerce and fair play, say I. In Petra when the area was named a UNESCO World Heritage site the locals were moved and given homes nearby. Petra is operated as a government project and so all funds go back to government. I can not help but feel the government got the best of that deal in Petra so it is a real pleasure to see that the ownership and development of the Wadi Rum desert is beneficial to the locals. Arriving at the car park the younger passengers climb into the back of the jeep and turn around to help pull me on board. I think our driver was a little surprised that I planned to sit on top and outside the vehicle. He asked if I would prefer to sit inside out of the cold but having already made the effort I chose to stay where I was, this I would regret.
We took off into the desert going at full speed across this wide open plain. Passing a caravan of camels with one rider on top leading five camels across this red desert plain looked like something from an old black and white movie but this was in colour and live! I really don’t care if this was put on for the tourists. If it was a show, thank you very much as it was worth the performance. I think perhaps it was a local leading his camels to the Bedouin camp for tourists to hire but at this hour it was a picture straight out of a story book. A sandstorm was blowing and for about the 30 minutes of our trip we were truss up like a re-enactment of the Madmax movie which should also go some way towards explaining my regret at not having gotten into the interior of the jeep. We were brought to a number of scenic locations and given the opportunity to take some photos. Roisin climbed mountainous sand dunnes and cliffs, I stayed comfortably in the car sipping on Bedouin tea. We stopped at Khazali Canyon which is a canyon with impressive inscriptions on the inside walls. Not being one for heights and figuring my luck would see me fall off and break a leg which make the rest of the journey difficult, I decided to stay on solid ground. I found a little nice cleft in the rock face and waited for Roisin’s return. While sitting there a young couple arrived with there children and their grandmother. She, like I, had decided to let the young ones take the hike and that she would join me. This woman dressed in a Chador, with only her face exposed, strikes up a conversation with me about the height, the dangers, and how it was best to stay on level ground. She did not speak English and I did not speak Arabic and yet we both understood the conversation. I have met many women in full traditional Chador dress and none of them have seemed oppressed as western media has trained me to believe. To date I have found them to be the most open and welcoming of women, eager to exchange a good morning or good evening, if that’s all the language we have in common.
At Lawrence Spring I needed to make the effort to get down from the back of the jeep, and here comes a courtesy I had not expected. The driver reversed the jeep to a low wall so that I could use it as a step for ease of ascent. So very kind and considerate. We went to the spring and our driver showed us some cave drawings high up on the wall and explained how those were authentic, whereas the ones lower down were done by the locals to increase tourism. Ah, you have to admire the enterprise of it all. Reminds me of that Glen Roe episode and the bogus free range eggs. On returning to the vehicle the same maneuver was preformed and I climbed onto the back of the jeep from a low wall followed by my two co-travelers. The tow bar of the jeep lowered onto the wall which was stuck as we started to pull away from the weight of all three of us. What do I love about our driver? Well he stopped the car and made the two little ones get out and told me to remain sitting. What a gent!
There was much climbing and clambering over rocks which I left to the young ones with clear instructions to bring back the best pictures. We toured the desert for approximately 2 hours and headed back to the car park for the next leg of the journey, which would take us along the border towards the Dead Sea.
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.