Coming from an all-day trip to Jericho and Bethlehem, crossing from Bethlehem to Jerusalem with all our luggage, and then doing a 5-hour overnight bus from Jerusalem to Eilat to cross to the border of Jordan in Aqaba, one would think we would yield to exhaustion and just give the day a miss. I myself doubted whether our stamina – or what was left of it – could take up the gauntlet. But I underestimated my mind’s power over my body: just the thought of camping under the stars in a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum in the middle of the desert, in winter, AND with real Bedouins, were enough to get my brain cells wiggling in excitement!
And so we found ourselves in the back of a pick-up truck two hours after crossing the border.
Our Bedouin driver/guide met us at past 9 in the morning in their little village. Yes, Bedouins now have permanent homes in villages so that their children could attend school and have access to other facilities. Others have also chosen to work in offices. But a number of them still cling to the ways of their forefathers. Our guide, in particular, could not see himself anywhere else but the desert. He says he misses the quiet, the peace, the vastness, and the beauty of the desert. It was something I would not understand until much later in the trip.
From the village, we started off in a relatively narrow valley between two huge mountains. Unlike my notion of a desert which was all sand dunes, Wadi Rum also has mountains of sandstone and granite, gorges, and natural arches. The temperature must have been in the single digits, and our layers of clothing – which in the village felt like enough protection against the cold – suddenly felt insufficient once the winds started slapping our faces. Thankfully, the sun’s occasional peeking over the mountains tempered the cold a bit.
Wadi Rum has been inhabited since thousands of years ago, and it has the Nabatean inscriptions, among others, to prove it. These, together with copious rock carvings, other archaeological evidence, and the variety of landforms make the Wadi Rum Protected Area a UNESCO World Heritage site. We looked at some of the inscriptions in what they call the Lawrence Spring, and then entered a narrow canyon – the Khazali Canyon.
At every stop, there was a Bedouin tent where you could have some tea, or buy trinkets and other stuff.
After the mountains, we entered a vast desert plain where it was just impossible to tell north from south. Without a compass, I wondered how the Bedouins navigate this 74,000-hectare desert. But of course, I should have known: aside from the rich mental map they have formed from years of traveling through this desert – of the mountains, the peaks, the cliffs, valleys, even the few trees in the area – they also use the stars, the sun, and sometimes even the wind. We even saw a 12-year old Bedouin boy acting as lone guide and driver of another group!
For lunch, we stopped at one of the tents, where our guide cooked for us.
In the afternoon, we went to the Big Arch, where the intrepid [hiked? climbed?] to the top. I was left on the ground in self-pity, looking at the people on the arch longingly, knowing there was no way I could go there. Perhaps my despair became almost tangible, as our guide soon came to me and asked whether I wanted to reach the top. DID I WANT TO REACH THE TOP? OF COURSE!
Before I knew it, I was already making my way to the top, feeling super cool and adventurous.
We also saw the place where Lawrence of Arabia was said to have stayed for a while. Can’t find the photo, though.
Anyway, of course, there had to be some sand dune action as well! I’ve never been so thankful for having invested in quality footwear! Going up the Red Sand Dunes which I computed to be roughly 33% grade slope (ah.. and I finally made use of Trigonometry in travel! haha) – the steepness was in itself challenging, but imagine your feet being constantly swallowed by the sand… I almost gave up if not for the two other travelers, already on top, who cheered me on.
You know what I’m gonna say next, but I’ll say it anyway: It was worth it!
And then we waited for the sunset. We did a relatively easy climb beside what they call the chicken-and-egg formation. I got impatient. It was already close to 5 in the afternoon but it still didn’t seem like the sun was going to give a spectacular show, so I asked that we go to the camp already.
BUT, as we were driving, the sun decided to be the stunning ball of fire that it is, making everything around us strikingly gold-yellow-orange-red.
AND THEN: OFF TO THE CAMP!
The truth is, we could have done this as a day trip. But if there’s anything about Jordan that excited me – yes, even more than Petra – it was the chance to sleep in a Bedouin tent under the stars. Sure, some conveniences were added – toilets (thank God!), shower (though I didn’t dare take a shower with no heater during winter!), beds (mattresses on the floor would’ve been fine) and our very own cook (food was so good!) – BUT STILL!
Despite the cold, I stood outside, transfixed at the gazillion bright stars and the moon that illuminated the camp. From our tent I saw the Big Dipper; and of course where there’s the Big Dipper, there’s Polaris – the true north that has guided many a nomad for centuries. As if all these weren’t enough to fill my heart with immense gratitude and awe, I saw a shooting star! Oh dear Lord, You are pure magic who create magic after magic after magic.
*Contact Mehedi at Bedouin Directions if you want to book a night in a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Costs JOD 130 for 2 persons, inclusive of a whole-day Wadi Rum tour, 1 lunch, 1 dinner, 1 breakfast, and overnight in a Bedouin camp (you can choose to go back to the village if you don’t feel like sleeping in the desert). There are other tours available as well – half-day, camel, multi-day, hiking, or customized if you so choose.