Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp
In our quest to squeeze as much as possible into this trip, we needed to get to Wadi Rum by 9am to join our all day jeep tour through the desert made famous to those of us in the west by T.E. Lawrence and the film Lawrence of Arabia. So we bid an early farewell to Patricia, our host at Petra Bed and Breakfast, and got to the Wadi Rum rest house pick up point just as the trucks pulled up to release the guests departing that morning.
It appeared that we were to be the only people on the jeep tour – the more popular choice was the all day camel tour (we were sated in the camel riding area after trips in India and Egypt). After tea at Mohammed’s house (the manager) we were just about to climb into the back of the jeep when another two people arrived. They were a young couple from LA who had thought they were not going to make the 9am start time, but managed to get an earlier flight from Israel where they were visiting family. We were as glad as they were that they made the tour – it was lovely having company to clamber (or scramble!) over rocks and up sand dunes.
The landscape in this part of Jordan was vastly different to Dana or Petra. Some elements were similar to Arizona’s Death Valley and other spots in USA, and other sections were like remote areas of Australia’s ‘red centre’. Wadi Rum looked like a movie set, and there was no sense of scale whatsoever; a bizarre sense of vast and intimate in one sweeping look.
At one stop during the day the camels from the camel safari were relaxing outside a remote rest house while their charges were inside drinking sweet tea. While making friends with the camels, one of them tried to give me a kiss and then attempted to eat the tassels on my scarf. Such gentle, gorgeous creatures, with their long-lashed eyes!
Jumping out of the jeep to climb a massive red sand dune, our guide advised us to remove our shoes and socks. This comment received a disbelieving scoff from me – not being a 9 year old I did not at all see the appeal of such a suggestion. But he insisted. The red sand of the imposing dune that we walked up and slid down, was like plunging your feet into an exfoliating machine, but also like immersing them into cool sludge. Quite delicious, actually! A young boy with another guide had brought his snowboard with him and kept clambering back to the top for a speedy and somewhat haphazard descent.
Another stop in our desert tour brought us to a Bedouin tent where more sweet tea was offered and a man with sad eyes strummed an oud. We didn’t stay long, as more people were dropping by filling the tent, and it was time for our picnic lunch.
Our guide set up a geometrically patterned, woven grass mat beside a jagged honeycomb rocky mass, and while we explored the area, heated our vegetarian lentil stew on a tiny gas stove. This was accompanied by hommus, coleslaw and bread, and we ate cross-legged, as our guide seduced us with stories of the people and their desert.
Providing a means of walking off our lunch, we were dropped at one end of a ravine, while our guide drove around to where we would exit and wait for us. From there we clambered to the top of more ravaged edifices for spectacular views, choosing not to edge out onto a very high rock archway where people were jumping up and down to prove its sturdiness. Pass, thank you.
The Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp nestled against a massive rock formation, providing both shelter from the desert winds as well as the perfect sunset viewing platform. From this rock we were as gods perched atop Olympus watching the small creatures below go about their business – in this case, the trucks and camels making their patterns in the sand as they entered and exited the central ‘gateway’ to the camp. The boundary was marked out with big red rocks, like the set of MASH, but these ones weren’t white. The sweeping, curving tyre tracks were a contrast to the ant-like higgledy-piggledy footprints of the departing camels.
Our camp for the night was a small community of black woollen tents that sat above the ground, like shaggy walled caravans. Sleeping arrangements were firm camp beds with thick, heavy blankets that pinned us down and kept us warm. There were shared facilities in the bathroom block providing two western style toilets and two showers. With only one night’s stay, we weren’t really in need of the showers, and with our pre-dawn rise for our balloon adventure the next day, we needed to be economical with our time.
Dinner was cooked in a pit oven. Interestingly, it was a 44 gallon drum buried lengthways in the ground and it contained a three tier rack, like a gigantic high tea stand, only it was filled with roasted vegetables and pieces of chicken. We also had salads, rice, bread, potato vegetable bake and hommus, the usual suspects. It was disappointing to see the thoughtlessness of some guests who went back for seconds, heaped their plates, and then didn’t eat it! The staff only got access to the food after guests had finished, so it was even more distressing to witness such waste and selfishness.
Some guests intended to sit around the fire all evening and smoke shisha, but as we had a 5am rise for our balloon ride, we enjoyed the fire while we could before retiring at 8pm. The cold evening provided little incentive to stay up, and we had made the most of the fire pit before dinner, savouring the sweet, unique scent of the burning olive tree wood; a sensory delight.
Balloon Ride Over Wadi Rum
We woke before the alarm and tried quietly to get dressed without getting cold. I don’t think our hosts expected us to be on time, though, because they seemed startled to see us there at the call time of 5:30am (the chef was still putting together our labne and honey sandwiches for take away breakfast).
We were driven to the rest house where our car was parked, and then we drove the 6 km to the visitor centre to meet our next driver. In the truck we immediately made friends with an Australian mother and her NY living daughter, swapping stories of adventures and mishaps in travel.
The whole operation of hot air balloon ride was very professional, including an excellent pilot. It was like sailing – a desert equivalent of gliding through Halong Bay in a junk. And we were so lucky with the weather – they didn’t fly the previous two days, which would have been very disappointing to costumers who had booked. Although, there must have been a few questions about this morning’s weather, as they abandoned the first take off spot for another more favourable to the pilot, who, of course, had absolute say over all of this. He was a nice guy too, and liked that we were interested in the aeronautical knowledge and skill required to pilot the vessel.
This was not our first balloon flight; our previous adventures were of Bagan in Myanmar and the Loire Valley in France. Special landscapes explored in this manner provide unforgettable experiences, and such was our flight over the desert of Wadi Rum. The rock formations emerged out of the sea of sand, like arid islands dotting an oceanic alternate universe. The silent and apparently aimless floating through the morning light evoked a warm sense of peace and contentment. In the care of such en experienced and talented pilot, any fear was removed from even the most trepidatious of passengers.
All too soon we were beginning our descent, disappointed that our adventure was ending, only to discover the pilot was teasing us as he let loose the noisy flame and we began to ascend once more, passengers cheering like children. When it was time to land, it was smooth, gentle and silent. Landing a balloon in the desert with few obstacles must surely provide the opportunity for a perfect connection with the earth again – taking as long as you want with no animals, buildings or cars nearby to crash into.
After climbing out of the basket, we imbibed in the hot sweet tea and biscuits provided and watched as the team packed up the gear into the trucks. The drive back to the visitor centre was quiet and reflective. Thoughts of precious opportunities and grateful musings of our place in the world seemed to be on the minds of most.
At the visitor centre we said goodbye to those who had shared this part of our journey before heading back to our car to begin the next leg of our Jordanian exploration.
Our adventures continue with a visit to Israel…
Accommodation: Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp