Desert Camping – Wadi Rum
May 2, 2014
Working at Experience Jordan has serious perks. Last weekend was one of my favourite weekends in Jordan so far. We organised a trip to Wadi Rum, with overnight camping and desert hiking, sand boarding, tea drinking and jeep riding.
We set off early in the morning from our usual meeting spot in central Amman in a yellow school bus loaded with crates of water, sleeping bags, tents, an acoustic guitar (essential for campfires) and cool boxes full of food.
Last week I went to one of the hotels stretched along the coast with friends for one night. We arrived in the afternoon, entered the immaculate lobby, rushed our bags to our rooms, and went straight down to the beach.
The ride down was beautiful. Jordan has a real mix of terrains, and driving south on the desert highway means that you get to see a good mix of them, but for the most part it is flat and dry and stretches on forever. The little towns with their rows of shops fly past and blend into one road of butchers and coffee booths and barbers, with men sitting on colourful plastic chairs in the shade and the occasional truck carrying a herd of sheep stopped by a gas station.
We arrived at the Wadi Rum reserve, straight into the village there, where lots of Rum Bedouins have set up shop and provide services for the tourists looking for a ride through the desert. There are climbers, hikers, adventurers on a tour of the whole country, even those who want to follow in the footsteps of people like the famous T.E. Lawrence. Incidentally, Lawrence’s house, somewhere in the huge expanse of rocks and sand (I gave up trying to catch my bearings within about five minutes of the trip) is well worth a visit. We went there on our second day, and drank tea with a group of friendly bedouins, grateful for a chance to escape the desert sun and to look at the scarves and soaps and things they were selling. I had my eyes painted with kohl, and tried on a kuffar – the bedouin headscarves used to keep off the sun, and felt every inch the happy tourist, no doubt looking slightly ridiculous but enjoying myself an awful lot. But that was on our second day – first was the hike to the rock bridge.
The weather was surprisingly cool for the time of year, and we were lucky with the little breeze that came from the west. We sped to the site of our first hike in two jeeps through invisible tracks in the sand with our bedouin guides at the wheel. I’d never been in the desert before this weekend. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, and that’s the closet thing I can think of, but there isn’t much of a comparison to be made. The sands of Wadi Rum are vast, with giant walls of rock protruding out of them, towering overhead, clumped together in impossibly massive structures, standing alone; plateaus of sandstone in an otherwise flat field of desert shrubs.
We set off on our first hike hike down a narrow canyon, where our bedouin guides showed us some ancient carvings in the rock walls, and then we headed East across the sand to the rock bridge. The view from the bridge was beautiful, and we were buffeted by winds as we all stood atop the rocks, and we stood there surveying the desert for a good while before descending and driving with our guides to the camp site.
We picked a spot nestled underneath a huge rock face, on one side of a massive semi-circle basin and set up camp, sharing two and one man tents. We had four or so hours to go and explore. Some people left in groups to climb the hill closest to us, others set across the flat terrain to ridge of rock in the distance at the far side of the basin. Most of the Experience Jordan staff stayed at the camp, sorting out the equipment and getting a fire set up so we’d be able to cook our dinner later. I stayed for a while, climbing up the hillside on my own. I had expected it to be difficult but the sandstone was easy to scramble up, and the sides weren’t particularly steep. I will never forget the feeling of climbing above the camp, reaching the ridge, and being unable to see another living soul, just the rocks and sand, stretching out for miles and miles, casting shadows that were slowly lengthening with the setting sun and the wind whipping over the hilltops. I felt like I was on top of the world, or on a different planet, utterly alone and completely free.
After I came down from my perch overlooking the desert I decided to go for a run and chase the sunset west. Again, the sense of liberation struck me. You just don’t get that feeling in many places, I think. It was a long time since I’d felt so alive.
That night we cooked our meal by a camp fire. We had homemade fava bean stew, omelette, barbecued meat and vegetables, and mounds of fresh bread. To drink we had Ayman’s homemade blend of tea, beautifully sweet and hot in the rapidly cooling desert night. Then we lay by the tents and watched the stars for a while. Apparently it wasn’t that clear a night, but it was the most stars I’ve ever seen in my life. I went from feeling on top of the world to an atomic spec in the face of the universe, all in the space of three hours. What can you say about the stars? They were awe-inspiring, and it felt such a blessing to be able to see them spread out across the sky like that, in the silence of the night.
Day two and we woke up before the sunrise to watch it creep over the hilltops together before breakfast. Bleary-eyed and happy we quickly packed up the camp to get started on our second day of hiking before the temperature became to hot. We did two short hikes with another rock bridge, and then sped across the desert in our jeeps to Lawrence’s House, before heading to the huge sand dunes to try out sand boarding. A few of us tried the board but I opted for running down the dune instead – so exhilarating!
The day seemed to speed by, and the next thing I knew we were all sleepily settled on the bus and heading back north to amman, back to normal life, back to the big city again. The weekend was phenomenal.