It had been a long day, but then again I was getting used to it during my trip to Jordan. There was a lot to do and see in the country, and the itinerary I requested from the Jordan Tourism Board had been ambitious. That meant after an excruciatingly exhausting, but completely soul-enriching experience at Petra, I hoped in the car to make the hour and a half drive to Wadi Rum.
When I was planning my trip to Jordan, the one place everyone said I simply had to see, after Petra of course, was the vast desert reserve known as Wadi Rum. Although we have some fairly significant deserts here in the United States, I have never spent time in them, apart from occasional trips to Vegas to donate my earnings to Mr. Wynn. That’s why I was so excited for the opportunity to not just see the desert, but to spend the night there. I mean, anyone can see a desert, but how many people get to spend the night in a Bedouin tent, under a million stars relishing in the whole desert-ness of it all?
There are many desert camps in the Wadi Rum desert, most of which are run by locals. They run the gamut from backpacker friendly (ie, cheap) to super luxe. I stayed at a place called Captain’s Desert Camp, best labeled as an upper-middle class camp. Rather than erect unsightly monstrosities that would mar the simple beauty of the desert landscape, the desert camps are well designed and fit into their surroundings as if they’d always been there. More importantly, for those of us interested in sustainable tourism, money from these camps go back to the local communities, with exceptions of course, and not to line the pockets of a large, multinational corporation. (not that there’s anything wrong with that either)
Meals were taken communally in a very large, open air Bedouin style tent. The food, while buffet, was truly excellent. All of my new favorite Jordanian foods were there: hummus, a variety of grilled meats and my beloved shraak bread, made fresh right before our eyes.
The annoying parts are few, but rate high on the annoying scale. While we were there, one of the camp’s two generators failed. The result was that none of the private sleeping tents had any lights. So, from sunset onward, I had to navigate my way around using my iPad, on the whole not a bad light source actually.
The baths were communal, but that was to be expected. I do wish someone had told me that I would need to bring my own towels, shampoo and soap. Lacking all three made a cleansing shower a bit of an illusion. No, this wasn’t the worst bit. The truly awful part is one few others will tell you about – the bugs.
I thought it odd when above my bed was mosquito netting. I honestly had never thought the desert had a mosquito problem. I mean, it’s the desert, as in no water and all that. Yet there it was, staring back at me, a portent of evil things to come.
When it was time to finally go to bed after an exhausting day, I attempted to set up the mosquito netting. I say try because it apparently was made for a doll’s bed of some sorts, and it simply would not fit the bed. I regrouped and thought that if I could at least cover the exposed parts, like my arms and head I’d be ok. So I went to sleep, my head encased in a pink mesh of teeny tiny mosquito netting. It wasn’t until the next day when I noticed the holes in the netting and it wasn’t for another 24 hours when the bites appeared.
I won’t go into the gory details, but when all was said and done, I had about 30-40 bites all over my body; particularly hard hit were my arms. It looked as if I’d been beaten with a particularly ineffective bat.
Those are the facts, but there was much more to the experience, including moments I certainly never expected.
I’m not sure what I expected exactly, but I obviously had not put any thought into what the desert experience would be like. I say this because the first thing that shocked me was the incredible heat; I’m a genius, I know.
I signed up for an off-road adventure through the desert, culminating in a stunning view of the sunset. My guide, driver and our Bedouin truck driver all climbed into an extremely aged, but well performing, Toyota truck and off we went into the vast unknown.
Within a few minutes I understood why everyone told me that I had to visit Wadi Rum. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.
We drove across the desert plain, between canyons and oddly placed mountains springing out of the desert floor without rhyme or reason. We stopped a few times to soak in particularly breathtaking spots, and other times to see examples of people long gone in the form of petroglyphs, looking as fresh as if they were drawn yesterday.
Finally we stopped at a bluff overlooking a vast plain, and everyone got out and found a seat in the sand. We had misjudged the timing a little, so we needed to kill some time before moving on to the famous sunset watching spot. And we started talking.
Abed, my guide, out of the blue expressed his true, honest love of Wadi Rum. A true Arab nationalist, he knows the importance of the desert, home to crucial moments in the Arab resistance movement during World War I. More than that though, it brought him back to his roots, to the desert. He said, “all Jordanians, we were all Bedouin once and we all love these places.” We stopped talking for a few moments to gaze out across the range and right on cue, a man riding a camel trundled past. I can understand why Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here and why the real T.E. Lawrence found Wadi Rum so captivating.
Conversation lapsed into more quotidian issues, how expensive it is to marry in Jordan and the issues inherent with the process, and a lot of questions about what certain aspects of life are like for me at home.
Eventually, it was time to carry on to the amazing sunset watching place, which was actually pretty amazing, and revel in the transformation of the desert colors.
In a rare case of travel advice gone right, everyone was spot on about Wadi Rum. It is a remarkable place, one of the natural wonders that we instantly feel lucky for the opportunity to visit. More than that, I learned a lot about my hosts that evening and that alone made my experience one that I will never forget, in spite of those damn bugs.