We rush through Wadi Rum Village with Abdul, our Bedouin driver for the next ten minutes. He is proficient at sorting cars, rubbish trucks and stray dogs while driving on potholed roads.
The street comes to an end to meet the red sands of Wadi Rum. You would think he would slow down any time soon.
But he doesn’t.
In fact, he speeds up, eager to dive into his own element as quickly as he can.
Suddenly, all the shaking and bouncing of our drive is gone. Now everything is smooth sand drifting.
Time to lean back and consider our apologies to the rest of our group. We had a bit of a slow start from Wadi Musa this morning and are now hoping to catch up with them at Lawrence’s Spring.
At this point, red dust already mixes with sweat on my fingers and I can feel the scorching early morning sun on my face. The roar of the engine echoes as we cruise among towering mountains that sprout from the ground like rocky spears.
We leave behind every sign of non-nomadic life and cross with a camel caravan. Abdul, like every good Bedouin, seems to know and be known by everyone we meet.
Two more minutes now till the only green tree around. Its twisted branches and scarce foliage cast a thin shadow, just enough for a couple of camels after their rare watering feast.
This is our first stop. It looks nothing more than a camel watering station on the edge of the red sandy wilderness, with tanks filled from a spring a short climb up a rocky slope. It is however much more than that. This is Lawrence’s Spring, named after the controversial figure of the British archaeologist/soldier T. E. Lawrence.
Most importantly, this spot is also the reason why generations of Bedouin families have chosen to dwell in this desert. In the past, water caravans ensured a constant supply for nomadic settlements as far as several days on a camel ride. Today, trucks do the trick ten times faster.
Energised by the transcendence of the place, we are sent up to the spring itself. We are pointed to the only greenish patch hanging from a cliff some 100m up, and we are sent off. We are not alone though, we meet a couple of small groups struggling to find their way either up or back to camp, steering clear of blocking boulders and sunbathing lizards.
The views from the spring are our reward. While sitting among wild mint and ferns under the shade of a twisted fig tree, the vast red desert shows itself in all its splendour for the first time in this trip. Now we can finally see all imaginable shades of ochre that give this desert its name.
We remain speechless and lose track of time… again.
Some more boulder and lizard dodging takes us down back to our starting point and in front of one of the reasons why the Wadi Rum Protected Area is in the UNESCO world heritage list: petroglyphs.
For those who can read them, Wadi Rum is an open-air library with thousands of ancient petroglyphs, rock carvings and writings that tell the history of tribes that have dwelled in this area for more than 12,000 years.
For those who cannot interpret them, Wadi Rum is a window open to the mysteries of a distant past.
Back to the truck, this time we meet our group fellows. An Australian couple on their Middle East tour, two Spanish friends that just crossed the Israeli border that morning, and us –a Spanish-Australian couple–.
All of us met here today to experience what Wadi Rum has to offer and something tells me we will not be disappointed.
The Red Dune
Back on our pickup truck, our guide announces our next stop will be The Red Dune, which is “a short drive South from Lawrence’s Spring”.
As we drive farther and deeper into the wilderness, it doesn’t take me long to realise that a city boy like me does not perceive distances the way Bedouins do. Here, a 2-hour trek to the neighbouring tent is a short pleasant stroll, a 1-hour camel ride to the dwell is a short ride, and a 30-minute drive to The Red Dune is a short drive.
Just as we brake at the foot of our mysterious dune, I scorn myself and vow to multiply Bedouin distances by 2 while in Wadi Rum to adjust my own perception of time.
Now, you might think, what’s so special about a dune, even if the colour is rusty iron? A desert should be plagued with them anyway.
This question answers itself when our driver produces a snowboard from the back of our truck.
Climb that dune to the top, stop briefly to catch your breath –believe me, you’ll need to regardless of how fit you are– and throw yourself down the sandy slope, either sitting or standing on the board.
Sandboarding is a thing in this part of the world! After all, who said a desert should be boring?!
The Khazali Canyon
Deserts are hot, and dry, and dusty. At least this is what I was brought up to think.
In reality, flash floods during the wet season have never been uncommon in this part of the world despite it being an arid desert.
A couple of minutes driving from the Red Dune to the East (now yes, just a couple of minutes) and we are now standing in front of the magnificent entrance to the Khazali Canyon.
A precarious pass on one side takes us to the deepest of this 100m canyon. My face is stuck to the rock wall on the right, not to look at the dry creek bed a couple of meters down.
While strolling even deeper into the canyon, I can’t help but wonder at the power of nature, capable of water-and-sand chiselling the hardest rock over hundreds or thousands of years to form not only these beautiful canyons but also every capricious formation in Wadi Rum.
I come to realize how impatient we humans are if something can’t be done immediately…
Protected from wind and sand within the walls of this crack in the Khazali mountains, there is another volume of the Wadi Rum open-air library. Some more rock-carved Nabatean and Islamic inscriptions and petroglyphs have survived until today on the walls of this canyon.
The Little Bridge
Singular rock features are everywhere in Wadi Rum.
Some are very subtle, other features are however quite obvious.
If you allow your imagination to run freely, your eyes will try to make sense out of every crevice in the rock and shadow on the sand.
Sitting on the backseat of our truck, we are now heading East, back into the red flats and straight to see one of the rock features in this desert that would definitely not escape the untrained eye, the Little Bridge.
The recipe is simple: take a humungous amount of sandstone, add some wind and sand with a pinch of torrential rain and quite a lot of sun. Let it sit for centuries, stirring occasionally, and you’ll soon have a rock arch like this.
And this recipe is so effective that other bridges in the area are even more spectacular.
After the customary (and seemingly cheesy) picture while standing on the bridge, it’s now time for a well-deserved stop in the shade.
Lunch and Lounge
Finding shade in the desert when the sun is high in the sky is not an easy task. Good thing is, our guide knows exactly where to find it regardless of the time of the day.
We stop by a cliff some 20 minutes south-east of the Little Bridge and start setting up our little lounge for the next couple of hours.
After a simple but supremely tasty lunch of stewed beans cooked from scratch right on the spot and some canned tuna fish for additional protein, a pot of the ubiquitous Bedouin sage tea magically appears on the fire.
Made with black tea, fresh sage and sugar –looooots of sugar–, you will find this hot drink everywhere in Jordan.
Wadi Rum could not be an exception. You would think a hot drink is the last thing you are going to need in the desert. However, believe me, it goes down pretty easily and it’s quite refreshing! After all, Bedouins have been drinking it for centuries.
We mingle a bit more with our group over a couple of tea servings and repack to continue with our adventure. Time now to ride the desert wind again, to discover more Wadi Rum wonders.
The Mushroom Rock
Remember those impressive rock bridges? Well, these are not the only capricious sandstone formations around here. Balancing rocks –also known as mushroom rocks– are quite a show too!
We are now heading to the most prominent mushroom rock of the area, quite unimaginatively named “The Mushroom Rock” –daaaaah– . This, however, will be after stopping by some ancient Nabatean ruins just north-east of the Little Rock Bridge.
Legend has it that T.E. Lawrence lived in a little house built on top of these ruins during the 1916 Arab Revolt. The ruins themselves are already a good reason for a brief stop. However, we are here for more than that; a viewpoint at the top of the rocks in the back offers an uninterrupted view of the red sands.
From there, after yet another dusty climb, we are once more amazed by the immensity of this desert.
We are now at 4Km to the north from Lawrence’s House; we are dropped and left on our own while our guide takes off and disappears.
No, we have not been scammed, we are about to walk through one of the grandest canyons of the area.
Just another canyon, you might think. Nevertheless, the Burrah Canyon is one of the most instagramable places in Wadi Rum.
For the first time today, while trekking among these towering rock walls, we can pay attention to the sounds of the desert rather than to the constant roaring of the truck.
We can now listen to the crunch of our footsteps on the sand and the occasional bird chirp. And to some distant chatter as we walk deeper into the canyon. Our guide is waiting for us at the other end, sharing a sage tea with some Bedouin guide mates.
And Yet Another Rock Bridge
At this stage, we are almost ready to drive ahead, pick a good spot facing West, and settle for the next hour or so with a nice cup of sage tea before sunset. Can you believe our day is almost over?
But before that, our guide has one more stop in mind.
This time, he wants us to see one of his favourite spots: the Um Frouth Rock Bridge.
“Yet anoooother rock…” – Someone mumbles in the back of our truck. We are all tired, sunburned, dust-covered and thirsty. I realize I am also ready to settle down for that sunset already.
As the sun declines, the air becomes crisper and the light softer. The short drive south between Burrah canyon and our last rock bridge of the day is a bit more bearable.
Once on the spot, we reluctantly get off the truck, with heavy feet and sore backs. We drag ourselves some 100m into a canyon and booom!, there it is. The Um Frouth Rock Bridge is one of the grandest in Wadi Rum! However, this is no secret. Lots of other trucks seem to converge to this very same place before heading to their own sunset spot.
Despite how crowded this place is, this rock bridge remains in our memories still today, quite up in the list of most impressive wonders in Wadi Rum. Well, at least right below the sunset views, I must say. But I am getting ahead of myself, just bear with me a bit longer.
A Stunning Sunset
Last stop for the day before heading to our camp. Time to relax now while watching nature putting on a gorgeous show for everyone who cares to watch.
Sunset points in Wadi Rum seem to be a precious commodity.
People from around the world come here just for the magical sunsets over the vast sand plains; just for the horizon, gold-tinted with desert dust; just for the ever stretching shadows of the colossal red rock walls.
Our cameras are all set now, and a cup of sage tea is already warming our hands and our souls. As the sun comes down, the temperature noticeably drops and the few birds still around start heading back to their nest.
At this point, while sipping that sweet tea, I come to realize how important light is in Wadi Rum, not only from a photographic perspective but also in a more transcendental manner. Sun brings this desert to life every morning and is also the lack of light that sends every living thing back to sleep at dusk.
It’s as if when setting over Wadi Rum, the sun pulled the curtain onto an immense stage. Once it’s down, the show is over for the day. And then, silence, utter silence, deafening silence. Only broken by the occasional truck that is already late for the party…
Camping for the Night
It has been a long and exhausting day. Our faces are sunburned, our lips are dry-cracked and our eyes itch with dust.
But we could not be more grateful.
If we were to depart right now, we would leave with beautiful images in our memories and a better understanding of other cultures that have survived in Wadi Rum for centuries despite the hardship of the desert.
We are not leaving just yet though.
We will be spending the night at the Rum Stars Camp, and now we are already pulling into the camping grounds as the first stars appear twinkling in the sky.
More than a nomad camp, this is a settlement in the middle of the desert, with little bungalows and the first bathrooms and showers we have seen today! And in case you were wondering, everything is new and spotlessly clean!
After a traditional dinner of meats and vegetables cooked in an underground oven, we have the pleasure to listen to one of the Bedouins in the camp. Sitting on a dusty carpet and in between sips from his cup of sage tea, he talks about Bedouin traditions and the way of life they have endured in the desert for centuries.
Quite an enlightening experience I must say.
A Camel Ride Back Into Town
Next morning, we wake up early enough to beat the sun. Breakfast is in the making and the smell of coffee is already filling the air.
The first thing I notice when I step out of our bungalow is the silence, again. This time, only broken by what seems to be… camel gruntings?! A heard of camels has spent the night besides our camp and are now leisurely munching on whatever green they can find.
Two of these camels will take us back into town after breakfast; this is an experience I’ve been looking forward since we arrived in Wadi Rum, the cherry on top for the desert experience of this city boy.
Now, riding a camel as a novice is not an easy task.
First, you have to safely mount on the saddle while the beast is sitting and, temperamental as they are, this is not always a bed of roses. Then, when the camel briskly stands up, you want to hold on to the saddle and lean back if you don’t want your face to meet the animal’s neck. And if you made it all the way through, now you need to find your most comfortable position for kilometres to come.
But don’t let this ordeal put you off. All hard work and preparation will be rewarded with stunning views and the pleasure of slow travelling.
As we leave our camp behind, the immensity of the red desert presents in front of us one last time.
At first, I can’t help but feel lost in a sea of sand. After some time, however, I can already recognize familiar landmarks we passed by yesterday –the “Little Bridge”, the “Red Sand Dune”,…– and the experience becomes more enjoyable despite the occasional power fight between naughty camels and an increasingly numb bum.
A “short” 2.5h camel ride took us back to civilization, back to Wadi Rum town. We are now finally back in our car, en route to our next stop of the Dead Sea. It has been a brief stay in this wonderful land, but we can already feel Wadi Rum is coming along with us, and not only in the form of desert dust on our skin.
How To Do It
Since 1997, Wadi Rum has been a protected area in an effort to preserve the desert ecosystem for future generations. As such, you will be required to check in at the Visitor Centre on your way to Wadi Rum Village when you visit and pay the corresponding entrance fee.
Also, to make sure you stay in one of the best camps around, book online in advance with one of the bigger companies with lots of reviews. We booked with Rum Stars and had a great time with them.
A final note on scams
It is not rare to hear stories from people buying entrance tickets to the protected area off a reseller just outside the Wadi Rum Visitors Centre, only to realize later on that they are fake or not valid.
Travel smart and don’t be one of these stories. Wadi Rum and the Bedouin hospitality are not to be missed, you’ll have a once in a lifetime experience.
Share This Story