Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Wadi Rum.

It's Day 13. Our journey today would take us to the Wadi Rum.


The first time I heard the words "Wadi Rum" was on a Travel Channel show where then Prince (now King) Abdullah took travel correspondent Peter Greenberg on a tour of Jordan. They rode motorcycles through the Wadi Rum and spent time in a Bedouin camp.

The next time I heard about the Wadi Rum was when someone told me that much of "Lawrence of Arabia" was filmed there. The movie immortalizes the life of T.E. Lawrence, a soldier in the British Army, who based his operations in Wadi Rum during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18.

I have been to my share of the deserts including ones in the US, Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and Australia. I was excited about going to the Wadi Rum but I didn't know what to expect. Little did I know it but I was in for something so spectacular that words and photos cannot do it justice.

Our only morning in Aqaba started with breakfast in the hotel - the usual of ayish, cheese and jam, boiled eggs and tea. In Jordan, breakfast is also served with labneh and deli meat thrown in. Simple but it fills the belly.

Daniel had told us the night before that we would be picnicking in the Wadi Rum and so we had to buy our lunch and whatever munchies we needed to tie us over to dinner. He had pointed out a couple of supermarkets and places where we could pick up our food supplies.

Lei, Alex, Dora, Sandy, Zdena and I all headed out together. We had a couple of hours to kill so we did some souvenir shopping with a stop at the pharmacy along the way. Sandy, Zdena and Lei all needed medicine to soothe their coughs and itchy throats.

We soon came across one of the supermarkets that Daniel had recommended and we bought water and munchies. A couple of stores away we came across a bakery where they sold freshly baked bread stuffed with a variety of fillings. We couldn't resist so that's where we each bought some bread - meat filled, potato filled and spinach filled. 5 pieces of bread came to 1 JD - about $1.30. Cheap lunch and as I would find out later, very yummy! Should've bought a few more!



We then headed back to the hotel where 4x4's were waiting to take us to the Wadi Rum. Daniel grabbed my pack and headed towards one of the 4x4's. I go where my backpack goes and Lei follows me so we ended up with Daniel and Mahadi, who was not only our driver but also our local guide for the day.
Lei was prepared for a bumpy ride. Not only had she taken her Dramamine but she also wore a watch that shoots low level electrical pulses into her body - somehow that tames the nausea that her motion sickness brings on.

We started down the Desert Highway and it wasn't long before we left Aqaba behind us and entered the Protected Area of Wadi Rum.


We stopped at the Visitor Center where we got our entry tickets - a bargain at 2 JD (about $2.60).



As we stood and took in the scenery, we got our first taste of the rocky desert landscape that we would be spending our day in. Mahadi then also told us that "Wadi" means "Valley" and "Rum" means "Road".



We piled back into the 4x4's and started our ride into the Wadi Rum. Soon the paved road gave way to just desert sand. Perhaps it's because there were no markers - roads, buildings, signs, etc. - that the desert looked so expansive. The landscape is panoramic that there was no way to capture the view with my digital camera to adequately convey the vastness that I was standing in.



Every which way we looked, the vista changed - either the formation of the mountains was different or the color tones of the rocks changed from shadows created as the sun moved in and out of the clouds. Some of the mountains had sheer vertical flanks (you could imagine someone trying to scale it) while others had been weathered over the centuries into bulbous domes. But it was the sheer number of these mountains that awed me - it was one mountain after the other after another. The sand that separated them was soft and a rich, rusty red color that also shifted in tone with the movement of the sun.
Modern day Bedouins still live a semi-nomadic life in the Wadi Rum so every and again, we would see canvas tents and other signs of their domestic life - generally located in areas that would protect the camp inhabitants from the elements.





With no paved roads or signs to guide him, just knowledge of the landscape, Mahadi drove deeper and deeper into the Wadi Rum. Soon, he stopped the car and the other 4x4's did the same.

We all got out and Mahadi had us gather around a boulder. I think it's because I had spent the previous three days in the sun and my brain had gone to mush - my intellectual gray cells would not engage. That and I was distracted watching the two Daniels go after a snake and Laura and Kirsten giggling in the background. No focus or concentration on my part as Mahadi spoke. I was hoping that seeing this picture again would jog my memory but I'm afraid not. All I can remember is that Mahadi is pointing to characters that were carved into the rocks by the Nabataeans (pronounced Na-BAH-te-un), an ancient Jordanian civilization.



Next photo. Just a snapshot of mountains, sky and sand....and a rare bit of desert greenery.

....and another photo op for Lei and I.


At our next stop, we saw some very unusual mountains up close. From afar, they look like cupcakes glazed with drippy chocolate frosting.



We entered a ravine.....



....where Mahadi showed us more Nabatean carvings. By this time, my brain was slowly re-engaging though I still don't recall all the details but these particular markings indicated where water, a vital resource, could be found.



We continued our drive into the Wadi Rum and soon came across a natural rock bridge. The two Daniels, Bridget, Laura, and Kirsten climbed to the top and posed for a picture.



From left to right - Daniel, Bridget, Daniel, Laura and Kirsten.


More driving through the expansive desert of the Wadi Rum and more mesmerizing vistas to soak in.


Every now and again, sand dunes punctuated the mountain landscape.



At one point, we came upon a huge sand dune. Who could resist climbing up and then running down? I, the klutz with arm in cast, opted out of the climb so I played photographer and greeted everyone as they made it down to the bottom.



With a few minutes to shake out the sand from shoes, we continued on.

Then, another mini-adventure unfolded. Mahadi wanted to take a bit of a detour and show Lei, Daniel and I a canyon area that he said had spectacular views. We replied "sure" and a few minutes later found ourselves stuck in the mud.

So, here we are.... stuck in mud..., in a desert....where rainfall is but inches a year. What are the chances of that happening? We tried to push the SUV out but it just sunk deeper into the mud. Mahadi had a cell phone but could not get a signal so we had no choice but wait for someone to stumble upon us and rescue us.

Then by sheer luck, another Jordanian tour guide, with two tourists in tow, happened by. He soon left and a short while later, returned without the tourists but with rope in hand. Mahadi connected the ends of the rope to the bumpers of the SUVs.


....and Daniel decided to add muscle power. With both vehicles in reverse gear and Daniel pulling (thank God he didn't fall or he would have been crushed by Mahadi's 4x4), the car was finally free from the mud.



In the process, poor Daniel lost one of his sandals which he retrieved....


....and scraped the mud off of. A few moist towelettes later and it was clean enough to be wearable.


We continued on to the canyon and admired more spectacular views.
Our next stop was the Bedouin camp where we would spend the night....sleeping in canvas tents. Woohoo!! There was a larger tent that housed several cots - that was where Lei slept as it would be warmer than the smaller two man tent that I chose to sleep in.

There are two small tents in the middle of the picture - my tent is the one in the back, close to the mountains. Zdena and Alex shared the tent next to me.


My "bed" - a foam mattress, pillow and VERY thick wool blanket. The floor was lined with a plastic sheet. The tent flap could be zippered up - important not only to keep the cold out but also the snakes and scorpions that could crawl in in search of heat.


The view of the Wadi Rum from inside my tent. I had a "mountain view" room!

By the time we arrived, the rest of the gang was already there and relaxing. There was a campfire going and pots of tea to warm us up.

The tent to the left is where Lei slept, the tent to the right was were we ate dinner and entertained ourselves afterwards.


After the long day, Mahadi and Daniel kicked back and shared a sheesha.

The sun started to set and Mahadi and I went for a climb up a nearby sand dune.


Lei and Daniel went to shoot photos of the Jordanian sunset over the Wadi Rum.



I then met back up with Lei and we asked Mahadi to take one last photo of us before night fell. By this time, the wind was starting to kick up and it was getting cold. We headed back down to the camp as the sun disappeared over the horizon.


The setting sun.


With all the activity and excitement of the day, I had not noticed that I was hungry.....until I smelt the food coming from the dining tent. It was going to be a traditional Bedouin meal and I couldn't wait!!

We followed the cooks to a covered pit that had been dug into the desert floor. After they removed a layer of sand and then what looked like a padded cotton cushion, they uncovered a three tiered metal rack that had been sitting atop charcoal. The lower racks held potatoes and onions and the upper two racks, chicken.

The chicken, potatoes, and onions all had an enticing smoky smell to them and the chicken was so tender that it fell off the bone. The onions were perfectly caramelized. We were also served salad, an eggplant stew, rice and ayish. Oranges and tea rounded out the meal. I was so full I could barely stand up which is just as well since I was comfortably lounging on a cushion on the floor.

After dinner, we chatted and played cards (more Kings and Asses with Dora taking the title of "Queen") to pass the time. Two small bonfires kept us warm. Every now and again, someone would get more wood and I would stoke the fire.

Soon, everyone started to fade as it had been another long, activity filled day. I retreated to my tent, added a few more layers of clothing and tucked myself into the wool blanket. I left the tent flap unzipped for a few minutes so I could look up at the stars in the sky. I then remembered the snakes and scorpions and zipped up the flap. By this time, I was toasty warm and soon fell into a sound sleep. It had been another GREAT day!!