May 17, 2016
For many visitors an overnight in the serene Wadi Rum desert is a highlight of a trip to Jordan. Most tour companies in the region offer a day of sightseeing in a 4X4 vehicle with an option to sleep at their camp in a Bedouin tent.
Tours include a picnic lunch on the road and a traditional dinner at the camp. You can also ride a camel back out the next morning. Other hiking options are also available, but in May the daytime temperatures are already too hot for any extensive hiking.
While Don and I preferred the Wadi Rum landscape to the Dana Biosphere Reserve, we found the area interesting for a short visit but too touristy at some of the more popular attractions. Whether this region will appeal to you or not largely depends on your fondness for the desert and your tolerance for sharing the remote landscape with other tourists.
We had arranged a jeep tour including an overnight stay with Rum Stars Camp via email. Leaving the hotel in Aqaba at just after 8AM, we easily made it to the Wadi Rum visitors center by 9:15.
On the road into the visitors center a couple of guys in traditional dress wanted us to pay a 5JOD per person entrance fee but didn’t have a ticket to give us so we refused to pay. We still aren’t sure what the protocol really is, but not paying didn’t cause us any problems.
We then drove up the road a couple kilometers and parked in the main lot. Idh from Rum Stars met us there and drove us a couple of blocks to where we met our traveling companions, a young French couple. Idh, who would be our guide and driver for the next day, was polite and spoke Excellent English.
We boarded the back of a small pick-up outfitted with cushioned bench seats. We left right at 9:30 and started the tour of the Wadi Rum. Thankfully the temperatures were a bit cooler than they had been in Aqaba. Hot in the sun and just very warm in the shade – I’m guessing the low to mid 90s.
First stop – a short climb up to a spring.
Goats hide in the shade of a large tree munching off the lower branches. Of course the tenderer leaves require a little extra effort.
Back near the bottom an ancient inscription on the face of a boulder.
2nd – cool walk down a narrow siq with small pools of water. My favorite stop of the morning.
3rd – a sand dune with great views that you can summit but the light is high and harsh.
You also have the opportunity to sand board back down. The young Frenchman attempted it but had difficulty getting the board going.
4th – carvings of camels in the side of the cliff which were difficult to see in the harsh midday light.
At each stop there were another 3-4 vehicles, all on the same route. It seems all the tour companies do the same stops with only minor variations in itineraries.
5th – the Lawrence outpost – the unimpressive ruin of a stone block structure with a vantage point from above.
Next is a lunch break in the narrow shade of the cliff wall. Idh lays out a large mat and we are each given a lunch bag containing 2 pita bread, a can of tuna in oil, 2 small processed cheese wedges, an orange, a cucumber, a tomato and 2 packaged sweets.
Idh makes a fire for tea. We rest here for a couple of hours waiting for the harshest sun to pass. It’s warm but comfortable in the shade with a breeze that sometimes turns into a stiff wind.
Around 3PM we pack up and continue on to more sights, starting with the mushroom rock.
Idh points out a bridge formation high up in the hills. He says people can climb up and walk across it. It’s a meter wide but seems much narrower from far below
And then on to a place where we could walk around a bit.
Found this elephant rock, the start of an arch.
We then do short 30 minute walk through a narrow canyon. The sandstone walls are the same melting wax formation that we first saw in Dana.
The floor is soft, fine sand that makes walking harder and harder as it fills my shoes and it gets later in a long day in the desert.
Next we visit a Bedouin dam that was built from cement to supply water for the animals.
The next stop is the big phot op. All the tourist trucks gather at the base of a formation about 50 feet high with a manageable natural bridge crossing.
The tourists scamper up the steep sandstone and queue for their turn on the bridge.
The guides take the cameras down below for the best shot of their patrons.
Our last stop of the day is at a point where we wait for the sunset.
Don and I climb to a point with views of both the setting sun and the valley behind us. The colors of the landscape intensify in the low light.
Not much color in the sunset but the hazy conditions do add a bit of drama.
Idh has hot tea waiting for us down below.
For me the most pleasant and prettiest part of the day was the drive to camp after the sunset. Light breeze, perfect temperature and soft light, much too low for photos in a bouncy truck but a magical time of day nonetheless.
We reach camp at about 8PM and are shown to our Bedouin tent.
The tents are lined up barracks style and are draped in black on the outside with a garden of brown flowers on the inside. The bottom sheet is old and pilled with no top sheet but plenty of blankets. Still too warm inside we open the two windows and door to let the cool evening air in. We ended up sleeping with the windows and door wide open all night.
The camp’s common areas are quite pleasant. Guests sit on rugs and pillows by the fire waiting for the last two guests to arrive before we have dinner. Lots of offers of more and more small glasses of sweet tea. Be careful, however, it’s caffeinated black tea.
Finally everyone has arrived, 4 couples in all, 3 of which are European, and then us.
Outlets are available to charge batteries and phones. Bathrooms are communal with shower rooms available.
Guests are invited to see the unveiling or the digging-up of dinner. A traditional cooking method where they build a fire in a drum in the ground. Once the coals are hot they place a covered platter of meat (chicken) and vegetables protected with foil in the drum and burry it in dirt until dinner time.
A spectacular presentations but not as succulent as one would hope. Too salty for my tastes and the chicken a bit dry. The rest of the buffet consists of the typical selection of vegetables sides and dips, many of which are too salty.
After dinner guest are invited back to the fire for more tea. Dead tired I opt for bed.
I didn’t sleep well and woke multiple times during the nights. The desert is gorgeous in the soft glow of the moon.
Just before dawn fell into a deeper sleep and woke with a start to the brighter light of the rising sun. Still before sunrise, about 5:30, I got dressed and grabbed my camera.
Other guests were already up. Beautiful morning, perfect temperature, soft light but not much color or many good focal points for great photos.
That is until the camels showed up.
The breakfast buffet included a selection of hard boiled eggs, bread, pistachio paste, refried beans – too salty – local cream cheese, processed cheese, Zaatar spice, instant coffee with powdered creamer and more sweet tea.
After breakfast we say goodbye to the other guests who were taking the two hour camel ride back to town. Don and I opt for the truck. I’ve ridden a camel before and while I think everyone should try it once – once is enough. It can be a very uncomfortable ride on the wrong camel.
Back in town, after we pay our bill, Idh takes us to our car, where it is pointed out to us that we have a flat time. Idh quickly helps us take off the bad tire. Turns out the valve is bad. He takes the tire and returns in record time with the valve replaced and the tire fixed.
We’re thrilled that the problem is resolved so quickly but are suspicious that it’s a scam to earn more money. Of course we tipped generously for the speedy repair, but if anyone has had a similar experience, please leave me a comment.
The 3 hour drive back to Amman on the desert highway is easy and uneventful.