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Wadi Rum: in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia

The door to the desert opens with the seven pillars of wisdom, popularised by Lawrence of Arabia in his book of the same name.

Wadi Rum on camel back 

We meet with Attayek, our guide for two days. Attayek is a Bedouin, born in the village of Wadi Rum, and knows the desert like the back of his hand. We stop at his place to have breakfast after a long journey from the Amman airport. His two daughters are curious, approaching and then retreating, and finally coming to sit next to us. Attayek gives us the signal that it's time to leave for our meharee.

To start our trek, we have actually chosen to enter the desert on camelids. It has to be said that the ride is not overly comfortable if you're not used to it, but the pleasure of riding a camel is well worth this small inconvenience. The landscape is fabulous as you travel across long valleys surrounded by mountains with rocks carved out by wind and water. From a distance, the rock shaped by the elements presents a strange scene, like the exterior of a Gothic cathedral whose sculptor must have been tormented. I don't tire of gazing at these short-lived artistic figures. We reach the end of our meharee, near a dune with ochre sand, the first surprise in the landscape.

Then we leave in a 4x4 to find a place for lunch. First we stop in front of a wall covered with ancient petroglyphs depicting animals and hunters. Our guide chooses a place surrounded by djebels, the Arabic word for mountain. Attayek lays out a large floral rug and prepares the tea drinks and the lunch while we go and look for branches to keep the fire going. The winter sun (we are in December) gently warms our faces, and once we are full, we take advantage of it with a short siesta, surrounded by these captivating mountains.

Sunset in Wadi Rum

Travelling the Wadi rum on foot

Then our guide suggests that we continue the route on foot and join him again several kilometres further on. We go down into a narrow gorge, the Siq al Burrah, through ancient rock formations. We scale craggy rocks; the sense of adventure is strong! We then come out at a magnificent viewpoint, with desert as far as the eye can see, and the sun starting to sink below the horizon. We take the 4x4 again to get to another viewpoint where we can admire the sunset. The sun disappears slowly, kissing the mountains and valleys. We go down after nightfall to get to the campsite planned for the night.

After sunset, the night is freezing, but what splendour you see as you look up at the sky and its thousands of stars that make the mountains round about sparkle. We reunite around the fire, in the Bedouin tent, to sip a scalding hot mint tea. Dinner is delicious: chicken with spices, couscous and crispy vegetables. We head off to bed, happy, in our own tent.

We set out again the following morning in the direction of one of the arches shaped by the elements. Climbing the Burdah Arch is easy, but full of excitement as the path is dizzyingly high, and the view is unforgettable from the arch. You can understand the fascination of Lawrence of Arabia for this enchanting desert that makes you feel so small. 

We stop next to a group of Bedouin tents where a family lives who is well acquainted with Attayek. For a few hours, we share in the family's tough daily life. Goats and camels wander freely around the tents. An old woman takes me into the kitchen with her to train me in cooking bread. We all then share the meal together and Attayek tells us desert stories and legends. Then, regretfully, it's time to leave the desert. If nomadic life is rough, it has a wild beauty. 

During your stay in Wadi Rum, take time to appreciate the desert, walking on the hot sand. The feeling of being alone in the world, facing the elements, will be a high point during your trip to Jordan's Wadi Rum. 

Pauline Girardey
12 contributions
Updated 23 March 2018
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