The day after Petra started early. Our bus leaving town was due to stop by the hotel and pick us up at 06:15, and we had to eat breakfast AND pick up provisions (thankfully the bakery in town opened at 05:00) before getting aboard.
The need for provisions arose from our next destination: the famous desert region of Wadi Rum. Site of many of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)’s exploits in WWI (and of the film Lawrence of Arabia) Wadi Rum consists of a series of sandstone and granite peaks rising up off the flat, sandy desert floor.
The main valley of the Rum area, Wadi Rum itself
We arrived in Wadi Rum at about 08:00 and paid our admission fees for the protected area. The most popular methods of visiting the 720 square kilometres of the Wadi Rum protected area are four wheel drive trips and camel treks, often with overnight stops at Bedouin camps in the desert (though these days, most of the camps remain intact primarily for the tourist trade.) We planned on doing things a bit differently by walking through the desert and sleeping in our own tent.
Camels in Wadi Rum. Though none of them are wild, many are left free to wander by their Bedouin owners who know that they will always return home
In keeping with the seemingly common practice in Jordan of overcharging tourists and/or encouraging them to use the most expensive available options, the folks at the visitor centre (the same ones who organize the competing tour companies) informed us first that this wasn’t possible, and then that it would cost us 25 Jordanian Dinars each (about $32) to pitch our tent in the desert. After re-checking our guidebook and consulting the tourist police we decided to ignore them and just wander off into the desert.
A canyon that wound its way through Jebel Um Ishrin and formed the first portion of our walk in Rum
Gourds on the desert floor. Compared to the desert around Petra, life (both plant and animal) was much more sparse in Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum was hot. By 09:30 the air was already uncomfortably warm, and by 10:30 the sun had us feeling ready to melt, especially when the sand grew deep and soft underfoot and walking at all became something of a trial. Thankfully the sheer sides of the stony jebels (mountains) provided plenty of shade, and so we were really only exposed to the worst of the heat during short spells of walking between our numerous breaks, and during the odd trek across the valley floor to meet the next mountain (the presence of such large, obvious landmarks rising out of the featureless desert actually made navigating Wadi Rum fairly simple.)
Some of the many spectacular red sand dunes that are scattered throughout the valleys Wadi Rum (and which make walking very difficult at times.)
Fears of spontaneous human combustion aside, our time out in the desert was quite pleasant. The scenery was epic and though we couldn’t actually find one of the designated campsites, a Bedouin gentleman (who lived in Rum village, but kept his tent up for occaisional family trips back to their roots, and for tourists to stay in) cheerfully suggested that we just pitch our tent near his, well away from the noise of the main 4WD routes.
A valley alongside Jebel Um Ishrin. Much of our first day’s walking was spent passing through this.
To our astonishment the dried out husks of mushrooms occaisionally appeared on the desert floor. These are testament to the survivability of the spore…
And, though you might not expect it from a place like Wadi Rum, there was quite a bit of noise. And this was what kept Wadi Rum from being the superbly magical place it could have been. In many sections of the protected area we were never out of earshot of an engine for long, and virtually everywhere one went, several sets of tire tracks were visible on the desert floor nearby.
Sandstone mountains rising up off the desert floor
Camel Trekkers near the popular lunch stop where we had our afternoon break
A 4WD on the desert sands with the toe of Jebel Um Ishrin off to the right
The sun’s final rays settling on the Jebels down the valley from sunset point (our campsite was at the base of the small hill from which this photo was taken.)
This meant that that our very best experience of the place came on our second morning there.
The only bus from Rum Village to the nearby city of Aqaba left at 07:00, which meant that, camping out in the desert as we were, a VERY early start was in order.
The mountains of Wadi Rum by moonlight as we saw them while walking through the desert well before sunrise
We woke at 04:00, packed up the tent, and allowed the bright light of the 3/4 moon to guide us along the valley floors back towards town. The vastness of the peaks silhouetted on the horizon and the silence and stillness of the early morning were exactly what I’d dreamed of Wadi Rum being. Between them and the blanket of stars that covered the sky before moonrise the night before, I was convinced that night time is THE time to enjoy Wadi Rum.
The moon above the jebels as we approached Rum village with the sun just sneaking above the horizon behind us
Our final stop in far southern Jordan was the city of Aqaba or, more precisely, the beaches south of the town. Naturally after two days wandering the dunes we were anxious for a bit more sand
The lovely central park in was our first stop in Aqaba. The city itself was so pleasant and relaxing that it almost seemed strange after many of the other middle eastern cities we’d visited
Aqaba itself is the largest city in the country’s south, but we only spent a short time looking around before catching a taxi south (shared with a couple of friendly Germans… There are loads of European tourists in Jordan, but relatively few from elsewhere) towards the beach camps.
The beach in central Aqaba. Beaches on the gulf had a way of promising much from a distance, then not really living up to the promises when inspected up close.
We arrived, set up our tent, and proceeded to do very little for the next couple of days. We read a lot. Hung about in the shade, avoiding the mid-day sun. Enjoyed some traiditional Bedouin food cooked in an underground oven (rather like a Maori hangi.) And we went to the beach.
The beaches themselves, while nicer than the one in Aqaba city, still weren’t up to all that much. The sand was a bit coarse and got blisteringly hot during the day. And they suffered from many of their users treating them like a garbage dump, and consequently were full of cans, plastic bags, and broken glass.
Me galaxing in a lounge chair in the beautiful comfy areas of our beach camp (The Bedouin Moon Village)
The real point of visiting the seaside at the Gulf of Aqaba lies offshore. The coral that makes the Red Sea such a famous SCUBA diving spot also makes its way further north to Jordan’s tiny piece of coastline, and is conveniently near the shore to boot. Once we got past the young men leering (and occaisionally grabbing) at Sarah (who was clad in a pair of board shorts and a long sleeved top) and into the water, the on-shore unpleasantnesses just vanished.
The coral in the snorkelling sites we visited was probably the prettiest I’ve ever seen. There were lots of varieties, from huge apartment-block looking things, to delicate stuff that looked like a cross between a fan and deers’ antlers, to vivid purple and blue outcrops, to magical looking soft coral. The fish were great as well, with huge schools of small and medium sized swimmers surrounding us, and spectacular individuals (like the puffers, rainbow wrasses and lionfish) putting on a show. The two small negatives were the fact that a (little) bit of the on-shore rubbish had found its way onto the bottom, and the swarms of micro-jellyfish that gave us surprising (but not quite actually PAINFUL) stings.
Feesh! I THINK this was one of the coral outcrops we snorkelled around. In any case, it’s one of the ones at a site we visited a couple of times and is representative of how pretty the reef was. (Sadly, my camera’s days of waterproofness are long behind it, so this is just stolen from another website.)
With a nice mix of off-shore beauty and on-shore relaxation, Aqaba was just what we needed after five days of hard walking in the desert.