I landed in Amman, Jordan in the middle of the night. My cousin, Sean, picked me up at the airport and we went back to the house, chatting back and forth about living outside of the US. After saying hi to the dog, I slept, but not for long. We had returned around 4 am, and I was up and dressed by 8 am. Later in the morning, after I had greeted all my cousins, (two parents, three kids, and the previously absent cat) I made a complete mess of my luggage and backed my backpack for a weekend in the desert.
Our first stop was Aqaba, which is about four hours south of Amman. The plan was to drive all the way to the southern border of Jordan and then work our way back up. And we had a few days to do it because the kids got a three day weekend on account of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday (Praise to Allah). We had a full scheduled planned, so most of us piled into the car and started the road trip.
Leaving the capitol city gave me my first taste of Jordanian driving. While there are apparently, official traffic laws, approximately zero of them are strictly observed. My cousins informed me that really the only reliable rule is the “law of the nose” which dictates that whichever vehicle has its nose in front wins and gets its way. It was stressful, to say the least. Once on the highway, however things got a little better because there was no stops and no cross traffic. That being said, there are no lanes—they’re marked, but they’re taken as mere suggestions—and there are speed bumps periodically. Once I adjusted to the driving style, the ride was pleasant. While the scenery of Jordan is not especially varied, it is different from anything I’d seen yet and it has a lot of beauty. Along the way, we talked about life in Jordan, international schools, and counted camels (grand total was at least 25). I did fall asleep for some of the ride, but I’m told I really only missed camels.
Aqaba is a comparatively lush town; it has a lot of plants. Sadly, my interest in the botanical life was limited because we had reentered a town and the traffic had increased again. However, we were soon at the Red Sea. And we got to go to the beach! The Red Sea is calm and warm and from the shores of Jordan you can see Israel and Egypt. We didn’t spend much time on the beach, but the little bit we did get was lovely. After drying off our feet we had lunch and chatted some more, mostly about Jordan and the neighboring countries. Too soon, the sun was setting and it was time to get on the road again. Having run out of land, we turned back and made our way to Wadi Rum.
To say that Wadi Rum is beautiful would be an understatement: the place is majestic. The park consist of red desert with soft dunes and huge mountains that sit on top of the desert. We drove into the park as the sun was setting and the colors of the sky above the desert were amazing.
We made it into the village and met our host. We had the option to stay in our car and drive out to the camp, or we could ride out with our hosts. Naturally, the kids and I piled into the open bed of a pick-up truck that took us to the Bedouin camp where we would spend the night. We bumped our way further into the mountains as the stars came out.
The camp was somewhat hidden—a few rows of tents sitting at the foot of a massive stone wall. We arrived at our tent: a metal frame shrouded in fabric. The interior furnishings were essentially the same, five metal frame beds and some sort of plant mats to keep the sand depressed. Once we’d settled our things and donned some more layers, we went up to the main tent for dinner.
Traditional Bedouin food is cooked in the ground. You dig a pit in the sand, build a fire, and let it burn down to embers. Then, you drop a tiered grill (basically) with the food down into the pit. To cover the contraption, a blanket is placed over the pit and covered with sand. Dinner consisted of chicken, rice, potatoes, and some other vegetables I don’t know the name of.
We had dinner in the main tent, sitting on the floor, wrapped in heavy wool blankets. Soon, the men brought in the embers from the fire to help warm the tent. Fire hazards are apparently not a huge concern. Sitting in the fire were two enormous black, cast iron kettles. These kettles are magic, for they contain Bedouin tea. Bedouin tea is made from black tea with sage, sometimes cardamom, and as much sugar as you can stomach. It is served a thimbleful at a time, practically. After dinner, we sat next to what remained of the fire and talked over our tea as our hosts played the lute and sang traditional songs. After a while, we were all pretty tired so we started back down the hill towards the village of tent. Even though it was super dark, (yay no light pollution!) the mountains did not blend into the sky, but instead were highlighted by the moonlight and the stars were amazingly bright. The mountains were quite eerie and blue in the dark, but it was still gorgeous.
My littlest cousin is an early bird. Possibly the earliest bird. So he, his sister, his dad and I were up before sunrise. The desert is cold before sunrise—I think I was colder there than in Iceland, even in the same garb. And the desert is dry. Just brushing against one of the metal beds produced as spark that was as bright as lighting a match. It was impressive. However, once we had put on all our clothes and escaped the metal maze, we went outside. It was worth the cold to see the sand and the mountains as the sun came up.
It was incredible. The sky towards the west started pink and faded through purple to bright blue. The sand started a ruddy rust color and slowly became orange. And the mountains glowed as the sun rose above the stone wall behind us.
Soon, it was time for breakfast. There were lots of things available for breakfast, but my favorite was flatbread with this soft, mild cheese and jam. And tea. Always tea. After we ate and got slightly warmer by drinking copious amounts of very sugared tea, we went back to our tent to pack up. And so the adventures for the day began.
First we went to Lawrence Spring. It high in the side of a crumbling mountain, and is mostly captured by a pipe that runs down to a trough. My cousin and I hiked most of the way up to the spring’s source. She made it all the way to the top, and so did her dad. I got distracted by the view and took pictures of goats. It’s named Lawrence Spring for the movie Lawrence of Arabia that was partially filmed in Wadi Rum, Jordan. It’s a trickle at best, but it’s steady enough to keep several trees alive.
After making friends with some cranky camels, we headed to our next stop on our tour of Wadi Rum.
And the next stop was a ravine of sorts. This is probably tied for my favorite place in this area of Jordan.
It was a worn gash through one of the mountains that creates a sort of tunnel. Much of the ravine had water collected in deep pools at the bottom of it. We got to walk/hike through it to the point where it became too precipitous to continue. It was very cool to get to wander through terrain that was so completely different from anything I’d seen before. It was also impressive that some of the people I was with could roughly translate the ancient Arabic carvings on the stone walls.
Next, we got back in the rickety truck bed and rode through the desert to a massive sand dune. It was nice to be able to spend some time in the sun warming up, but I’ve seen that trying to snowboard down a dune isn’t super effective, so I just watched other people try. After everyone dumped the sand out of their shoes we moved on.
*I think I may have mixed those last two stops up. Oops. *
Finally, we went to a place that probably fills the screen of your Instagram or Pinterest if you search “Wadi Rum”. It was my other favorite place on this tour. It is a huge rock formation that features a natural bridge. We all had a fun time scampering around the rocks like mountain goats, well, accept for the bridge. It was high up and narrow and therefore freaky. But the view from the top of the formation was truly amazing and worth the knots in my stomach.
Done with our tour, we took our final ride in the pickup truck bed back to the village where we began. It’s a bumpy, uncomfortable ride, but you get lost in the scenery and the ride becomes bearable. After what seemed like forever, we passed camels, goats, and chickens on the outskirts of the village and rumbled into town. We said good-bye to our hosts, and packed our things and ourselves back into the car and hit the road again.
By the way, it’s pretty warm in Jordan. Except for Wadi Rum. It’s cold in Wadi Rum.
**The title of this post is taken from an encounter we had in the camp that I couldn’t quite get to fit in the narrative. Anyway, my cousin, Jen, had noticed one of the tires on the truck wobbling from side to side and let our host know about her concern to which he chuckled and said “It’s Bedouin; it’s fine”