Passing through a military style checkpoint, our cab driver pointed ahead and to the left, I gave him 30 JD, we took our bags from the trunk and took our first breath of cool, dry desert air. Cool, as it would later be discovered is a bit of an understatement as temps hovered around 50 with no wind and below freezing at night. With inadequate clothing, we hopped into the jeep with our 20-year-old guide Muhammad and into the desert we went.
Similar to the American west, large sandstone cliffs rose from the sandy desert floor. Unlike the American west though, the sheer size and emptiness felt like we were on another planet. For the first day, we stayed close to the jeep, bouncing along scrub-covered dunes from ancient inscriptions to desert springs. Running down sand dunes, climbing through canyon crags, scrambling up orange, red and white sandstone cliffs. These of course followed by a proper lunch of stewed tomatoes and onion, baba ganoush, and thick, salty yogurt.
Our first sunset in Wadi Rum, we sat on a leeward side of a rock outcropping, and shivering watched the last sunset of 2013. Our few nights in the desert we stayed at a Bedouin camp, composed of a dozen tents with a large communal eating tent and smaller cooking quarters. To celebrate the New Year we took a torch-lit night walk. Later sitting in the tent, with the smell of the damp sand, dried wood smoking on the fire, tobacco, we drank sweet black tea laced with sage. The warmth and comfort of it all made it impossible to stay awake until midnight. And so we spent the last few hours of 2013 sound asleep.
We headed out by jeep to hike Jebel Khash, about 10 KM from the border of Saudi Arabia. Muhammad puffed on his cigarette and hummed to himself as we bumped through the desert. The Bedouins seem to always be humming or singing to themselves. He didn’t talk much unless he really had something to say and it was nice to feel so content in the silence.
It was incredible how well he navigated the desert, where as it all looked the same to me. It wasn’t until the last day that I felt like I maybe recognized a rock or two.
As we set off up the mountain, he’d occasionally look back to make sure we were still huffing and puffing behind him. He was so graceful on the sandstone, completely sure-footed jumping across crevices, scrambling up slippery rock faces. I listened to his humming and tried to keep up. After two hours of climbing we took a rest at the bottom of another huge rock mound. Muhammad seemed to be waiting on someone so we took the time to catch our breath and soak in the sun I’ve been so badly missing in Uzbekistan. I opened my eyes to a man walking up over the mountain we had just climbed. He had come with tea, of course! Muhammad directed us to scramble up the last part while he and his friend started a fire, made tea and smoked.
At the top, we could see far across the wide expanse of Wadi Rum to our front and the wide expanse of Saudi Arabia to the back. Muhammad had told us that in the 1950s the King of Jordan had traded part of Wadi Rum for land on the Red Sea, changing the two borders.
I feel like I can’t adequately put the beauty of Wadi Rum into words. Everything I’m saying is a total injustice to how incredible of a place it is and I know I say this about nearly everywhere I go, but Wadi Rum is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been.
Thanks Jordan Tracks!