Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Camel crossing & a night in the desert - Wadi Rum, Jordan


Destination: Wadi Rum, Jordan

Number of Days Spent: 2 days

Where we stayed: Wadi Rum Tours (www.wadirumtours.net) - 30 JD/person including lunch, dinner, tea & water ($45*2=$90). We really liked this camp which was recommended to us by other travelers. It's located within Wadi Rum at an excellent sunset spot and is one of the few that offers running water (it's even hot from the sun for that sunset shower) and flushing toilets. As a bonus it's the same price as the others booked at the Wadi Rum entrance. Note that it must be booked in advance, the owner Obeid will fetch you from the entrance and take you to the camp.

Best restaurant: The dinner at the camp was pretty tasty, it included chicken baked in a zerb (an oven in the sand), a vegetarian dish, rice, salad & coke.

Best of: Sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum & waking up to the sun rising over the rock formations! Beautiful!

Worst of: Our camel ride was an overpriced joke. We should have taken one from the visitor's center as they are about half the price of the camps. If you want to take one make sure you state where you want to go otherwise you may end up just wandering through the desert without a destination. They should run 7 JD per hour and our camp was charging 15 JD per hour. But at least we only booked an hour, the 3 other people at our camp booked 2 hours at 30 JD which was of course an even bigger rip off. Unless you really love riding a camel an hour is probably enough time. I guess we can still say we rode a camel where Lawrence of Arabia rode one which makes up for some of the extra cost.

Most Memorable: Climbing up our first sand dune in the mid-day sun (not so good)...then flying down it (great)!

Useful tip: Make sure your lodge is located within the confines of Wadi Rum. There are many camps operating on the outskirts. Beware of people that approach you on the bus on the way in claiming to be from this and that camp. They usually want to sell you a tour, camel ride or lodging at a place outside the reserve. The prices are strictly regulated by the park so if they tell you a deal that's too good to be true it probably is.

After all the Biblical history of Mt. Nebo and the Jordan river, it was time to fast forward into the 20th century and head out into the desert Lawrence of Arabia style. In his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence writes fondly of this stretch of desert along the southern reaches of present day Jordan. It is here before and during WWI that Lawrence recruits and gathers Arabs to fight for independence from the Turks. Aside from a makeshift house and a few inscriptions, little remains from Lawrence's day. The real star of the show here is the landscape.

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After settling into our camp, we took off for a quick one hour jaunt through the desert thanks to our new four legged friends, a couple of camels. It was in the desert and in the same area where Lawrence would have rode, but that is where the comparisons end. Our short jaunt consisted of an overly bored kid leading a couple of tourists on a walk in circles near the camp. To make matters worse, he forgot his watch so every couple of minutes he would ask what time it was to make sure we didn't go over our hour. I finally gave up and handed him the watch.

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We have seen a lot of sunsets in quite a few places, but this one ranks up there as one of the best. Perhaps it's the solitude and peace that comes with witnessing such events without all the noise of traffic or an overcrowded beach full of people. Or maybe it's the way the sun sends it's final rays over the rocks only to have the remaining hills illuminated in a magnificent glow. But I think the best part of watching a sunset in a desert such as this is how clear the sky becomes at night. That night, after dinner, we pulled our mattress and blankets from the tent and slept out under the heavenly skies. The air temperature perfect, the eery sound of silence, and a canopy of thousands of twinkling lights sets the stage for the best night of sleep you will find anywhere.

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With our batteries fully recharged, we arose early and set out with Obeid, our host and guide, on a four wheel excursion through the desert. The area has been home to traveling nomads for thousands of years as evidence from carvings on the walls. The carvings would help early Bedouin find their way back to the handful of springs and help lead the way to the next outposts along the trade routes.

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Part of the natural beauty, several of these rock "bridges" were formed through erosion. We took a quick climb to the top of this one and peered over the edge. Not a good place if you are afraid of heights...or perhaps a good place to conquer that fear.

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Sand, sand and more sand. While it's all fun and games at the beach or in a box in the backyard, the real deal is a different story. From a distance, climbing a sand dune seems rather straight forward and easy. After taking a couple of steps however you quickly realize it's a difficult task. Not only do you sink and slide almost as much as you gain, but the hot sand adds more misery as it falls in around your legs when you sink. The only relief is to dig in and find the cooler sand several layers below. At least you are rewarded after reaching the top by getting to some down...fast!

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After having our fun in the rather unorthodox version of sun and sand, sans surf, we packed up the car and made our way to the lost civilization of Petra, or aka, the home of the Holy Grail according to Steven Spielberg.

To see more photos of Wadi Rum click here!

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