Wadi Rum

I had intended to write a post about my time in Wadi Rum which I experienced on the weekend before my midterm exams however those very exams caused a delay in composition of such a post. Needless to say I’m a little behind. Therefore, the following is written from memories suffering from post-examination brain drain. I will try to recall details as best as I can.

The trip was preceded by an evening of college partying and drinking. The students were celebrating the birthdays of two students, one of which who was my roommate, Adam. The evening was rather anti-climatic and once again I experienced an example of anti-Arab discrimination (I could use a stronger term but I won’t in this post as this really isn’t about that subject). AS I was hanging out with some classmates and some Jordanian friends who I met through my peer-tutor we eventually made our way to the birthday party. Once there I stepped into a time warp and found myself at the age of 18 again. A room full of loud drunk people who had drank all the alcohol by 9 pm. My Jordanian friends showed up eventually and it quickly became apparent that we were not welcome there. Apparently there are some American students (one in particular whose apartment was hosting the gathering of drunk students barely past their teenage years) who do not like the company of Jordanians and eventually we left to go have coffee. It still makes little sense to me that someone would want to study in an Arab country yet had no desire to interact with Arabs. Perhaps there was something deeper going on but either way I found the situation somewhat upsetting. Eventually we ended up back at a friends apartment playing Egyptian ratscrew.

After the evening we made our way to the university to catch our bus to Wadi Rum. I spent the bus ride talking to my friend Dylan about lots of different subjects. Eventually we stopped at a rest stop/tourist shop filled with all sorts or ridiculously priced items which tourists seemed all too willing to pay. There were some rather beautiful hand crafted chess sets there among other interesting things however nothing I really wanted or needed. After being given our lunch in a bag we set off for Wadi Rum once again.

After seeing some beautiful scenery from the bus we eventually were dropped off at the side of the road by a collection of 4×4 pickups which were our transportation into the desert on the first day. We all piled into the back of the pickups and took off into the desert at the brisk speed of perhaps 15 or 20 mph. It was somewhat disappointing actually how slow we drove. The scenery was breathtaking though. Wadi Rum is home to some epic rock formations which jut out of the desert into the sky. It really is not surprising that this was one of T.E. Lawrence’s favorite places in what is now Jordan. We made numerous stops as we drove through the desert to allow us to take pictures and climb all over the rocks. I found good use of the panoramic feature on my camera to take some amazing pictures. I really must admit though that after a while it really all starts to look the same. The ride in the truck was fun though as I was grouped with some fun people. After a stop at a Bedouin tent to hear a presentation on culture and listen to some Bedouin music (not really a fan) we took off to find a spot to see the sunset. It was at this point that the driver of our truck finally decided to drive quickly through the desert which was pretty fun.

After a crazy tear through the desert we arrived at a spot to view the sunset. The sunset was breathtaking. I took pictures but I don’t think they will be able to do the scene justice. I also took the time to write a message in the sand for someone very special to me, took a picture of it and sent it to her. The Bedouin drivers made us tea and then we left for the camp that we would be spending the night at. Our driver drove through the desert in the dark like a madman. It was fun yet slightly scary at the same time. Eventually we arrived at the camp which was a disappointing example of pandering to tourist consumerism. The camp is permanent with complete bathrooms and a restaurant. We had a yummy dinner and then a few of us went outside the camp to view the stars. I’m not sure I’ve seen that many stars before, possibly in the rural areas of Pennsylvania but these may have been the clearest view of the stars I’ve ever experienced. Eventually a Bedouin came out of the camp and offered to take us away from the camp so we could get an even better view. Naturally we accepted. After some stargazing we returned to the camp to sit in a tent with a Bedouin who would sell shish for inflated prices and insult you with one of two words. He did this all night and thought it was hilarious. After that I went to bed and after witnessing Dylan running around the camp like a crazy man looking for his tent I went to sleep and proceeded to freeze to death. Ok, not really but it was unbelievably cold that night in the camp. Of course I forgot to pack a sweatshirt so I ended up sleeping in my jeans and coat.

Sunset in Wadi Rum

The next morning we woke up had breakfast and prepared to set off out into the desert on the backs of camels. As the time came to pick a camel I was chosen by a Sudanese Bedouin who led me by the hand (I’m still not used to holding hands with guys) to his camels where I was grouped with my roommate Pete. His camel was lashed to the saddle from mine and our guide Ali stood the camels up. Staying in the saddle while a camel stands up is an interesting experience as it’s a cross between a balancing act and a test of quad strength. I never realized how tall camels were until I was riding one. I also expected them to smell terrible but I barely noticed a smell at all. First, I have to say that I started out riding the camel like a horse which my inner thigh muscles definitely did not agree with. This is going to sound really silly but I thought about the movie Lawrence of Arabia and how he was sitting on his camel. I emulated this and found it to be much more comfortable. Perhaps Hollywood isn’t completely useless after all.

We set out into the desert and into the canyons of Wadi Rum. The canyons were absolutely awe inspiring. I’ve never seen anything quite like them in my life. While walking on the path you’re surrounded by shear rock faces that stretch into the sky almost straight up in some places. Any loud sounds echoed endlessly throughout the canyons. It was like being surrounded by a great city composed of different shades of red rock. I wondered if such a place could represent what the surface of Mars could look like. Yet in this great canyon the only sounds one could here was that of our own caravan. It was an epic walk through a sea of silence only broken by the occasional grunt of a camel and the sound of their footsteps in the sand. Our first stop was at a small stop where there were bathrooms and which was supposedly a favorite stop of T.E. Lawrence. His face and that of Emir Ali were carved in a rock which the residents held in very high regard and claimed to have been carved during the Arab Revolt (our guide later told us that despite the claims the faces were carved perhaps 30 years ago). The Bedouins served us tea and I’m not sure if I’ve ever had better tea. Their tea is distinct and absolutely delicious. After a short presentation and a peddling of goods for ballooned prices we set off again through the canyons. The walk lasted for about 4 hours during which I was either lost in thought or chatting with our guide in Arabic about where he was from (he was from Khartoum) and eventually came to a close with a walk to the visitor center which we could see from our last stop across a plain. The walk turned out to take a lot longer than I expected since the visitor center appeared to be much closer than it actually was. During the final push the guide took the camel up to a trot which I must say was extremely painful on my legs and rear. Once we arrived at the visitor center we bid goodbye to our guide and went inside to eat lunch before returning to Amman. During our lunch we found out that a protest on the Friday we left had turned violent and at least one person had dies and over 100 were wounded. Out of the peaceful canyons of Wadi Rum we had re-entered the turbulent reality of life in the Middle East in contemporary times. As always plenty of pictures are available on my facebook page. A post about my spring break in Turkey will be forthcoming so until then Cheers from the Jo

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Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 11:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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