Posted by: travelrat | August 19, 2012

An Asian Experience to Remember

An extra post today. This describes a trip I took some years ago, and is an entry in a competition organised by ‘Selective Asia’ (www.selectiveasia.com)

One of the natural arches in Wadi Rum

‘Tonight, you get an upgrade’ Adeeb said. ‘You’ve been staying in 4-star hotels up to now. For the next two nights, you stay in a million-star hotel!’

We’d already seen three of Jordan’s ‘Big Four’ attractions … Jerash, the Dead Sea and Petra … and now, we were going to visit the fourth, the desert valley of Wadi Rum.

At the time of our visit, there weren’t any hotels within easy reach of Wadi Rum. The only option was camping. There was a campsite near the entrance, but you didn’t need your tent; you could either use a permanently pitched bell tent, or sleep in the open. But, for a ‘real desert experience’ you can camp ‘wild’ almost anywhere.

With Adeeb in Wadi Rum

We travelled with a small local tour company, who provided an air-conditioned 4WD pick-up truck, and driver/guide Adeeb. They also provided ‘all necessary equipment’ for two nights’ desert camping … although not very much is ‘necessary’! A ground-cloth, a ‘crash-mat’ and a sleeping bag each is all you need, apart from Adeeb’s blackened, much-travelled, indispensable tea-kettle, and a couple of meals packaged for cooking in the embers of a camp-fire.

And, if you wake in the night and look up, you’ll see why Adeeb’s ‘hotel’ rates a million stars.

We tried three of the four ways to get around Wadi Rum. Horses were out for us, for we didn’t have the experience to handle the animals used here. But, camels need little expertise, and if your previous encounter with camels was a ten-minute lurch along a beach, or around the Pyramids on a smelly, flea-bitten, bad-tempered beast that has seen better days, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

The handlers were two boys barely out of their teens. They were rather incongruously dressed; one in a dish-dash and a Nike baseball cap, the other in a keffiyeh and a Manchester United shirt. But, they knew their business. Camels don’t belong on streets or beaches, they said. They’re happiest in their home element, the desert. Motor transport has largely replaced camels for commercial purposes, so hiring a camel and handler will help assure their future, and the preservation of the skills of their trainers and handlers.

Although you’ll see more of the desert from a 4-wheel drive car, there are places a camel can go that even the toughest 4WD can’t. The brochures often show ‘happy campers’ digging their LandCruiser out of a sand dune, but none, to my knowledge, show anyone digging a camel out! That’s probably because the only creature that knows the hundredth name of God has sense enough to go around that which he can’t go over or through.

Camel Riding

Another way is walking. It gets you ‘closer to the ground’, but it’s restrictive because you’re limited by the amount of water you can carry. We walked for a morning, but I wouldn’t call it ‘real’ hiking. Adeeb drove on ahead, and said to follow his wheel tracks ‘ … and, if you don’t show up within a couple of hours, I’ll come back to look for you’.

It probably doesn’t need saying that ‘going it alone’ needs careful advance preparation and planning … and, probably, a GPS and more accurate mapping than we had. Instead, we had Adeeb, who knows the country like his own backyard; we never saw him look at a map all the time we were with him.

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, but many tracks in the sand show that it is present. The main feature is the jebels, rocky hills that the wind and the sand have sculpted to fantastic shapes. Here, Prince Faisal and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ conducted their campaign against the Turks in World War I, and here, David Lean made his spectacular film. We camped one night in a canyon where Lawrence had his camp … there are images of Lawrence and his comrades in arms carved into the rock face.

Image of Lawrence of Arabia in Umm Atawagi

The best rock features are several natural bridges, including a gigantic ‘flying buttress’ on a cliff-side. Most can be anything you want just by half-closing your eyes … or, in my case, putting my reading glasses on! The Sphinx, Queen Victoria, Snoopy, the Mount Rushmore Memorial, and the Kremlin … we saw them all.

No doubt, you will take many pictures, even some video. But, you won’t get it all. Pictures can only give an idea of the emptiness. They can’t convey the silence of the night … no distant mutter of traffic, just silence. They won’t capture the taste of tea brewed on a fire of fragrant juniper twigs, or the music of prayers echoing down the canyon.

Pictures can only give a fleeting taste … to savour it in full, you’ve got to go. And, I intend to go again as soon as I can.

 

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Responses

  1. Fantastic article. I hope you do well in the competition. I love the camel shot. The description of the silence at night is quite powerful. It must be a little daunting. The tea brewed on a fire of juniper twigs sounds amazing. Brilliant!

    • Think of ‘billy tea’, then improve on it! They tell me tea made on a fire of dried camel dung tastes even better, but I haven’t tried that yet! 😀


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