Tuesday, November 8: Yesterday while we were at Petra, my colleague Matt asked if I’d like to share a trip to Wadi Rum today. Since it costs 90 dinar (~$127) to take a car there alone, we agree to share the trip and split the cost. He desperately wants to go to Aqaba as well, in southern Jordan, but I have no interest in Aqaba nor do I have any interest in paying the extra 30 dinar to go there. So, around 9 a.m., Atef’s brother Hussein comes to pick us up and we’re on our way.
It takes about 1 1/2 hours each way to get there. When we arrive, after stopping several times to let herds of sheep cross the road, we climb into the back of an ancient Nissan pick-up truck and begin our drive around Wadi Rum. Our driver is Najas, and that’s all he turns out to be, just a driver. Not a guide of any kind. It’s quite cold as we head out into the desert, and I’m bundled up in a sweater and my down vest. The sun is beating down on us and with the cool air combined with the sun, the weather is really spectacular.
The desert and mountain landscape of Wadi Rum were immortalized in TE Lawrence’s book Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the early 20th century. The film Lawrence of Arabia was partially filmed here and contributed not only to the legend of the man who took part in the Arab revolt but also shone a spotlight on Wadi Rum itself.
We begin our exploration at Lawrence’s Spring, where Lawrence of Arabia reputedly washed during the Arab Revolt. The Arab Revolt took place from 1916-1918 and was initiated with the aim of securing independence from the ruling Ottoman Turks and creating a single unified Arab state spanning from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen. Young officer Captain T.E. Lawrence was sent by the British government in Egypt to work with the Hashemite forces in the Hejaz in October 1916. The British historian David Murphy wrote that through Lawrence was just one of out many British and French officers serving in Arabia, historians often write like it was Lawrence alone who represented the Allied cause in Arabia.
We stop here and look up at the small mountain from which the spring supposedly flows, but we don’t climb up to actually see it. My legs are way too sore from Petra yesterday and I have no desire to do any climbing today. We wander around in the desert and see a Bedouin camp set up in the shadow of the mountain. A Bedouin boy sits under the shade of a tree with his camels. We also see some Alameleh inscriptions on the rocks at the bottom. These are ancient rock drawings showing camels and wildlife.
We hop back in our crusty Nissan and head to the Red Sand Dunes, where families are sitting and children are running and rolling down the hills. These deep red sand dunes seem to catch fire on the slopes of Jebel Umm Ulaydiyya.
Next we go to Khazali Canyon, a deep narrow fissure in the mountainside, containing more rock inscriptions. One of the inscriptions here says “I miss my GMC car,” and I snap a photo of it, since right before I left for Jordan I put a 100 rial deposit down on a 2008 GMC Terrain. This canyon is beautiful with its red rocks and its walls that aspire to touch the sky.
We drive all over the sand in our Nissan, bouncing along in the breezy sunlight. This desert is lovely with its red sand, its looming sculpted and weathered rocks, and the slant of light throughout the day. We spend 3 hours driving around and stopping at the various sights. Before returning, we make a stop at the ruins of the Nabatean Temple, used by the Nabateans to worship ALLAT (Goddess). This temple was built on the ruins of Allat Temple of the AAD Tribe.
Back toward the Visitor’s Center, we see the large rock formation with its seven fluted turrets, named the Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence.
It’s all beautiful and I halfway wish I had arranged to spend the night in one of the Bedouin encampments. However, it’s freezing cold at night in Jordan and I already cancelled my other Bedouin camp-out for tonight at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp in Petra just for this reason.
On our way back Matt starts talking again about going to Aqaba. I wondered if he would do this once he had me captive in the car. I finally relent and say I’ll go along if he wants to pay the 30 dinar difference. I have no desire to go and I’m not keen on it but if he really wants to go there, I won’t stop him. He waffles back and forth and when we look at the time and how late it’s getting, he finally decides, thank goodness, to forgo Aqaba.
We head back toward Wadi Musa near Petra and Hussein stops at the Petra overlook where we can see the folds of red stone that make up the Petra canyons below. It’s amazing to see it from above and I’m surprised it all looks so small from this height. From the canyon floor it’s so overwhelming that it swallows you up. But from above, you can’t even make out more than just wrinkled folds of red rocks.