Roaming in Wadi Rum

by Natalie Lo
Roaming in Wadi Rum

We crossed the land border from Eilat, Israel to Aqaba, Jordan just after 6 am on January 1st.  Walking through multiple security and passport checkpoints, we said farewell to Israel and hello to Jordan in a matter of minutes.

We traveled lightly, each of us holding a carry on and a backpack. We had our passports (valid for at least 6 months) and our four Jordan passes. The Jordan Pass waives the price of the Visa as long as you stay at least three consecutive nights and it includes free entry to over 40 attractions, negating any need to wait in ticket queues.

We waited several minutes for the officer responsible for processing the Jordan Passes. His colleague joked, “Five minutes. He’s just brushing his teeth.” Perhaps we were interrupting his post-New Year’s Eve sleep? The officer arrived and after a few, worrisome minutes he spent tinkering with his computer system, we were cleared for entry.

Several taxis were waiting for passengers, and the dispatcher, the one with the best English, procured a taxi for us to Wadi Rum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It took less than an hour’s drive through Arab villages and by the Desert highway to arrive to Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum opened up to me as if I was entering another world, where each vista is remarkably strange and beautiful.

I’ve always loved deserts and the beauty of their subtle color gradations. But the vistas in Wadi Rum are dramatic, not subtle. The colors of this desert are saturated, deep red and brown sandstone cliffs starkly set against the expansive blue sky. The silkiest sand dunes are interspersed through the wadi, the Arabic term for valley. The desert sand was untouched, except for the faint tracks of the 4WD jeeps.

The Bedouins, the traditionally nomadic, desert-dwelling people, are Wadi Rum’s guides. We hired a guide/driver at the Wadi Rum Visitor Center to visit the major sites in a 4WD. At the Al Hasany Dunes, Yasim, our guide, instructed us to take off our shoes and climb. The red sand was incredibly soft and cold on our feet. After a vigorous climb, our reward was in the descent, as we glided (or ran as the kids did) down the dunes, dune coasting. While we didn’t partake in them, camel rides are also available through guided trails.

Natural bridge in Wadi Rum
Mia in 4WD, Wadi rum

We stopped for tea and lunch midway. Yasim had collected stray twigs for the fire and as we picked a spot for lunch, Mia collected some as well. Trying to match his hospitality, Mia offered to fill his teacup several times. He appreciated it and said that perhaps she would like to stay and help him with the tourists. She beamed at the compliment. Later, Yasim showed her how to use the red sand as the Bedouins do, as a form of makeup.

Our final destination that day was Petra, but travelers desiring an overnight stay in Wadi Rum do have a few options. We saw both the typical, simply appointed Bedouin camps and the more luxurious bubble hotels. In this extraordinary location, the silvery white inflated bubble tents seem to fit right in. Yasim pointed out the candle-filled paper bags, forming the number 2019. It was, he explained, a product of Americans ringing in the New Year. It must have been a beautiful sight.

Yasim told us that he once traveled to make hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but, that he is completely content to be within the large reach of Wadi Rum. To Yasim, his wife, their two sons, and their large extended family, this otherworldly and stunning place is simply home. For my family, the experience of crossing the border into the magical Wadi Rum was a great way to start the New Year.

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