“Hard to believe there’s a war going on next door,” said my travel companion. It was 2007 and we were sitting around a small campfire in the Wadi Rum desert. It was a trip we’d hooked on to an event I’d managed in Egypt. We’d chosen that country because we weren’t sure how many years would be left for Americans to travel there before it all went pear-shaped.
After Egypt, the idea was to take advantage of being in the region so we set our sights on Jordan. Through shuttle arrangements we made our way into the desert and the land where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.
The Wadi Rum is otherworldly and we were happy to be there. A handsome, young Jordanian guide, Ra’ed, met us along the Desert Highway. We hopped into his jeep, driven by a shy, Bedouin, teenage boy and within a few minutes were off-road, traveling through desert red sands. The world we knew disappeared, and aside from the clink and clank from his truck, there wasn’t another sound. We made out way through mountain rockscapes in various hues of crimson. There wasn’t a soul in sight and for this city girl, the empty space was liberating.
Eventually, a long rectangle Bedouin tent came into view and our driver swung a long arc around it and parked. We met the chef, an Egyptian, and then we proceeded to make ourselves at home.
Out came the hookah pipe. I find the sweet smoke a bit nauseating but when in Rome, right? So we sat around and exchanged the typical questions like, “Where are you from?” and “Why did you come here?” but we made quick work of that superficial talk and dove deeper, seeing as it was just the five of us. A group of tourists who’d been in camp earlier in the week had kept to themselves and barely acknowledged them. Frankly, I don’t see how it would be possible to ignore the people who were responsible for getting you in and out of Wadi Rum, feeding you and providing you a tent for sleepy time. The chef smiled and excused himself because he had to get cooking.
Back in the truck, Ra’ed took us through desert. We all raced up sand dunes and slid down them. Gazing around at its natural architecture, the Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon, is hypnotic. The sunset reveals deeper shades of red on the rock walls.
A few hours later, they laid out a banquet table decorated with candles and tray upon tray of food. There were falafel, stuffed grape leaves, couscous with raisins, salads, pita bread, dips of hummus and baba ghanoush, rice with lentils, platters of vegetables, and lots more. I couldn’t imagine how they thought two people could make a dent in it. Ra’ed told us to enjoy the meal. My boyfriend and I looked at each other and in unison said, “Where are you going?” He told us that they’d eat when we had finished. There was no way that was going to happen. We explained that it was extremely uncomfortable for us to dine without them and after much persuading they joined us.
Stuffed and satisfied, we sat around on massive pillows, passed the pipe again and gazed at the stars and the shadows the mountains made across the dark sand. A full moon had risen and the chef suggested we build a fire. So we dragged our pillows into the sand around the pit he’d made. There we were, an American, a Brit, an Egyptian, a Bedouin, and a Jordanian. Through broken English, translated through Arabic and a mishmash of a few other languages thrown in, we all got on like a house on fire. There was lot of giggling, talk of what music we liked, and of what America is really like. We did indeed find it hard to believe that Iraq was next door and being made a mess of.
Eventually, things got quiet until the silence was broken by the unmistakable sound of Bill Withers singing, “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” followed by Ra’ed giggling. It was the ring tone on his cell phone and he entertained us by playing it over and over. That night we slept in a pup tent they’d set up and made comfortable for us.
The next morning we watched the sunrise bathe the desert mountains gold. Afterwards, we all shared a breakfast of tea, fruit, boiled eggs and biscuits. Then we hopped back in the jeep to explore, hike, and absorb as much of the Wadi Rum’s energy as possible. They let us take turns driving and we passed camels and a goat herder. Walking, I came across a small bouquet of delicate white flowers growing out of the sand and other small wonders. Back at the tent we took pictures, exchanged hugs and were sorry to leave our new friends but we were moving on to Petra, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.
Jordan remains a safe and attractive place to travel. The Bedouins, whose lives have changed over time, and the Jordanians are well-known for their hospitality and tourism contributes a huge percentage to the country’s GDP. Wadi Rum attracts visitors from around globe, yet despite its popularity its pleasure for me was the sweet feeling that it existed purely for my own experience. The new friends, and Bill Withers, were the icing on the cake.
Got an itch to go somewhere? Go. And don’t forget to write.