Wadi Rum

The mention of Wadi Rum generally gets two responses. The first is ‘I’ve never heard of it’ and the second is ‘I’ve always wanted to go there’. Unless the person asked has already been but, generally, not many people have. Naturally, it was on my knowledgeable wife’s bucket list, whereas I assumed a Wadi Rum was a cocktail.

Flights from the UK to Jordan are quite pricey, but we had booked a holiday in Cyprus and it transpired that a return flight from there to Amman (with Ryanair) could be had for as little as £20. The flight is a mere one hour’s duration but going to the north of the country meant we had a long journey down south. If you wish to visit places like Wadi Rum and Petra, the sensible option is to fly to Aqaba on the Red Sea. That way you can stay in a nice hotel, enjoy the beach and snorkelling, and go out on day trips. However, flights from the UK to Aqaba are pricey and only available in the winter months. It’s worth noting you can fly cheaply to Amman from Turkey and Malta, also with Ryanair. Anyway, after six nights in a cosy resort hotel, we headed off from Paphos airport for an exotic five-night adventure in the Middle East.

The land

It was such an action packed and varied trip that I’m going to break it down into three blogs, otherwise it would be too long winded. I’m starting with what was our first stop in Jordan and, should you ever fancy going there, I can put your mind at rest. It’s a stable, safe country and, with regard to public transport and accommodation, it is well set up for tourism. The roads are generally fine and one day they are going to paint road markings on them for the drivers to ignore. As we only had five days, we opted to book private drivers to reduce the time hanging around for buses.

Thus, we were duly picked up at the airport at midday by a pleasant young man with a nice, air-conditioned, fast car. From Amman, it’s a five-hour drive down to Wadi and our driver seemed keen to impress us with a swift journey. I think he took his driving lessons on Mario Kart and I spent much of the drive staring aghast out of the windscreen with my feet pressing down on imaginary brakes. He was a boy racer, a view shared by the Jordanian traffic police who stopped him several times before finally issuing him with a speeding ticket; which he added to the collection tucked behind his sun visor.

This chastened him a little (he had a paddy) but within half a mile, we were doing 130kph in a 60kph zone while he chatted on his mobile phone again. To be fair, the speed limit was too low. He was a nice guy and tried to be helpful by playing the tour guide in his broken English. I tipped him 10 Dinar (about £10) though, in the final analysis, it was more of a contribution to his speeding fine.


Lewis Hamilton dropped us off at Wadi Rum Village, which is at the entrance to the nature reserve. Here we met our Bedouin guide, Ahmed, who bore a striking resemblance to Jesus, and was the owner/manager of our camp site ‘Rum Stars’. He drove us to our destination with a stop off to watch the sunset. This provides a moment of ‘orientation’, standing in the desert, soaking up the vibe, and listening to the silence.

Our site looked similar to the other camps in the area. It’s a rule of the reserve to maintain the visual aesthetic. Rum Stars was mid-priced compared to the others though they don’t vary a great deal. The accommodation was in shed shaped frame tents covered in thick, carpet-like fabric. They were raised off the ground and contained a bed and a window, so they were quite basic. Each camp has a communal eating area and a toilet block which, to my surprise, was furbished to a good standard. You need not worry about snakes and scorpions in the shower.

The camps offer a range of activities, such as horse riding, camel trekking, desert tours by 4X4, night and daytime walks, enough to fill a two-night stay. Yet simply staying in the desert is an experience. You could just hang around camp for a day, go for a walk, read a book, and enjoy the peace and tranquillity. The temptation is to tear around taking in as much possible, but if you stand still, the desert has its own peace to gift to you.

Desert serenity

We only had two nights, so we opted to go for a full day jeep tour. There was just my wife and I and the driver, our guide. We visited a few places of local interest. This included the remains of a house where Lawrence of Arabia stayed, and we climbed up a rocky hill to see the natural spring where he got water from. Not amazing in itself, but the views from the top were splendid. The theme of the trip was ‘climb up and have a look’ which was fine for a while but quite tiring in the heat and lunch was a welcome break. Our guide laid a blanket for us and cooked dinner on a little stove. After this, we had a two-hour siesta. It was a mellow experience lying in the shade, listening to desert sounds and watching cute birds fly about. This rest was followed by more ‘climb up and have a look’ opportunities, which we politely declined. The day ended with a stop at a suitable spot to watch the sunset and get some photos. It was a pleasing day; my only criticism is that our guide’s English was weak, and he wasn’t able to explain much to us.

The after-dinner Q and A session with Ahmed made up for this. It was fascinating. His tribe has lived in Wadi Rum for 25 generations since his ‘grandfather’ settled there, so, about 750 years ago. In truth, grandfather was more a patriarch figure, a Moses to his people. He had fled Saudi Arabia after he made a mistake (he killed someone). He had given land, camels, and goats in reparation, but he suspected revenge killings would follow. So, like Abraham, he led his people to a promised land of, if not milk and honey, sand and a bit of water.

No wonder Ahmed had more than a whiff of the Biblical about him. He loved the desert life, and it was his dream to retire and live in a remote area; just him, his family, his camels and a few goats. He reminded me of Petri, a reindeer herder I chatted with in Finnish Lapland. Both guys were happy enough in company, but they were only truly at home in the wilderness. There’s a difference between loneliness and solitude.

Around the campfire

Ahmed answered any question asked with admirable honesty and openness. He gave me an insight into both the Old Testament and Qur’an. These ancient faiths were founded in the desert. Their prophets spoke to desert people, with desert cultures. At their core, Judaism and Islam are not urban religions (Christianity is perhaps). The strict, absolute morality they preach is intended for people who live hard lives, for whom access to a water hole is a life or death issue. Listening to Ahmed was, in some ways, listening to a voice from the past, indeed all our pasts. It was fascinating and illuminating.

Before we went to bed, we wandered off into the desert night to look at the stars. The Milky Way was a luminous band across the centre of the sky, right overhead. The starlit heavens afforded a display that light pollution robs us of back home. I did try to take some photos using the night-time hand-held setting; I might as well have left the lens cap on. It was beautiful, though I couldn’t but remember that scorpions are nocturnal, and I was wearing sandals…

We were up early for breakfast, which was markedly similar to the evening meal but minus the chicken and with the addition of hard-boiled eggs and Dairylea cheese triangles. And something else we initially called ‘meat discs’. From what beast they came I couldn’t tell you, all I can say is that they weren’t made of vegetable. They had the texture of soft plastic and were ubiquitous at breakfast buffets. In fact, the taste was so difficult to pin down we ended up calling them ‘animal product discs’. They seem to be a staple of Jordanian cuisine. Check them out at your local Jordanian restaurant. Except there isn’t one. There’s a reason for that.

I loved this trip!

On the last day of our all too short stay, we sent our bags ahead to Wadi Rum village as our return journey was to be by camel. I was not looking forward to this. As we were waiting nervously (in my case) a Columbian family we had spoken to were readying for their horse-riding trip. First in the saddle was the daughter, in her mid-twenties, and an experienced rider. However, no sooner had she mounted the horse, than it bolted. It was going pretty quick but heading into a dead end between the toilet blocks and the cliff wall. ‘She’ll be okay’ I thought. Wrong.

The crazed Bronco merely noted its mistake and made a break for freedom across the open desert, this time at full speed. The young woman hung on for grim death. Clattering hooves echoed violently off the stone walls as she sped around the corner and out of sight, quickly followed by a Bedouin rider. Very soon, all one could hear was the wailing and keening of her distraught mother. About ten minutes later, the two returned on foot leading the horses. She was covered in sand. Clearly the mad mustang had thrown her. She had no safety helmet on, the riding gear was quite minimal. All the Bedouin need to control a horse is firm thighs and a loud voice, they don’t do Health and Safety.

Anyway, she was back, safe and sound and, ever the professional equestrian, straight back in the saddle. Everyone was impressed. Except for her wild stallion, which promptly shot off again. Not far this time, and the situation was soon under control. I heard her saying breathlessly to the handler,

“He just ignores all instructions.”

Her parents were determined to do their desert ride, however, regardless of the body count. Mum and Dad mounted their passive beach donkeys and their daughter got back on. The bridle of her untamed nag was gripped by the guide. From my point of view, her boyfriend was the only one with any sense. He looked at the three of them and announced portentously,

“I’ll say this once. Not a fucking chance.”

And he promptly stomped off to his tent. Good lad.

Meanwhile, I had to face my own appointment with a four-legged death trap. Basically, I don’t trust animals. Humans claim to understand them and say things like ‘he’s only saying hello’, while their mongrel growls and bares its teeth at you. Or they think their hound is clever because it doesn’t defecate in their house. To be fair to camels, they make no pretence of affability and make their loathing of humans quite plain.


It’s nice to be proved wrong. I loved the two-hour camel ride. The scenery was as stunning as ever, and my mount added to the authentic feel of the journey. After an hour my inner thighs were rather sore, they aren’t something I exercise, and I had to keep moving position to get some comfort. But it was worth it. We went at a walking pace and the ride had a gentle, rocking motion. On a camel, you are quite high up. Head height is about ten feet above the ground, giving a nice view. Wadi Rum has unique scenery due to the red sand and sandstone cliffs. It was chosen as the setting for the movie ‘The Martian’ as it has the landscape on Earth most like that of Mars. I loved the desert in Namibia, but this was different again. It had its own flavour. And the camel ride was a blast. I do like my new car, but I’d trade it in for a camel any day. It would turn a few heads in Morrisons’ car park, that’s for sure.

Ahmed met us at Wadi Rum village. He had gone home the night before to see his family. We paid our bill and Sebastian Vettel was revving the engine outside, ready to take us to Petra.

Should you go?

Jordan isn’t a madly expensive country and the main cost is getting there. From our experience, it was a nice add on from Cyprus (as it would be from Turkey or Malta) due to Ryanair. Otherwise, flights are expensive from the UK. If you are staying in the south of the country, fly to Aqaba; the cheapest flights are with EasyJet, but they only fly in the winter months. At Rums Stars, we paid about £100 each for the two nights, including food and drink and the full-day tour. The camel ride to Wadi Village cost an extra £25 per person. You can do a balloon trip in the area, but that was pretty expensive.

I enjoyed the activities we did because they immersed us in the desert landscape. In hindsight, it would have been good to stay another night, not to do more, but to hang out and soak up the atmosphere. I can heartily recommend going here. One of the things that is refreshing about travel is experiencing something different. That’s how a change can be as good as a rest. Wadi Rum is nothing if not different.

I’m in the final!
Click image for link

If you liked my blog, there’s every possibility that you’ll like the comic novel I’ve recently published. It made me titter. As much as I enjoyed teaching, and respect those who do the job, there’s plenty to laugh at. I spent 30 years giggling 😊. It’s a bargain at £2.21 for the Kindle! Click on the image for the Amazon link.

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