Tag Archives: Desert

Day 6 – Wadi, but no Rum (no internet, either)

Friday 20 May 2022 – Woo hoo! Another lie in! We merely had to get ourselves up, breakfasted and checked out for 9am, when Saeed came to take us on the next destination. En route, he took us to a couple of viewpoints. The first gave us a good sight of Umm Sayhoun, the village near Wadi Musa, where the bedouin who had been living in tents and caves on the Petra site had been forcibly relocated by the Jordanian government.

Apparently, they were not in favour, but there they are. By the way, don’t think of bedouin as poor nomads scraping a living by herding goats; some of them are indecently rich, it appears, often from the sale of huge areas of land previously owned by the family.

Our next stop was the viewpoint I mentioned in my last entry that gives a view over Wadi Musa and bits of the Petra site; I was hoping to be able to make out some details to give context, but I’m afraid I can’t. Instead, here is a good view of the very substantial town of Wadi Musa itself, which actually curls around the hill to include the area behind where we stood to take the photo.

Before we departed the area, we also visited Little Petra. The original idea had been to hike from here back to the Monastery on the main site, but The Powers That Be put the kybosh on that by closing the trail (we never found out why, but suspect someone was having a bad day at the office). Little Petra is in many ways like Petra, only smaller, and cheaper to get into. For example, they have a mini Treasury,

(with the obligatory retail opportunity in front of it)

and some creative display ideas facilitated by the geology of the site,

a mini Siq

and some fancy tombs which are, though, on a smaller scale than the main site.

The stone is mainly sandstone which is much softer and prone to erosion, so many things have vaguer outlines, but you can also see that sediment has built up to cover much of the lower floors

(the aperture on the right would be something that someone stood in front of in order to wash their hands, for example).

What Little Petra has that is unique, though, is some surviving painted frescos from Nabatean times, i.e. around 2,000 years ago.

on the ceiling

of a biclinium (those who studied Greek will know that this has one fewer sides with seating than a triclinium).

Retail opportunities were rife, but there was much less importunism on the part of the operatives; this chap, for example, only made occasional entreaties to pay him for his musicianship on the rababa.

Although there isn’t the striking stone colour you find in the main site, there is no shortage of impressive rock formations.

We carried on via an unusually honest piece of marketing by the roadside

which gave us the last major viewpoint before we headed for Wadi Rum and its dire prospect of access to neither internet nor gin.

There were a couple of photo-worthy pauses en route: the roadside was dotted with bedouin camps, for example;

we got an overview of Wadi Rum;

there’s a railway that goes through the desert;

and, amazingly in the middle of a desert, a railway station. With trains.

The railway used to support trains that carried potash across Wadi Rum, but is now just a museum (and occasional film set).

At this point, Saeed stopped, doffed his baseball cap and donned a keffiyah, a traditional Arab headdress. To get help with this, he called in at a place that, would you believe it, was also a retail opportunity. Which managed to sell us one each by the charming Jordanian sales skills that accompany such a welcoming nation.

(Yes, I bought one as well and I use it to bolster my assertion that selfies are a bad idea.) We never quite got to the bottom of why Saeed made this change – but it was noticeable that at many of the stops we made in Wadi Rum (see later) many of the westerners were wearing something similar. Funny, that.

(I guess it’s good to support the local entrepreneurs; the chap who sold us ours told us that the current nastiness in Ukraine was pushing the price inflation of essential stuff like wheat and bread beyond 100%, and reading the papers, which I did just before the internet went dark on me, bears his story out – the whole region is suffering badly.)

So then we headed for the Inner Darkness that is Wadi Rum, a place that has neither internet access nor gin. You can bring the latter with you if it’s that important, although you are charged a tenner corkage to drink it in the camp we went to; and I tried to bring the former, in the shape of a Skyroam Solis Lite, but the mobile signal was so rubbish that I had to make do with being offline for almost 24 whole hours. The sacrifices I make, eh?

Wadi Rum is a protected area in the Jordanian desert, so as well as no alcohol sales and no internet there is no normal road traffic on account of there being no normal roads. There’s a village where punters are dropped off and taken to their various camps within the area on 4x4s driven typically by local bedouin drivers. We stopped off and had lunch at the village, which gives a view over Lawrence of Arabia’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, apparently.

I can see six, if I look at it carefully.

So we climbed on board a 4×4 and were taken to the Aicha Memories Luxury Camp. Our specification for luxury level accommodation was an important part of our itinerary, because, you’ll remember, I hate camping.

We had a couple of hours to relax before our afternoon/evening entertainment, so took a stroll around the site

(our accommodation was inside one of those fancy-looking geodesic jobbies, and I have to say it lived up to their website claims that it’s just like a luxury hotel room only in the desert. And with no internet.)

And then it was time to go off on a jaunt around the area, driven by Salim, a young bedouin who (praise be to Allah) had not only good English but a sense of humour as well. Wadi Rum is 280 square miles and we covered a total of 17 of them bouncing around on the back of Salim’s aged Toyota Landcruiser (not comfy, but very much suitable for the terrain). This was our route, in a sort of anti-clockwise direction – the slightly darker area is the extent of Wadi Rum as a whole.

What we hadn’t realised was how much hard graft we would have to put into the whole thing. Today was (according to Garmin) the second-hardest-working day of the holiday, after clambering up to the Petra Monastery – in other words, more work than the High Place of Sacrifice walk. And it could have been much harder if we hadn’t wimped out of one bit – please read on.

I, ex-pro photographer that I sort of am, had taken a gimbal with me to try to give some smooth footage taken from the back of the 4×4 as we bucked and jolted across the desert. Given the results, I also tried some footage handheld with my smartphone. The comparison is quite striking, if you’re interested in this kind of thing. If not, move on, nothing to see here.

(You can see that even though there are no paved roads, there’s no shortage of traffic; there’s a lot of toing and froing across Wadi Rum and we passed a lot of camps (none as posh as ours, of course) but quite a lot of them seemed unoccupied, presumably in the aftermath of the pandemic. One wonders what the Wadi was like in full flow.)

The first inkling we had that we were not just there for the ride came at the first stop, when it became apparent that we would have to scramble up this fucker.

It’s imaginatively called the “Red Sand Dune”. Note the soft sand that makes walking hard work even when it’s flat and level. Note also, please, the gradient.

But also, please, note the view from the top, which was quite something.

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It became clear that the route was not so much well-trodden as well-driven; there were many groups of gasping, red-faced tourists struggling up this monster and being told by the smug bastards who were going down that it was “worth it”.

The next stop was less dramatic but still had its moments – the Al Khazali canyon.

There are places where it’s a bit of a scramble, but it’s not too hard and its main interest is in carvings and inscriptions on the rocks in it – some pictures and some writing. Yes, I have loads of photos, but I’ll only inflict these on you.

Shortly after this we came to a stop here.

It’s called the Little Bridge. You’ll see why later. Of course we had to scramble up it and of course I had to take a photo of a triumphant Jane atop the arch.

As she headed off towards the arch I shouted to her that she should let me have the water bottle she was carrying, because it was important not to lose it in case she fell. This seemed to amuse some of the other punters who were around at the time.

The reason it is called the Little Bridge became apparent at the next stop. For reasons which may become apparent, we decided to remain as spectators.

The next stop (we kept bumping into people from the previous one, which is why it was clear that there was a definite route being followed by many drivers) was another canyon, the Aby Khashaba canyon. “Phew”, we thought, a bit of a rest from all this dangerous up and down stuff. Wrongly, as it turned out.

The rock formation on the left looks a bit like the helmet of Agamemnon, I’m sure you’ll agree – we wondered if it is carved by natural erosion or by people..

Having gone up some more bloody soft sand, we then had to descend this.

Tricky, but we made it with no bones broken. The final stop was to watch the sunset, which is incredibly hackneyed, but still has its magic if you’re there. One chap was lying down on the job

but the colours were pretty wonderful.

If you can spare 90 seconds or so, here’s a hyperlapse (15x normal speed – I’m amused by the trails of the jeeps whizzing around in the foreground, just like the trails in a Wilson Cloud Chamber).

After that, Salim

took us back to the camp. By this time, I hope you’ve been following, it was dark, and the camp was attractively lit up

and we went for a light bite in the main catering bubble

and a lemon and mint in the cafe, where some (reasonably) locals were having a good ol’ chinwag.

and then it was time for bed. Not having any internet relieved me from the immediate need to write the day up (I’m in Aqaba as you read this) so we got a decently early and sober night, not characteristics that have particularly marked out the holiday thus far. To be honest we were both really quite tired – the days have been long and intense and so it was good to have the prospect of a decent night’s sleep. The morrow brings the possibility of even more relaxation as we head to Aqaba and have nothing organised in our itinerary! I dare say there’ll be something to write about it and I will do this in due course. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our day in the desert and will come back to read more as I write it.

Oman Day 6 – Wadi View!

Tuesday Feb 26. After a good night’s sleep, lulled by the song of our crickets, we found that the wind, and its accompanying flying sand, had dropped somewhat: so the only hazard we had to deal with over breakfast was the flies, who fancied a share of our fare.

Apart from covering the food, another way to discourage them is to burn Frankincense; the scent seems to keep them away. The breakfast was, as all meals at the Hud Hud camps, excellent, and so we set out for the day feeling replete.
On the way out we passed a goat farm where the goats were all trooping along for their morning drink.

Goats returning to their farm for water, Oman desert

As we exited the desert, it was interesting to see just how clear and sharp was the delineation between it and not-desert – you see flat flat flat flat – desert,

Abrupt start to the Oman desert

alongside which is a stern warning!

Stern warning to all sand farmers, Oman

Frankly, I’m not sure how they’d know if you popped in and took a couple of truckfuls, but anyway….a longish drive back into the mountains took us to the outskirts of the village which takes its name from one of the most popular wadis in the area, Wadi Bani Khaled.

Before we took a walk along the banks of the wadi, Rashid took us off road to see it from above. The view over the village is quite striking

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

but the view of the wadi itself from even higher is, I think, the most spectacular view of the holiday so far.

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

The photo hardly does it justice; the contrast between the ruggedness of the rocks, the way the village nestles among them and the greenness of the wadi below makes this absolutely remarkably to stand and see. Even Rashid was struck by it

although his mate appeared to have his mind elsewhere.
It looked deserted from up there. We went down to discover that the parking was nearly full and that there were hordes of people heading up the wadi. Bloody tourists, giving tourism a bad name. However, it was a nice enough walk up the wadi, which has several irrigation channels running off it, obvs – the Omanis are vigilant in finding ways to get water to where it’s needed.

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

After a short walk, you arrive at a couple of pools

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

and you begin to realise the extent to which the area has been set up for tourists

with specially-installed viewpoints and also a restaurant, on the left in the picture below.

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

The restaurant serves a mean lemon-and-mint juice, and Jane reported herself satisfied also with the watermelon juice. The juice stop gave us a nice view of people having a nice time.

It’s then possible to walk a little way further up the wadi, where you can see pools that people can paddle or swim in.

though, this being where it is, there are some caveats about dress

(which were being quite widely ignored, sad to say; bloody tourists again, eh?).
Beyond that the path gets very rocky and in places slippery, so we didn’t go much further. on the way back, Jane got a fishy pedicure:

which started off apparently being very ticklish but soon became quite addictive. There was certainly one chap just up from where Jane sat who had been there with his feet in the water for quite some while.

After we’d exhausted the entertainment possibilities we headed off for lunch. The path beside the wadi passed a couple of mango trees, both magnificently in flower.

We’d enjoyed Wadi Bani Khaled, but at the same time found it slightly weird to have such (relatively speaking) naked pandering to tourism after all the other, less exploited places we’d visited. As our late neighbour Cyril used to lament, tourism is ruined by tourists, and this was the first inkling we’d really had about the encroaching effects of tourism in Oman. It’s an important industry, and the country needs to develop and grow it; but the downside is that nature will get built upon. Let’s hope that the Omani government will try to ensure that tourism development is done in the best possible taste.

Lunch was as usual an excellent picnic courtesy of our Hud Hud chef. After that, we headed back into the desert. En route, we saw the extent of the date palm plantation outside Biddiyah. The water supply that feeds it means it can spread until it butts up hard against the desert behind it.

Desert and Oasis outside Biddiyah, Oman

The object of going back into the desert was to visit Said’s gaff to gain a little insight into the bedouin culture. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but in the event it turned out to be a sizeable room, constructed in a traditional manner out of date palm trunks, stalks and leaves. That sounds insubstantial, but, as you can see from the picture below, it is a sizeable and robust fabrication. As you can also see from the cars parked outside, we weren’t the only visitors.

A Bedouin Family House, Oman

Half of the room is given over to carpets upon which coffee and dates are served to seated groups of visitors.

A Bedouin Family House, Oman

and the other half to, well, stuff – artefacts and domestic things, some of which are for sale and some of which aren’t.

A Bedouin Family House, Oman

To give you an idea of the construction, here are close-ups of the ceiling

which is date palm leaf stalks, and the walls

which are also date palm stalks, but with the leaves left on to provide a fibrous surround.

Our stay there was reasonably short, and we headed off back to the Wahiba sands to get back to camp in time for sunset.

En route, we saw several things worthy of a photo: some opportunistic goats grabbing an illicit snack;

Opportunistic goats, Oman

racing camels being taken back to their farms after exercise;

Racing camels returning after exercise, Oman

and some more hazards on and off the road (which carries right on towards Muhut until it suddently stops being a road and deposits you onto flat sand, at which point you are on your own – further underlining the need to make sure you’re properly prepared for desert travel).

We also stopped off to allow me to try for some arty shots of dunes

Wahiba sands, Oman desert

Wahiba sands, Oman desert

To get to a decent viewpoint for the sunset, we piled into the car (taking an extra member of the camp staff with us to help dig us out in case we got stuck on a dune somewhere) and Rashid took us dune-bashing via a circuitous route to the top of a dune overlooking a valley and served coffee whilst we awaited sunset.

The sunset itself wasn’t particularly spectacular, but the location was very zen.

Sunset, Wahiba sands, Oman desert

When we got back to camp, we had the usual excellent dinner and, while Patrick and Jane went off to hunt more scorpions, I set to to trying to get some images of the stars. I got some stills which were rather ho-hum, and then set a timelapse going. Again, it’s nothing too dramatic, but it looks like some aeroplanes came through, (I originally thought they might be shooting stars, but I now doubt that):

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After all that excitement, since we were due to leave camp the following morning, there was nothing for it but to try to finish off the gin we’d bought on arrival in Oman. Patrick manfully stepped up to the plate to help us out and by hook or by crook we finished it off with just about time for a reasonable amount of sleep before having to face the next day, which is, of course, covered in the next gripping installment of this blog, where I hope we’ll meet again.

Oman Day 5 – Just Deserts

Monday 25 Feb. Today was spent transferring to our final camp, in the Omani desert (Wahiba sands, to be more precise). The first part was a reversal of our way in over the salt flats, obvs. We passed the incoming Hudhud truck, which was there to take away the beach camp which had been our home for the last couple of days.

Then we joined the Salalah-Muscat coast road, which I had expected us to follow for a long distance to take us round to the north of the desert that lies south of Muscat. But no; we linked up with Said, a pal of Rashid’s who is bedouin and hence who knows his way around the desert, so that he could take us on a short cut across the sands.

En route we encountered a pretty well-understood hazard of driving in Oman:

A fairly standard Oman road hazard

(remember the sign from yesterday?) and also unusual-looking formations of what we thought was rock

but which turned out to be layers of sand which had been rained on, solidified and then covered in more sand and rain and once again solidified. Striking, but actually very soft and crumbly.

One might be forgiven for thinking that the desert is, well, deserted. And it has to be said that there can be long distances between highlights; but highlights there were.

The first one was a bedouin settlement. Not tents and camels, but a collection of shacks in which they live

this settlement, called Juraywah, even has a school, which you can see in the background here:

Rashid debunked any idea we might have had about Bedouin being a separate race who lived an ancient and nomadic life among the dunes, carrying their tents and camels with them as they moved. “Bedouin” simply means “nomad”, and today’s bedouin, who are mainly found around Oman and the UAE, are nomadic, but largely between two established bases – the desert in Winter and the coast (as here) in Summer. Rather than their camels transporting them, they nowadays drive the camels in 4×4 trucks (remember my picture from the Days 3 and 4 post?)

It turned out that Said had his own reason to cross the desert – he was taking equipment out for another (non-Hudhud) camp. So Rashid helped him and some mates load up.

Amazingly, everything fitted!

Then we were off into the unforgiving sands of the desert, which have a variety of colours depending on age and mineral content.

We had to stop so that Rashid could let some air out of the tyres, to make the journey safer and more comfortable.

As we bowled along there were a surprising number of distractions from the landscape, which was pretty uniform all the way to the horizon.

with, threading through it, tracks that only the bedouin can confidently navigate.

For example: goats;

Goats in the desert, Oman

Goats in the desert, Oman

bedouin habitations;

a couple of Pakistani guys who have lived in the desert for four months whilst digging a 50-metre deep well, paid for by the local people to replace an older nearby well that was no longer useable;

a mosque;

A mosque in the desert, Oman

in fact there are several in the desert, each of which has water for travellers and their animals.

This was actually our lunch stop, under one of the only trees available for shade.

after which the desert carried on in its relentlessly sandy fashion.

Oman desert sand - multicoloured

until we reached the first outposts of “civilisation” – a tourist camp.

We made a small detour to see the father of our bedouin guide, Said, who is devoted to his racing camels.

I took this photo to record the distinctive way that Said’s father stood while chatting to Rashid.

Soon after our little detour we were running through Biddiyah, prior to turning off once again into the desert, in the Wahiba sands area. The wind was really whipping up the sand – not quite a sandstorm, but certainly enough to make it uncomfortable standing outside.

We arrived at our camp soon after.

If you look at the dunes on the right above, you can see the wind whipping the sand up – and sand was everywhere.

Camp manager Patrick, waiter Janaka and cook were the same team as we had looking after us in the moutains, so a joyful (and warm!) reunion ensued! The tents this time, fittingly, were bedouin style, made of woven sheep and goat hair.

and perfectly comfortable (of their sort).

Patrick reminded us to be careful about our footwear. He had checked for scorpions and cleared the main camp area, but in any case, it was worth taking care and not walking around barefoot. Scorpions tend to bury themselves just below the surface of the sand, so it’s very difficult to see them. We went on a scorpion hunt later that evening and Patrick had with him a neat trick for detecting scorpions – an ultraviolet light, which really reveals them. So, for example, you might hardly notice one just below the surface

but he/she/it becomes much clearer under the UV light:

We found a couple of them around the site, a good reminder to take care. The pictures really are quite remarkable!

A scorpion under ultra violet light

We had another splendid dinner, although we had to move the table into the majlis as the wind was still gusting and sending the sand flying. The camp crew fought a losing battle sweeping and clearing our bedroom and bathroom tents, only for everything in them to be covered in sand again in no time. After a couple of gins and a convivial chat with Patrick we retired to bed (along with a cricket or two, much to the surprise of the crew who have never had crickets in the desert camps before. Jane had to pursue and catch one of them twice before successfully ejecting it from our bedroom tent). I tried my hand at taking pictures of the stars, but I’d frankly had one gin too many and the best I can say is that lessons were learned for the following evening. I will post the results of those efforts, and the photos from the rest of the day in tomorrow’s blog post, which I hope you’ll want to read. See you there?