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.
View this post on Instagram
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.