Amidst the Mars like landscape of Wadi Rum I lie back underneath the starry sky and draw the constellations with my fingers.
A guest of one of the local Bedouin tribes, I am in the middle of the red desert, cut off from the world with nothing but rudimentary comforts to last me through the night. There are no modern kitchens here, and I am eating the most deliciously succulent roasted chicken cooked underground on coals with toasty warm vegetables and tea as I sit in a large tent on cushions – my dining room for the night. Tonight, I eat with my hands and enjoy the heat of the collective body warmth in the tent before washing up my dishes in a plastic tub and spilling out into the open air to set up my sleeping bag and pillow under the inky black expanse above.
A few of the Bedouins remain around the campfire next to me, unperturbed by the sudden chill that seems to have taken hold of the valley. They beckon to me to join them for a cup of tea that they’re boiling the old fashioned way – over the open fire. Grateful for the warmth of the mug I’m clutching, I listen as the locals talk about their lives in this remote place.
The heat of the day has subsided and the cold desert night has set in as I snuggle into my sleeping bag. I am here, in a Bedouin camp, amongst the red dusty dunes, settled in for a night of star gazing in the open air. I’ve never slept outside before and it’s exhilaratingly beautiful.
In Wadi Rum there are only tents for the Bedouin tribes of the valley, so I am happily forced to go completely off the grid. There are no power points for phones or laptops, no roads and nowhere to get supplies – once out here, there’s nothing but the glorious brightness of the stars, the roar of the campfire and the stories told by the locals to keep us entertained. I struggle to remember the last time I went completely technology free and embrace the freedom it allows me to be completely in the moment.
After a surprisingly comfortable and uneventful night’s sleep under the stars I shake myself awake early as the first peep of the sun starts to appear on the horizon. Ahead of the camp is a large red cliff and I race up to the top to catch the sunrise over the sandstone and dust, drenching the desert in an orangey-red hue. I sit in silent thought watching the rest of the camp start to wake up. The Bedouins are making tea and breakfast and the rest of us tourists are bundling up their beds and getting ready for the day. For a brief moment, this perfect vista of the expanse of Wadi Rum is mine.
Jeeps pull up at the campsite as I scramble back down the sandstone to grab a boiled egg and some tea before we depart for the day. Our young Bedouin driver, Mahmood, loves pop music and as we drive through the desert he turns the radio up and encourages us to sing as the dust billows up behind us. Mahmood pulls up at the base of an enormous sand dune that I climb eagerly, linger for a moment at the top and then tumble down head over heels leaving me breathless and covered in grains of sand.
Next stop is the Jabal Umm Fruth Bridge, a natural sandstone arch that looks more perilous than it is in actuality. As a group we wrestle our way to the top and cross the bridge for a stellar view of the desert and take a moment to rest while the stragglers and more cautious of the group remain further down the rock. Despite a little nervousness on the descent, I make it down comfortably and am ushered to the back of the jeep to drink some water, my throat parched from the dust. The rest of the day is spent driving through the desert, inspecting Thamudic inscriptions on the rocks and learning about the Nabateans, the original inhabitants of the land and the famous builders of the ancient city of Petra. We visit the ruins of a Nabatean temple, the sandstone bricks the same colours as the red dust of the desert, so that the temple is camouflage until I’m almost right upon it.
As the sun sets on the opposite side of Wadi Rum from where I watched it rise in silence this morning, we complete our final journey in a cloud of dust, out of the vermilion, alien landscape and back onto the Jordanian roads. It is here that I say goodbye to the Bedouins, leaving them at the entrance to Wadi Rum, smiling as I watch them peel off back in to the desert again.
I haven’t showered in 24 hours, I am covered with sand and I am already missing the stars.
- Getting there: Wadi Rum is accessible by bus from Aqaba (approx. 1hr) or Petra (1.5hrs). If you’re coming from Amman, it’s more like 3hrs.
- Camping in Wadi Rum: in order to ensure safety and respect for the local Bedouin tribes, book onto a Wadi Rum tour from the visitors centre or your hotel before you go.
- What to Bring: A warm sleeping bag & some warm clothes for overnight, hand sanitiser, portable chargers.
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