Camels & Dunes: Wadi Rum Desert

desert landscape at sunset during a jeep ride in Wadi Rum Desert

The back of a 4×4 pickup is a bumpy, windy and downright fun way to see the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan. Wind in my hair, holding my scarf tight so it doesn’t fly away, the afternoon sun pulsing down, and Arabic pop music wafting out from the driver’s open window.

wadi rum desert landscape and jeep driving over sand

Golden red rock formations, dunes, sandy flats with scattered tufts of dry grasses and small scrubby shrubs. The driver gives us an occasional roller coaster thrill over the tallest dunes, and we stop a couple of times to scramble to the top of rock formations and take in the shimmering views.

Here’s a taste of what it was like:

Tea & music before sunset

For a break, we visited a Bedouin tent for coffee and traditional music. I won’t say the plaintive singing accompanied by a squeaky single-stringed instrument called a rababa was my favourite, but the coffee was delicious. Although I rarely enjoy coffee, their cardamom-scented brew won me over. In hindsight, it should have been no surprise that the land of Arabica beans would offer a quality cup of java.

tea in a traditional Bedouin tent and a shot of our drivers for our desert jeep ride in Wadi Rum

After surfing through a few more dunes in the jeep and stopping to view some ancient petroglyphs, we picked a spot to watch the sunset. We scrambled up some rocks to take in the panoramic views as our shadows grew long and the air cooled.

Nighttime in the desert

We stayed the night in a tented camp, just a square formation of sturdy tents around a campfire with a small bathroom structure tucked behind, all sheltered by large rock “hills” on two sides and a dune on another. I learned that the tents are made primarily from goat’s hair, which keeps the inside cool while reflecting the heat from the outside. When it rains, the fibres expand to create a waterproof effect, and the woven panels are heavy enough to stand up to fairly strong windstorms, particularly when erected in traditional wind-deflecting shapes. Brilliant.

Dinner was delivered with a pickup truck by Bedouins who cooked it for hours in a covered sand pit filled with hot coals: roast lamb, vegetables, rice, and of course olives, pita and hummus.

Other than a couple of generator-powered electric lights in the main tent, we had just some scattered candle lanterns and the full moon’s glow to illuminate the night. The only thing to do was lounge on pillows around the fire, sipping wine, telling stories and admiring the stars.

tented Bedouin camp at night in the Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan

We each had our own small tent with a raised bed, theoretically the finest in desert comfort. But I’m afraid the rock hard mattress and clammy polyester sheets full of sand were not conducive to sleep for this city girl. So I listened to the desert quiet during a sleepless but peaceful night, and I was still awake when Ayman shouted the early wake-up call for those of us who wanted to take part in the camel ride.

Camel trails

I was terrified for the first ten minutes perched precariously on the wide saddle, feet dangling with nothing to secure them. It was nothing like I  imagined based on those scenes from Lawrence of Arabia where Peter O’Toole, Omar Shariff and the Bedouins sit effortlessly on their mounts, with one leg bent around the horns of their saddles as they gallop across the desert.

Camels are smelly, groaning beasts, but somehow also adorable with their long eyelashes and spindly legs. Their Bedouin owners soothed and coaxed them with soft words, clicking sounds and tufts of grass, one even kissing a smaller camel, perhaps the youngest of the bunch.

our group riding camels in the Wadi Rum Desert and our shadows agains the red sand

I eventually settled into an only mildly uncomfortable rhythm, enough so to enjoy the golden early morning light spreading over the rocks and dunes. It seemed like we had the whole desert to ourselves, the plodding of hooves and intermittent camel snorts being the only detectable sounds. It was peaceful, even meditative – worth the early wake-up call and stiff, aching legs.

Getting to Wadi Rum

The Wadi Rum protected area is in the southeast corner of Jordan. It’s best accessed by car, since public transportation options are limited. The Visitors’ Centre (where you’ll probably start out) is about an hour’s drive from Aqaba, or two hours from Petra / Wadi Musa. For more information, see Planning a Trip to Jordan.

Wander well,

Mona signature

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