Daydreaming in the Desert

‘The desert could not be claimed or owned – it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names…its caravans, those strange rambling feasts and cultures, left nothing behind, not an ember. All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into the landscape.’ Michael Ondaatje, ‘The English Patient’

Wadi Rum

Following a well-deserved long lie after our day in Petra, we set off for the hour-long journey from Wadi Musa to Wadi Rum, pausing only to purchase some wine for our upcoming evening in the desert. (I’ll note here that despite the fact the website stated that there would be no drinking in the desert for religious reasons, it was our Jordanian tour guide who a) insisted that we brought wine and b) himself purchased and demolished a half-bottle of rum). After a spot of lunch – pitta, hummus, vegetables – we jumped onto the back of three battered Toyota pick-up trucks and set off to explore the desert.

Wadi Rum is, of course, where the recent film ‘The Martian’ starring Matt Damon was filmed, and it more than lives up to its otherworldly status. An endless expanse of sand and rock shaped by wind and sea over millions of years stretching to the horizon and beyond, broken only by our roaring pick-up trucks and the occasional squeals as we charged over a sand dune. The Bedouins know every corner of this desert and use it to their advantage, but as a newcomer I would have been lost instantly among the freestanding rocks and arid plains. We stopped, and scrambled up sand dunes (which is exhausting), before racing down them, the sun all the while beating down on our headscarf-covered heads.

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Gazing out at one of Wadi Rum’s famous arches

After an hour and a half of driving around and exploring drawings carved into some of the rocks, we headed to some of the more famous attractions in Wadi Rum – natural rock arches, weathered by time. After so long spent in this vast expanse without spotting other tourists, it was absurd to reach the Rock Bridge of Kharaz to find three other tour groups clamouring for photographs. It was the busiest attraction that I witnessed in Jordan! We waited patiently for them to clear before taking our photos and admiring the rock formation in all of its glory.

After some dodgy handstands in front of the rock bridge, we jumped back on our pick-ups and headed to one of Wadi Rum’s wells, a small part of the Bedouin people’s water network in the desert. It was then time for the pièce de résistance – sunset over the desert. We had some time before the sun went down, so we found ourselves some rocks to watch from, and scattered in a pursuit of solitude in this vast landscape. The photographers set up their cameras, and after a couple of spectacular panoramas (which don’t even fully capture the moment) I sat on the rock to watch the sun disappear over the horizon. It had been a gloriously hot day, and the sun was a glowing white ball as it slid down the sky, casting an orange-pink glow over the landscape, with the rock silhouetted hazily against the sky.

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The surface of Mars at sunset

There was all the time in the world to watch the sun set and yet all of a sudden it was over. Blinking, but feeling refreshed in some way, we headed back to the pick-up trucks, ready for a warm dinner under the stars. We made our way to Al Zawadayah Camp, admired the lodgings for the evening although I was already fully set on sleeping outside, and settled down for a hearty dinner of chicken and rice, cooked traditionally in the ground. By this time, the unpolluted night sky was doing her thing, and the Milky Way had come out to play. Wine in hand, we headed out into the desert to build a fire and enjoy the incredible sky above us – if you can’t make it to Jordan, check out dark sky sites in your area because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more spectacular than the natural night sky. Get out of town and treat yourself!

A photoshoot under the stars, a campfire and some wine in the middle of the desert, and feeling completely at peace with how small we were in the grand scheme of things, we strolled back to the camp, where a few of us chose to sleep outside. Shooting stars were a dime a dozen as we lay there, not wanting to close our eyes. In the morning, some of the group had opted for an early camel ride, but I preferred the thought of an extra hour in bed so lay there watching the morning mist rise from the rocks instead, securing and treasuring these peaceful moments from Wadi Rum in my head before the moment passed and we headed on to the energetic port city of Aqaba.

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Feeling small and insignificant and thoroughly content about it. Photo by @tomchaplinphoto, www.tomchaplin.net

Up next: snorkelling in the Red Sea!

Chris

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