Friday, December 09, 2011

Wadi Rum

The pilgrimage continues. My dad's narrative in blue; my comments in black.

Wadi Rum is a vast desert at the southern end of Jordan, near the border with Saudi Arabia. A highlight to all visitors to Jordan, it has spectacular desert views and is a protected area. The area was made famous by TE Lawrence and the Arab Revolt in the early 20th century, and much of the movie Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here.

Some of the specific historic and natural sites here include a Nabataean temple, Lawrence’s Spring (TE Lawrence wrote about it in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom), various siqs (several may be seen in the photographs), rock formations, and of course the ever-changing sand dunes.

It is as timeless today as any day. While a visitor might see tire tracks in the sand, it takes only a breeze to restore its pristine condition. Countless camel caravans have passed here, and travelers over the centuries have left their marks in the rocks. [See photos below.]

Our driver arranged for us to spend the night in a Bedouin camp and to tour the desert from the back of a four-wheel drive truck. Both experiences seem to be popular. We arrived at the camp late in the morning where we met our truck driver, then we headed for the desert where both our drivers (the truck at Wadi Rum and the car throughout Jordan) prepared a fabulous lunch of chicken over an open fire. We meanwhile meandered next to the rocks and in the sand.

I liked the fact that even in major cities like Amman, there were small shops on the streets full of cages of chickens. People picked out the chicken they wanted and the keepers then went and butchered the chicken fresh.

We then continued our tour through the desert with so many beautiful and historic sites, and we quietly ended our tour atop a rock formation and watched as the sun slowly set. We then returned to the camp, met some interesting Jordanians (including some government officials as well as an Egyptian Coptic who was working at the camp), enjoyed some local cuisine (including some camel’s milk), and conversed with travelers from throughout Europe.

The Egyptian Copt seemed particularly happy to see an Orthodox priest and, since I had gotten pretty sunburnt at Petra, loaned me his keffiyeh and helped me put it on for our trip out into the desert. We had an interesting conversation with him that evening about the frightening situation for Christians in Egypt as a result of the Arab Spring.

The climate is so arid and the sky so clear that one sees many more stars at night than we might have imagined possible. One can better understand, perhaps, why shepherds over the centuries have so many stories about the stars and have imagined so many constellations.

This experience, as well as traversing the desert, riding donkeys and camels, feeling the omnipresence and power of Rome (we were reminded of this by visits to Jerash and other cities of the decapolis), and indeed just sensing the forbidding surrounds of desert bring us closer to the experiences of those who witnessed and felt the same experiences two millennia ago. All in all, these were valuable parts of our pilgrimage.

Lawrence's prison was set up here in this crevice.

My dad riding around in the back of the pick-up truck.

Our Bedouin driver showed us how one of the desert's sparse plants is a natural soap. We just ground it with a rock and then rubbed it in our hands with some water to wash up.

Here my Dad is trying to read ancient Thamudic, left by camel caravans.

Early the next morning, in the surprising cold and darkness, we mounted camels and rode for nearly an hour to reach higher ground where we quietly awaited sunrise. Other visitors from different camps arrived along with us, and it indeed appeared as a camel caravan. Picture it: sitting on a camel in the middle of the desert awaiting a sunrise!

We departed Wadi Rum upon returning to camp early in the morning and began our four-hour journey back to Amman to conclude our last full day in Jordan. As we drove along the desert highway, we could see so many examples of how much had changed, especially since the founding of Jordan following the Second World War, and yet how much had remained unchanged since ancient times.

Next stop: Amman's Citadel.

For many more photos from Wadi Rum, click here.

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