“Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of the stupendous hills.”
~T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
A convoy of 4x4s was waiting just beyond the entrance gates of Wadi Rum, ready to whisk us away on a ride through the Arabian Desert. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Jordan’s vast “valley of sand,” as its name so aptly translates. And I knew that after spending the morning wandering among the spectacular ruins of ancient Petra, our afternoon destination had a tough act to follow.
But I hadn’t yet met Wadi Rum.
About an hour-and-a-half south of Petra, Wadi Rum dates to prehistoric times and seems to be a place shrouded in mystery. Various cultures, including the Nabataeans who inhabited Petra, made their homes in this part of the Arabian Desert. Five-thousand-year-old drawings called petroglyphs, believed to be ancient Thamudic writings, are found on rocks throughout the area. Today Nomadic Bedouins live in Wadi Rum, tending to camels and sheep and tourism.
Riding Through Wadi Rum
We picked out a truck and climbed into the open back seats. Benches covered in a blanket-like fabric faced one another, each accommodating two or three people. I looked for something to grasp for moments when the ride would turn bumpy and settled on a bar just behind the back window. I figured I would be able to hold on with one hand and somehow take photos with the other – or at the very least use the bar as a place to steady my camera on the bumpy ride. And bumpy it definitely was!
Our driver began maneuvering the truck through the sand, slowly picking up speed. The vehicles in our group formed a single-file line as if they were traveling on an actual desert highway, complete with traffic lanes. We passed craggy red rock formations, camel caravans, desert camps and brushy growth sprouting up amid the sand. It was forlorn looking, yet incredibly beautiful, as the late afternoon light brushed across the rocks, turning them from red to pink to golden.
Wadi Rum Petroglyphs
Toward the end of our tour, the convoy pulled over near a spot where petroglyphs have been discovered. We walked through the sand to the base of a soaring rock formation for a close look at the drawings. Images of animals and people as well as simple shapes and symbols were carved into the rock, an ancient communication system that was a sharp contrast to the sophisticated hieroglyphics we had just seen in Luxor.
A Bedouin Dinner
Back on our perch in the convoy, we continued on to the Bedouin tents where we would be having dinner. Nine musicians dressed in traditional clothing welcomed our group and performed throughout the evening. Carpets lined the desert floor, and rectangular tables set up in open-sided tents served as dining spots. We sat on low benches that were covered in red-and-black striped blankets.
The music seemed to grow livelier as darkness fell over our desert soiree. A circle began forming at the center of the makeshift stage, and one of the guides came over to the table where Herb and I had been enjoying dinner with friends Kathy and Eric, whom we had met the first night on the cruise. “Come dance!” he insisted. “I will show you how.” Before we even had a chance to reply, Kathy, Herb and I found ourselves in the circle, holding hands and moving our feet. Eric stayed back and captured a photo, which has become one of my favorites from the trip.
The drive back to the Visitor Center was much faster than our journey through the valley. No rock formations to dazzle us in the darkness. No stops to examine ancient petroglyphs. Only the silhouette of Wadi Rum against the desert sky, and the sound of the caravan as we sped through the night.