After two and a half days exploring the city of Petra in the Kingdom of Jordan, our driver Qais Bader of Jordan Select Tours turned the van towards the famous Valley of the Moon, the desert valley of Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum offers everything you would expect from a desert, extreme temperatures of both sizzling summers and frosty winters, dramatic scenery from sky-high red sand dunes, to dramatic canyons to vast open plains. The region is defining to the Bedouins who call it home and deadly to those who ignore the risks.
Many make the trip to Wadi Rum as a day trip from Aqaba or Petra. However, for those looking for a rest for the mind and soul, a night or more in one of the many overnight Bedouin camps offers a medicine that can scarcely be found elsewhere.
Arrival at Wadi Rum
We arrived in Wadi Rum after a long drive from Wadi Musa and a morning visiting Little Petra. We were excited to hear that our driver for the week, Qais, would be staying at the same camp as us for the night. After getting our park permits from the visitors centre, we proceeded through the village to a small restaurant and staging area where we were met by the driver who would be taking us to the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp for our night under the stars.
We piled our small packs into a beat up old Mitsubishi pickup and jumped up into the back which mercifully had a shade to protect us from the intense desert sun. D, who had never travelled like this before, was ridiculously excited at the thought of complete freedom. At least, until we hit our first of many bumps, which convinced him that Mommy and Daddy’s lap would be a much safer place to sit.
The drive to the camp gave us spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and left us in awe of this beautiful, but unforgiving environment which has hosted people for thousands of years. The strength and tenacity of the locals gained much-deserved notoriety during the Arab Revolt (1917 to 1918) when they fought alongside King Faisal and Lawrence of Arabia to free Jordan from the occupying Turkish and German armies.
The camp came up suddenly as we drove the twists and turns of the Wadi Rum canyons. Nestled at the base of tall desert cliffs the nondescript green and white tents were just catching some shade as the mid-afternoon sun found its way over the mountains. We met with the camp manager and were given a quick tour where we were shown the excellent washroom and shower facilities, the lobby, which offered a bit of air conditioning as a break from the desert heat, the restaurant and finally our tent. To say we were shocked when we entered the tent was an understatement. The nondescript green and white exterior belies the luxurious interior, with dramatic overhead drapery, elegant lighting and impressively comfortable beds.
The camp itself doesn’t have much to offer during the day and baking in the desert sun was not our idea of fun, so we opted for a Jeep tour of the surrounding area. Our driver arrived in the same beat up Mitsubishi that had brought us to the camp and we were told that he would be bringing us to where the tour begins.
We drove through the desert towards the visitors centre and we stopped next to a camel and horse watering area. Our driver explained in broken English that our guide would be along shortly and in the meantime there was a spring three-quarters of the way up the mountainside and a large rock with inscriptions on it that we could check out.
What was not explained to us was that the inscriptions on the rock dated from between the 4th century BC and the 4th century AD and that the spring had once been a gushing waterfall which T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) had visited in 1917. Of the spring he wrote:
“so, to get rid of the dust and strain after my long rides, I went straight up the gully into the face of the hill, along the ruined wall of the conduit by which a spout of water had once run down the ledges to a Nabatean well-house on the valley floor. It was a climb of fifteen minutes to a tired person, and not difficult. At the top, the waterfall, Al Shallala as the Arabs named is, was only a few yards away”
“Its rushing noise came from my left, by a jutting bastion of cliff over whose crimson face trailed long falling runners of green leaves. The path skirted it in an undercut ledge. On the rock-bulge above were clear-cut Nabatean inscriptions, and a sunk panel incised with a monogram or symbol. Around and about were Arab scratches, including tribe marks, some of which were witnesses of forgotten migrations: but my attention was only for the splashing of water in a crevice under the shadow of the overhanging rock.
From this rock a silver runlet issued into the sunlight. I looked in to see the spout, a little thinner than my wrist, jetting out firmly from a fissure in the roof, and falling with that clean sound into a shallow, frothing pool, behind the step which served as an entrance. The walls and roof of the crevice dripped with moisture. Thick ferns and grasses of the finest green make it a paradise just five feet square.”
Now there is little left of the spring but a small pool and a couple of fig trees, the majority of the water having already been diverted to supply the nearby towns and desert communities. C and I were called back by the driver as we attempted the 15-minute climb to the spring and were told that he would be driving us to the next location.
We piled back into the truck and headed deeper into the valley until we reached a towering red sand dune. The driver stopped without explanation and we hopped out and decided that at the very least we must attempt to climb this thing! We all ran head-long at the towering mountain of sand. D made it about 15 feet up the hill before he decided that he would just rather roll around. So, while Christina joined D in the fun, C and I raced up the dune. At the top, we were granted spectacular views of the surrounding desert. We looked back down the dune from where we came and when C saw the ant-like figures of Christina and D he looked at me with a mischievous smile and cried “Race ya to the bottom!” and off he went running and tumbling down the dune.
After our sand dune adventure, we drove a short distance to a small rock arch jutting from the desert floor. It is an easy climb up to the arch and has been known to be scaled in only 39 seconds (For those unfamiliar with this reference, I highly recommend you check out the show Departures on Netflix. It is a huge influence in pursuing our love of travel.). With a 2-year-old I wasn’t able to race up to the peak, but D and I did arrive first, gloating impressively as Christina and C crested the peak behind us. At the top, a 4-metre rock arch offers an impressive and unique perch to view the surrounding countryside. We enjoyed our time there before moving on to catch the desert sunset.
After being rushed from our perch on the rock arch by our guide who told us that we must be quick to catch the sunset, we jumped into the back of the truck and were whisked off … to a place a few minutes away in the middle of the valley. Christina and I asked if “this was it?” and the guide pointed towards the sinking sun in the distance and shrugged. Thinking that our original location would have probably been one of the best spots to catch this magnificent view and yet knowing we were running short on time, we instead pointed to a low cliff face a few hundred metres away and the driver agreed to bring us there. We skipped out of the truck and climbed up to a perch above the desert floor to catch the view. The sunset was spectacular! The golden sun lit the desert up in a fiery blaze of red. We snuggled together to witness the setting sun, enjoying a moment of solitude and solemnity where we could think about the incredible sites that we had witnessed and be grateful for a life that has allowed us to experience some of the world’s most wondrous places.
A Night Under the Stars in Wadi Rum
We returned to the camp refreshed, relaxed and hungry. We cleaned up and joined the other campers around the fire pit while we waited for the food to finish cooking. We were excited to learn that our dinner for the night was being cooked traditionally in a charcoal-filled pit dug deep into the desert sand. We were called over as the chef was preparing to lift the night’s feast from the ground and everyone clapped excitedly as the delicious meal of chicken and vegetables was pulled from the ground.
The food was absolutely scrumptious and we all ate our fill. As we finished, it became obvious that the kids had hit their limit for the day and were barely keeping their heads off of their dinner plates. So we proceeded to settle the boys into their beds, sang them a song and returned to the campfire for some Bedouin tea and conversation. The night cooled to a perfect temperature as we all laid under the vast canopy of stars, a view that living in the city can make you forget even exists. Only the children being alone in the tent stopped us from simply drifting off under the stars rather than returning to our tent.
Back to Reality
We woke up to the peaceful light of the desert morning. Breakfast at the camp is served late, and with no place to be, we swapped family cuddles in the bean bag chairs outside of our tent and watched the sun slowly rise and cut down the mountain shadows. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast before wishing our hosts a fond farewell and packing into the now familiar Mitsubishi for our last ride through the desert.
Being a Wandering Wagars adventure, this of course, meant that we couldn’t simply drive back to the van. Instead, we stopped about halfway from the camp where we met a local who would guide us on mounted camels back to the village entrance. C was ecstatic! Every day on our journey he had been asking when he could ride a camel, and now would be his big chance.
We mounted up and images of Lawrence of Arabia swished through our minds as we rode peacefully through the desert valley towards civilization. We were on our way to Aqaba where Christina and I would venture under the waters of the Red Sea.
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.
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