Wadi Rum – Space trip to Mars

Index

Where to stay in Wadi Rum

The most common picture of Wadi Rum you see on the internet is of the bubble hotel. They are fascinating but aren’t pocket friendly. So our first choice was Wadi Rum Nomads. They do not have bubble hotels but are cheaper. In summer, they even arrange sleeping under the sky kind of things in caves and canyons.

The next affordable and the best option we found was  Mazayen Rum Camp – Bubble hotel under our budget. The stay was pleasant; the staff were friendly. But there was nothing “Bedouin” about the camp, and rooms weren’t transparent. Once I am in, I can’t see Mars. It could have been nice if there was Bedouin music in the night. ( Probably I am expecting too much for the money I paid)The tasty food was more like “made for tourists” than authentic. So if you are looking for more Bedouin touch and an authentic place to stay, this might not be your choice. 

How to reach

  • Nearest international airport – Amman Airport -385 km
  • Railways – Nope! Hejaz Railways are still under restoration.
  • Public Transport – Check Jett buses. Local minibuses run between Wadi Musa and Rum without any specific timetable. & buses don’t leave unless full. If you are backpacking, the night camping site owners do provide transport services, especially from Petra. Wadi Rum Nomads even provide horse rides or camel rides from Petra to Wadi Rum – 110km.

Why visit Wadi Rum

Jeff Bezos can afford to go on a space trip, but not laymen like us. So when you can not go to Mars, go to Wadi Rum. Walking on Brick red coloured sand here feels like walking on a softer mattress. Weird-shaped brown rocky mountains and natural stone bridges look like they were dropped down to the earth from some alien planet..If a place is this magical, you can’t blame it to be touristy. Most of the tourists visiting Jordan will visit Wadi Rum. But the desert is so big that you will hardly see anyone

How many days to spend

I wanted to explore Wadi Rum for at least one day more than what we did. On the 1st day by 4-wheel drive & the next day walking. It could have been delightful having packed lunch sitting in the canyons or on the bridges. Or go outside the protected village to see the more stone bridges and meet real Bedouins in their authentic villages nearby.  So Two nights and Two days should be good.

But Sahana says she was content with our one day and overnight stay. But we both have one common opinion DO NOT MAKE DAY TRIP. You must see how gracefully the sun goes down with a splash of colours and how the desert looks gloomy before the sunrise. 

Know before you go

  • Wadi Rum is divided into two zones – Protected and accessible zones. Human Activities in Protected regions are restricted to preserve ecologically sensitive areas and to retain their indigenous character. To know more, visit Wadirum’s official website.  
  • Is it safe? – It is surprising to many of us that Saudi Arabia has Wadi Rum too. Wadi Rum desert is typical for these two neighbouring countries. This means – You need not fear anything. Jordan is one of the safest countries in the middle east.
  • Entrance fees (as of 2019) – 5JD for one caravan/night for foreigners. If you want to explore Wadi Rum yourself, you can hire four-wheel jeeps with/without drivers or camels. If you haven’t booked anything prior, you can do it at the visitor from choosing the camp to booking a four-wheel drive.
  • Timings – Our driver Ali mentioned, after 5.30 PM, The officers go on patrol to check if anyone is still out in the desert. 5.30 PM is the curfew, I think.

Camel or Jeep or Walk? 

  • Camels might give you the natural feel of exploring the desert like a Bedouin. But the backache comes free with the ride. Plus, it might slow you down. Near a few Bedouin tea camps, you can find camels for shorter rides.
  • Four-wheel drives are The most comfortable and the quickest.
  • But nothing can beat walking if you are ready. It is better to hire a guide for walking so that you don’t get lost. The Internet data hardly works in the desert but works near the night camps. So navigating by yourself could turn into a nightmare. The only drawback of walking is – Time-consuming. If you are in Wadi Rum for a week, walking is a great idea to explore the desert.
  • Make sure you don’t throw away any trash into the desert. Usually, the Jeep drivers will have a bag for trash. We did not find even a piece of plastic here. So glad to see it being maintained that well even with lakhs of visitors every year.
  • Check our post “What to wear in Jordan” to know in detail about outfits and footwear suitable for the desert.

Places to see in Wadi Rum

The beauty of a desert is its silence, the vibrance, the fear it creates by the hugeness. Every turn you take, you see nothing; still, you see something. So it is hard to pinpoint places here. Still, you can list down some spots in Wadi Rum. But trust me, these spots are probably a tiny part of the Enigma.

The best sunset viewpoint is” top of any dune or rocks.”

Ride with us on the dunes.

 It was almost 28km of walking in the last three days at Petra. Though the landscape is dramatic, we kept snoring in the car now and then. Our driver, Yusuf, woke us up when we entered the desert area, and there was a mini traffic jam on the road by these cute big fellas – Camels crossing near Wadi Rum village. This is the first time we encountered “camels crossing” – they are as lazy as cows. They take their own sweet time.

Railway station

The first stop before entering the desert was – Hejaz Railway Train station of Wadi Rum -Restored but not yet active railways of Jordan. The Jordan railways date back to Byzantine times.

 First, I saw Arabs on their galloping horses, ululating and fighting for their freedom against the Ottoman. Then, a train whistled, followed by the noise of a bomb blast, immediately setting the train on fire. The tribes had kept a bomb under the train track to attack the Ottomans in the parade. There are side effects of watching “Lawrence of Arabia” movie too many times.

All we did was jump around this steam engine and click pictures, and at last, the three of us made the noise that soldiers on a horse used to do “Ululalalalalal.”

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

 If you have read the autobiography of British officer E.T. Lawrence, you can easily relate to what you see at the visitor centre. The cover page of” Seven Pillars of Wisdom” was the first view of spectacular Wadi Rum. One thing we got to know then and there – the sand is genuinely different from the usual brown sand. It is Reddish but not as orange as in a few of the tourist’s “over-edited pictures on the internet.”

It was probably after a ten-minute drive on the asphalt road, Yusuf stopped near a fuel station. There we were, along with a herd of humans waiting to start the adventures on the dunes. The air felt touristy; the vibe was noisy. Ewwww, too many people! ( Coming to one of the famous tourist locations of a country and not expecting people – what was I thinking? ) Most of them were busy grabbing snacks in the small supermarket nearby. Yusuf came back with one bag full of chips, chocolate bars, Arabic candies, juices and a water bottle. “Take this – here is your lunch packed,” he said. Right behind was Mr Ali, wearing a white Thoub, white keffiyeh – the traditional Jordan attire.

More than his attire, his Persona was sparking. He was equally as excited as us. As if we were his first guests in the whole of his life. BTW, it was his 4th year in the 4w-drive business. 

We could choose to sit in the front with Ali, but what is the fun in sitting inside when you can feel the sand on your face standing behind in the truck. ” Yaallah, Yaallah”, Ali said in excitement, and we repeated after and louder than him.

The wind, sun, desert and one load of tourists for the next 10 minutes on the road – I was hoping not to get stuck in a traffic jam in the desert. After 10 minutes, the desert had swallowed everyone else except us. The transition of noise to peace was drastic. The immense joy of breathing the desert air, feeling the sun rays warming up against the cold breeze – all these began to happen in an unearthly isolated place – in a strange, mysterious Planet kind of place.

The Martian Spot

Ali stopped somewhere and asked us to follow him on the dunes. I kept trying to show him the screenshot I had from the movie Martian. Ali was not ready to see it.” All that later, I will show you something. Incredible,” he said. As much as I liked his joyful nature, I got offended. In my mind, I uttered, “Dude, I know you are excited, and you know the place better than us. But listen to me for a moment. I want to go here if you can take us.” He took us near the mountains and pointed in a direction. I was shocked at that moment. I could not even speak. He took out his phone and showed us something – “See, this is where Matt Damon sat after landing on Mars.”

 That is the same thing I wanted to see! I was too quick to get offended. Since I knew they shot the movie Martian in Jordan, I had been dreaming of the moment. It was an absolute dream come true moment here.

Posing for pictures is very subjective. But take my suggestion seriously here. When you try to imitate Matt Damon’s posture here, very likely, you might end up looking as if you are using a Squat toilet! We took 15 minutes to get the better pose than the pooping pose. Hysterically laughing at each other, I did better than Sahana here.

Tea break in Bedouin Tent

Anything gets more exciting with a cup of Chai. So Ali took us to a Bedouin tent nearby for some mint tea. The same herd of tourists we saw at the fuel station had gathered here. We became one among the pack- climbing the dunes barefoot, sliding down the super smooth orange sand. The sand that feels like powder was never scratchy. Gazing at the endless desert from the tent, we sat with a cup of hot and fresh mint tea.

The tent was not as quiet as the picture looks. That seat was continuously occupied by fellow tourists to enjoy the view or for the photo. Somehow we could sit here for 15 minutes to enjoy our mint tea peacefully. Later a couple requested us to move to the other seat to click a few pictures. Fair enough – everyone needs a good shot; everyone wants to enjoy.

A Bedouin secret

Oh, these camels – Big fellas, huge attitude. They were tired of carrying people like us (7JD for 15 minutes ride). When Sahana tried to pat them gently on their back, a camel grunted angrily, triggering their friends to grunt, creating a musical medley. I thought they were going to get up and chase away Sahana kicking. Fortunately, their owner came and said something in Arabic to them! Every camel calmed down. 

Ali must have been seeing us monkeying around from the tent. He came out shying and whispered in my ears, “Camels get aggressive quickly. So is their milk. In our village, couples who want to have babies drink a lot of Camel Milk. It gives men incredible strength in bed.” WOW. A Bedouin Secret 

Um Frouth Rock Bridge

After watching a few Bollywood songs filmed in Wadi Rum, we dreamt of going to one particular bridge common in all those songs. But I didn’t want to bug Ali like I tried when we went to the Martian movie spot. So when Ali said he was taking us to a bridge, I assumed he was taking us to the same bridge. We were out of the crowd soon after we left the tent. We saw no vehicle driving in the same direction as us. Ali pulled over the truck and said,” Yallah, we are at the Um-frooth Bridge.”

We were horrified – it was much smaller than what I had seen! “this is not the one,” I told Ali, showing the screenshots. Ali goes like, Oh, I didn’t know you wanted to go there. This is a bigger bridge than what you are showing me now. Let us go there once you are done with this he said”

I looked at the bridge again. I said,” why are we so stuck on things that we want to do. Why are we so adamant about what to see? Experiencing the desert is more magical than seeing spots.” 

Chuck the checkpoints. Let us go climbing, we decided.

The climbing wasn’t easy but fun. Most of the time, we were on four legs. Under the blazing sun, when we reached the bridge top, we realised that having a good plan is better, but being flexible with plans makes the imperfect perfect.

We don’t know how time flew while we sat on the top of that stone bridge— turning 360 degrees (carefully so that we don’t fall off) to see nothing but the endless Orange desert. 

The moving jeeps far away looked like tiny ants. I could spot many of them. But why didn’t they come here? There was a couple here when we arrived. It was already more than 30minutes since we landed on this bridge, but not a sign of any tourists. Why? I don’t know.

“Shall we go to the other bridge now? It is already 2.30 PM. We have to end the ride by 5 PM. So where shall we go now?” Ali asked. “Let us go wherever you want to take us, Ali”. We said.

The landscape throughout the desert is the same yet different. We were clueless about the directions. Where did we start? Which direction is the Martian spot? We could see tyre marks on the sand, but where did we come from? Like great navigators, we were trying to find out by observing sun orientation and all. Sooner we gave up our “so-called navigation” to experience the blissful desert.

Lawrence house

There was some structure in the middle of nowhere, built by Nabateans. Don’t expect something as fancy as Petra here. Few courses of big stones and rubbles are what is left now. British officer Lawrence used to store ammunition here to fight against the Ottomans. But nobody is sure if he lived here. Still, the spot is called- Lawrence’s house. The house might be unimpressive, but the views after climbing to the top are fantastic. As the sun began to go down, our stomachs started growling. That is when we realised we didn’t have lunch. Thanks to Yusuf for all those biscuits and chips.

Star war Canyon

The last time I used the toilet on that day was at the visitor centre at 9.30 AM. By 4.30 PM, my bladder was about to burst. Fortunately, Ali stopped near a canyon. I was so helpless that I was ready to urinate behind the canyon. Luckily, there was a Bedouin tent and washrooms for tourists. I saw many jumping off the jeep, running towards the toilet just like me. Trust me, I have never seen a toilet in such a fantastic location and never used one( never want to) dirtier toilet than this – The formation on rocks looked like melting lava frozen in time.

At the tent, while discussing how dirty the toilet is and how gorgeous the wilderness is, Ali told us exciting news and a piece of disappointing news. Just a few weeks before, the Star Wars crew was filming for the movie “The rise of Skywalker” at the same canyon! 

Ali continued with sad news ” Once you finish the tea, we will leave to your camp. Can you give me the name of your camp” The “F” word came out of my mouth – automatically? I wasn’t done with the desert, but it was time to end the day. We sat in the back seat of the jeep gloomy.

I think Ali could sense our gloomy mood. The desert was getting colder, so was our minds. Ali pulled back the truck somewhere near the camp and said,” I can see you sad. But what to do? I can’t take you around beyond 5 PM. Call me tomorrow if you are here to take you around more ridges and see more of the desert. I can stop here for a maximum of 30 minutes for you to walk around and spend some time by yourself”. As much as we loved being with Ali, I always wanted to spend time by ourselves. So we wandered in the vast open desert while Ali met his friend waiting for his guests lost in the desert. 

On our way to the camp, we drove between mountains. The shadow made the desert even more mysterious, and a chilly breeze was hitting the face. The bubble rooms at a distance cheered us up. It looked like tiny water bubbles on water. “Water bubbles burst easily, so what about these tents? It is just fabric over a metal casing! What if it flies away in the night. We both are going to get freeze like crows!” I kept murmuring. Sahana began to explain – “Those are Geodesic domes. They work on the principles of doing more with less. They are sturdy because of the composition of triangles into domes. Ar. Buckminster fuller…..” I had 10 minutes of architecture theory class on why this dome won’t fall off in the middle of that vast wilderness.

A sunset like never before

Yusuf was already there at the camp with our luggage. Then, the camp owner greeted us, saying,” Hurry, Hurry”.

We wondered what should we hurry for. I thought, is there a sand storm coming, and we all have to hide in some secret safe place. The owner continued – “Don’t worry about the luggage. If you want to use the toilet, do it quickly and go to the sunset point. Sun is going down. “

We were hungry and had already entered that snooze mode. But the owner had found us late already by 5.30 PM. Oh my god, an emergency Ali, we hope to see you again,” I said and hugged amazing Ali.

As we began walking, a young boy came running behind us, talking, ” Don’t run. It is nearby. You run, you get tired. Walk this way” Looking at us two clueless humans, the camp worker must have decided to help us. A 10 minute slow climbing on the dunes got us to the place painted with different colours by an unknown artist.

Golden sky, Orange sand, a pinch of blue with dots of whites on the sky lining the brown mountain – A colour palette that we have never seen to date. The boy asked us to sit in one of the seating setups to pose for the picture. 

The last day at Rum

The fabric cover on our tent did not fly away in the night! We slept peacefully on Mars. At 6 AM, we went to the same spot for sunrise, expecting something as spectacular as the previous day’s sunset. But the weather had a different plan. Drizzling rain and Cloudy sky – we hardly saw any sunshine. For the next 3 hours, we walked the desert near our camp and climbed nearby rocks.

We sat on a rock and chatted while drizzling continued. Then we spotted something nearby – Towards the east, we saw a bridge between two rocky mountains! Neither any blogger nor our camp owner had talked about this bridge. But we, the two great desert explorers, had found a bridge. More gorgeous than the Um-Frouth! We swiftly came down and began walking towards it.

When we saw the mountain from the top of the rock, we thought it must be a kilometre away. But while walking, the distance felt never-ending! Maybe after finishing a kilometre, we stood there and gazed at it again – we were fools to follow that bridge! There was no Bridge! A kind of depression on the rock made it look like a big opening and created an illusion of a ge. We thought we were great explorers to find a bridge that even the camp owner didn’t know about. This one experience taught us why the real desert explorers always refer to deserts as mysterious. Spending a day in the desert obviously can not make us” An experienced Desert explorer.”

We understood what Paulo Coelho meant “The desert is so huge, and the horizon so distant, that they make a person feel small, and as if he should remain silent.”

How was riding on the dunes with us? Let us know in the comment section below.

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