Wadi Rum Desert Safari & Red Sea Boat Ride
TR Robertson – On Day 8 of our Mid-East Adventure, we left the Intercontinental Aqaba Hotel, after morning breakfast, headed for a trip into the one of the most famous desert regions in the world, the Wadi Rum, 37 miles east of Aqaba. The Wadi Rum is the largest desert region in the Kingdom of Jordan and is also known as the Valley of the Moon and the Valley of Sand. Jordan is said to be 70% desert. Wadi means valley, which for Wadi Rum refers to the hills, cliffs and canyons that comprise this desert region of Jordan. Wadi Rum is said to have been named for Iram of the Pillars, a lost city mentioned in the Quran.
This area of Jordan has been inhabited by many civilizations. The Nabataeans left petroglyphs on several of the canyon walls and a Nabataean temple, built around AD 1, was discovered in 1930, but was severely damaged in 1995. It has been reconstructed for tourists. Wadi Rum has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The landscape of Wadi Rum has provided locations for numerous films over the years. Several scenes in the 1962 classic “Lawrence of Arabia”, starring Peter O’Toole, were filmed in the desert, including the depiction of the moment when T.E. Lawrence and members of native Arab tribes attacked an Ottoman train. Lawrence took part in the Arab Revolt of 1917-1918.
One of our stops on the way to the Wadi Rum Visitors Center included a visit to the actual steam train and some of the cars used in the filming of the train attack scene for the movie. A recent episode of the T.V. show “Amazing Race” was filmed using the train from the movie and also had scenes in the famous ancient city of Petra. This was a great picture stop with several in our group climbing on top of the steam engine and several of the train cars. Other movies using this amazing area for scenery include “The Martian,” “Red Planet,” “Aladdin,” “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and many others. Lawrence authored a novel called the Pillars of Wisdom, where he described the beautiful scenery of Wadi Rum and the surrounding desert. In the 1980’s a mountain named “Mountain of the Plague” was renamed “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” in honor of Lawrence’s novel.
A great deal of the activities provided by the Wadi Rum Visitor’s Center are run by members of the Zalabieh tribe. There are 4×4 adventures, camel rides, camping, Arabian horse ride, hiking and rock climbing offered along with eco-adventure stays in campsites and Bubble tents. As we boarded our pick-up truck excursion vehicles and headed out, we passed a number of the campsites situated in picturesque locations, including the interesting Bubble eco-tents.
Motoring through the red sand of Wadi Rum, our first stop was at a sand hill that rose to a rock top. It was two steps up, one step back climbing the hill, but worth the effort for a higher view of the surrounding area. Back in the truck bed we drove on to the next stop, a Bedouin tent for morning tea and a demonstration of how their strong coffee is made. Several in our group chose to take camels to our next stop, the petroglyphs of the Nabateans. As we finished the tea break, off we went again, driving by high cliff walls, unusual rock formations, sand, and more sand and finally to the final stop of the day, petroglyphs chiseled high on rock walls. A short walk away was an beautiful view from our location down into a valley below. Far in the distance a Bedouin tent and goat pen could be seen. Stopping for a group picture, we then boarded our truck for a return to the Visitors Center and the bus ride back to Aqaba. One of the Canadian members of our tour group was able to talk his driver into letting him drive the pick-up truck back, following one of the other trucks as we passed more eco-lodge tents. We headed back to Aqaba for lunch on our own, a bit of a break then off to board a glass bottom boat for a Red Sea excursion and snorkeling for those who wanted to snorkel.
Arriving back in Aqaba, Carolyn, friend Nancy and I got off the bus to go to one of the shops in a local market to purchase a small suitcase, primarily to take some of the items we had purchase back home. It seems like we always must purchase a large bag or small suitcase when we are traveling to ease the weigh allowance required by the airlines. We walked a couple of blocks in the downtown area, asked a local shop owner if he knew of a spot selling these items and luckily, he knew of a shop just around the corner that had just what we need. The price was reasonable, $35 U.S. We made the purchase and headed back, stopping by a McDonald’s to get French fries and two large cokes. This busy McDonalds used kiosks for ordering and with the assistance of one of the employees I made the purchase, including ordering a Big Mac to share and surprisingly the amount came to $5.26 U.S., cheaper that what it would have cost in the U.S. I also saw on the menu a mushroom burger offered at this McDonald’s. We had to walk about a mile back to the hotel and it was a hot walk back with temperatures in the mid-90’s. We were ready for a couple of hours in our airconditioned hotel room before heading out again.
Around 3:30, we joined about half of the tour group who had signed up for the Red Sea snorkeling trip for the ½ hour drive to the Berenice Beach Club to catch the glass bottom boat for a two-hour tour of a Red Sea location just off the coast. Carolyn and I had snorkeled the Red Sea on a previous tour and saw an amazing array of fish surrounding a sunken ship. Today it was very windy, a bit choppy which would not make for good snorkeling. We headed out and drifted over a sunken ship, a sunken airplane and a sunken tank that had been placed in the water. The coral reef growth was not as colorful in this area and the number of fish we saw was limited. There was a strong current in the area, this played a role in what was going on under the water. Snorkeling was hard for everyone who tried, so after about two hours we headed back to the dock.
Arriving back at the hotel, everyone was on their own for dinner, so we decided to eat in the hotel at the Burj al Hamam Lebanese Restaurant. The prices were reasonable, and menu had an excellent selection. I had a dish resembling what I would call Chicken Schnitzel and with two large Schnitzel pieces on my plate. All that was missing was the cheese spaetzle to make it more of a German dish. Another good ending to a fun filled day.
Part 7 will cover the incredible ancient city of Petra.