A Peaceable Kingdom – Part 2
In Part One of our incredible ten-day odyssey in the peaceable Kingdom of Jordan, we began by exploring its capital city Amman, a surprisingly modern, hospitable and bustling metropolis.
Next on our exciting countrywide tour, was a pleasant drive to Jordan’s northern regions, which boast lush pine forests, olive groves and the famed hilltop castle of Ajloun. A drive southward then brought us to the imposing ruins of the Roman city of Jerash.
Adding to our ambitious yet intriguing itinerary, were stops at Mount Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land; Madaba, famous for its historic mosaics; and Kerak, the almost impenetrable fortress built by the Christian Crusaders.
But our two-day stay at Petra, which was carved out of towering rose-red rock cliffs some 2000 years ago and recently named one of the “Seven New Wonders of the World“, was truly awe-inspiring! “What could top that?” I thought. I would soon find out as we headed further south for Wadi Rum!
The Amazing Wadi Rum
It is almost impossible to describe this amazing expanse of desert that is the largest wadi (valley or dry riverbed) to be found in Jordan. Rum (pronounced more like ramm) is derived from an Aramaic word meaning ‘high’ or ‘elevated’.
Unlike my previous conception of deserts as just miles and miles of undulating, featureless sand dunes, Wadi Rum boasts spectacular soaring mounds of sandstone and granite rock rising out of the surrounding endless sea of sand.
This area has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times. Many of these cultures, including the Nabateans of Petra fame, left their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti and temples, which are still visible.
Today, several Bedouin tribes (and their camels) inhabit Wadi Rum and the surrounding area.
But when you are there, you have the distinct feeling that you are all alone with nature and whatever higher power you believe in.
For most Westerners, Wadi Rum is best known for its connection to British army officer T. E. Lawrence, portrayed by Peter O’Toole in the film Lawrence of Arabia.
Lawrence and his Arab allies crossed Wadi Rum during the Arab Revolt of 1917-1918 against the Ottoman Turks.
Much of the award-winning 1962 film was shot on this actual breathtaking location, but the cinematic images pale in comparison to the real thing.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
In the 1980s, one of the impressive towering rock formations in Wadi Rum was named “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” in memory of Lawrence’s book penned in the aftermath of the war and this is where we started our incredible desert safari.
After a wonderful meal at the remarkably comprehensive interpretation centre, we boarded our 4-wheel-drive Jeeps for the ride of a lifetime across the seemingly endless expanse of Wadi Rum.
Protected from the scorching rays of the desert sun by hats, sunglasses and sun-block lotion, we revelled in the exhilarating ride along the barely marked trails.
One soon began to understand why only certified local drivers are allowed to venture into the Rum, as it would be so easy to lose your way and end up driving in circles!
Our Jeeps pulled up in the shadow of one of the many rock formations and our intrepid guide invited us to take a solitary walk in whichever direction we wanted.
He explained that to truly experience the Rum one must get away from the madding crowd, listen to the subtle sounds of the wind, feel the sand running away from under your footsteps and let all of the cares and stress of modern-day life gradually slip away. As I got farther away from our caravan of Jeeps, I could understand what he meant.
All I could hear was the sound of my own breathing and the soft whispering of the wind. It was indeed a unique experience, but it was comforting to know that I was not really alone in this strangely beautiful yet totally unforgiving environment!
After stopping to view one of the most visible examples of ancient graffiti carved into Wadi Rum’s rock formations by long-forgotten civilisations, we came upon one of the Rum’s most astounding natural features, a soaring natural rock bridge that was created by eons of wind-driven sand.
After gingerly climbing up one of the steep “banks” a group of us reached the middle of the span and did a high-kicking cancan routine as our less adventurous travelling companions clicked away with their cameras from terra firma.
As the shadows grew longer and the temperature dropped, we arrived at a picture-postcard spot to view the sun finally setting on the desert horizon. It was a moment to be forever cherished.
Silhouetted against the waning ball of fire were two Bedouins on their camels heading for their camp. The sky turned every imaginable hue then darkened as a full moon began its ascent.
Welcome to Your Tent
Perhaps the most unusual accommodations you could ever imagine would be to spend a night in a Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert! Yet that was exactly what was in store for us.
I had visions of spending a sleepless night on a thin bedroll with all sorts of creepy crawlers as bedmates and strange nocturnal creatures howling at the flap of my temporary abode.
How wrong could I be?
The camp consisted of two rows of continuous tents forming a v-shape against one of Wadi Rum’s soaring rock formations.
The remarkably comfortable units were separated from each other by thickly woven blankets, which were also used as “doors” to each unit.
The furnishings consisted of a single bed and a night table with a candlestick and matches. Part of the charm was the lack of electricity and other modern amenities in the tents, but the common bathroom facilities did have lights and running water.
Our Bedouin hosts were wonderful. They made us an incredible meal, slowly cooked in a pit filled with preheated rocks. As we savoured the meal seated in a circle around a campfire, Bedouin musicians entertained us under the light of the desert moon. What more could one ask for?
After a remarkably restful sleep, we said goodbye to our charming hosts and left for our journey south to an entirely different world, the Red Sea resort town of Aqaba.
Aqaba is strategically important to Jordan, as it is the country’s only seaport.
The town has been an inhabited settlement since 4000 BC, profiting from its location at the junction of trading routes between Asia, Africa, and Europe.
It is very easy to locate on the map, as it is at the southernmost tip of Jordan where the country comes to a point at the Gulf of Aqaba, an arm of the legendary Red Sea.
During World War I, the occupying Ottoman forces were forced to withdraw from the town after the 1917 raid led by T. E. Lawrence AKA Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab forces of Sharif Hussein.
Where Four Countries Meet
Lying on Jordan’s short coastline between Israel and Egypt to the west and Saudi Arabia to the east, Ababa’s location is truly unique.
With the warm crystal clear waters and the cool breezes of its Gulf, its no wonder that this is a favourite holiday spot among both locals and foreigners.
After checking into the Intercontinental Hotel Aqaba, we spent a wonderful afternoon on a boat ride around the gulf, courtesy of Sindbad Yacht Cruises & Water Sports, stopping to plunge into the waters to do some snorkelling. The gulf is recognised as a world-class diving site because of its wonderful coral reefs.
The affably crew even managed to orchestrate an impromptu dance on the upper deck! Most of us joined in, cavorting to the quick-tempo of the recorded Arabic music, as we sailed by the coasts of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Dead Sea Spas
The following day, we headed back north and drove along the shore of the Dead Sea, which is the lowest place on earth.
Because of constant evaporation and lack of replenishment from rivers, the sea’s water is 30 percent saline. The result is that when you lie in it, you cannot sink!
Taking advantage of the health-giving quality of the salty water and the black shiny mud that is dredged from the depths of the Dead Sea, several luxury spa hotels grace its fairly steep shores.
Swimming to the Sea
I was fortunate to be staying at the 5-star Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea.
Among its world-class amenities, this extraordinary hotel features seven interconnecting pools starting from the high perch of its main building and descending in steps to the edge of the sea.
One of my travelling companions Camilla and I literally swam our way to the sea, stopping at each pool for a refreshing dip!
Mud for the Asking
Once on the shore of this legendary body of water, we rolled in laughter as the members of our group took turns slathering each other from head to foot in the pitch-black mud contained in pots along the rocky shore.
A Relaxing Float
After letting the mud dry in the brilliant sunshine, true spa aficionados then lie on their backs in the sea, making sure mot to get any of the ultra-salty, tepid, buoyant water into their eyes or mouths. This was a truly unique experience!
Bethany Beyond the Jordan
A totally different experience awaited us the following day. We drove to the spot on the east bank of the River Jordan where Saint John is said to have baptized Jesus Christ.
Whatever one’s beliefs, it was remarkably moving to walk along the pathways that led to the revered spot, which is marked by a sheltered baptismal font.
Ironically, you could almost reach across the narrow rivurlet to Israel on the other bank.
A Remarkable Organization
I would be remise if I did not mention one of the most touching aspects of our stay to Jordan. We were privileged to visit The Al-Hussein Society for the Habilitation/Rehabilitation of the Physically Challenged, located in Amman.
The wonderful work of the staff and volunteers of the society is rewarded by the smiles and indomitable spirit of the mostly young recipients of this invaluable service. I invite our readers to visit their website at www.ahsrehab.org.
Fond Memories of Jordan
With so many unique experiences awaiting you in this remarkable peaceful and hospitable Middle-Eastern country, even the most jaded traveller will be astounded over and over again!
Royal Jordanian Airlines offers weekly direct flights from Montreal to Amman.
Where to Stay
Intercontinental Hotel Aqaba
Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea
For More Info on Jordan
Jordan Tourism Board North America
6867 Elm Street, Suite 102
McLean, VA 22101
Toll-free: 1-877-seejordan (733-5673)