WADI RUM, JORDAN - Lying under a cloudless night sky, I gaze in wonder at the stars and satellites twinkling on an ebony canvas and follow shooting stars streaking across the sky and watch them drop into the desert.
The tranquil moment is suddenly interrupted by Abdullah’s snoring.
I was drawn to Wadi Rum in the remote Jordanian outback by tales of the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia, the British adventurer (T.E. Lawrence) who gained international fame for his role in the Arab revolt during World War I. And who can forget Peter O’Toole’s portrayal of Lawrence in the Oscar-winning movie.
I left the frantic lifestyle of Jordan’s capital Amman in search of tranquility and Wadi Rum, also known as the Moon Valley because of its lunar landscape, certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The adventure began when Abdullah, who is a shepherd and tourist guide, picked me up in a jeep. We drive until the pavement drifts off into sand. En route, we pass Bedouin settlements. But soon, we see no one and nothing in any direction except an expanse of white sand and blinding sunlight. The heat is scorching.
Abdullah isn’t much of a talker, and in the silence I imagine what Lawrence must have felt in his travels through the harsh desert landscape.
As the jeep plows through the sand, rock formations begin to appear in the distance, some of them shaped by the elements to resemble mushrooms, camels, even an open hand.
Left: Rocks shaped by the wind from desert art. Right: Writer gets up close with the locals.
Abdullah stops the vehicle at one rock formation and offers me his hand as an invitation to climb to the top where he gleefully shows me hieroglyphics carved by the Nabateans, a civilization which flourished here about 4,000 years ago. The ancient craftsmanship is stunning, and the drawings of hunters, camels and warriors are perfectly intact as if they were created yesterday.
Later, we come upon a monolithic sandstone mountain with seven peaks. The highest (at 1,750 metres) is named Jebel Rum and was mentioned in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence’s chronicle of his time here.
At the bottom of the majestic formation, which seems to stand guard over the desert, Abdullah points out a spring where Lawrence and his men took their camels and horses to drink. Farther on, we view the remains of what was once Lawrence’s desert home. Two stone arms anchored in the rock mark the spot where a house once stood.
As the sun drops behind the dunes, Abdullah races the jeep to an arch carved into the rock so I can cross a narrow suspended walkway to enjoy the sunset.
We climb a giant sand dune — a challenging ascent because our feet sink into the soft sand — for an even more spectacular view of the crimson desert floor as we’re serenaded by the whistling wind. With his finger, Abdullah draws a horse and a Bedouin face in the sand. The wind quickly erases his artistry and he just looks at me and smiles.
Left: Faces from the past. Centre: Natural bridges excite tourists. Right: Becoming Lawrence of Arabia.
Later, after eating some meat and vegetables cooked on an open fire, we lay on blankets at the bottom of a mountain that shields us from the swirling wind and I watch the night show unfold in the sky above.
“This is the best spot to watch the sun rise,” Abdullah says as he bids me good night.
Tomorrow, we’ll mount camels and go deeper into the Land of Lawrence, but tonight I’m content to look up at the stars and wonder if the legendary British soldier is looking down on me.
Go to these websites for information on companies who can arrange a tour to Wado Rum www.voyagesjordanie.com
• Tours to Wadi Rum usually include visits to Amman, Petra, castles in the desert and the Dead Sea. Prices vary according to season. • Air France provides daily flights Toronto to Amman via Paris and a number of other carriers offer flights to Jordan via Dubai from Toronto. • Early June is a good time to visit Wadi Rum and prices tend to be lower at that time of year.