Friday, December 6, 2013
The astounding landscape of Wadi Rum
The trip became more exciting as we traced Lawrence's footsteps turning off the main highway towards Wadi Rum, through rocky, sandy countryside. You may picture the desert as nothing but lots of sand dunes but only ten percent of the desert is made up of sand dunes. Before we transferred to 4x4s, we wrapped our heads in shemags as protection from the sand and intense heat. Towering over us were the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, seven pinnacles of rock named after Lawrence's book of the same name. Lawrence never described this mountain but took the name from the Book of Proverbs (9:1): "Wisdom has built a house, she has hewn out of her seven pillars."
Wadi Rum is an amazing, timeless place, virtually untouched by humanity and its destructive forces. Here, it is the weather and winds that have carved the imposing landscape, described by T.E. Lawrence as “vast, echoing and God-like..." A maze of monolithic rockscapes rise up from the desert floor to heights of 1,750m.
Wadi Rum is also known as ‘The Valley of the Moon’. It is the place where Prince Faisal and T.E. Lawrence based their headquarters during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in World War I, their exploits woven into the history of the area.
We stopped at the base of a giant dune. It was a challenge to climb as your feet sank so far into the soft sand, but those who made it were rewarded with a spectacular view over the orange and golden sands and the small, green, mesquite type bushes. From here you could really begin to grasp the vastness of the boundless, empty spaces.
We admired ancient petroglyphs carved into the stone and then a Bedouin and his camel joined us. We learned from our guide that the camel is all important to the Bedouin for transportation, food and even health. We were told Bedouins don't suffer from stomach or skin cancer, which has been attributed to their drinking camels' milk. Apparently it is also good to rub onto your face. In times of starvation the nomads have been known to make a small nick in a camel's throat to drink it's blood. As well camel meat is part of the diet.
Here are some facts about camels that you might not know: Camels store fat for food and energy in their hump; Their super long eyelashes and sealable nostrils evolved to combat sand; A camel’s body has a totally unique water usage system for cooling the animal, circulating blood cells and ensuring it can’t actually over-hydrate.
We had lots of salad and a barbecue of chicken, lamb or a tasty, flat spicy beef sausage meat for lunch, in a traditional Bedouin tent. Now as Lawrence said, "On to Aqaba."
Since Aqaba is a duty free zone, you have to pass through a customs stop. This was more laid back than we were used to with the officer asking us, good humouredly, if we were Madrid or Barca fans. With much laughter, we were on our way.
Now we were at the most southern part of Jordan, that lies on the most northern tip of the Red Sea. On a clear day you can see Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This was not the small, fishing village that Lawrence first visited before WWI. An economic 'Free Zone' was established in Aqaba in August 2000. It covers one million square metres. Goods traded in the Free Zone are exempt of duty. The roads were full of trucks and we passed many industrial buildings as we headed into town. It wasn't terribly attractive.
After dinner it was still very hot as we strolled along the promenade by the beach, where the locals had come to make their dinner. There were lots of little fires and barbecues, children playing, horses milling and people smoking hubbly bubbly pipes. What an interesting glimpse into local life.