The thing that makes deserts deserts, or at least as I understand it, is the lack of rain. My practical experience of this rather undermines this assumption. In 2004 we went to the Gobi Desert as a 6 year drought broke on the night we slept there without shelter. In 2003 we went to Uluru as a 6 month drought broke. There have been numerous other trips where we should have been in blazing sunshine when the phrase of the day was ‘wouldn’t this be beautiful if it wasn’t raining’.
We shouldn’t have been too surprised that we found ourselves in the stunning Wadi Rum, in Jordan’s south, in the first rain they had experienced in a long time. Sitting on a rocky outcrop overlooking the desert, sipping G&T is slightly less romantic when you have water dripping from the hood of your Goretex.
We did get a wonderful light show that evening as lightning lit up the horizon. We learned later that this light show, and the heavy rain it telegraphed, led to flash floods at a spot we are due to visit in a few days, taking 21 lives. Nature is unforgiving at times, and life is unpredictable.
We stayed in the wadi for 2 nights in a faux Bedouin camp. There are a number of them around the wadi, but spaced out enough to not see the others. They aren’t posh, but aren’t living it rough either. There are showers that have hot water a couple of times a day, a few hours of electric light and great local food served up in a comfortable communal tent. The beds leave a little to be desired and the pillows seem to be full of some rubbery stuff that I hope was rubbery stuff.
The biggest challenge is the shared bathroom thing. I am nearly 50 and whilst I feel like I’m in my mid twenties in most environments, I can be a bit of an old fuddy when it comes to shared bathrooms. I can handle other people’s pubic hair in the shower or the toothpaste smeg in the sink. I can even handle the bins full of used loo paper as you can’t flush it down the loo. It’s the reasonably public pooing I find challenging. This unisex bathroom had stalls, without floor to ceiling walls or doors, so what ever you do can be heard by all. And I don’t even mind hearing other people’s movements. They can even be a bit amusing causing me to resist the urge to comment (‘Wow, that must have hurt’, or ‘Jesus, what did you eat last night?!’). The problem I have is my movements. If I walk into one of these places and before me is somebody cleaning their teeth, I find it very, very difficult to do what I need to do. If that person is an attractive women, the stage fright is such I seal up like a safe door, in a way that suggests I sometimes see myself as an attractive, single 25 year old male that is of interest to an attractive young women, who is probably thinking ‘I need to get the fuck out of here before that old bloke turns this place into a radioactive no-go zone’. It gets physically uncomfortable after a day or so.
When I wasn’t dealing with poo issues, we explored the wadi, in a 4x4 and on camels. The first gets you to places quickly if rather bumpedly. We got to see pictures of camels drawn by the ancient merchants that came that way, I drank warm camel milk, warm because it had just been removed from mummy camel, we saw a house the TE Lawrence allegedly lived and lots of incredible panoramas.
The camel ride is rather slower than a 4x4, involves far more flatulence but also involves sitting on a beautifully majestic creatures that nearly always look cool, calm and collected. I say nearly always as I now know what it’s like to be on a camel that gets spooked by something and freaks out. I stayed on, but it was very, very close.
We returned from the wadi via a night in the Dana Nature Reserve which is a lush valley running from the mountains to the desert. The reason to go there is to explore the reserve and we planned to do this on horseback. Unfortunately our expectations of a horse ride was different from the reality as rather than being guided by a guide also on horseback, we were to be led on a rope by two lads on foot. This would have felt like a rather extravagant donkey ride and would have been an expensive way of seeing no more of the valley than we could do on foot, so pulled the plug on it. By this time it was too late to get a guide to take us into the valley on foot so we had to settle for the hardship of watching the light fade, then a glorious sunset over the valley whilst sipping G&T. It’s a tough life.
The following day we returned to Amman, via Kanark Castle (closed on a Monday…….. the FTs planning is great) then a route much longer than expected due to the road along the Dead Sea being closed (they were still trying to recover bodies and open bridges that had been damaged by the floods). The scenery is a rather stunning mix of hills, desert and the odd patch of green so in no way a chore.