Aqaba and Wadi Rum
Jordan is everything that Egypt was not, plus it has the history, culture, and climate of Egypt. Ignored by the Westerns for a long time, Jordan came to tourist’s map when Petra was listed as the world heritage site in 1980.
More than deserts, camels, and Petra, the tiny country of Jordan has more than its share of biblical references, monuments, ancient churches castles, and geographical wonders. It is by far is the most rewarding destination in the Middle East.
After a very tiring day (3:30 AM start, a long drive through Siani, and two border crossings) we reached Aqaba, Jordan’s only beach town, and our spirits lifted instantly. We had never heard of the place and never expected a half-Western and half-Middle Eastern town. The place was bustling with people. Our hotel was right in the middle of the town which was full of restaurants most with alfresco dining. The spirit of festivities was everywhere. Upmarket shops, friendly people, music, mild weather; it was as if everything was Goldilock’s ‘just right’.
We dumped our luggage in our rooms and went to explore the surrounding on foot. Aqaba is a weekend destination both for the Jordanians (who come for Fridays and Saturdays) and Europeans (who drop by on Saturdays and Sundays). Aqaba’s population swelled from 40,000 to 200,000 in recent years to take advantage of its booming tourism. On top of that, it is a ‘tax-free’ port hence many businesses are moving here.
We didn’t get to spend much time in Aqaba, just enough to recover from two days’ tiredness in a nice hotel and enjoy an excellent dinner of Tikka Chicken and Jordanian eggplant dishes. The next day, we headed for Wadi Rum at a leisurely pace.
At just a two hours drive from Aqaba, Wadi Rum is the most spectacular natural environment in the desert and was the major highlight of our visit to Jordan. The word ‘wadi’ means a valley, and it is a sequence of parallel faults in the south of the Shara mountains.
Come to Wadi Rum and you feel you are on planet Mars. The red sand, the dramatic mountains, and the dry heat. The mountains ( composed of granite, basalt, and sandstone) rising up to 800 meters from the ground. No wonder the movie Martian starring Matt Damon was shot in Wadi Rum. Lawrence of Arabia, Alladin, Mission to Mars and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and many more are also filmed here.
Although arid and open desert the Rum area is far from depopulated. Nabateans and Bedouins (both Arabian nomads) have been living in this area for millennials. This four minutes video about Nabateans is worth watching.
We stayed in a camp in Wadi Rum which looked like a tribal tent from inside. It was surprisingly well-equipped. It had its own bathroom and supply of freshwater which comes from the underground.
Wadi Rum has become the supplier of fresh water to the whole of Jordan since the discovery of an underground sea under the red sand.
After lunch, we went for desert safari on four-wheel drives, witnessing many prehistoric inscriptions and carvings on rocky caverns, Lawrence Spring and canyon (named after British lieutenant T. E. Lawrance or Lawrance of Arabia) and Mr Trump rockface.
We climbed a hill to get a panoramic view of the mountains and watched the sunset against the backdrop of camels which came just at the right moment.
Jordan is the part of the land bridge linking Europe, Africa, and Asia and has seen countless armies come and go. Greeks, Roman, Muslims, Christians Crusaders and they all have left evidence of their conquests. There are literally thousands of archeological sites from all periods in every corner of the country.
Amman is the capital and the country is ruled by King Abdullah II (who is said to be a direct descendant of prophet Muhammad from his daughter Fatimah’s side). King Abdullah II has been able to keep pro-Western and pro-Arab policies founded on the bedrock of Muslim authority. Although there is no oil in the country, the economic conditions are much better than the neighboring countries. Women have much more freedom and many of them work. People are soft-spoken and traditions of hospitality are ingrained.
Tomorrow, I will take you to a tour of Petra.