Adventures, Races, Kit and Life
Jordan’s Wadi Rum immediately conjures up classic scenes in my mind. The dramatic background looms as Lawrence of Arabia gallops on camel back. All in white, his blue eyes gleaming, long rifle firmly gripped in one hand and his face contorted as he roars, “Charge”. He’s followed by his mounted, dirty looking Bedouin army, who’s camels whip up clouds of dust as they charge through the incredible sandstone scenery.
The scenery really is incredible. However unless you have buttocks forged from wrought iron and a relaxed approach to urgency, riding camel back is not all it is made out to be. We very quickly discovered that camel riding is both incredibly uncomfortable and, on average, not particularly fast at all !
We had closely studied Lawrence on TV, in the hotel just 2 nights before, and paid particular attention to his riding style, which we attempted to mimic. Even our proactive approach to riding the desert ship failed to help at all. We concluded that we could walk faster and walking doesn’t lead to a sore bum or aching arms from constantly having to reign in the disobedient camel to stop it meandering off course to scoff the local fauna…
It must have been different in Lawrence’s day as we lasted about two hours on a camel stroll from our Bedouin camp, out to Lawrence’s famous cottage (now 50 years later, little more than a pile of well shaped rocks but admittedly with a superb view ) and were relieved to head back to camp on foot. Like many of these mini adventures, the ride on the desert ship did make a jolly good photo though ! Well worth it!
The Wadi Rum scenery really is vast in size and stature. The flat valley floors are covered in thick, soft, golden brown sand and punctuated by a minimal amount of fauna ( which the camels eat whenever they can ). The jagged valley walls rise up vertically about 600 m and are almost intimidating as they loom above you. At dusk and dawn it’s a touch cooler and you get to appreciate the rich red colours across the terrain that are generated by the low position of the sun. This combined with the stillness and lack of any form of pollution is special. It really does have a wow factor.
This huge expanse of sand and rock has been inhabited by the Bedouin tribes for centuries. Historically, the Bedouin engaged in nomadic herding and agriculture. They also earned income by using their local knowledge, desert skills and well bread camels to help transport goods and people across the hostile terrain. Scarcity of water and of permanent pastoral land required them to move constantly. Today Bedouins make up circa 35% of the population of Jordan and are often referred to as the backbone of the Kingdom. The clans traditionally support the monarchy ( who we heard do like to throw some huge Hollywood parties in this beautiful area ). The eastern Bedouin are predominantly camel breeders, but also herd sheep and goats. Whilst exploring the rugged terrain you can see that they have made the best use possible of the sandstone cliffs, carving out strategic wells and water tanks to hold and manage this precious resource. Caves are utilised to shelter their flocks of sheep from the ruthless heat generated by the midday sun.
As part of our adventure we were staying in remote Bedouin camps and were having a taste of this historic nomadic culture. The camp was very simple. It was carefully positioned in a wind protected nook and consisted of several big heavy, black ( probably to keep them looking cleaner ? ) rectangular tents that were set up around a well stocked central campfire, although I’m still not quite sure where the wood came from ?
Dinner was a delight. Traditional lamb and vegetables, garnished with local spices and cooked for several hours, in the ground. It was simple and delicious, simply delicious ! We also had the opportunity to sleep outside in the warm shadows of the trusty campfire and underneath under a sky saturated the stars. It was due to get cold ( February ) so we were wrapped up snugly in layers and layers of brightly coloured blankets. It was an phenomenal experience. Wadi Rum’s remoteness means that there is no light pollution and we were rewarded with a mind blowing panoramic view of the heavens above. Shooting starts regularly flashed by. It’s great if you need to make lots of wishes ! We were also subtly reminded that we were out there, remote and with “nature”. The steep sandstone cliffs provided perfect resonance for us to listen to the ongoing echoes of the screams of wild cats fighting or possibly mating right through to the very early hours ( that’s stamina for you ).
With the challenge of the Atacama crossing looming six weeks ahead, Jordan and specifically Wadi Rum provided the perfect opportunity to clock up a little training in desert temperatures and also on dreaded sand. I managed to squeeze in two decent shuffles. One in the evening, capturing the incredible red colours as the sun slowly vanished over the horizon and then one with the freshness of the morning, where the day rapidly woke up and temperatures got hot , fast !
As running preparation I managed to drag our bemused ( why on earth would anyone go running in the desert – that’s just stupid !! ) Bedouin camp boy managed from sucking on his hubbly bubbly pipe and he quickly rustled a large mug of sweet Bedouin mint tea, which was absolutely delicious and great running fuel due the number of spoonfuls of sugar the average cup is loaded up with. The running route options were limited as everything was on a vast scale. Even the shortest circuits were at least 15 kilometres long.
Getting out into the terrain on foot was incredible. The sand was tough on the legs and with potentially high temperatures I needed to manage my precious 2 litre water supply very carefully. The real benefit of the running pace is that you get to see all the detail of the desert and can stop and snap or study, whenever needed, but you also get to cover considerably more distance than at a strolling pace.
On my evening run, I started at our protected Bedouin camp and headed north-east for a few kilometres, then around the top of the huge central rock of Jebel Umm al-Ishrim and climbed up to a viewpoint for a quiet breather and to take time to absorb the beauty and appreciate how lucky I was to be there. Then I shuffled up and over some loose sand dunes, which was hard running and across to Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, a dramatic rock formation, rising high up into the cliff that is named in Lawrence’s honour. I entered the Rum Village from the back route and had to try and hold my breath as I ran past the rubbish tip, which seemed to have a number of rotting, stinking camel carcasses strewn across it. After this there was a long downhill cruise and a sharp turn ( it’s still about 1km wide ) and finally a long hard ascent back up towards camp across the Al-Hasany Dunes. The views along the way were manifique !
On the map the route looks pretty straightforward but the sheer size of the scenery meant that the going was far tougher and actually took much longer than expected. I was really glad that it was only February. The same route in mid summer temperatures would have been excruciating!
The following morning I took an alternative route, venturing southwards. Once more I felt as small as an ant in the vast terrain. I headed southwards, planning to cut through a narrower canyon, and then back to the camp. It was a great little run although it seemed that progress was incredibly slow, when measured against the huge scenery. By mid morning the temperature had really warmed up, water supply was dwindling badly and the legs were really feeling the effects of 25 kilometers on loose sand. The Bedouin camp was a welcome sight, and didn’t come a moment too soon. An even better welcome back was another huge mug of super sweet mint tea, fresh from the camp fire ( once the camp boy had put down his hubbly bubbly pipe again ).
A fantastic few days in Lawrence’s back yard.