A Night Under the Stars in Wadi Rum

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My new French friends and I hopped in a taxi at the Jordanian border and set off on our 45-minute drive to Wadi Rum. While Etienne sat up front and chatted with our driver, I spent most of the time looking out the window at the vast, unchanging desert landscape. Though Israel has miles of uninhabited desert as well, this seemed different somehow. We saw almost nothing: lots of sand and rocks with one main road running in between, a single railroad track (that I later learned doesn’t carry passengers and is mostly for show), and power lines. An amazing abundance of power lines, though I couldn’t tell you where they led to or from.

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Our cab dropped us off at the police checkpoint in Wadi Rum, and a moment later a pickup truck arrived for us, the side stenciled with “Obeid’s Bedouin Life Camp”. The driver introduced himself as Nial, Obeid’s son, and chatted with us for the additional 20 minutes or so it took us to drive through the desert to the camp, off-roading the whole way.

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We were shown to our tents, where we dumped our backpacks, and then had a simple lunch of tuna, hummus, salad, and pita before deciding to go on a late afternoon jeep tour with a Dutch couple who was also staying there.

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We chose to do the two-hour tour, the shortest (and cheapest) option. Sitting on makeshift benches in the bed of the truck, constantly knocking into each other as we made turns and rode over sand dunes, it was a bumpy ride. The landscape was absolutely beautiful, and we were taken to several notable locations in the vicinity: bird rock (though some of us thought it looked more like a camel), as well as sites from the film “Lawrence of Arabia”, and there was even a rock with Lawrence’s face carved in it. (Somehow I’ve never seen the film, so most of our guide’s references were lost on me.)

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We were also taken to a large rock face that we were told had a Nabatean inscription on it dating from 2500 years ago, but it mostly just looked like pictures of camels to me. Amusingly, the rock right next to it was carved with the names of countries various visitors had come from, obviously much more recently.

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A few in our group decided to try “sand boarding” down one of the large dunes, but it involved hiking up a massive hill and after watching the first one make the attempt, sliding backwards in the sand with every step he took, I decided I would pass. It looked pretty strenuous and not all that rewarding, and I was already feeling a bit ill from dehydration. I’m sure one of the Bedouin families will set up a ski lift there in a few years!

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Back at the camp, we all climbed a slightly treacherous rock formation and perched ourselves on the edge of a cliff to watch the sun set.

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That night, we ate a dinner of chicken, rice, and potatoes cooked in the traditional Bedouin style, buried in a pit in the sand. Later, we all sat around a bonfire drinking hot, sweet tea, with our cups being constantly refilled by our hosts (whether we wanted more or not — I have never drunk so much tea in my life). While we laid back on woven mats and pillows, watching shooting stars, we were each asked if we wanted to sleep inside or outside. Outside, of course! They went to go make up our beds, which turned out to be quite nice — a large woven mat just in front of each of our tents, with a lightweight but comfy mattress, and plenty of blankets for what we were assured was going to be a cold night.

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My sleeping area was actually a bit removed from the main camp, just over a sand dune, so I had an amazing feeling of privacy and isolation as I lay there, as if I was all alone in the desert. I’ve never seen so many stars as I did out there, and shooting stars seemed remarkably frequent — one seemed to come every few minutes.

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Can’t say it was the best night’s sleep of my life, though. Certainly better than that night in Tayrona, but the unfamiliar desert sounds did make me feel a bit vulnerable and I had to assure myself that it was only the wind before finally falling asleep. Then, as the “cold desert night” had once again been over stated to me and I was wearing all my clothing, I kept waking up sweating and having to strip off layers. Plus all that water I’d been drinking and the fact that I was the farthest away from the camp bathroom meant I had to go on a mission at around 3am to find a convenient, scorpion-free rock to relieve myself behind.

But all in all, it was a great experience, and truly beautiful to wake up with the sun and see the gorgeous desert landscape as soon as I opened my eyes.

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