Day 12: Aqaba – Wadi Rum: Side Visit to Wadi Rum
Wednesday June 1, 2011, 78 km (48 miles) – Total so far: 1,125 km (699 miles)
After another late start I set out from Aqaba in the direction of the Desert Highway. There are 3 roads in Jordan that run from Aqaba to the capital Amman, nearly the length of the country. Firstly there’s the Desert Highway which is the most easterly. This road climbs from Aqaba up to the eastern desert plateau and continues through the desert all the way to Amman. Secondly there’s the King’s Way which branches off from the Desert Highway 80km outside Aqaba. This quiet road cuts through the centre of the country climbing and descending steeply through the central mountains of Jordan all the way to Amman. Lastly there’s the Dead Sea Highway, the most westerly, which drops from Aqaba to -420m below sea level beside the Dead Sea before climbing back to Amman. All these roads are around 350km long end to end from Aqaba to Amman.
This morning I took the desert highway out of Aqaba and started the slow climb up towards the desert plateau. My plan today was to visit Wadi Rum, made famous by T.E. Lawrence who was based here during the Arab Revolt and also the location where the film “Lawrence of Arabia” was largely filmed.
I was again surprised by the standard of driving here in Jordan. Although the desert highway was choked with large trucks, they were all incredibly polite when passing, giving me way more room than I needed. Aswell as being polite they were also the friendliest truck drivers I had come across. A large amount of them would wave out the window, beeping the horn cheering me on or welcoming me to Jordan! Infact that’s what struck me the most on my first day in Jordan, the friendliness of the people here. I had heard some bad incidents that cyclists have encountered here, mainly at the hands of groups of kids throwing stones, spitting or shouting abuse but the encounters I had today couldn’t be any further removed from that. These incidents however mostly happen on the King’s Highway which I would be cycling over the next few days. Today though I have to say that I received a great welcome.
After around 1000m of climbing up the desert highway I reached the turnoff for Wadi Rum. Rum village (the last village before the road runs out and the desert begins) lies 25km up this road. This meant I would have to cycle back along this tomorrow. Nonetheless it was worth it to visit one of the most famous desert regions in the world. The road climbed slowly past small rock formations which steadily grew larger the nearer I got to Wadi Rum. After passing through a couple of small sandstorms I arrived at the visitor centre and bought the ticket needed to enter the Wadi Rum National Park. From here I continued along the road and into the valley towards Rum Village. The scenery really was striking and well worth the trip out here.
After arriving in Rum Village I got a meal in the resthouse. Tourists here usually take a tour around the desert spending the day in a 4×4 or on a camel seeing the many sights of Wadi Rum and then spending the night in a bedouin tent out in the desert. Being alone however I would have to pay 70-80JD for a tour like this so it wasn’t an option. The only way to take one would be to join one or more other tourists and split the costs. In the end it didn’t matter since the fact my flight was leaving on the 7th meant I couldn’t afford to take a rest day here. So unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to see all that Wadi Rum had to offer. I did want to get a sample of it though so I was planning to push the bike out into the desert and camp somewhere under the stars tonight. So I stocked up on food and as the sun was setting I began my walk into the desert.
After only a few minutes in I realised this wasn’t a great idea. The jeep tracks which I had thought would have firmer sand underneath didn’t. Instead there were huge patches of deep sand which the bike just sunk into and made it very tough to push the bike through. I kept going anyway until I was nearly 2km out into the desert. From here I was able to get a great view of Wadi Rum as the sun slowly set.
I realised it would require a lot more effort to push through the sand to find a good campspot. I was still in view of a bedouin tent and had picked up 2 dogs who were following me. I would have to go much further to find a good campspot and try and lose the 2 dogs. Not likely with a 40kg bike! So with my great idea of a night in the wilderness now up in smoke I began the long push back through the deep sand. It was a bit idealistic of me and I learned my mistake in the end. As I was pushing back I was passed by plenty of jeeps bringing tourists back from viewing the sunset. I’m sure I looked like some fool pushing a heavily loaded bike through the sand still a good distance from Rum Village!
After arriving back at Rum Village as it was nearly dark I headed back to the resthouse and got one of the tents there for 3JD. It was 2JD for your own tent so after my tiring slog I took the lazy option and spent the night in one of the tents already there.