Wadi Rum: The sound of silence

Whether it's by foot, camel or hot air balloon, Wadi Rum's sandstone structures and surrounding red desert are best enjoyed in silence — as our Digital Nomad discovers

By Will Hide
Published 27 Sept 2017, 17:30 BST, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 11:39 BST
Hot air ballooning in Wadi Rum, Jordan

Hot air ballooning in Wadi Rum, Jordan

Photograph by Slawek Kozdras

I'd like to apologise to my camel, Delores. Before I clambered onto her in front of the slowly sinking sun at Wadi Rum, I saw those pouty lips and those long eyelashes fluttering at me and decided that would be her name.

Except Delores, it turned out, was a male camel, so it was probably no wonder he was a bit tetchy. I, on the other hand, was extremely happy, as we plodded serenely through the red sand.

Wadi Rum is a protected area an hour's drive from Jordan's coastal city of Aqaba. Most visitors choose to come just for the day before heading back. But within moments of arriving, I was glad I'd made the decision to stay overnight.

Picture Australia's Uluru. Pretty spectacular, right? Now visualise dozens of Ulurus, reaching up over 2,600ft high, scattered in the sand like Lego bricks thrown by some petulant child.

Imagine, over the millennia, the colossal sandstone structures blasted by wind and rain to form natural works of art. Picture canyons in between and stretches of inhospitable land inhabited by semi-nomadic Bedouin tribespeople.

It's an otherworldly scene: I can't be the first person to have bounced along in the back of a pick-up truck en route to my Wadi Rum camp to have various Star Wars scenes pop into my head. It turns out with good reason: Rogue One was partly filmed here, as was The Martian, starring Matt Damon.

Exploring by camel is just one way to get around. Another is by hot air balloon.

On my second morning, the alarm goes off at 5am — if you can bear it, factor in extra time for some star gazing, as there's almost zero light pollution here — and shortly afterwards I'm meeting up with eight others at a rendezvous point a short 4WD ride away. Jordan's only commercial hot air balloon pilot, Khaled Shishani, takes us up to 4,000ft, where we drift slowly over the spectacular landscape at a sedate 14mph, while he sings, cracks jokes and uses his selfie stick to take group photos. Could I ask him a few questions for my article, I venture? "No," comes the firm but polite reply. "I let the scenery speak for itself." Which is a fair point.

After breakfast, I set off with 20-year-old local Bedouin Mahmoud Hussain, my guide for the three-hour climb and rock-scramble up to a striking, narrow natural arch, high up on a mountain called Burdah. The ascent isn't for the faint of heart, with no protection from the fierce sun, slippery surfaces, narrow ledges and some long drops, but quite frankly if this old duffer can do it, you'd have to be very creaky not to give it a go. Mahmoud, needless to say, bounds up in shoes that most people in the UK would pop out for a pint of milk in, never breaking a sweat. "I climb all year, even winter," he tells me near the top, as he brews up some wild thyme tea over a camp fire. "But this is my favourite time."

We sit and slurp and take in the extraordinary, undulating view in silence. There's no sound, apart from the wind and a few birds. There are times when words are simply not necessary.

Read more from our Digital Nomad in Aqaba here.

Follow #NGTUKnomad


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