“Yallah! Let’s go!” Our driver hurries us to his open-tray four-wheeled drive in his assertive Arabic. There is enthusiasm in his voice and ambition in his eyes. A hot desert breeze plays with the tassels hanging from his red and white checked keffiyeh knotted around his head. It’s a breeze that carries the whispers of his Nabatean and Bedouin ancestors who have inhabited this region, Wadi Rum in the south of Jordan, for thousands of years.
Wadi Rum is a wadi, or valley, that stretches over 700 kilometres of scorching red desert sands and rugged canyons. It’s the exact region that the famed British soldier T.E Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, surged through during the Arab Revolt in 1917. These sandstone and granite canyons and valleys have been deceptively known to flash-flood with rains during wet times. Today, conditions are dry and hot; perfect for an exciting Arabian adventure out into the unknown.
The sky is hazy, smudged by dust in the air and we bundle into the back of the truck. The tray is equipped with cushioned benches and a canopy overhead to protect us from the searing sun. The truck shows its age through rickety panels; the wear and tear of countless escapades bashing around in the desert before us. Though, cosmetic factors are brushed aside by our driver. As long as it goes, then he’s happy. This is how it’s done, Bedouin style. Within moments, our driver speeds along a dusty trail, jerking from side to side and cutting his own track through the arid landscape.
The engine roars upon each gear shift, edging us faster along our journey. While we gain speed, the air brushing through my hair and across my face refuses to let go of the heat. Our driver dodges potholes to make our journey a little more smooth-sailing. The journey brings back memories from my time bush-bashing with my family as a kid yet I’m mourning the lack of “humpty-doos” in the road. Still, our driver is being the thoughtful and hospitable Bedouin host that is demanded of him. On occasion, my backside springs upwards and a smile ripples across my face.
We drive on and the plains open up before tall red towers shoot up from the sands. These are the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a spectacular sight that rises above the desert, announcing itself to unexpected visitors with a haunting presence. As the wind picks up, it’s time to change tack and head for some sand dunes. The truck is parked alongside a steep incline and we’re egged on by our driver to run up the dune. Mine is a steady climb and the exertion in this crazy heat is soon justified – my view of neighbouring craggy cliffs is stunning. No sound can be heard, except for my heaving breath and an occasional eagle gliding through the air in the distance. Our driver calls out to us and we slide down the dune on our bums, only to climb back into the truck with our shoes and pockets filled with sand. Little do I know that I would be spooning this sand out of my backpack when I return home weeks later.
No sooner are we back on the road and we’re stopped again prematurely. It’s here where we see massive goat-hair tents outstretched along a plain, a graceful entrance to the towering Khazali Canyon. The local Bedouins, nomadic tribes, have set up shop here to serve and sip welcome tea endlessly while offering handicrafts for visitors to purchase. “Yallah!” Our driver motions us to a crack in the canyon with his broad smile and warm hand gestures. The walls of the canyon are cool and the temperature drops favourably.
We climb through the crack and bound over smooth boulders to witness carvings and script along a shear face. This is where the Nabateans left their mark when they passed through here as far back as three thousand years ago. They lived in Petra, a two-hour drive away for us nowadays, and would migrate through here on their way to Saudi Arabia. These petroglyphs and graffiti depict a simpler life once lived and one that was filled with camels, antelopes and, of course, the Nabateans themselves. It’s unfathomable to think that these inscriptions have lasted so long; a tribe of people that flourished in an area that can be as unforgiving as the heat itself.
As we make it back to camp in the back of our trusty four-wheeled drive, I’m feeling quite nomadic myself. No matter whether this is discovery sport or a way of life, all that’s required is a vehicle, an open desert and a big sense of adventure. We can then truly appreciate these simpler times of travel and the thrill of discovery along the path to the next destination.
What has been your most thrilling roadtrip adventure? Share your stories from the far-flung destinations you’ve travelled to.