Adventure tourism is increasingly present in Jordan. With a perfect combination of safety, activities, and comfort, the most stable country in the Middle East promises to make you enjoy your getaways, whatever their level. “We are in a very safe and diverse country, where many cultures and religions coexist,” says our guide Samer Abudagga».
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is now an island of security in the area: today, a monarchy still based on a tribal system, one of its merits is that it is the most educated Arab nation. So we set off from the city of Amman, which shows us its outlines under a leaden desert light as if a cloud of sand were filtering the mighty sun.
And there we go, ready to enjoy the magic of Jordan, touring its diverse landscapes on foot, diving, and camelback, to immerse ourselves in its history, mingle with the local population, and experience a journey through a country that we will never forget: from the magical city of Petra to the majestic desert of Wadi Rum, through the seabed of the town of Aqaba.
A potent haze floods the desert landscape before us with a brownish light. A sign surrounded by hawthorn branches warns us: “Allah watches over us.” Barren and barren, the landscape is desolately attractive. We stand atop Mount Nebo, overlooking the deep valley below us that leads to the Dead Sea. Hypothetically, it is the burial place of Moses, one of the fifteen prophets presumed buried in Jordan.
THE DEAD SEA
Two large black birds fly overhead as we observe the yellow land dotted with bushes struggling against the surrounding aridity. It looks like another planet.
Finally, we enter the Devil’s Valley, where the earth turns reddish and orange due to the number of phosphates it accumulates. Now there is no trace of life.
We hit bottom at one of the lowest points of the planet, which our ears corroborate. Visually, we are grateful for the change of landscape that the small towns and green fields have brought about, “almost all of the tomatoes are of exquisite quality,” says Rasheed Suleiman, the cultural guide who accompanies us. We see the waters of the Dead Sea and Palestinian territories on the other side of them.
“The Bedouin tented settlements contrast with the succession of large hotel chains on the shores of the sea, among whose large buildings appear small thatched stalls, children riding camels, ramshackle military guard posts, Byzantine archaeological remains surrounded by garbage, and locals bathing in the waters of a sea with 27% salt, 10% more than any other sea on the planet”.
The landscape is vulcanized to a Martian point: baroque rock formations that remind me of a desert cathedral. You can chew the moisture in the atmosphere. A woman prays in the back of her van while her family eats lunch sitting on a large rug on the ground. Two laborers smoke at the foot of their crane, while a couple of Indian tourists take pictures of themselves with a selfie stick without getting out of their rental car.
“When I was a child, I remember the water level several meters higher than today,” Marwan, a guide with the agency, tells us. Current studies certify that the Dead Sea is losing water: in 1970, its level was 395 meters below ground level, while today, it is 419 meters, a drop of about 24 meters. “According to the Bible, this is a sign of the end of time,” says Rasheed.
“Before 2007, it was hard to convince people to come and visit a city under siege,” Samer says. “That changed dramatically when it was chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of the World that year. We are, of course, talking about Petra, Jordan’s biggest tourist attraction, a real magnet for travelers from all over the world. Petra, also known by the ancient name of Rekem, is identified as the capital of the ancient people of the Nabataeans.
This natural fortress is known for its astonishing beauty and the magnificent architecture carved into its Great Temple. “Everyone wanders around the same place, around the facade of Al-Khazneg, and they miss much of the magic of this area. It’s a blunder,” Samer tells me. “It is possible to spend up to three days exploring the whole complex, which stretches for tens of kilometers in all directions.” An estimated 85%! has yet to be unearthed.”
It is impressive to imagine the life of an entire civilization in the area.
“We are on our way to Petra, and in the small towns we pass, the children either greet us or throw stones at us”.
RED, YELLOW AND ORANGE
Although the entrance to the city is through the famous path of the Siq, a narrow canyon a kilometer long surrounded by cliffs that rise to 80 meters high, which reaches the famous facade of Al-Khazneg; for our luck, there are numerous paths in the area that circumvent the crowded main access, which runs through the maze of stone masses, canyons, and ravines, where surprises lurk around every corner. The famous Jordan Trail, which crosses Jordan in a 650 km journey on foot, passes through here, “and it is magical to reach Petra after days of walking,” Marwan tells us.
Red, yellow, and orange soils turn into fine sands on the floors of the canyons, some with traces of water due to recent rains, and many of them decorated with poisonous plants with pink flowers that bring a touch of color to the monochromatic aridity of the area. Numerous beach bars promise the best sunset in the higher areas, perfect for hydrating, refueling, enjoying the views, and talking to the local Bedouins who fill the stores. “My husband is dead,” a Bedouin woman tells me as she plays the flute in front of an imposing skyline of Rocky Mountains at a makeshift stall in the sacrificial area. “Now I come every day to sell souvenirs.” In the central hours of the day, the heat is suffocating, making us go into every cave, no matter how small, searching for relief for our skin and our tired eyes. Sunscreen and plenty of water are a must.
Back on the main road, the mess of mass tourism hits us: hordes of tourists, souvenir stalls, selfie sticks, wagons pulling people off the road, families on camels, children racing donkeys, and dirt..
What will it be like in twenty years? I ask our guide Marwan. “Ten years ago, it was the same. The Bedouins are not interested in having it developed in any other way than their own.”
“There has been a real invasion of commercial camps in Wadi Rum. But the further you get away from the center, the lonelier you are,” Samer tells us as we drive the 60 kilometers by minibus between the city of Aqaba and the desert, crossing the volcanic landscape of the Aqaba Mountains, with visible signs of landslides on their slopes. “These are campsites that can cost up to $300 a night, with all kinds of luxuries, including air conditioning in the rooms,” Samer continues as we admire the landscape of rocks, dunes, and silhouettes of camels here and there.
How is our camp different from a commercial one? I ask him. “We prefer a more authentic style, with a Bedouin family to make the experience more real,” he replies. The truth is that as soon as you arrive at the Wadi Rum Visitor Center, you realize that we are in a brutal tourist magnet. It is not in vain that we are in one of the most beautiful deserts on the planet, if not the most beautiful, and that it is also the setting for the book “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” written by Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, in which he recounts his military and human experience in the area during the First World War.
“How is our camp different from a commercial one? We prefer a more authentic style, with a Bedouin family to make the experience more real”.
A group of Bedouins crowds at one of the windows of the Visitor’s Center, waiting for the different groups of tourists who want to book some of the excursions in the area. The desert is controlled by the same Bedouin tribe divided into two clans of different cousins. To settle the disputes between the two clans, the grandfather of the tribe decided that the “cake” would be divided Solomon Solomonically by strict shifts in order of arrival of tourists. “Today, the Bedouins are very civilized,” Rasheed tells me, “they have cell phones, internet… although many families prefer to continue living in the open air, in their tents, with their livestock, as they have always done.”
We arrive at the pair of tents of our host, Abu Youseff, whose large family includes two wives and thirteen children, “seven of them boys,” he points out. “For Bedouins, it’s important to have big families!” he exclaims.
A woman grazes near the separate tent for women, next to a camel nursing her calf. “In the desert, camels mean survival,” Abu Youseff tells me as I approach them.
“They are brilliant animals, capable of sacrificing themselves for you. If you ever insult or hit one of them, they will never love you. They don’t forget!”
Before the feast, we are taught to wash our hands with ajram, a desert plant that works as a natural soap. We will also knead bread and milk goats in a calmer and more familiar atmosphere than in any of the luxury camps in the area. “I love living with people from other countries, cultures, and religions. I like them to see and learn about our culture and way of life and theirs,” Abu Youseff tells me as I watch a caravan of jeeps drives away on the horizon. At sunset, I enjoy the rock masses tinged with twilight tones.
Undoubtedly I am in front of one of those landscapes that, no matter how much you have seen in photographs or videos, you can not get to measure the authentic feeling they produce until you live them.
That night we will dine on zarb, a pantagruelous Bedouin-style barbecue, a prelude to a long night of singing and dancing. “Songs of love, passion, and family, the important things in life,” Youseff tells me. Meanwhile, we feel the magic of the rain in the middle of the desert.
JABALUMM AD DAMI
The ascent to JabalUmm ad Dami is just five hundred meters of unevenness through a rocky terrain without difficulties, just a couple of easy climbs and some steep ramps on a path whose trajectory is sometimes challenging to identify. As you ascend, the views become captivating: there are other planets, but they are on this one, and now I understand perfectly why the movie “Mars” was filmed here. A Jordanian flag stands at the top, from which Saudi territory is visible. “On a clear day, you can see the Red Sea from here,” Marwan tells me.
We hug, photograph, and laugh together. But it’s time to turn back; the sky threatens a storm. Back in the jeeps, exhausted but happy, I marvel at the titanic masses and walls, the extravagant rock formations, the pillars and monoliths on a horizon of clouds and sand.
Yes, I also think it is the world’s most beautiful desert. Or as Lawrence of Arabia described it: “Immense, solitary, as if touched by the hand of God.”
“We are about to reach our goal for the day: the summit of JabalUmm ad Dami, which at 1,854 meters is the highest mountain in Jordan”