Fiery red sand dunes, rocky outcrops carved by the wind, a close moon, and the Milky Way. Wadi Rum desert is a place where you can escape the many disruptions of modernity and feel a deep connection with the world. The TMAP staff team organized a last hurrah trip before the students arrived and excavation begun. Dealing with some hardships of life, a busy schedule, and trying to find ourselves in a time of change – huddled under blankets in the middle of a quiet desert, we let our minds drift while our eyes traced the constellations in the milky way.
We were encircled by our Bedouin tents and protected by a looming flat-topped mountain called a mesa, which is a sandstone mass that makes up Wadi Rum’s famous backdrop of unique rock formations created by sun and wind erosion. This particular mesa was unique because of its desert varnish that has created a brown, flat coating over the vertical surface from top to bottom. The discoloration is caused by colonies of microscopic bacteria that can survive on its surface and endure the arid climates. This coating takes over 10,000 years to form, a process that only the sun has witnessed.
The entirety of the Wadi Rum desert is full of unique features. The most breathtaking is the vastness of the desert and the red sand dunes that cover the landscape – which also provides excellent hills for sandboarding! The sight is so striking that the desert was turned into the Wadi Rum Protected Area to care for the many plant and reptile species, some of which are endemic to the desert, while also acting as an exciting place for camping, hiking, sandboarding, rock-climbing and searching for petroglyphs. All of these were on our itinerary that made up our full day of adventure.
Zooming deep into the desert in the open backs of sun-battered trucks, we were flying over sand dunes and making stops at some of the many sites to see at Wadi Rum. Our host, Sallah, a very friendly and easy-going Bedouin, was wearing a breezy white fabric called a dishdash as he introduced us to the members of his family run tour company. With his adventure seeking children sitting shotgun, we drove to multiple sites once occupied by T.E. Lawrence, the British militant who led the Arab forces into battle with the Ottomans while stationed in today’s Jordan and made famous by his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and the film Lawrence of Arabia played by Peter O’ Toole. The 3,000-year-old Nabatean petroglyphs, T.E. Lawrence’s house he stationed at, and a refreshing spring he frequented were some of the sites Sallah took us to explore. Running up and down paths, and while making some of our own, we were revisiting the energy and spirit that we found in ourselves the last time we were in Jordan.
Although we rose with the sun that morning in Madaba to hop in a cab and van by 6am for the 3-hour ride to southern Jordan where Wadi Rum is located, and although we climbed the mountains with the sun overhead and carried our sandboards up the red dunes (way harder than it sounds), we still had the energy to dance to traditional Bedouin music at night. The dancing was what followed a beautiful sunset from the rocks at the base of the looming sandstone wall at camp and a delicious Bedouin meal that included chicken and vegetables cooked in a fire pit inside the sandy ground.
We returned to Madaba in high spirits that brought the TMAP team into a new level of closeness that may have happened during our deep conversations about ourselves, the world, and the spiritual realm while nested together outside in the dark desert pointing out the shooting stars we have been deprived of for so long. Maybe it was after a good sleep and sharing coffee and breakfast in a new light, or it could have been the camel ride we took as we left Wadi Rum with the hazy rocky landscape behind us. Whatever combination of history, adventure, nature, and friendship it was, it is a beautiful recipe that bakes a connection with time in the hot sun. In a place like no other, you feel part of this Earth being a person to see the change in colours during a dusty sunset and sunrise on the rocky landscape witnessed by the adventurers and resilient inhabitants from before. Being able to break boundaries in time is why Wadi Rum remains to be a favourite place in this world for anyone who ventures out to seek it.