There are some places in the world however, where the luxury you think you want is not the best you can get. In Wadi Rum, the luxuries are the knowledge of the desert guide, the view from the rock he perches you on to watch the sunset, the size and position of the clouds, the people you meet in the cafe tent by the mushroom rock, the heat of the tea you are served, the sandiness of the place you happen to be standing when the afternoon wind comes in, the chance of getting bogged in your ancient Landrover, and the spirit of your driver when you do so, the size of the crowd when you get back to your camp, the mood of the chef and the food he decides to prepare you. The list goes on, but you might begin to get the picture – your personal comfort in Wadi Rum will not rely on the winelist, the air conditioning, the threadcount of your sheets or the quality of the bathrooms – no, luxury comes from a bunch of intangibles that are hard to put a price on. And, unfortunately, it will be as hard to predict as your own mood when you get there.
It’s not a coincidence, and should be embraced. The desert, after all, is an unpredictable landscape, and millions of people have lived or died by its whims over the ages. If Sir Lawrence had not been able to take advantage of the erratic and hostile reputation of this enormous Wadi in Summer, when the Ottoman Turks could not possibly have believed that an army could cross it, history might not have had the Arabs take back Aqaba.
Wadi Rum is not designed for toilet blocks, air conditioning units and swimming pools. I realised this soon after we arrived at Bait Ali, after we met Okhala, our guide with the crinkled face, light-of-the-moon smile and dusty suit jacket. Once he took us away from the bagged mustard walls of the permanent camp that is Wadi Rum’s only attempt at semi-luxury, away from all signs of overhead wires, we began to see what the Wadi is all about. While sitting at the Mushroom Rock under a camel hair tent, around the coals of a firepit, sheltering from a sudden sandstorm and drinking free tea, I realised I didn’t want to stay in a chalet. I didn’t want a shower, and a glass of wine, grilled chicken the kids would actually want to eat, and a lamp to read my book by. I wanted a bedouin story told in an accent I couldn’t understand. I wanted zarb, a bedouin barbecue cooked in the pit, while I warmed my desert chilled toes. I wanted to go to bed dirty, lie on the floor with my kids and giggle until we fell asleep in each others arms.
So my advice. If you simply cannot forgo the luxuries, then stay at Bait Ali. It’s in a fairly good position, has running water, chalets with private bathrooms, and even has some tents if you want. But, if you really want to experience Wadi Rum, do as I did not, and stay in a tent. Go remote, take a risk, and shut your big trap as soon as you even start to think complaining about the facilities. I’m not interested, simply jealous, because you will have the time I wished I had.
- Rum Stars
- Jordan Tracks
- Wadi Rum Sunset Camp
- Bait Ali can be found here. I will say it is probably very suitable for those with mobility problems due to its paved areas and easy access. My elderly parents would have loved it, and loathed a more traditional camp.
- I have since discovered this crowd online – apparently they set up a temporary camp, and it’s pretty flash. Scott Dunn Holidays. It gets the Independent’s vote here
As for Wadi Rum and what to do, there is a map fairly freely available on the web (click here for a larger view). Many would argue the greatest sights, but the rock bridge and seven pillars of wisdom are the un-missables. Personally I think the time of day is more important than the rock you are looking at. Dusk will never be more beautiful.