By Laura Coulter
I’m on the Valley of the Moon surrounded by a million stars and no one for miles. As I slowly turn 360 degrees, I can’t see a soul; just vast desert, rock, peaks and valleys. It’s majestic and I feel very small. I’m in the national park of Wadi Rum, the largest valley in Jordan. Jordan, located in the Middle East, has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period and is famous for the hidden rose city of Petra. I’ve come here to explore and spend time in nature, although this is far from anything I’ve seen before. A two-hour drive from Petra and suddenly, I’m on an intergalactic planetary journey.
Wadi Rum is now home to the Bedouin tribes who have developed an eco-tourism trade. Working at the camps as guides, hikers, cooks and experts on the area, they welcome the adventurous traveler who extends their trip beyond Petra and floating in the Dead Sea. Day trips around the Wadi can be organized, along with camel rides, hikes and sunset views. If the idea of hiking in the baking heat doesn’t appeal to you, there’s always the option to retreat to your camp and read or doze in the shade until the daytime heat reduces and you can venture out again for spectacular sunset views. Most of the transport is by 4x4 open-back jeep and you feel pretty bold as you bounce around in the back with the wind in your hair, surrounded by cliffs and rocks.
Wadi Rum is an ideal destination for families, as kids can be kids. They can run as far as the eye can see, climb, jump, scream, throw sand, eat sand, dig in sand and generally burn off their energy as there’s no one around and no limitation to the space. There are fossils to be found in the rocks, cave-drawings to examine and occasional animal spotting; mostly goats and camels.
While I feel intrepid and bold, as though I’m exploring new land, the reality is that people have been travelling here since the fourth century when the Nabataean tribes migrated. Lawrence of Arabia was also in Wadi Rum between 1917 and 1918 and, in the daytime, I dropped by the remains of his house, left abandoned and easy to explore and climb over. Hollywood production companies have frequently been on location on the vast lunar landscape and the movie, The Martian, was filmed here. You can even stay in Martian pod-type hotels with air conditioning, like a truly pampered creature from another planet. You’ll feel like a Jedi Knight as you come over the sand dunes searching for droids in the folds of the sand. Scenes from Rogue One – A Star Wars Story were filmed here in 2016.
I prefer to see my stars from outside, so I decided to stay at an eco-lodge inside the national park - the Teva Milky Way Lodge. After a long drive on winding roads from Petra, we arrive at the gates of the National Park. After transferring to the Lodge’s own jeep and bidding our driver good-bye at the park gates, we were soon crossing the desert in a disorienting maze of tracks and turns, losing all hope of finding our way back. We pulled up at the camp and I was pleased to see the tents already set up with beds inside and open-air bathrooms. Guests congregated in the main tent where tea and coffee were always on offer from the fireside, and the evening meal and breakfast were served buffet-style. The camp manages to incorporate sustainable practices through solar heated showers and solar-powered lights, open-air ‘rooms’, organic dining, waste recycling and conservation, while still making you feel like you are living the good life.
An ideal time to visit the camp is when there’s little to no moon, so the stars can be fully on display. You can sit by the fire at the camp or go up to the viewing area with a blanket and flashlight to sit back and enjoy nature’s evening show. In the morning, it’s nice to wake up early to see the sunrise in the area and I was treated to a herd of camels walking past, easily visible from the comfort of my bed in the tent. The less you can travel with, the better, but it’s wise to bring a jacket for the evening and sunscreen and a hat for the intense heat in the day. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this such a magical place; perhaps it’s the combination of spectacularly unusual landscape and solitude as the humble reminders of how small we are. In Wadi Rum, though, you can find peace away from the world and within yourself.
Flights to Amman leave daily from Singapore with a layover in either Bangkok, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or Qatar.