Wadi Rum: "Is Anybody Out There?"

The Jordanian Desert

May 31, 2007

Is Anybody Out There?

I am alone; yes, I am sitting alone, on a mat, in the shade of a high overhanging cliff. In the middle of this sun blasted desert valley.

A few minutes ago, while I was exploring the Nabatean engravings on the nearby hills, Salim, my driver drove off in the white Jeep. He just drove off. I waved at him but he just drove off across the dusty desert floor, through the red hills and out of sight. Out of sight. Gone.

I walked down from the hill and sat in the shade. Salim left a large canister of water; the fire he started was burning. He just drove off. With all my stuff.

OK. I try my mobile phone. Get real, Jan.

I contemplate my situation. I am utterly alone in this trackless desert. We did pass a Bedouin family and their goats an hour ago, somewhere out there. And three hours ago we passed a man and his camel herd. Will they pass by again? And how hot will it get today? How cold will it get tonight? And what else is roaming out there?

Now this is a desert like no other. To say Wadi Rum is spectacular is to grant faint praise. There are sandstone hills and granite mountains, canyons and cliffs, sand dunes and natural rock bridges. For millennia, they have been carved by the wind and the rain. The shapes and colors defy description.

I am staring out at a wide mountain that rises from the powdery red sand. The side of the mountain is a spatulate wave of hundreds of layers of red sandstone sedimentary rock. The top of the mountain is decorated with stone mushroom caps: red and pink and white and black. The mushrooms are coated with pink sifted flour. I am admiring the scene. But, I am alone here and I am wondering . . . .

T.E. Lawrence survived here; we visited his small house two hours ago, out there somewhere. David Lean, Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif also did quite well. Well they did have a caravan of caterers, I assume. All I have is a slowly dying fire and enough water for a few days. My apple and my dates are in my bag on the front seat of the Jeep. Somewhere out there.

Wadi Rum is the surface of Mars for the film "Red Planet."

The Bedouins call this place the "Valley of the Moon" yet I don't feel lost. I am alone but I do not panic. The astonishing landscape evokes only positive emotions of admiration and wonder and exhilaration. A person could get religion out here.

Sand rises in the distance. A quiet drone filters through the parched air. The white four-wheel Jeep stops in a cloud of dust.

All smiles, Salim appears with a special surprise package for me. "Bedouin bread!"

Salim went shopping!  Apparently, the goatherd had extra supplies.

Salim grills the chicken over the open fire. We scoop up yogurt with the thin, soft, warm brown bread. What's the Bedouin word for delicious? Nutritious? Makes you feel ambitious.

The afternoon breezes freshen up and renew their minute incisions into the mountain walls. In the next million years, in ten million years, in a hundred million years, like warm bread into cool yogurt, the wind and the rain will scoop out the stone to form tall cylindrical chimneys rising from the sand.

Salim and I rise from our meal, clean up the campsite and return to his village.

I part with an additional small token of my appreciation since two of his energetic sons had washed my car to a desert sheen.

The drive back north from Wadi Rum to Wadi Musa is a wonderful drive. I am wondering about this world of ours. I am wondering about the Bedouins and the Arabs -- my generous hosts, my cheerful friends and my patient partners in travel. I am wondering.

Peace be upon you,


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