Wadi Rum: "Is Anybody Out There?"

Wadi Rum

The Valley of the Moon

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 an overhanging cliff.  In the middle of this sun blasted desert valley.

A few minutes ago, while I was exploring the Nabatean engravings on the hills nearby, 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 walk down from the hill and sit in the shade.  Salim left a large canister of water.  The fire he started is burning.  He just drove off.  With all my stuff.

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

I contemplate the 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 around 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 and natural rock bridges.  The shapes and colors defy description.  For millennia, the canyons and cliffs and bridges have been carved by the wind and the rain.  

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.  David Lean, Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif also did quite well ... with their caravan of caterers.   All I have is a slowly dying fire and enough water for a few days.  My apples and my dates are in my bag on the front seat of the Jeep.  Somewhere out there.

For the film Red PlanetWadi Rum was selected as the surface of Mars 

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 exhilaration and wonder.   A person could get religion out here.

Suddenly, a burst of sand arises in the distance.   A quiet drone spreads through the thirsty air.  The Jeep arrives and stops amid a cloud of dust.

All smiles.  Salim reappears carrying a special surprise package.  "Bedouin bread!"

Salim didn't diappear.  Salim went shopping!   Apparently, the goatherd offered his extra supply.

Salim grills the chicken over the open fire.  And with the soft brown bread we scoop up our yogurt.  What's the Bedouin word for delicious?

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, drive across the valley and return to his village.

And another surprise!   A final act of generousity and hopitality.  Two of Salim's energetic sons have 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, my patient partners in travel.  I am wondering.

Peace be upon you,


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