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  • Writer's picture5 Senses CulinaryTours

My Moon Landing

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

I arrived in Jordan with a sense of wonder - this was a bucket list destination for me. I started all the way north in the town of Umm Qais tucked into the corner and less than a mile from the Syrian border delineated by the Yarmouk River – a tell-tale sign was the tanks and anti-air craft missiles parked nearby. Yet this small charming town is a must see for its amazing ruins of the ancient Gadara, plus simply spectacular views, a wind-exposed 180-degree sweep taking in the Jordan Valley, the Sea of Galilee and the ancient impressive colonnaded Basilica terraces cut into bedrock.

We were with Baraka Destinations, which offered us local experiences, from dining in a family home, learning the local weaving to digging potatoes for our meal. We also hiked the Yarmouk Nature preserve and met with Yousef Sayyah the local and passionate beekeeper. This is what I like, living like a local.

We slowly made our way south stopping at Jerash, one of the best preserved Roman cities, just north of Amman. Following south via the Jordan trail to floating in the Dead Sea, hike in off-the-grid Dana Biosphere and the amazing climbs of the stone rose city of Petra.

Petra, as everyone knows is the massive hidden city. No matter how many times you turn the corner in the canyon the scene of the Treasury sets your heart aflutter. Without actually being there you cannot imagine the scope, no Virtually Reality goggles are going to give you that experience.

Now to take your breath really away, especially after hiking and seeing Petra it has to be awesome and that is, Wadi Rum known as the Valley of the Moon. Nature has cut into the sandstone and granite rock making this magical ecosystem in the Jordanian desert, featuring endless sweeping red sand dunes and towering sandstone arches virtually untouched by human hands. Gargantuan rock formations, rippled sand dunes, and clear night skies create an imaginary setting across an unpopulated area.

Traveling here is by 4X4 or camel trekking. We clung on to anything we could as our 4X4 sped over, up, down through the sands. Out into the vastness, it was spectacular like nothing I have ever seen. We stopped at some outcroppings to view rock art as archaeologists have discovered ancient inscriptions dating back 12,000 years. Many of these topographical features are older than the Dead Sea Rift that forms the western border. Massive mesas pop straight up from the sea of sand, the result of primordial tectonic movement that cleaved the bedrock with almost cubic perfection before raising it high above the desert floor. Blowing sand and winter floods smoothed the valleys and gorges, shaping the sandstone into natural towers and curving arches. Harder, older granite forms the substrate of Wadi Rum and is visible among the base strata of the higher mountains. This is truly the “reddest” part of Jordan, colored by iron oxide, and by far the most dramatic in terms of landscape. Other worldly doesn’t even describe it.

I’ll quote T H Lawrence as he described coming into the Valley of Rumm; "The hills on the right grew taller and sharper, a fair counterpart of the other side which straightened itself to one massive rampart of redness. They drew together until only two miles divided them: and then, towering gradually till their parallel parapets must have been a thousand feet above us, ran forward in an avenue for miles. The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than then body of the hill; rather grey and shallow. They gave the finishing semblance of Byzantine architecture to this irresistible place: this processional way greater than imagination."

I remember the 1962 Lawrence of Arabia movie and a favorite book Desert Queen the extraordinary life of Gertrude Bell, adventurer. She was an actual advisor and friend to Lawrence (not Peter O’Toole), I could see either of them coming across the rim of the dunes on their camels. Instead two young boys came into view with their camels offering a rocket fast ride on these poor devils. Decided against it for safety, both the camels and myself.

Wadi Rum is home to the Zalabieh tribe, who developed eco-adventure tourism and services throughout the protected area. Their guides are highly experienced who have unmatched local knowledge. As an extreme desert, Wadi Rum can shift wildly from unbearable heat to below freezing in just a few hours. Their sustainability enables people to continue earning a living from the land and helps to ensure that the protected area will always be protected.

Staying overnight in the desert at Bedouin Captains Camp with tent glamping en suite. Dinner is cooked outdoors under the stars in the typical underground fire pit. Lamb dripping with juices, oven fired bread, tahini dip dinner was fantastic, but only lemonade with mint – sorry no wine.

Going back to our tents the sky was a mass of stars. I could hardly wait until I could sneak out of my tent and perch on a dune to await the sunrise over the horizon.

The morning was cold but as I awaited the sun, a herd of camels came sprinting out of nowhere, it looked like they were practicing on their own for Sheikh Zayed Camels Race Festival. The Bedouins manage to breed and raise Jordanian camels as true racing warriors. Camels and racing? Incompatible you say? Not at all! Remember you are on the Moon.

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