HAL 2019 World – Days 78-79 Aqaba, Jordan

April 13, 2019 Paul Groves

After fending off pirates in the Red Sea (just kidding), we arrived at the port city of Aqaba in Jordan.  Sailing into port, we could see four different countries, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan.  Jordan has only one seaport and that is Aqaba.  We have been looking forward to this port because we have an overnight excursion “Wadi Rum & Bedouin Camp Overnight” where we travel to the Wadi Rum desert and stay overnight in a Bedouin tent.

We left the ship at about 12:30 p.m. and did a short city tour before heading off to the desert.  One of the city stops was at the Aqaba Fortress.  This building was the headquarters of the Ottoman Turks during WWI.  It was here that the Arabs captured Aqaba during the famous camel attack from the desert as portrayed in the film “Lawrence of Arabia”.

On our way to the Sun City Camp where we were staying, we stopped at a visitor’s center to view the huge rock formation known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom which is also the name of Lawrence of Arabia’s autobiography.  Five of the pillars are obvious and the other two are off to the right of the formation.

When we arrived at the camp, we had a chance to sit in a Bedouin tent and enjoy a beverage… Turkish coffee, American coffee, or tea.  Surprisingly, the WiFi was amazingly good.  We updated our apps and checked our emails in record time.  Hotels are not allowed in the Wadi Rum desert because of the damage they would do to the environment.  Instead, there are Bedouin camps that provide overnight lodging and meals.  Our camp had three areas, the space dome dining hall (popular after the filming of The Martian), the communal Bedouin tent area, and the individual tent cabins.

We had heard stories of large communal tents where the animals wandered in and shared the sleeping spaces and viewing the stars through the holes in the goat hair tent fabric was possible.  Luckily, our camp had rather luxurious tent cabins with a nice bathroom and shower.  I guess we would have to call it “glamping”.  We had time to check into our tent before we met up with the group for the moment we had been looking forward to/dreading… riding a camel to view the sunset.

A sitting camel is low enough to straddle and the saddle had a post to grab onto.  You mount and lean back because the camel raises up on its hind legs first then quickly lean forward as it rises to its front feet.  When it gets up on its front feet, you are way up in the air and find out whether there is enough padding between you and the saddle or not.  Our camel ride was about two hours long, so an uncomfortable saddle was no small concern since it was almost impossible to adjust your seating while moving (no stirrups).  

The ride through the desert was slow and the scenery was spectacular as the sun dropped lower in the sky and the interesting rock formations became more pronounced.  After about 40 minutes, we arrived at some craggy rocks, dismounted the camels (scary reversal of the mounting process) and waited for the sunset.  At this point, we had different feelings about our “ships of the desert” and took pictures of their cute faces and long eyelashes.  The sunset was pretty spectacular.

We remounted our camels (no problem by now) and headed back to the camp for dinner.  Our camel drivers must have brought us in a great loop, because the trip back to camp only took about fifteen minutes.  What an adventure to ride a camel in the Wadi Rum desert.  This is a great memory although at this writing, we are still feeling the sore thigh muscles from the camel ride.

Dinner was cooked in pits in the ground and consisted of lamb, chicken, seasoned rice and various dishes suited to a variety of tastes.  Our tour group was only 14 people and we lingered over dinner discussing the day’s adventures.  

After dark, we met in front of the dining hall and strode off into the darkness for a stargazing lecture from the Rum-Sky astronomy association.  A short way from the camp we had clear viewing of the night sky.   Our astronomer guide explained the constellations that were clearly visible in the sky as well as how they moved on a daily and yearly basis.  As a finale, a time-exposure photograph was taken of the group.  It was interesting that the camera stayed open to capture the light of the stars.  We all had to stand still for ten long seconds.

After the lecture, we all headed off to bed.  Although we were expecting the desert to be hot, after sunset the temperature dropped and the thick comforter on the beds were very welcome.  

Next morning we awoke at 6:00 a.m. for a 4×4 trip to watch the sunrise.  Our transportation this morning was by Toyota trucks seated on benches bolted to the truck bed.  After the sunrise we visited three more stops.

Our first stop was a Bedouin camp. Here we viewed several carvings made into the rock over 100 years ago (1917) of Prince Faisal, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), and Auda Abu Tayi (Bedouin Chief) probably the most famous of the leaders of the Arab Revolution.

After we drove on a little more we viewed some petroglyphs carved around two thousands of years ago.

Our last stop was the top of a sand dune overlooking the area where the movie “The Martian” was filmed.  It certainly looked like Mars to us.  After we snapped a few pictures it was back to camp for breakfast!

Sadly after breakfast we headed back to the ship.  Our next port of call is Naples, Italy, in four days via the Suez Canal.