Getting Down & Dirty in Jordan’s Wadi Rum
Leah Walker June 13, 2013

It’s safe to say that adventure travel is not my niche. I don’t own hiking boots, Velcro water sandals, khaki pants that convert to shorts, anything that resembles an Indiana Jones hat, and much to Traveling Ted’s dismay, I’ve not a fanny pack to my name. But the absence of all these REI staples doesn’t mean that I don’t love adventures. I just prefer to do them wearing J. Crew and with a good shower waiting.

Leah Fanny Pack

Looks can be deceiving; don’t let the la-ti-dah, five-star hotel stays and the Michelin-stared meals fool you. I’m a small-town Texas girl, and with that comes a certain set of skills.

I can:

  • Castrate a pig.
  • Weld.
  • Raise lambs, chickens, rabbits, and pigs.
  • Drive a tractor, a bus, and a stick shift.
  • Build a fence.
  • Use all kinds of power tools.
  • Ride a horse, a four-wheeler, and a dirt bike.
  • Bulldog a steer.
  • Judge steaks, dairy, and eggs.

Leah Tractor Italy

The other day I was chatting with a travel-writing friend about how I’d applied for an adventure travel trip.

Is adventure travel your niche?” he asked despite knowing the answer.

Even though it was through IM, I could feel the laughter reverberating through cyberspace. I was only slightly offended, but half-heartedly defended myself by saying, “Hell, I rode a camel the other day.

Jordan Camel Wadi Rum

I’m pretty sure that resulted in an eye roll or two, but whatever. I proceeded to explain that I am a narrative writer who documents my experiences whether that be in the lap of Four Seasons luxury or riding in an air boat in the swaps of Louisiana. I’m all about doing and not just seeing stuff. I like the exhilaration of experiencing something different. I love having a new story to tell, which is why I was so excited about my trip to Jordan, especially the Wadi Rum part.

After days of exploring ancient Greek and Roman ruins, Petra, and hiking nine miles through the Dana Nature Reserve, it was finally time to get down and dirty in Wadi Rum. For those unfamiliar with this vast and mountainous landscape, it starred in the classic movie, Lawrence of Arabia, and is known as The Valley of the Moon. Basically untouched since its creation, the expansive blanket of sand is only interrupted by the massive sandstone and granite rocks. Let me put it to you this way: Only the strong {and a few Bedouins} can survive living in Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum 4x4 Jordan

Climbing into the back of my 4×4 Toyota chariot, I was transported back 20 years; that’s about how long it’d been since I’d cruised up and down Main Street in the back of a pick-up. This wasn’t my hometown ‘drag’ but with the surrounding dirt and whipping wind, I needed only to close my eyes to feel like it was West Texas.  I pulled my hair back, otherwise I’d never get a brush through it. This wasn’t my first rodeo.

Wadi Rum 4x4 Tour

The truck driven by my Bedouin guide took off into the desert. Arabic music blaring from the radio only helped to set the scene. There was no road per se. Instead there were tracks where others had driven. As I rode deeper into nothingness, I was struck with a familiar feeling. Wadi Rum felt like a grand combination of Arizona’s Painted Desert, Utah’s Bryce Canyon, and Texas’ Big Bend National Park. It was magical, mystical, and otherworldly.

Through the desert I went with a perpetual grin firmly in place. Tiny grains of sand pelted my face and my teeth had a distinct grainy feel when I ran my tongue across them. Although I detest being dirty, in that moment I didn’t care.

Wadi Rum Landscape Jordan

At a photo stop, I kicked off my Haviannas and sprinted to the top of a sand dune. Later, I rehydrated with tea in a Bedouin tent. With the landscape zooming past, I made up words to an Arabic song and danced alongside my guide, Ibrahim, in the back of the truck.

Running Wadi Rum

Despite my fear of heights, I climbed barefooted like a mountain goat to the top of Burdah Rock Bridge. At 115 feet {35 meters} high, it’s one of the highest natural arches in the world. And on the way to my camp for the night, I wasn’t thinking about how filthy I felt. Instead, I was too enamored by the sublime desert sunset.

Wadi Rum Jordan Desert

The feeling I experienced in my day discovering Wadi Rum is difficult to convey. You might think that being enveloped by such grandeur would lead me to feel insignificant. But ironically in a place void of much life, I felt more alive than ever. Wadi Rum may have had that effect on others, but I wasn’t prepared for such a profound experience. All I was looking forward to was a little adventure.

Jordan Wadi Rum Desert Sunset

Back in March when I got my Jordan itinerary, I showed it to a friend. As she read it, her eyes became saucers. “YOU’RE going to go on a 4×4 tour of the desert AND sleeping in a tent?

Hell, yes, I am! It sounds like fun.

And it was.

Every last dusty bit of it.

I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board North America. In no way was I influenced to write a positive review by the divine desert landscapes, kick-ass Arabic tunes, or the seriously stunning sunsets. As always, all opinions are mine.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

32 Comments

  1. Love it Leah….I am a huge fan of adventure travel and this sounds right up my alley. Sounds like you totally embraced the experience. Sounds fantastic to be riding across such a magnificent landscape, hair whipping in the wind, music blaring from the speakers. I love a good adventure.

    1. I know you’ve been coveting Jordan for some time now and I am positive it is everything you imagine it to be. I do hope you get to go one day. You’d appreciate it more than most, and that’s saying a lot.

  2. Loved readying this, especially the intro! We are leaving for our 2 year RTW 2 weeks and I am normally that JCREW girl but traded it in for the REI look…..Looks and sounds like a great time! We actually just had a “speed date” with the Jordan Tourism Board at TBEX we hope to add it to our route!

    1. Hahaha…you’re a braver gal than me, Hannah. I don’t think I can pull off the REI look, although I do own my share of North Face and Under Armour. 😉 If you do get a chance to work with Jordan then consider yourselves very fortunate. They are a great organization and I can’t say enough great things about them. I hope you get to Jordan and take me with you!

  3. I am so honored to have not only me, but my fanny pack and hat featured in this article. You look great no matter what hat you are wearing or what kind of pack you have around your fanny. Fantastic that you embraced the adventure side of travel. Having lived in the south for a number of years, I don’t doubt that you are up to the task.

    1. Well, Ted, you may convert me yet. I kind of like the idea of having my hands free just in case I need to quickly wrestle a steer or castrate a pig. You never know.

  4. Hey Leah 🙂

    We did a very similar tour in Wadi Rum a few years back – I must say that the 4X4 that you are in looks much more stable than the one we were in – we were holding onto our dear lives (which had its own fun, but scary still ;)) It was exhilarating nonetheless. We didn’t get the chance to visit the Dana nature reserve – did you like that trek?

    We couldn’t have expressed the feeling of being in Wadi Rum better ourselves: “ But ironically in a place void of much life, I felt more alive than ever

    Nice one!

    Cheers

    1. I suppose they rolled out the red carpet for us. The truck was quite comfortable and sturdy! As for the Dana Nature Reserve, I LOVED it. I’ll write about it later, but yes, it was spectacular.

  5. Admit it, you are an adventure traveller 😉 joking aside, I think it is great to get out of our comfort zone and do different things every now and then. This Jordan trip of yours looked incredible – and I know you loved it! Amazing photos btw

    1. I did, Mrs. O. I could even see you getting a little hot and sweaty while enjoying Wadi Rum. Don’t mistake the name for having alcohol though. No cocktails served in Wadi Rum.

    1. Don’t walk–run to Jordan if you ever have the opportunity. You and Graham would make the place come alive in your beautiful photos.

  6. I’m much like you–I don’t like being dirty at all. And I need a shower every single day.

    I think, though, that somehow travel turns you into a different person. I don’t mind getting nasty, sweaty, dirty, and smelly when I’m somewhere new. Somewhere that requires that of you in order to have a good time!

    Really loved this post! (And I also want to run off to Jordan right now, thanks.)

    1. I agree 100% that travel turns you into a different person. Sometimes it takes getting a little (or a lot) dirty to truly have a grand experience. I hope you get your chance to travel to Jordan.

    1. Haha…thanks, Erin! I still am not sure I could do your Africa trek from last summer, but I could give it a shot. You’d love this!

  7. This is fab, Leah. You do know I love my adventure travel and Wadi Rum would be right up my alley. I’m glad you enjoyed your time there and that it made you feel so alive. That’s pretty much why we travel, right? A couple of thoughts: I own every article you mentioned in your opening paragraph (minus the fanny pack; sorry, Tedward); I cannot, nor have I ever tried to, castrate a pig (not sure I want to, either); I LOVE the couches/benches in the back of the 4×4 (high style!).

    1. Oh, I know you would absolutely love Wadi Rum. You’d have to be deaf, dumb, or blind not to. It’s truly a humbling experience to explore the entire region, but especially Wadi Rum. I do hope you get there one day. And just so you know, you don’t want to castrate a pig. The squeals alone would send you into a tizzy.

  8. Good to step outside your comfort zone every now and then, right? I do this with food while traveling- when I’m home I am a picky eater, when I’m on the road, I eat stuff I would have never imagined.

    1. I never want to pass up an experience. You never know what you’ll like, I’m sure you’ve found that with food as well.

  9. I still don’t understand how you always look so good while you travel. Airport shots, dessert pic, or anywhere else! I get greasy on airplanes and while camping, even though I love it!

  10. Good for you, lady! I’m not usually one for adventure travel either (a SHOCK, I know) but every now and again, it’s nice to mix things up! Although I’m not sure if I could handle that much constant dust. Or that natural arch which sounds, frankly, both traumatising and terrifying. And next time someone mocks you, put those skills to use and threaten to castrate them 😉

    1. Believe you me, Tom, the knowledge of knowing how to castrate as struck the fear of God in many a man. Actually, I am a bit surprised that you’re not into adventure. I’ve seen some of the stuff you’ve eaten in Korea. That’s pretty adventurous if you ask em.

    1. Yep, in fact I wrote the same thing in this post:

      “This wasn’t my hometown ‘drag’ but with the surrounding dirt and whipping wind, I needed only to close my eyes to feel like it was West Texas.”

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