The south end of Wadi Rum village, the gateway to the desert, swarms with activity. Busy jeeps loaded with travellers groan by in military columns. Lines of sweating, red-faced hikers trudge through their powdery wake led by a single Bedouin in a dust-crusted dishdasha. They’re likely to follow a highlight route to Lawrence’s Spring, Khazali Canyon and the Burdah Arch, and night will find them bedded down in established camps with toilets, mattresses and sometimes even a shower.
A much smaller group will set out on adrenaline-fuelled climbing excursions up the nearly limitless routes that thread far too many mountains to count. Few will journey to the farther limits of the sandy wastes solely to experience a mode of travel.
Having long ago succumbed to an obsession with deserts, my goal for the trip is to pick up enough camel skills to do a desert crossing entirely on my own. So in an effort to connect with this special region of the earth, photographer Jason George and I set out with Raad Abou M’aitik, a 22-year-old Bedouin of the Howeitat tribe. The camel is the essential mode of desert transport. The speed of a jeep has a way of compressing perceptions, of distorting the landscape and leaving you with little more than snapshot images, a “highlight reel” of fragmented memories. Hiking is better, but the rigours of a forced march are too often accompanied by the tunnel vision of exhaustion. The camel’s pace is the truest means of unlocking the mysteries of the desert. It allows the land to unfurl before you in all the fullness of its glory, and in its own time. Soon, my burgeoning camel skills would be put to the test.
“Raad, how long will it be until we don’t see other travellers?” I ask. “One day, maybe two. Then nothing,” he replies. “Where we’re going we probably won’t even see Bedouin.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Sands of Time, and follow Outpost Magazine on Twitter and Like us on Facebook for all the latest updates from our team in Jordan.