The next day we ride to our farthest point outside of Wadi Rum, southeast of Burdah to a region that Raad refers to as Wadi Amsaham. From there it’s only a short ride to the Saudi border.
Gone are the monolithic peaks and fantastic shapes that dwarf the traveller in Wadi Rum. Now we are in a Field of Mars landscape of reddish stony mountains and coarse sandy flats. The small bushes that dot the area are burned up, desiccated and brittle brown, a stark contrast to our journey in Wadi Rum. Dried-up watercourses channel only dust. Riding through such a place is the nearest that most people will come to the feeling of exploring another planet, or a post apocalyptic wasteland.
Your mind drifts in the heat and concocts elaborate hallucinations: it’s the aftermath of Judgment Day and we are the souls who have been overlooked, condemned to wander for the rest of eternity and to suffer great thirst. Then the camel stumbles and the illusion is broken.
Lunch is somewhat forlorn. Dead wood exists in plenty and so we have no difficulty brewing tea and warming our bread, but there’s no shelter from the cruel sun. Even the usual post meal flies are absent.
Raad and Jason sprawl on the rocks, their faces covered by the kouffieh, and doze in uncomfortable heat. I can’t sleep and so I lie on my back listening to a sad Tom Waits song, watching animal shapes drift by in the clouds and dreaming of Wadi Rum. Like the images hidden in the convoluted rock formations of the desert, the shapes that you see in clouds are entirely personal. It’s a download of the subconscious and mine is presenting me with the enormous gaping mouths of celestial carnivores.
When our nap is finished and the camels have rested, Raad disappears around the corner for his noontime prayers. He returns by a different route, from the mountain above us, clutching green sprigs of sage and thyme. “For the tea,” he says. “It grows high on the mountain. Very expensive in the markets of Amman.” The herbs lend an exotic, almost medicinal flavour to our so-called whiskey-Bedouin. They raise our spirits and put a small dent in the otherworldly gloom of the valley. We spend the rest of the day riding out of that desolate place.