We had made it across the Jordan-Israel border crossing and were in our taxi to Wadi Rum. It was about a 45-minute drive. Our taxi driver had a big toothy smile, although his teeth were only half there and didn’t appear to have been cleaned in several years. He spoke a total of about five words in English and was a sporadic driver, all over the road and texting the entire time. About 15 minutes into the drive, he pulled into a gas station and came out with three mango drinks and some waters. He handed them to us with his big toothy grin and we thanked him. As we were pulling out of the station, he opened his cigarette pack and offered us each a smoke. We politely declined, thanked him for our drinks, and pulled our COVID face masks over our noses and mouths so as not to inhale the second-hand smoke. Smoking is very common in Jordan, and when I got home a few days later and unpacked, I realized I had become accustomed to it. My luggage reeked of smoke.
It didn’t take us long to realize we wanted out of this taxi. The unsafe driving, texting, and chain smoking were uncomfortable and put us on edge. I had a map with a GPS signal so could see exactly where we were and where we were going. About five minutes from our camp, he turned off the main road and drove deep into the Wadi Rum desert. I was confused and hoped he was just taking a short-cut of some sort. He stopped at a lone building, indicated for Tony to get out, and they went inside. They came out a few minutes later and Tony handed us each a ticket that was worth about $8 US dollars. We drove further into the desert and I attempted to ask the driver what we were doing. The driver understood enough to say ‘Sunset Tour’ and pulled over by another truck. There was a lot of exchange including chatter about how much, and I finally said, firmly, “No! You bring us here,” and pointed to the map. He became upset and got in the car, turning it around and driving very quickly back out of the desert. At one point, we came over the crest of a hill and almost hit a camel. Yes, we almost hit a camel. It’s kind of funny in hindsight, but at the time, we had no idea what was going on and it seemed as though we had a drunk taxi driver.
We finally made it to our camp and the hosts were phenomenal. I cannot thank the Sun City Camp owners and workers enough. We were staying in a Martian Dome, which is a large glass-like dome with a small bathroom inside. The traditional way to experience the Bedouin camps is in a Bedouin tent. The Bedouin’s are the local people in Wadi Rum and the tents are how they live. However, the tents don’t usually have a floor and there is a shared bathroom further away. I knew this would be challenging with my wheelchair, so opted for the luxury version with the Martian Dome. The dome itself was spherical, half of it comprised of a bathroom with solid walls, and the other half made of thick, clear plastic that opened up to the sky.
Now seriously, this is one of the coolest things I’ve done. We were one of about eight domes sitting in the middle of the desert. Not a sole or building in site. As we settled in and took in the scenes of the desert, Tony asked, “What do normal people stay in when they come here?” My sense of adventure has taught him that I’ll go to great lengths for an adrenaline rush.
As our taxi driver had suggested, the Sunset Tour is a must-do activity in the Wadi Rum desert. I knew this and had arranged it with our camp hosts ahead of time, thus my frustration with our taxi driver. They came to pick us up, and because our Martian Dome was further away from the main lodge, the truck driver so graciously pulled right up to our Martian Dome, flipped down the hatch on his truck – which lined up perfectly well to the platform of our dome – and helped me into his truck. He was so kind and so professional, like almost all of the Jordan people I met.
We spent two hours driving deeper into the desert, taking in the sites of the ancient rock formations and the few camels we encountered, and finally stopped on a crest of sand overlooking a deep valley to watch the sun set. I crawled out of the sand and sat next to Tony, staring into the far away distance. And yes, it was stunning.
As soon as the sun was below the horizon, the temperatures dropped at least 15 degrees. We were not dressed for the cold and ushered to our driver that we were ready to return. He gave us an incredibly warm blanket made of some sort of animal skin and we huddled together for the ten-minute drive back to camp. We had dinner in the main lodge where we met the owner who helped arrange a private driver for our trip to Petra the next day. He also helped to arrange for us to store our bags at his hotel in Petra. Truly, an incredibly honest and genuine man. Dinner itself was quite tasty, but my most favorite memory of the evening was when we asked the kitchen manager – Fares – if there was beer. He pointed to a refrigerator and we all walked over. He pulled a bottle out, pointed to the label on the back and said, “You see, it says zero alcohol?” We nodded. “We put different beer in here. There is alcohol in here,” he winked and handed us two glasses. I will never know why but can only guess it has something to do with imports, exports, and the restrictions many Arab cultures have on consuming alcohol. Fares was also one of the most kind hosts, making sure our bellies were full for dinner and breakfast alike. And in the end, he didn’t charge us for the beer, instead saying he enjoyed our company and the beer was on him.