Wadi Rum, Jordan: It's not Mars, but it's out of this world

It's five in the morning, pitch-dark and not as starry, starry night as you might think out here in the desert. From out of the gloom emerge our regular guide, Amer, and our Bedouin driver-cum-mountain-guide, Suleiman.

Armed with packed lunches provided by the staff at the Sun City Camp in the heart of Jordan's Wadi Rum, the five of us hop into the back of a ute fitted with bench seats and a weathered shade cloth.  We bounce through the blackness, a landscape we know to be vast and otherworldly reduced to ethereal glimpses of rock and sand in the vehicle's headlights. It's freezing cold.

Two hours later we reach the base of Jabal Umm ad Dami, Jordan's highest peak at 1854 metres. From the top, they say, you can see the Red Sea, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria. Well, we're about to find out.

We arrived at Sun City Camp the previous afternoon on one of the last legs of World Expedition's 10-day Jordan Trail Highlights tour, a trip that had taken us from Amman, the capital, to the Greco-Roman ruins at Jerash, the Dead Sea and the pink city of Petra.

Sun City is a sprawling camp of simple "tented" rooms and more up-market space age geodesic domes surrounded by the red desert sand and craggy, wind-ravaged cliffs that have made Wadi Rum so beloved of filmmakers looking for the unearthly on Earth.

These days, the obligatory four-wheel-drive sunset tour stops at a rocky outcrop where actor Matt Damon sat to contemplate his fate in the 2015 movie The Martian. Our driver even has the image on his phone so we can recreate the shot faithfully. The Martian was shot almost entirely in Wadi Rum but it's not the first time this startling landscape has been used to portray other worlds. Will Smith's recent Aladdin remake filmed here, as well as sections of Star Wars spin-off Rogue One, Ridley Scott's Prometheus and on of 2020's  remake of the sci-fi classic Dune.

We begin climbing Jabal Umm ad Dami at 7.30am and return to the ute at 11am. It's not a hike for the inexperienced or the unfit – and it helps if you're part-goat. It's a tough, hot scramble up and over steep rock faces, scree and fallen boulders. We stop often and drink lots of water. At a couple of points Suleiman passes the time by singing and reciting poetry. One of the tunes is called "The Lonely Bedouin" and the other is something about mint, tea and a girl. I'm still unclear if it was a poem, a song or a recipe.

The summit, reached after 90 minutes of hard yakka, is marked by a Jordanian flag, and the 360-degree panorama does indeed take in the Red Sea, Israel, et al. We take a million photographs that will never do the view justice while Suleiman lights a fire and brews a kettle of sweet black mint tea.

It's vast and somewhat humbling up here, the flag fluttering in a mild wind, voices stilled, tea sipped and for a moment it's just us and silence and the universe.

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It's on the drive back to camp, though, that we start to get a feeling for Wadi Rum's strange and breathtaking beauty. There are flat valley floors peppered with camels and monolithic mountain crags that shoot up out of shifting sands of pastel pink, red, grey and orange.

Our vehicle tears, small and insignificant, past massive rock faces worn away by wind and rain over millennia, but which look as if they've been deliberately carved by the giant hands of alien gods.

It might not be Mars but it's certainly out of this world.

TRIP NOTES

Keith Austin was a Guest of World Expeditions.

MORE 

traveller.com.au/jordan

visitjordan.com

smartraveller.gov.au/
 

FLY

Emirates flies to Queen Alia international airport, Amman, from all major airports via Dubai. See emirates.com 

TOUR

The 10-night Jordan Trail Highlights tour costs from $4870 a person, twin share, and is 100 per cent carbon offset. Price includes day treks, a 4WD jeep tour, seven nights in hotels and guesthouses, two nights in Bedouin camps and most breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Places visited include Wadi Rum, the Monastery of Petra, Dana Nature Reserve, Jerash and the Dead Sea. The Jordan Trail is a continuous 650 kilometre, 40-day trekking route crossing the entire country. See worldexpeditions.com 

STAY

World Expeditions carefully selects accommodation for its location, authenticity and value for money. Sun City camp is situated in Wadi Rum and consists of traditional Bedouin tents, eight royal suite tents and 20 white 'Martian' domes. See suncitycamp.com

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