Chronicles of an Errant Englishman
We are currently on the run up to Christmas and to be honest, the only recent memorable travel experience is not a good one. On my way to Ushuaia, Argentina, to join a ship bound toward Antarctica, I travelled through Frankfurt Airport (queue impending doom music). I had a good rant about my 24hr layover in the mind-boggling maze that is 'Europe’s Travel Hub' only to discover that after an almighty cockup by the airline, my bags failed to arrive, despite several reassurances. Anyway, this rant is old news.
As I sit here wondering what to write about, I reminisce on a conversation I had with my good friend Julian Woodall last Friday. We met in The Cock & Magpie, a small little pub on the banks of the River Severn in Worcestershire to catch up on business, life and good old times. He reminded me of the mini-expedition we made to Jordan last year and how we haven't written anything about our experiences in the Jordanian Desert and Wadi Rum. We had ambitious dreams of producing a documentary film to mark the 100th anniversary of Lawrence of Arabia's entrance into the coastal city of Aqaba (made famous in the 1962 film by David Lean & Peter O'Toole) but, our plans came undone at the last minute - the victim of film budget cuts, red-tape, and false promises. So, armed with just our passports, a bag full of desert survival gear and a dictaphone, we decided to press on with out much reduced expedition team, now comprising of Woody, Auda (our local Bedouin guide) and myself.
The main objective of our three man, four camel, mini expedition was to cover a distance of just over 100 miles, trekking across the Jordanian desert starting just East of the world heritage site of Wadi Rum and ending in Aqaba. We hired Auda to help us identify the old mountain pass from Wadi down to Aqaba as we had no knowledge of the area, water wells, sleeping spots etc. Aqaba is now the main port of Jordan but long ago it was a key strategic location which was under the control of Ottoman Turk Forces allied to Germany during WW1. It would not be easy finding the the old road to Aqaba, the desert is criss-crossed with huge mountains (jebels), desert plains, dry ravines (wadis), and exotic wildlife such as snakes, scorpions and camel spiders (the stuff of nightmares for some...including me...I love all animals but, I hate bugs, specially those that bite, sting or suck blood out of you!).
Our little expedition began in London with a flight connection in Istanbul before landing in the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Amman. It was mid summer, temperatures in this ancient city reaching an impressive 36 centigrade, a dry heat that evaporated every drop of sweat from our brows. During our walk around the city, I was surprised to discover how old the city was, Amman itself was built on the site of Iron Age "Rabbath Ammon", the capital of the Ammonites, and was known as "Philadelphia" during its Greek and Roman periods and finally as Amman. The podcast below gives you a first hand account of the call to prayer and the views overlooking the city.
Long story short, Woody and I made it to the desert, after a long bus ride and taxi ride to a map grid reference. At this random spot on the world map we agreed months beforehand to meet a guy by the name of Ahmed (our local fixer whom we knew nothing else about) and another guy called Auda (a local camel guide). After spending the night at the Rum Stars Camp we were introduced to the four hungry camels that would convey us to Aqaba. From the moment we boarded our ships of the desert, they were good companions and sure-footed every step of the way. We set off into the rose red desert with enough water (for men only) to last about a week. We had no external support and only a faint idea of where we would find a water well for the camels - in mid summer they are almost impossible to find. For the next hundred odd miles, we only had each other, our good humour, and our mighty camels named: Gertrude, Princess, Feliah and Logistics Camel 1A.
Fortunately (or unfortunately for me) we recorded the sequence of events that unfolded during the night the following morning and for some reason, I can't help laughing at the ridiculous incident nearly a year later. It's little moments like these, while riding a camel with one of your best mates, that you realise - life is good. We have been given a front row seat to experience an event that will live long in our memories. You are welcome to listen to that recording below:
Woody, Auda and I made it to Aqaba on 6 July 2017, arriving at the old Fort where Lawrence of Arabia took the surrender of the Ottoman-Turk garrison after a momentous battle to secure the coastal city. This was a major turning point in the desert campaign of WW1, a battle that would turn the tide of war and contribute toward the overall victory in Europe. We were the only people to cross the desert that summer at the same time of year as Lawrence and the Bedouin Arab Army.
As we arrived in quiet little city of Aqaba, there was no parade, no memorial service, there was nothing. One man at the fort asked us "why are you here?". We replied politely "to mark the occasion of the Great Arab Revolt and Lawrence's arrival in the city". "We've had many battle in the middle east" he said "this is just another one!". All of sudden we were reminded that it’s very easy to put heroes on pedestals. Glorious victory for one group of individuals means sacrifice to another. After our epic journey across the burning desert sands of Jordan, we sat on the tranquil balcony of our hotel and reflected on the differing perspectives of east and west, christian and muslim, sacrifice and gain, victory and defeat. Lawrence was a good man, he did what he thought was right but, he was an instrument of empire building. If you want to know more about life and times, I suggest you read the best selling book: A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the struggle that shaped the Middle East by James Barr.
Hi, I'm Seb! At 33 years of age, I quit my job in the British military to pursue my dreams of traveling the world as an expedition guide and building my own business. My mission is to share epic travel experiences, memorable encounters with wildlife and great lessons from world history.