Footsteps of Seven Pillars

DSC08824rSunrise over Aqaba

DSC08827rIn the distance Israel, behind us Saudi Arabia, and further to the left of Israel is Egypt as we came alongside Aqaba.


Aqaba is in the Kingdom of Jordon, and Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein is their King, having become King on the death of his father, King Hussein, in 1999.

Princess Cruises offered a number of shore excursion in and around Aqaba, from scuba diving in the warm waters of the gulf, to an all day tour to Petra, which would be over nine hours. Knowing our limitations and having read about some of the problems due to the heat of visiting Petra, we chose to do the shorter tour of Wadi Rum, which was about five hours.
Wadi Rum is also known as The Valley of the Moon, and considering the next suburb of where we live in Sydney is called Jannali, which is an Aboriginal name for Place of the Moon, our choice was obvious.
Wadi means ‘valley’ & Rum mean ‘elevated’.

Wadi Rum was the area where the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, with Peter O’Toole, was partially made, as well as the recent film ‘The Martian’ with Mat Damon.

For me, the dominant feel of Wadi Rum was Lawrence of Arabia – I’d seen the film and read of his exploits.

lawrence-of-arabiaThomas Edward Lawrence, 1880 – 1935

DSC08838rIt wasn’t long after we had driven out of Aqaba that we came across camels.

DSC08839rWe stopped at a small railways station for a ‘photo op’ and the single line reminded me of the film, and when I turned around . . . the train engine fitted the scene, because it was used in the film.

DSC08840rc  if Peter O’Toole had stood on the roof of the train I wouldn’t have been surprised.


As I took the photograph of the engine I thought the area was deserted, until I turned and saw a modern train coming towards me – it was a working line!


DSC08847r.jpg  It was real, not a film set.

DSC08852rThe meeting area for our desert transport was more upmarket than the railway station, with a few shops and toilet facilities. The large rock face in the background is called the Seven Pillars, which was the inspirational name that Lawrence used when he wrote The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.

DSC08854rNothing flash about our desert transport – the utes made the Aussie’s feel at home. I whispered to Maureen to grab one with a roof covering, how ever flimsy, to keep us in the shade. Each truck carried six passengers in the back – hanging on was the object of the trip once the truck started to move.

DSC08856rIf I’d have heard John Wayne shouting ‘Head ’em up move ’em out’ I wouldn’t have been surprised.

The Seven Pillars right in front of us.


We are off – how fortunate that we had picked the lead truck so that we didn’t have to worry about sand in our wake.

DSC08862rThe scenery was spectacular as we bounced over the ground – they didn’t have any roads across the desert.

DSC08870rcWe reached a sand hill and were told that if we climbed the hill the views would be magnificent.

DSC08872rIt didn’t look all that hard so I started to climb, Maureen stayed with the trucks.

DSC08876rIn the very soft sand each foot step was energy sapping – and my new pacemaker started to work overtime.

DSC08877rNearing the top – gasp, gasp, keep pumping  . . .

DSC08879rcMade it ! and the driver was correct the views were just great.

DSC08880r Looking back to our convoy of trucks.

DSC08881rI tried to capture the distances and the depth of beauty – the isolation, the quiet and as Lawrence himself said, the desert is clean.
Gazing across the desert reminded me of the book ‘The Phantom Major’ by Virginia Cowles, about the creation of the British SAS during WW2 and how the Long Range Desert group ferried the SAS to their targets. Maureen’s uncle was a member of the LRDG, so our desert ride gave us a very small idea of what he experienced. At least nobody was trying to kill us – well, not with bullets.

DSC08885rOff again until we came to a camp with camels. The offer being USD $15 per person to ride a camel to the next stop (about twenty minutes by camel). Quiet a few took them up on the camel owner’s offer.

DSC08892r        The rest of us climbed back in to our trucks for a more ‘comfortable’ ride.


I couldn’t stop taking photographs as we bounced along.

DSC08898rA cup of tea at a Bedouin camp – as you see the latest addition to the Bedouin camel is blue (on the right of the picture).

DSC08900r  Small glasses of tea were offered – brewed using the open fire. Cardamom seeds were added to the drink after it had been brewed. The seed gave the drink a distinctive taste which was not unpleasant. Of course they had various articles for sale.

DSC08903rcOutside carved in to a rock was a sculpture of the King of Jordon and also Lawrence.

DSC08906rI don’t think the artist had seen Lawrence . . .

DSC08907rThe rest of our group arrived safely and the camel handler started back for the next load of tourists.
Once we were all together and the ‘camel’ group had tried the tea we were off again at high speed so fast that as we shot over to tops of sand hills we were nearly airborne. It was quite exciting as long as you didn’t think of H & S, lack of seatbelts, lousy springs and teeth shattering landings, and of course there wasn’t anyway that I could take photographs. Both hands were busy being ‘white knuckles’ as we hung on to our truck.

DSC08913rBack on the flat ground again and we suddenly came to a tent hotel – welcome, cold drinks, tea, biscuits, and local music.

DSC08914rDining area


Lights for an evening show.

DSC08919rBackground Arabic music.

The whole experience was stimulating and enjoyable, and I am glad we picked the five hour tour because that was enough for us with the heat and the ‘bounce’.

As much as I enjoyed the film Lawrence of Arabia the actual attack on Aqaba is – to be kind, artistic licence – because the attack shown in the film is untrue.

The main battle for Aqaba took place at a small block house called  Abu al Lasan, which is between Aqaba and the town of Ma’an. The Arabs captured it, and few days later the Turks recaptured the blockhouse.
Later the Turks attacked an Arab camp and killed several Arabs.
Auda abu Tayi heard of the Turkish attack on the Arab camp and lead his own attack against the Turks. Lawrence was with him during this attack.
The attack was a success and three hundred Turkish soldiers were killed before Auda could control his troops. A further three hundred Turks were captured. The Arabs lost two killed and a few wounded.

While this battle was going on the Royal Navy arrived off Aqaba and began to shell the town.

A combined  force of about five thousand, which included the troops under Auda abu Tayi (leader of part of the Howett tribe)  &  Sherif Nasir (Faisal’s cousin), again with Lawrence advising, infiltrated the defence lines of the Turks around Aqaba, and approached the gates of the town, at which point the garrison surrendered without a struggle.

Regardless of the true battle, I do like the film’s attack of Aqaba, even if it was made in a Spanish riverbed, rather than Wadi Rum. The town of Aqaba, shown in the film, was recreated by the film company exactly as Aqaba was in 1916 – 300 buildings, the army camp, including parade ground, a quarter of mile long sea wall, etc all of the ‘real’ towns that were considered were too ‘modern’ for 1916.

If you get a chance to visit Jordon, visit Wadi Rum.


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