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17th Nov 2012 1:43pm | By Orlando Crowcroft
We’re racing through the dramatic landscape of Wadi Rum, a vast, empty valley cut into the sand and limestone of the southern Jordanian desert.
Six of us are bouncing around the back of an ancient Toyota ute while our driver, Mahmoud, is waving and screaming through the window at a truck 200 metres in front.
He must be doing 50mph on the soft sand, pounding the horn, rolling over dunes and through bushes like a man possessed.
I figure something really serious has got to be going on – maybe we’re running out of fuel or perhaps these guys want to kill each other over some ancient Bedouin blood feud.
The vehicle ahead of us finally stops and Mahmoud swings open the door and tears across the sand with Ibrahim, our Jordanian guide, in tow.
Ibrahim’s tribe is from near Wadi Rum, although since he’s sporting a German football shirt and flip-flops, you wouldn’t know it.
Mahmoud, like the two Bedouins who now emerge from the other truck smiling and shouting greetings, is wearing traditional robes and a keffiyeh headscarf.
The four men take each other by the hands, pecking each other on the cheeks and chatting softly in Arabic.
After a few minutes, they amble back over the sand to us, looking relaxed. “What was that about?” one of our party asks.
“That’s the sheikh of this part of Wadi Rum,” Ibrahim explains, with obvious reverence. Mahmoud beams, “We just wanted to say hello.”
It is the first of many displays of stop-at-nothing Bedouin warmth that we are to see during our time in Jordan.
It has been almost 100 years since the legendary British army officer and adventurer TE Lawrence marched an Arab army over this epic desert, but the Welsh-born soldier’s shadow looms large – and not just as a way of selling package tours to European tour groups like us.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Lawrence Of Arabia, the 1963 Oscar-winning film classic about his life and time fighting alongside Arab irregular troops in the First World War.
Our trip will retrace some of his steps across the deserts of southern Jordan.
Today, Wadi Rum is crowded with American and German tourists wielding SLR cameras and ubiquitous trucks full of sunburned Brits trying a bit too hard in their local Bedouin garb, but that doesn’t diminish the historical significance of the site.
Many of the guides working here can proudly trace their lineage back to the time of TE Lawrence – in fact, Mahmoud’s great-grandfather was a tribal sheikh who fought alongside the British liaison to the Arab Revolt.
Our detour complete, we set off again in the truck, clinging to its open sides as Mahmoud roars across the desert.
Lawrence may have done this on a camel – usually on the run from heavily armed Turks – but as the midday sun beats down and sand fills our noses and mouths, we can’t imagine the setting has changed much in the past 80 years – or, in fact, since the dawn of time.
The valley of colossal rocks strikes me as appearing primeval, with its unearthly palette of pinks, reds and oranges striking against the bright blue sky.
Then, in the distance, we see a smattering of tents and a pick-up truck, with two young men in white robes sitting around a shisha pipe.
This turns out to be our lunch destination, right by the iconic Burdah Rock Bridge, a narrow ledge joining two 30ft-high rock formations.