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Before we can eat anything, however, Mahmoud challenges the group to an impromptu climbing race.

No one seems keen, but I think of Peter O’Toole’s character in Lawrence Of Arabia, who refuses to drink water during a trek across the desert in solidarity with his guide. The message was clear: do as your hosts do.

So I decide to take him up on his offer.

A second later and Mahmoud has kicked away his flip-flops and is off, charging barefoot up the 45-degree jagged rock.

I take off after him, determined not to be beaten, barely looking ahead as I run up the rapidly steepening slope.

He’s already waiting halfway up, though, screaming “yallah”, Arabic for “come on”, and laughing as I stop, double over and gasp for air.

He entertains the onlookersby jumping up and down on the narrow rock bridge high above them. I laugh to try and mask my terror of heights.

I learn quickly that Mahmoud is typical of young Bedouins in this area – on one hand boisterous and macho, on the other knowledgeable and urbane after a generation of contact with international tourists.

As we climb down together he even invites me to connect on Facebook.

The desert sun beats down on the tent as we sit in a circle around a vast plate of chicken and rice, eating with our hands and fighting off flies.

Ibrahim is telling a story that has everyone’s attention – clearly his favourite situation to be in – about the time he fought off a hyena in Wadi Rum.

He’d seen nothing but its green eyes, staring up from the foot of his sleeping bag, and he’d grabbed a handgun and fired it in the air.

“You’re allowed to carry guns in Jordan?” one of his audience interjects. “Of course, everyone has a gun,” Ibrahim says. He turns to the camp owner, a boy of no more than 17, and says, “Show them your gun.”

The boy looks nervous and shakes his head. “Come on,” Ibrahim taunts, “show them!”

“It’s OK,” I say, “we don’t need to see it.” The boy looks relieved. “I do have one, though,” he adds, sheepishly.

After lunch we drive on to Captain’s Desert Camp, a traditional – albeit touristy – Bedouin camp on the fringes of the desert where we’re to spend the night. It’s thankfully a little more comfortable than our basic, fly-plagued lunch venue, but only a little.

A collection of camel hair tents with open fronts set around a courtyard, Captain’s is basic.

Cold showers, no phones, no internet – although surprisingly clean toilets. But after a day spent barefoot climbing, sweating and inhaling sand in Wadi Rum, it feels perfect.

We are served possibly the best food I have ever eaten – juicy lamb skewers, hot flatbreads, bowls of hummus, fresh salads and strong Arabic coffee – around a roaring camp fire.

One by one people slink off to bed, while blankets are brought out and others fall asleep under a sky littered with stars.

The only sound is the bubbling of our hosts’ shisha pipe as they stand guard over the fire.

Having retreated to my tent after some noisy tourists arrived at camp and disturbed our idyllic night, I wake at dawn, gasping for air in a baking hot tent.

The fire is still smouldering, the water is still cold and after some bread, cheese and instant coffee, we’re soon on the road again.


Travel adventure: Follow Lawrence of Arabia's sandy trail through Jordan's deserts and canyons
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