In search of an historic railway, Toby teams up with a couple of adveturous German bikers.
The name Wadi Rum has for me, always conjured up images of a dashing Peter O’Toole playing the lead role in David Lean’s classic 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia. This true story depicts the exploits of T. E. Lawrence during the First World War, working with the Arabs against the occupying Turkish forces. The movement was known as The Arab Uprising and gave immeasurable support to the Allied forces. A high point of the campaign was Lawrence’s three day dash on a racing camel across Wadi Rum to blow up a section of the Hejaz railway - a vital supply link for the Turks.
My pal, Jeff Steedman and I were sharing the driving of my Carawagon east from Cairo, over to the port of Neweiba on the Red Sea coast. After kicking our heels for a day or two, we caught a small ferry north to the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Sitting on deck in warm sunshine, we were joined by a German couple. Klaus Demel and his girlfriend Helga, were heading for Wadi Rum on their motor bike and wondered if we fancied joining them. We accepted their offer and the four of us disembarked and stocked up with food and drinks at a market in Aqaba.
Tarmac roads allow tourist buses easy access to the desert for the Wadi Rum experience. They sit down in cafe’s, look at the view, return to the bus and head off to the comfort of an hotel. We had other plans. Klaus wanted to play on his bike, we wanted to venture off tarmac and into the seemingly endless gorges that make up this historic area. Helga joined us in the Land Rover with all their gear, leaving Klaus free to go and kick up some dust, while we ventured into the desert to look for a suitable camp. We had arranged to meet at a pre-determined spot before it became dark, but this plan failed due to a small language difference and we ended up spotting a rather desperate Klaus on top of a rock scouring the landscape for us, all his belongings and his partner!
Reunited, we found a gorge that would offer both shelter from wind and a hiding place from any unwanted attention and pitched camp. As we started preparing a meal Klaus spotted a pickup approaching. Out stepped two local Bedouin tribesmen trying to explain that we should pay a fee to camp in Wadi Rum (A fact we knew, but had chosen to ignore as we had very little money). They wanted to see our tickets, which of course we could not provide. Klaus is a six foot, six inch, biker with piercing blue eyes and the most persuasive frown I have ever seen. One eyebrow would rise to the top of his brow, while the other eye almost closed. From his lofty position he frowned at the two hapless Jordanians, shook his head and dismissed them with a defiant gesture of his right arm. He was right to do this, as we learned later there is a healthy local industry taking money from tourists and very little of it goes to cover missed tickets.
With this episode completed we waited for the truck to disappear, quickly packed and moved on in darkness to find a new site, in case they returned later. We eventually camped at the head of a smaller gorge, the near vertical cliffs looking as though they had been drizzled with chocolate running far below the desert surface. We cracked open a bottle of wine and enjoyed a great meal around a small fire, swapping travel stories. Klaus was on the first leg of a Round the World trip. Helga had flown out to join him for a month. I was less ambitious, restricting my trip to a circumnavigation of the eastern half of the Mediterranean and Jeff had joined me for a couple of weeks holiday.
The following morning we packed and set off in search of any remains of the Hejaz railway. Research had given us a rough idea of it’s whereabouts, and as it ran from North to South, heading west from our camp should ensure we dissected it’s path. Remarkably some trains do still operate on the Hejaz railway, but further north and only as far as Amman, some 100 miles away. If we were to find anything, it would be no more than the rusty remains of a once busy line cutting the journey to Mecca from two months by camel, to a sprightly 55 hours by train. After a morning’s search we did find the original route, but all that was left was a very straight raised strip of earth. All salvageable metal long since liberated for scrap. T. E. Lawrence’s initial blow had clearly heralded the beginning of the end for this historic line.
Toby 01.jpeg: Wide open spaces between high sided mountains were fun to ride and drive in Toby’s 200 Tdi Carawagon and Klaus Demel’s slightly faster (!) Ducatti engined Cagiva Elefant.
Toby 02.Jpegs: The four adventurers eventually camped in this narrow gorge away from prying eyes and local con men.
Toby 03.jpg: Klaus Demel the 6’6” German. Not a man to be messed with!