(plus we raid a train & take Aqaba & Petra!) #FBF
#FlashBackFriday to Vlog and review of Ford vehicles during a road trip across Jordan in 2016 for Motoring Middle East. Tracing Lawrence of Arabia’s route, we saw the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, raided a train, ate food cooked in the ground, stormed Aqaba and finally got to the wonders of Petra!
What an absolutely epic trip that was! This is a must-watch. Read the full text of the original feature below:
For motoring journalists, most of our life is spent slogging behind computer screens churning out content for our readers – and very little of it (despite what people think) involves sensational road trips involving cool cars. However every now and then a terrific opportunity comes up to do exactly that, and that’s what we have for you in this video.
Once in a while, and really not that often, you end up going on a press trip that becomes one of those stand-out events that burns itself into your memory banks forever. This was one of them, and we have Ford Middle East to thank for an epic journey across Jordan retracing some of the footsteps of the legendary T E Lawrence (better known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’).
This is Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia in the movie, and in the picture below is the real T E Lawrence himself.
Except that whilst he journeyed mostly on horses and camels, we did it from the comfort of Ford’s current line-up of Trucks and SUVs. Ostensibly we followed Lawrence’s famous march to Aqaba almost 100 years ago through the stunning the vistas of Wadi Rum – an audacious attack from land through what was considered impassable desert at the time – as from the sea the town was fortified against attack.
Quick history lesson
Capturing Aqaba was deemed important to allow British ships to safely pass with supplies for the Arab Revolt against the ruling Ottoman Turks (the Ottoman Empire being allied with the Germans during World War I).
Lawrence corralled Arab forces with a rallying cry for independence, or just plain buying their loyalty with the 22,000 British gold sovereigns he was carrying, whilst simultaneously fooling the enemy into believing the target for the attack was actually Damascus.
After weeks and months of a gruelling journey on horseback during which they lost far more men to snakes and scorpions than they ever would in fighting, whilst attacking and sabotaging bridges and parts of the Hejaz railway along the way, the battle for Aqaba was fought at a Turkish blockhouse at Abu al Lasan, about halfway between Aqaba and the town of Ma’an.
With support from British navy ships bombarding the town from the sea, apparently there were only two casualties amongst the 5000-strong Arab force, whilst 300 of the 450 Turks were captured and then killed.
Easier Ride with Ford
Captain Thomas Edward Lawrence was an extraordinarily resilient and determined man, who as an archaeologist, had travelled and worked extensively in Arabia, even learning to speak the language. He had been recruited at first into the British Military as a spy and then saboteur, rising up the ranks to become an officer and a diplomat British liaision to the Arab leaders. He was a tough and hardy soul that adopted the way of the desert and wrote:
‘No man can live his life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.’
We car journalists on the other hand are a bunch of wimps, so we were to forego the camels and scorpions for luxury resorts and the air-conditioned comfort (with mobile internet of course) of the stupendous line-up of Ford SUVs and trucks, that would serve as our steeds over a course of a day’s run from the Dead Sea to Aqaba itself.
You can see our social media posts from the our Road Trip Jordan by searching: #GoFurtherInArabia, #VisitJordan and #MMEOnTheRoad.
Along the way we would take in the jaw-dropping vistas of the fabled Wadi Rum where, as well as obviously the movie ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ itself, ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’, ‘Prometheus’ and ‘The Martian’ amongst many others have been filmed.
The rugged rock formations and seared desert surface of the amazing ‘Valley of the Moon’ cut into the sandstone and granite rock of Southern Jordan, both enchant and inspire awe. One of the rock formations was named The Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the 1980s after the book by Lawrence inspired by his adventures here – though it only appears to have five pillars (count them above) – and he described Wadi Rum as ‘vast, echoing and God-like’.
So what’s the Ford connection? The incredible and rare footage of T E Lawrence (who was clearly a petrolhead) driving a Ford Model T in Wadi Rum with King Faisal. Watch it in the video above – Amazing!
Raiding the Train
In 1917 Lawrence was involved in raiding trains and stations with armed tribesman, so fittingly during part of our drive in Wadi Rum, we got to re-enact a train hijacking complete with armed riders on horseback, Ottoman guards on the train and us ‘attacking’ the train in our Fords!
In fact this is a must-do if you go as a tourist. Head to the restored Wadi Rum station on part of the old Hijaz railway. You not only get to ride on authentically restored train carriages, but then fall victim to a raiding party attack complete with replica Rolls-Royce armoured car. It’s spectacular and dramatic to witness, and thrilling to feel like you’re an extra in a big historical action movie.
Donning my Arab headgear that I picked up at the Desert Castle Bazaar gift shop just before we headed off-road into Wadi Rum, I really got into the part and perhaps a little carried away (Watch the video!).
I drove four vehicles on this trip, including the all-new Ford Edge. But we started off with an old friend – the Ranger Wildtrak we reviewed in this video. The diesel 3.2-litre five-cylinder puts out 200bhp and 347lb ft of torque, which was plenty to get around Jordan. And in fact this particular pick-up felt like the perfect vehicle for the job: quick enough, compact for city and tighter bits, fully off-road ready for the rough stuff and still fun to chuck about on the roads.
Next we moved into the Expedition – a big bus of a vehicle that is a firm family favourite. Its enormousness seemed appropriate in the vivid vastness of the extraordinary Wadi Rum and it tackled the off-roading with easy aplomb. Big and comfy too, with plenty of grunt from its 370bhp EcoBoost 3.5 V6. In fact it was in this thing that we ambushed the train. A bit of enthusiastic peddling to catch up with the horses saw it shrug off the sand and shrubs.
But if the bus was up to the task, our next ride, the meaty F-150 seemed to be master of this mayhem and our most supreme and adaptable companion yet on the journey so far. It felt indestructible, and the commanding seating position made you feel invincible. In fact I wished I’d had this to chase the train in – I would taken it all on my own with this beast! Ford also revealed to us that the new Raptor is being tested and readied for our region and will go on sale soon.
Finally we got a mere taster of the all-new Edge on a great little twisty road up to Ma’an on the second day, enough to prove that it’s yet another very handy offering in the increasingly fiercely-fought but admittedly fastest-growing, compact family SUV segment. We’ll try to bring you a full review of this important new car soon.
Road Trip Route
This would be a great route for any visitor with a car or rental to do through Jordan, and we thoroughly recommend it. But we’d recommend taking two days just to do the drive to Wadi Rum and Aqaba, as there’s a lot to see and we wish we had had more time to just stop and soak in what this amazing country has to offer.
We started our drive after a night’s stay in the exquisite Kempinski Hotel Ishtar with its stunning views across the Dead Sea, and headed down south through some spectacular sweeping highways curving along the Dead Sea at first along route 65. Then we headed inland and finally up a fantastically winding road to Tafilah Governorate on Route 60 after 118km.
Then straight down the other side of the mountain towards Ma’an and southwards again along route 15 to the highly enticing Desert Castle Bazaar gift shop (make sure you bring plenty of local currency as you’ll want to spend it here – as I did!). This part is a 133km run.
Finally we went into Wadi Run from near here. For the route we did, four-wheel drives would be needed, though even the Edge was more than adequate to cope with this sort of off-roading. If you have a road car, you can take the tarmac to the Wadi Run Visitor Centre from where you can get tickets to officially enter the wadi. You can also get safari rides into Wadi Rum.
Whilst you’re here check out the fantastic ‘Captain’s Desert Camp’ where we had delicious food cooked in the ground, and of course the nearby Tourist Train and mock raid is a must-do at the restored Wadi Rum train station.
After we had counted the loot we made in the train robbery and enjoyed a hearty victor’s meal at the Captain’s Camp, we rejoined Route 15 going south for 40km (completing well over 300km for the day) into Aqaba itself and dinner at the fine Kempinski Aqaba.
Next morning it was back up along the same Route 15 for about 80km and then splitting off to the left towards Petra. From there, after our dekho at Petro, we were ferried back to Amman by bus, but you could of course drive back from here – it’s a three-hour 240km run to the capital.
Be advised some of the roads do get a bit rough and you have to take it easy, also obey speed limits as there is fairly tight policing of these roads, and occasional checkpoints along all these routes for which you should keep your passports and vehicle documents ready to hand.
Aside from the ‘contemporary’ history of Lawrence of Arabia’s exploits and the Arab Revolt, no adventuring trip to this fantastical country would be complete without visiting the ancient and magical city of Petra, which is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1985, and was titled one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
Also known as the Rose City for the colour of the sandstone from which the city is directly cut out, it is Jordan’s most-visited tourist attraction. It was only discovered in 1812 – a hundred years before the Arab Revolt by a Swiss Explorer. Nobody knows how old it really is, but it could be from as far back as the 5th Century BC, and certainly was the capital of the Arab Nabateans around 312 BC.
Carved into a valley naturally formed by a riverbed, it’s an absolute wonder of ancient architecture that frankly leaves you gawping in wonderment and incredulity. We took the long 30 minute trek down into increasingly narrow pathways and got as far as the Treasury before having to turn back for the long slug back up the hill – steep in some places – to catch our bus back. But it’s worth setting aside a whole day for this and exploring further into this breathtaking and amazing place.
It was a dream come true to visit incredible Petra, and I definitely want to go back there some day. And although I couldn’t manage it on this visit, as car fans, if you do go to Jordan, make sure you also find time to visit the Royal Automobile Museum in Amman – a treasure trove of wonderful vehicles owned by royalty, as well as some not, including the rover seen driven by Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’ which was gifted to the museum at the end of filming.