Wadi Rum – That Time We Were Pulled Over By a Cop in the Desert

Posted By Jeremy in Asia

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Ride out into the desert of Wadi Rum, JordanWhenever I start the following story out with the question: “Have I ever told you about the time my tour group got pulled over in the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan?,” I always get an eyebrow raised at me.

To start this story off on the right foot, I need to say that first off, getting pulled over by the police authority in any country while traveling is not a situation a bunch of tourists want to find themselves in.  Secondly, we were in the middle of a desert, several hours from civilization.  No roads, no stop signs, no buildings, and no speed limits.   Just blasting dunes in a 4×4 with our Bedouin guide and passing incredibly tall and beautiful rock formations at every turn.   As it turns out, a few of these beautiful rock formations also come with a side of local police, and to make things even worse, we were also less than 20 miles from the Saudi Arabia border.

Wadi Rum, The Gorgeous Desert

The desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan

It was a stunningly gorgeous day in Wadi Rum, Jordan.  After camping overnight in the desert with the local Bedouin, watching the Perseid meteor shower blast across the visible Milky Way, we loaded up into a few 4×4 jeeps for a half day desert tour.   After a few minutes driving past the Bedouin camps, camel race track, and a lone railway, we were away from civilization as we knew it and our drivers decided it was time to have a bit of fun.

Blasting dunes in a desert is a fun activity.  There is no other way to put it.  Driving up and down mounds of sand at high speed and steep angles is something I could probably enjoy day after day.  Couple that with the scenery of Wadi Rum and you have the makings of a perfect day.  With many large rock formations rising out of the ground, some with ancient carvings from a simpler age and others taking the form of large arches, the desert of Wadi Rum is anything but empty.

Indiana Jones and Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan

With the exception of the local Bedouin, there is no one living in this particular desert.  In fact, other than a few choice stops by our guide, we did not see any other sign of human life the entire day, except once.  We approached another remarkably large rock from a distance and did not think it would be anything special compared to the previous dozen that we had just passed.  We zoom on by at high speed and turn around to enjoy the scenery and noticed one extra detail – a truck hiding in the shade of the rock.

“I wonder if that is a cop,”  I thought; chuckling to myself at the thought of a cop hiding in the shade of a rock much like cops at home hide in the shade of a building.  The truck’s engine turns on and it pulls out behind us. “Holy #$@ that is a cop!”   My heart sank.

We got pulled over in the middle of the desert, by a cop hiding in the shade of a massive rock.

Why Doesn’t Our Driver Have a License?

At the top of a dune in Wadi Rum, Jordan

At this point, I was a bit too nervous to take a picture of the scene, and in retrospect wish I would have.  But when you are pulled over by a mysterious truck less than 20 miles from the Saudi Arabian border, you tend to not ask questions and have your passport at the ready.

The cop approached our vehicle and began to ask our driver questions in Arabic, much faster than my limited knowledge of the language could understand.  If I had to guess, “license and registration” was probably among the top terms thrown around.  All well and good, but as we found out our particular Bedouin driver did not actually have a license to drive a car.  Oops.

After a short discussion, the security officer walked away, smiled at us, and we were on our way.  Our English speaking tour guide informed us that it was all well and good as the officer and our driver were from the same tribe and would figure it out later.  I’m guessing a few goats exchanged hands, a few glasses of tea were consumed, and everyone had a good laugh.

Rock monoliths in Wadi Rum, Jordan

Our guide went on to tell us that Bedouin tribes in this part of the world tend to act as border security when a full military force is not available.  In being so close to Saudi Arabia, the Bedouin are the first defense against smugglers trying to bring their wares over into Jordan to sell at higher prices.  In this case, the security officer was on the lookout for goats, which apparently sell for much higher prices in the country and are smuggled quite frequently.  Whether that was serious, a joke, or code for something far more sinister, I’ll never know.

One thing I learned, when you are pulled over by a cop in the middle of the desert, you tend to not ask a lot of questions.

Are you visiting the amazing Wadi Rum desert on your trip to Jordan? Check out the Salman Zwaidh Desert Camp for a great night under the stars!

I’ve often said my G Adventures trip to Egypt and Jordan was the definition of the perfect tour. If you’re looking to take a guided tour around this region, check out G Adventures to book your tour today!

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  1. My friend and I actually got pulled over leaving Wadi Rum, albeit on a road. We are both blond and pale-skinned and, unlike most other tourists, had opted to drive ourselves rather than take tour buses. So every time we stopped for a security check we got strange looks and the same questions: “Do you speak Arabic?” and “First time in Jordan?” followed by a smile and “welcome, welcome!”. It was no different when we got pulled over, except the exchange ended with the cop kindly telling us “slower, please, only 100 kmh”. We couldn’t believe we had gotten off with just a warning 🙂

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    • I love it. Jordan is such a great country full of awesome people!

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  2. The sight of all the figures in airports, clad in dark grey and carrying machine guns has always had me on edge and I carry nothing more dangerous than a stick of deodorant. Being pulled over in the desert like that would be a severe adrenaline rush.
    Love the stories, keep them coming.

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  3. Got stopped in Jordon by a cop too, only we were driving a rental car that we picked up in Amman and drove down to Aqaba in the middle of the night. Once he figured out we were Americans, he was cool and just waved us on. thank God!
    The Jordanians were such nice people we found.

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  4. I have nothing against unofficial trade routes. In fact, I think the person who was stopping us was most likely bored because of the proximity of everything nearby. When your choices are watch the sand blow or pull over the only thing that could possibly talk to you, I’d probably pull over the car too.

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  5. Got stopped by police in Prague in the metro to check my tickets which on that day I didn’t pay! paid a 30 Euro fine or something like that haha

    and from my experience in Siwa, tribes usually have the bad ass person among them who is actually doing the smuggling, they all know about him and wouldn’t do anything against it. Think of it this way, they live in the desert, away from civilization and real job opportunities as we know it, these unofficial trade routes are their only source 😉 whether the smuggled goods are legal or not…there are many that do smuggle legal stuff like cigarettes, shampoos, clothes,…anything you might think of 😀 (and ofcourse there are the drugs and weapon smugglers…)

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  6. Got stopped by the Vietnamese cop-shop in Saigon once. Took away my Hot Rod they did. I was only a toddler.

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