The southern part of hiking the Jordan trail has held its challenges but, for me, has been much easier than the northern part. Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba are all names redolent with history – and I revelled in it. The wild, open landscapes, the rock-tumbled mountains and gorges and the wide wadis dotted with acacia trees make my heart sing. One thing has remained constant, the kindness and hospitality of the Jordanian people.
We left the magical mists of Dana for a day of winding along the side of the mountains, looking down on to the valleys below. The colours shifted constantly from red to yellow to green with the changing minerals in the rock and the silence was punctuated only by bird call and the tinkling of bells from the sheep grazing nearby. It was the last of the almost Mediterranean eco-system as we turned towards the sands of Wadi Araba.
There, we are welcomed into the tent of Abu Attallah from the Azazmeh tribe. The day is cold but his tent is cosy, warmed by a fire dug into a pit in the sand in the centre. It is surrounded by mats and cushions and I can’t resist the temptation to stretch out, even though, I know that the smell of my socks might prove fatal to my companions.
We drink sweet tea and the men chat about shared acquaintances, routes (yep! Men and directions – sorry to be sexist) and the weather. I duck behind the curtain to the kitchen, the women’s section, and meet one of Abu Attalah’s wives and his graceful teenage daughter, Islam. We talk about the weather, my leg bite, cooking, schools and the kitchen. It is a comforting girly interlude.
The climb out of of Wadi Araba is the longest, hardest and best of the whole Jordan trail. 27km and 1400m of ascent. We start up a vertical, black slope with views back across the sands. Lonely juniper trees splits the rocks with their roots, tenaciously hanging onto life. ‘He who fears ascending the mountains, lives forever in a hole,’ Munther encourages me. Our final climb is right on the edge of a long ridge. I feel like an eagle.
Hiking into Petra
Petra is my next treat in store and honestly it needs a blog of its own. Built by the Nabateans between 100 BCE and 100 CE, it is deservedly one of the new seven wonders of the world. Hiking in, following the old camel caravan routes; clambering up into what may have been an inn, with its door guarded by two carved lions; seeing the monastery with no-one else around and trying out the echoes in the chamber of one of the Tombs of the Kings … it was one of my perfect days.
And there were so many more to follow. We left Petra for the most stunning series of canyons, swooping drops and open, blue skies. The sun smiled on us and made the blushing mountains glow. The coloured canyon was a series of rock paintings crafted by God in reds and pinks and yellows. It made walking perilous as I wanted to look up and around all the time rather than watch my feet.
Coming out through the white canyon, the bride of the mountains, we had an adventurous night when thunder and lightning were followed by rain so torrential that in ten minutes everything was drenched. We heard a sound like the roaring of a giant lion as flash floods streamed across what had been an arid wadi bed, filling it with muddy water and pushing stones, dead trees and debris through the mud. Impossible to cross and walk the next day with wadis in flood, we skipped a stage and went straight to Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum is unlike any other desert I have seen. Its sands are a rich red and it has huge rocks and cliffs scattered throughout. The rain had washed the sky into the brightest blue and all the colours seemed to have exclamation marks after them – blue!, red!, gold!.
A lovely surprise
‘Can you see them, Alice?’ Munther was pointing ahead but his big hair was in the way. I peered round and there were two camels walking picturesquely up to us. I whipped out my phone.
‘They’re for you,’ Munther said.
‘What do you mean? Are they coming with us?’
‘Yes! We arranged it as a surprise, we know how much you love them. I have been trying to sort it for three days and keeping the secret has been torture. I am bad at secrets!’
I was ecstatic and truly touched that Fouad from Treks had decided to make this last section extra special for me.
Abu Samah was ten and Arfan was only 7 and they were both open to poll-scratching and being fed treats. Once again, I fell prey to those big, long-lashed eyes that can plead for your last biscuit in an irresistible way. I had lots of chats with Abu Laith about the different types of halter used and what his camels like to eat and why he did things like leave the saddle on when we had finished for the day (so that their backs didn’t get cold).
Then, suddenly, our days in Wadi Rum had ended and we were on the very last stretch to Aqaba. The trip, which had been so intense and all-consuming, was coming to an end.
Adventure to the end
But even that last day was to have an adventure in it. We were hiking down towards the sea, when Munther and Ghaith, his friend who had joined us for some days, spotted an injured hawk. The poor thing had obviously broken a leg and damaged his wing and was scuttling before us, earth-bound.
What do we do? Leave it to die or take it with us and try to find a vet or bird sanctuary. We picked him up and wrapped him firmly in my Craghoppers fleece to stop him flapping and set off again. Munther got on the phone to try and find a solution in Aqaba, Ghaith carried the bird ahead of him, talking to him softly and I worried about what was going to happen and concentrated on walking fast enough not to delay things. It was Friday so vets and sanctuaries were closed but fate was with us.
When we got to the hotel, where we were going to stay that night, which lay just before the end of our journey and the red sea, we were met by a smiling man who said, ‘What a gift you have brought me, a beautiful hawk. Praise be to God.’ It turned out that he had a friend who hunted with hawks and was an expert. We were able to happily give our injured rescue into his safe hands.
All things must end
And we were there. We walked down onto the beach, crowded with Jordanian families out for a Friday outing. We’d done it, my feet were in the Red Sea. I breathed out for what felt like the first time in 35 days. Hiking the Jordan Trail had challenged me in a myriad of ways. The start had been so shocking and the beginning so hard, but for all it had asked of me, it had rewarded me equally. The Jordan Trail had given me fantastic scenery, stunning mountain trails, camels, the wild paths over the wadis, hyenas and eagles, gallons of hot tea and warm hospitality, and, of course, a new friendship with Munther Al Titi – an extraordinary guide and lovely human.
And my next book is coming out on March 17th 2022! Here is a sneak preview and links to my other books.