|Donkey-wrangler Ali + Sharah mtns
Two weeks ago today I finished one of the best multi-day treks I've done: the six-day Dana to Petra hike (Nat Geo rated it one of the best in the world in 2011), part of the new 650km Jordan Trail, which takes 40 days end to end and officially opened in February.
The whole region is a trekkers' paradise, actually. At the adventure travel conference I attended on the Dead Sea after the hike, I learned about long-distance trails in Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, and adventure tours in Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq. Who knew?
|Natural beauty, in sandstone
|Barefoot and blistered on Day 4
|Onward and upward, Day 2
Sometimes we'd pass a Bedouin camp, the black goat-hair tents flapping in the hairdryer breeze, the inhabitants out for the day, grazing their animals.
Once we came across a small shop at the edge of a cliff, run by a man called Springtime Christmas (Rabir Eid in Arabic) who played his goatskin violin (rebab) for us.
|Domed tents and sandstone ones
They'd give us reviving cups of sweet sage or mint tea and set up bucket showers to rinse off the dust, then cook us feasts of lamb (and vegetarian dishes) served with Jordanian red wine.
One night we stayed at Feynan Ecolodge, an off-grid, solar-powered mirage of a place in Dana Biosphere Reserve.
|The Bedouin-run Feynan Ecolodge
Back on the trail we found clues to the ancientness of this part of the world: fossils of marine creatures that once lived in the Tethys Sea, Roman copper mines, Nabatean dams and wine presses and tombs.
Then we walked into Petra.
|The Monastery (Ad Deir)
We kept walking, passing a few caves dug into high red-sandstone walls until, without warning, we found ourselves in front of the Monastery, Petra's largest monument, a facade almost 50m high that seems to have grown out of a vertical rock face.
|Wadi Muthlim, in Petra
So much surprised me about Petra. It's massive, for one thing (264 square kilometres) with aqueducts, avenues and an amphitheatre carved from solid rock. It's an incredible natural landscape as much as an archaeological site. And most of the monuments are tombs, the dwellings of the 30,000 Nabateans who lived there between 1st century BC and 2nd century AD having been long destroyed by earthquakes (the Jordan Rift Valley is where the African and Arabian plates grind against each other).
|The famous glimpse
of the Treasury
Even then we saw only a few other tourists, making that first glimpse of the Treasury, Petra's best-known monument - the same view that inspired Swiss explorer Johann Burkhardt to bring Petra to the attention of the non-Arab world in 1812 - sublime, and a fitting end to our Jordan adventure.
"From the rock as if by magic grown, eternal, silent, beautiful, alone... A rose-red city half as old as time," wrote English poet John William Burgon in 1845. Petra, and maybe all of Jordan, still feels like this: earthbound yet ethereal, a message from another time.
|Group selfie by Ayman at the Treasury
Experience Jordan, based in Amman, Jordan's capital, runs the Dana to Petra Trek and others as private tours, tailoring them to each group, and always gives back to Bedouin communities who call this rugged landscape home.