“Don’t worry, mom. Yes, at the hostel. No, it’s not raining,” Fadi reassures his mother over the phone while we devour our falafel sandwiches. The sun is shining and street life in Wadi Musa – the town next to world heritage site Petra – runs its leisurely course.
In the morning, we will depart on a four-day trek to complete my last 90 kilometres on the Jordan Trail. But first, we need to drop off water and food in the desert. We arrange to meet with Abu Samra, an acquaintance of an acquaintance, whose jeep will take us to the three sites where we hope to camp. A prolonged quarter of an hour later, he shows up.
Contrary to earlier claims, he quickly appears not to know the places we discussed. Miraculously – or, as some might say, alhamdulillah – we manage to reach two sites before the sun goes down. Frustrating, but nothing that can’t be solved by dragging a few extra litres of water with us along the way.
A walk through time
We adjust the straps of our backpacks and zigzag between the many day trippers and carriages through Petra’s narrow siq leading to the Treasury. From there, a side path takes us all the way up to the High Place of Sacrifice, where we admire the 360° views of the surrounding mountains.
As we descend into the valley, the hustle and bustle of tour groups and souvenir vendors instantly drowns out. Instead, we now follow the sound of a flute until we find the musician on a stool in front of an ancient temple. Time for tea.
Just like his ancestors, Qasem herds goats on the rock flanks. He proudly points to the structure of trenches and wells carved into the massive rocks. The Nabateans – who inhabited Petra during the classical antiquity – were more than aware of the importance of water. An impressive network of waterways supplied all districts with the blue gold from reservoirs higher up.
We march on through surprisingly green valleys and climb over crumbling mountains. Having lost track of time, we shift into higher gear, but still arrive at our campsite well past sunset. As soon as we dig up our hidden stash, the barking starts. Seconds later, four guard dogs from a nearby Bedouin camp surround us. A convincing wave with my hiking pole does the trick: the growling transforms into tail-wagging. Our presence is tolerated.
We start the day at 5:30 with knees that don’t want to come along for the ride. Deterred by the prospect of pulling up the tent in the dark again, we carry on. Slow and steady wins the race and despite the GPS duping us into an additional three kilometres, we reach our camping spot as the last rays of light slowly disappear behind the mountain.
Victory tastes sweet until we realise our mistake. When hiding our second resupply bag at barely 300 metres from the campsite two days earlier, we had failed to account for the mountain now separating us from our dinner. A thorough terrain study brings relief, however, and the mountain is circumvented. Baked beans and instant noodles never tasted so good.
Stubborn desert flowers
Jordan’s beauty is underestimated. I ignore the pain in my ankles and take it all in: the hills and valleys, the red canyons, the desert sand, the volcano stones and the flowers that stubbornly bloom in their arid surroundings.
Just before setting up our final camp, we cross the annual thru-hike organised by the Jordan Trail Association. Nineteen participants from all over the world are taking part. More tea is offered, as well as a whole bag of fruits for the road.
After dinner, we are staring at the smouldering campfire and breathtaking starry sky when a jeep approaches. Two men in dishdasha walk over to our tent, blinding us with their torches. I feel my senses sharpen as various scenarios flash through my mind. False alarm. The duo appears to be looking for their friend Abu Sabah, who lives in a nearby village.
Tea, tea and a little more tea
Our legs seem to have adjusted, so we sprint through the valley. A few kilometres before reaching our destination, we have the pleasure of meeting the legendary Abu Sabah. Receiving us on a mattress around the fire pit in his Bedouin tent, he orders two young boys to prepare the tea. The animated chatter from the women’s section behind the curtain quickly increases in decibels.
Whenever a guest from the village enters, all men stand up out of respect and every passing truck on the dirt road stirs up a lively debate on who is sitting behind the wheel. Everyone knows everyone in the desert.
The rusty sign outside Humeima’s visitor centre marks the end of my time on the Jordan Trail. After 652 kilometres, I have crossed the country on foot. We have a celebratory tea with Ibrahim, the ruins’ guard, whose solitary job consists of greeting the handful of visitors.
An hour later, Abu Sabah’s son shows up to give us a ride back to our car. "To Petra, correct?" And with a simple Inshallah we fly at 130 kilometres per hour over the narrow roads towards the Rose City.