While I worried about rain for Kilimanjaro, I never considered it would be an issue on my week-long trek from Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan’s largest nature reserve, to Petra, the archeological site of the former capital of the Nabatean empire. Ha! By the end of day one, we arrived in Wadi Feynan after having walked in steady rain for about the last half hour of the day. We huddled in the cooking tent–one of the many United Nations tents that Syrian refugees in Jordan have sold to Jordanians–hanging our coats and propping our packs to dry. Overnight the wind howled so loudly that many of us were kept awake, and the following morning the wobbly wooden toilet stood solo on the ground, its canvas covering having been picked by a gust.
There were clouds but no rain on day two, and by day three, the clouds seemed to be lifting. We started with a steep ascent that eventually took us through a narrow canyon littered with rocks. We ate lunch next to a small waterfall, continued along a dry, rocky riverbed and then climbed up again until we reached camp. In all, we ascended more than 1000 meters of mostly unstable ground. When we arrived in camp, our guide, who was sick, half-jokingly collapsed on the pile of mattresses the cooks had set out. I laid on a plastic mat and turned my head to watch the layered orange and cream colors that striped the sky at sunset. I mentioned to a fellow trekker that I might sleep outside that night.
We were gathered around a fire after dinner when it seemed out of nowhere we felt drops of rain. We each dashed to our tents. The rain picked up, coming down in heavy layers as I popped my head out of my tent to brush my teeth. I heard the cooks outside my tent yelling for our guide–“Murad! Murad!” The water got faster and stronger than I had ever heard in a tent before. I began packing everything in case I needed to get out quickly. Every few minutes, I used my headlamp to check the vestibule and tent corners for any water leaks. The tent was small, nylon and seemed like it could easily be taken by the water and washed down the mountain. It poured and poured. And then, an hour or so after it started, it stopped. I went outside to see the damage. As I walked toward the others, my boots got heavier and heavier with each mud-caked step. Three people had been flooded out of their tents, and the rest had water and mud at least in the porticos. While I had thought I was overreacting, everyone else had also packed everything to get out, one planning to use his inflatable mattress as a raft. The rain had created multiple thin streams in the muddy ground. Though the rain from the sky had stopped, rainwater was still pouring down the mountain, making a loud rushing sound.
We woke the next morning to a mostly sunny day. We walked along a mountain ridgeline with some of the best scenery of the trek–mountains surrounding us, slabs of smooth rock as part of the trail, rocks with ribbons of purple and red. By the time we arrived, via a morning cliffside hike, through the “back door” of Petra three days later, we had walked more than 90 km, one man in our group mostly wearing the pants he had split wide open in the back on day two or three. I checked into my hotel room that evening and got a phone call from the man who had hosted me on a work exchange before I went on the trek. He asked me if it rained, and I told him what happened. “When it rains there,” he said, pausing “…it rains a lot.” No kidding.
I came back to Petra for a second day on my own. After a wrong turn on a hike to Haroun’s Tomb, I sat briefly with a Bedouin family who lives on the outskirts of the archeological site. (While Bedouins once lived in Petra, the government moved them out of the archeological site to a nearby village, though some Bedouins still have farms near to the archeological site.) The family I met had a cave where they slept part of the year and a home in the village. I tried a bite of a meal we ate using our right hands: bread covered with milk, along with warm goat fat in the center. (They brought out some things they hoped I would buy after we ate. Here is some information on etiquette.) After, I explored more of Petra, meeting some of the people who work there–a young girl who told me she wanted to be an obstetrician when she grew up, a 20-something Bedouin man sitting at the High Place of Sacrifice to watch the sun set and two sisters who sold jewelry along the trail leading to the High Place of Sacrifice. I sat with the women as they drank tea and smoked an apple sheesha out of a homemade pipe made from a plastic water bottle. An American couple walked past us arguing about something having to do with her having fallen off of a donkey. Everyone talked about how business has slowed. With people scared to come to Jordan, tourism has dropped significantly. For travelers, it is ideal to visit places like Petra in a relatively crowdless state, but for Jordanians who depend on the income, needless to say it is difficult.
Planning the Trek: I hiked from Dana to Petra through Terhaal, a Jordanian adventure travel company. As a solo traveler, it was my cheapest option. Another way to do it is to hire your own private guide. Yamaan Safady is often recommended, but after a lot of research, I found out that he has moved to the U.S. (You may still want to look into whether he may be available when you go.) You may also want to contact the Jordan tourism board for suggestions of other licensed, experienced guides. They recommended Shuayb Twaissi ([email protected]) to me, but he was too expensive for me as a solo traveler. This is not a hike many people do to begin with, so between that and the fact that there are fewer tourists in Jordan these days, I could not find others to join me. If you have others to join you, it could bring the cost well below what I paid Terhaal.
If you have the time, I recommend the trek as a special way to arrive in Petra. I also highly recommend giving yourself at least two days in Petra. It cost me only 5 JD to add on a second day. It was well worth it to me to have more time to explore and feel the life that went on in this special–and vast–place at a more leisurely pace.