Most tourists to the world's historical monuments travel do a whistle stop tour – by the grand highway and in large busses. They travel there to look, bye the t-shirt and hop back on the bus... well for another destination. But there can be and are, simpler ways of getting to these places. The unimaginative one for Petra, for instance, is via the country's Desert Highway – from Amman airport to the Siq, Petra's gargantuan gorge entrance, in about two hours. Take that option and you can be away to Aqaba by nightfall.
Petra Is Like A Dream
Petra is a like a dream. Rainbow-streaked sandstone gorge walls have been cut to create exquisite column-fronted facades and cavernous tombs, extensive water channels and a monumental theatre. Then there is the setting in the Shara Mountains, which defies the usual Arabian Desert stereotypes as the Ghuweir is already demonstrating.
The trail we're walking, newly stitched together from grazing tracks, Bedouin migration routes and this first-day canyon descent will bring us not only to Petra but, we hope, to a richer appreciation of the place and its surroundings.
By the time we reach the foot of the canyon, crag martins are surfing the gloaming, stuffing themselves with insects. The Wadi Araba, "Valley of the Arabs", stretches before us, a semi-desert that stalls the Ghuweir's gravel-lined stream, with its pink-flowering oleanders, in its tracks.
Next morning, the sun is still low as we stride out across the plain. Moses came this way, and many early Christians were martyred in the region's brutal copper mines. We descend past caper bushes and desert roses to a stream, where we cool our feet, leaving our footprints among the fresh hoof marks of the elusive ibex goats.
This is unrivalled walking, and not only for the dizzying views of the mountains and the Wadi Araba far below. Immersion in the local history, culture and geology is providing us with an illuminating context for the city we're approaching.
The distant specks of light are candles at the new Wadi Feynan ecolodge. On the boundary of Jordan's flagship nature reserve at Dana, this is Foreign Legion fort from the outside monastic retreat within. Goats graze among the scattered tents of the Bedouins as we head south, hunkered down against the gathering heat.
For the night, we sleep in communal tent with walls woven from hemp and camel hair. It sports a patterned pelmet and is furnished with rugs and bolsters, but it's also patched with plastic sacks. The overall effect is intriguing – like a wedding marquee in a shanty town.
For showers, there is an unexpected waterfall and meals are simple – chicken stew cooked over the campfire.
We have been walking for five and a half days when we finally arrive. We take a rocky trail and round a final corner to a sublime pay-off: we are standing before the monastery's mountaintop façade, almost as if we've stumbled on the most awe-inspiring of Petra's many monuments.
The main city site – churches and temples, forts, imperial tombs and the extraordinary theatre – lies in a mountain bowl below the monastery. Our walk to Petra has not only given an understanding of the place it has prepared us for the punishing contours and fierce temperatures there.