Hiking with a baby to Petra
Had we gone mad? Had we totally lost the plot? We don’t have kids and yet we planned to go hiking with one? And one that was only 16 months old? We really didn’t think this one through did we?
But we did. We knew what we were doing and we were confident this would go well. Why? We knew the parents and had decided they were ‘cool parents’, ones that instilled a confidence in us that Vilmer (the 16 month old) would do just fine. And he did.
So after picking a guide we found on Facebook to organise our trip to Jordan, we all booked flights (we were flying from Tanzania of course, but Bjørn and Dorthe plus Vilmer were coming from Denmark) to arrive roughly around the same time in Amman.
We arrived in the middle of the night, and were picked up at the airport before being driven to our hotel in Al Salt. Bjørn, Dorthe and Vilmer were already there and we met them early in the morning for breakfast, it was great to see them again and meet Vilmer for the first time. It was a beautiful hotel located in an old restored house in the old part of town with narrow and steep streets all zigzagging on both sides of the valley.
After trying the 500 different dishes put on our table for breakfast we jumped into 2 cars to head to the start of our walk – Dana. Dana is a 500-year old village at the top of Wadi Dana and at the edge of the Dana Nature Reserve. We would start our hike from there.
We arrived around midday, but decided to hike for a while before stopping for lunch. We got changed, loaded our bags with the lunches that were made for us and met Saddam, our guide and organiser of our time in Jordan. His English was excellent and after depositing Vilmer into his new home for the coming week (a backpack chair) we were off. Fortunately, it was an easy day, downhill pretty much all the way! We chatted and enjoyed the semi-desert scenery around us, had lunch along the way and reached our campsite at the bottom of the valley in the early evening.
A little further we reached our campsite and were surprised to see other people sitting there. It turned out somebody else had arrived earlier and set up camp where we were supposed to be, but our car (with our overnight bags, tents and food for the night) was nowhere to be seen… It turned out Saddam had used a new driver who had no idea where he was supposed to be going and he hadn’t arrived. It took another couple of hours before he finally showed up. By this time we were exhausted as we hadn’t had any sleep on the plane the night before and the 3 hours we had in the hotel didn’t feel nearly enough. We pitched the tents whilst dinner was being made. Dorthe had already gone to bed to settle Vilmer by the time dinner finally arrived, it was absolutely delicious. We were glad we had stayed up for it.
The next morning we felt a lot more rested, although still a little tired, but we were looking forward to another day of hiking. But first we all had to jump into the car to drive us to the starting point. It wasn’t very clear but we thought we understood we were driving 2km. It turned into an hour long drive with the driver getting lost again and again and our guide not willing (not able?) to give directions. He knew where we had to go and could point at it, but he didn’t know which tracks to take to get there. Eventually they found somebody who drove in front of us to show us the way. We were a little frustrated (again), but happy to finally stretch our legs and start walking!
Today we were going up, into the valleys and canyons leading us closer and closer to Little Petra, and, eventually, the ‘back entrance’ of Petra, our final destination of this hike. But we weren’t there yet. It was pretty hot going up hill, but we made good progress and were looking forward to our lunch stop which we were told would be at a waterfall. It was totally dry all around us, a rocky desert with some scrubs here and there, so we were keen to see this promised water, concerned that maybe it would have dried-up.
It hadn’t. It flows year-round and was super impressive. From high above we could see the top of the falls, thundering even further down another gorge. We had quite a hike-down to get to it, eventually reaching a number of beautiful rock pools with water flowing from one to the next, around the corner and eventually cascading down the waterfall we had seen from above. There were other people already there and we were hungry, so we first decided to have lunch before exploring the pools. We sat with our feet in the cool and clear water whilst eating our lunch and then, luckily, everybody left apart from one other couple with their guide.
We went for a look around the corner and saw a gorgeous natural spa from where the waterfall fell down. It was like it was telling us to jump in and go for a swim, which of course we did. We spent about 2 hours in and around the pools before we reluctantly moved on, we weren’t at the campsite yet…
The walk from the pools to the campsite went through more stunning gorges, mostly dry, and before we knew it we had arrived at the campsite. And, to our relief, the car with all the gear had already arrived and tea was brewing in the fire and dinner preparations were underway too. Perfect.
Dinner again was sensational. A traditional method of cooking in Jordan amongst the Bedouins is to dig a big pit in the ground, add coal to the bottom and then lower the dishes arranged on a rack into this hole in the ground. As it is quite a big job to dig the hole, the clever ‘modern’ Bedouins have come up with a practical solution for when there is no pit already dug (some places have communal pits like you would see a communal bbq in parks in Australia). They place the rack of food on the ground, place an oil drum upside down over it and place the coals around it. Does the trick perfectly and the meat eaters enjoyed some delicious chicken with rice and vegetables. Unfortunately the meat drips into the rice for flavour, so this was not an option for Jude, but they had made her the same stew of veggies in a separate pot. We all had an amazing meal, half laying on the mats placed in a circle next to the fire with stunning views of the mountains all around us and the sun setting as we enjoyed endless cups of sweet tea.
That proved to be a fatal mistake. The cups of tea were delicious, black tea with sugar and some wild herbs added to it. We couldn’t have enough of it, not realising the theine (like caffeine) would keep us awake most of the night…
We had decided to sleep under the stars that night and dragged our mats with sleeping bags away from the fire as the camp staff were chatting with their visitors. We chatted with Bjørn for a while before he moved his bed closer to Dorthe and Vilmer who were in one of the tents. We talked a bit longer, watching the shooting stars until we decided to call it a night.
We must have dozed off a number of times, but kept waking up (due to the tea!), until it started to rain… Bugger. Big drops were falling out of the sky and Jon got up to grab a tent and bring one to Bjørn too. However, by the time he was back the rain had more or less stopped again, as suddenly as it had started. Bjørn and Jude decided to stay outside. Jon had had enough and jumped into the tent, but lucky for us there was no more rain that night.
The next morning we woke up (we must have eventually fallen asleep) to another beautiful day. We had a leisurely breakfast, loaded our bags with the lunches and set off for our day’s walk. Jamal, the excellent chef also joined us on our walk today and the car would drive around again to meet us at the next campsite, but that was not for another 7 or 8 hours.
Highlights of this day’s hike were the stunning gorges we walked through, beautiful rock formations and great views once we were out of the gorges and onto some spectacular ridge lines and ledges. We also spotted out first wildlife in the form of a chameleon, geckos and then a big spider hiding under rocks.
This time camp was set up at the end of the rocky plateaus, at the edge of some fields with crops, but with its back against some huge rocky outcrops. This is where we pitched our tents. Little did we know that we were going to have another eventful night, but first another amazing culinary experience. This time they were cooking the dish wrapped in foil directly on the coals. We were surprised it didn’t split when they expertly flipped it, but it didn’t and the end result was some of the best lamb Jon has eaten and Jude had, yet again, her own veggie dish. Also made on the coals wrapped in foil.
Vilmer and Dorthe were in a tent again, Bjørn was sleeping under the stars nearby and we were higher up on the ledge. Jon inside the tent and Jude next to it under the stars. Halfway through the night the wind picked up significantly and again, big raindrops came tumbling down. Jude joined Jon inside the tent, but it soon became obvious the wind was just getting stronger and the little tent about to be blown away. We decided to pack up and head down to lower ground. It was a bit of a very tight squeeze with 2 backpacks plus the 2 of us in this tiny, tiny tent, but somehow we managed (just) staying relatively dry through the heavy rain.
Day 4 was another dry day at the start, but ominous clouds were threatening in the skies ahead. We set off with our lunches loaded again, but stopped soon after for a cuppa in one of the Bedouin tents. One man had already left with most of the sheep and goats and the other man brewed a cuppa for us whilst telling us about his life and the animals he was looking after. It was interesting to realise that even though he was a Bedouin he had a house and family in a nearby town and drove home for the night, only returning to his Bedouin tent and animals in the morning. A bit like commuting to the office, only this one is 7-days a week.
The walk was less interesting than the previous days and we walked through areas with crops and some houses, not really seeing any people. As we crossed through a pass the heavens opened again and the howling wind was directly in our face. It was hard to walk into, but there was no shelter anywhere around. We kept walking, Vilmer not happy as he was being blasted by the rain and the wind whilst Bjørn and Dorthe were trying to shield him from this storm. After another km or so they found a deserted Bedouin tent and we took shelter until the storm died down a bit. It didn’t last too long and half an hour later or so we were on our way again.
It rained on and off that day, but soon we were out of the exposed area and into the sheltered area of the narrow gorges that were leading us to the back entrance of Little Petra. The gorges were beautiful, and then to our surprise following a steep climb up a very narrow section we all of a sudden found ourselves in a teashop. It was the start (for us) of Little Petra, but for most people it is as far as they go, if they get this far at all. From his teashop it was a short walk down some steep and slippery steps and then we saw our first cave house. We had really arrived in Little Petra!
We enjoyed lunch in the Painted Biclinium (which literally means ancient Roman dining sofa for 2 people), very fitting and very timely as we were all starving! It was great to see all the stairs carved into the rocks, the tombs and halls, and even some houses visible. Given construction started in the 1st century BC, it is impressive how much remains intact. We exited through a narrow gap in the rocks to find ourselves in the middle of tourist village. Tea shops and souvenir shops were waiting for us past the last rock-carved temple. As the heavens were about to open up, again, we gladly found shelter in a tea shop for a cup of mint tea.
The downpour resulted in a little river flowing through the gap we had just walked through and the closing of Little Petra for the day. We were lucky to have escaped in time.
From Little Petra it was only a short walk to our campsite for the night. An ancient rock cave! Jamal‘s family owns the cave and we were invited to spend the night. 30 seconds after arriving hail came smashing down and we were even more happy with our beautiful bedroom for the night. A sensational fish dish was prepared, possibly our best meal yet, and we settled in for the night. Glow in the dark stars on the ceiling added a tiny magic touch, but looking out of the open door and seeing the real stars in between the showers was the real treat.
We woke early for our last day of hiking, a cloudy but dry day, as we would arrive in Petra this morning. We were all very excited, although Vilmer put on his best poker face. We were delayed at the entrance gate as the tickets hadn’t arrived yet. Tickets can only be bought on the day and you need passports to get them. Somebody was picking them up, but the computer system was down, we learned later. The friendly guard let us in anyway as we offered to leave our guide as collateral for the coming tickets!
Saddam caught up with us in time to show us the most impressive view of the whole of Petra, one we will never forget. Our first sighting of The Monastery. We have all seen The Treasury in photos or movies (Indiana Jones), but we had never seen a picture of The Monastery, and it is seriously impressive. Seeing it from a distance was very special and when we finally arrived, it didn’t disappoint. This view alone was worth the 4 days of hiking to get here.
After marvelling at The Monastery for a long time, we finally descended all the stairs to the main area of Petra. Stopping to look at some more rock-carved structures and eating our lunch at the restaurant on the way. This area was super impressive too, but we wanted to hike up to the top of Jebel al-Khubtha first to see The Treasury for the first time from the top of the mountain, instead of through the narrow gap in the gorge like most people. It was a long hike up many stairs, but the view and the cup of tea at the end were, again, very much worth the effort and recommended if you ever go.
After this highlight, we felt it wasn’t possible to have any more highlights in the same day. But we were wrong. Seeing The Treasury up close was also spectacular. Waiting until closing time made it even more special as we had the place (nearly) all to ourselves. And then we still had to walk out through the kilometer-long Siq, the narrow gorge – 3m wide in some places – that leads to Petra and was the main entrance for the trading caravans. And then, after exiting the narrow Siq we thought that was it again, but no, there was more. More rock-carved structures, this time underneath an orange evening sky. We were very impressed, and very happy.
Until we sat down for dinner, possibly one of the worst we have ever had. The hotel was lovely, in a good location, with great views, but the food was a disaster. We found some things to fill our stomach, but especially after the exquisite meals we had been having on the hike, this was appalling. Breakfast wasn’t any better, if not worse. How is it possible to serve such a horrible breakfast…. even the tea and coffee were undrinkable… I guess this is what you get with a captive market for so many years.
But at 6 we were in the car, on our way back to Petra, to explore the bits we missed yesterday and to take our time seeing more of these special temples and buildings again. We spent a lovely day exploring, enjoying the quietness in the morning and the views from Jebel al-Madbah with the High Place of Sacrifice on top. By the time we were leaving around 1pm it was no longer quiet and peaceful. Busloads of people had arrived from a cruise ship that had docked at the port of Aqaba. The contrast of the start of our day and the end of our day in Petra couldn’t have been greater and we were very happy we had done it our way. If you haven’t been to Petra yet, we highly recommend this approach.
Contact Saddam from ‘Hike with me‘ via Facebook to get your trip planned. He is very knowledgeable and very flexible and can help you design your trip to your specifications.