“When you are travelling in hot countries, the primary rule is always to bring your winter clothes,” wrote the British explorer and diplomat Gertrude Bell while traversing the Middle East in 1900. If only I had paid heed. Heavy sleet slammed Amman the day I arrived, and it was clear my windbreaker was not going to cut it for a hike through the desert. Mercifully, there was an outdoor store on Abdoun Circle, so, armed with a few extra layers, I left the next morning for the Dana Biosphere Reserve, an expansive nature reserve in Jordan’s far west that nudges the Great Rift Valley.
Although sleeping in a tent is not my preferred way to overnight, and the word “trek” fills me with dread, I’ve recently been swayed by the unattributed code of great travelers throughout history: the best way to know a place is to walk across it. Jordan made this an irresistible proposition by inaugurating a path linking the south of the country to the north. Over four days, I would cover a 33-mile section anointed by National Geographic as one of the best trails in the world, affording me the rare opportunity to enter Petra through the back entrance. My journey would finish at the red-sand expanse of Wadi Rum, a small but quintessentially Levantine desert known for its sandstone mesas, natural arches, and dramatic, ethereal light.