A five-day hike on the Jordan Trail pushes Chloe Berge to the outer limits.
I glance back at my boot tracks in the windswept red sand and squint to spot where they disappear into the endless horizon. The vast desert is punctuated only by the sandstone canyons in the distance, and, right before me, Sun City Camp’s cluster of bubble domes is backlit by the fiery setting sun. For a moment, I forget I’m on planet earth.
Jordan’s Wadi Rum is where they filmed The Martian, the desert moon of Jedha in Rogue One and The Last Days on Mars, after all. The desert has become a cinematic touchstone for the outer limits of our collective imagination. The feeling of being somewhere this unusual is exhilarating, and it’s exactly why I’ve come to Jordan.
Moments after I climb into a small Jeep with my guide, a young Bedouin man named Ateya, we speed away from the camp, soaring up over colossal sand dunes before plummeting down the opposite side, like a ship careening over the waves. Instinctively, I shoot one hand up to brace myself against the window frame. We coast to a stop high on one of the rolling hills and watch the sun dip below the smoky pink horizon.
Too often, even when we arrive on the other side of the world, things quickly start to resemble life back home: Wi-Fi at our fingertips, a comfortable bed, the same uninspired buffet-style meals. That night, back in my yurt-size bubble dome at Sun City Camp, I sip mint tea and watch in wonder as the most brilliant stars I’ve ever seen prick the indigo dusk sky. Fakhem is a word used by Jordanians to describe something “epic” or “incredible,” and as those glittering celestial bodies wash the night sky with their light, I whisper it to myself. Lyrical Bedouin prayers echo through the camp, the day’s last Muslim call to prayer, or Adhan, and I catch glimpses of the stars blinking through the top of the dome as my eyelids grow heavy. I feel worlds away.
Too often, even when we arrive on the other side of the world, things quickly start to resemble life back home: Wi-Fi at our fingertips, a comfortable bed, the same uninspired buffet-style meals.
Several days after my stay in Wadi Rum, I embark on a five-day trek on the newly opened Jordan Trail. “Yalla, yalla!” exclaims Mahmoud, our Experience Jordan hiking guide. In Arabic, this means “Let’s go,” and, much to our chagrin, it’s a phrase we hear often. Our first day leads us deep into the Dana Biosphere Reserve. Sun-baked crimson and mauve sandstone mountains kiss a bright azure blue sky, and spring’s flamingo-pink oleander blooms flank our path. The steep descent and high white-hot sun are unforgiving, and I’m grateful to arrive at Feynan Ecolodge, a secluded oasis in the desert. I stargaze on the rooftop before retreating to my room, where I fall into a deep sleep, serenaded by a lone howling Arabian wolf.
Over the next four days on the trail, our mornings begin early as we march into the desert’s remote, sprawling beauty. I kick up dust on barren stretches of sun-bleached plains, my sights set on the infinite blue horizon. Our trail through this otherworldly landscape takes us up over rugged limestone mountains and in between craggy canyons. “This is something only Jordan Trail hikers get to see,” says Abdullah, a young Bedouin
who has been hired, along with his donkey, Farhan, to keep us supplied with water.
Indeed, we’re miles away from even a whiff of civilization. As I look down at my khaki-coloured pants, now caked in dirt, and my sweat-stained long-sleeved white shirt, I silently admonish myself for bringing only one set of hiking clothes. We steal shade under a lonely juniper tree during the hottest part of the day, and Mahmoud miraculously produces a tarnished kettle and brews black tea with mint and heaps of sugar. If I rub the kettle and make a wish, I wonder, might I be teleported to the finish line? When the monastery at the ancient city of Petra emerges through the mountains like a mirage on the last day, I blink to make sure I’m not imagining it.
Days later, I find myself bobbing on my back in the milky blue water of the Dead Sea. The high salt content allows me to float effortlessly, defying gravity as if I’m suspended in space. “Can you believe we did that?” asks one of my fellow hikers, reminiscing about our adventure. I can’t. From the cosmic landscape of Wadi Rum to the yawning desert plains of the trail, I feel like I’ve travelled across the universe and back again. And isn’t that the point?