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Rockin’ the Middle East
Hiking, canyoning, desert racing - probably not the first things that come to mind when thinking of Jordan. Let the adventures begin! r

The famous forgotten city of Petra and Roman ruins in Jerash make Jordan a dream destination for explorers of ancient archeology. But it’s not just the history that’s worth discovering. Jordan also has some beautiful and challenging nature to offer. Because of its diverse landscape containing mountains, desert and valley, Jordan is the perfect place for some adventure travel. Marieke Verhoeven puts on her hiking boots and discovers Jordan’s adventurous side.
First stop: Hiking in Petra
Passing through the long and deep gorge that leads into the forgotten city of Petra, I can only imagine how the Swiss explorer Burckhardt must have felt when he discovered this archeological treasure in 1812. Built over 2,000 years ago by the Arab tribe of Nabateans, Petra is to this day no less than breathtaking. The ‘red rose city’, a four-hour drive south from Amman, owes much of its appeal to the awesome, multi-coloured sandstone mountains from which it was literally carved. Wandering through this lost city with its countless temples, tombs and other ancient buildings could keep me occupied for days. However, there’s more to discover at Jordan’s most famous attraction. ‘Are you up for a little adventure?’, guide Salem asks me with a mysterious smile. After a hesitant ‘yes’ he takes out a site map and points out a second, secret pathway to and from the city. This path starts on the north-east side of the city and is far from the main tourist track. It involves some serious rock climbing, but is easily manageable for a person with a normal fitness level, Salem assures me. I decide to go for it and before I know it, it feels like I’m in a movie scene from 127 Hours. The narrow path features several natural obstacles that have to be traversed and some are truly impressive. I’m glad Salem is here to keep me from getting stuck ‘in between a rock and a hard place’. He doesn’t just come

in handy for some lifting and pulling. Salem says tourists do get lost. ‘They get confused by all the similar rock formations and wander off. Usually Bedouins (local nomads, ed.) find them after a day or two, dehydrated and exhausted,’ he says. Since this small gorge is also an active watercourse, it is highly inadvisable to travel through it from October to April. Water rushes down the gorge and crushes anything in its path. The huge rocks and other obstacles we encounter are proof of the enormous force of this flood. Luckily, during spring and summer this path is actually quite pleasant. The route lays in the shade for the most part, which is a nice change from the sweltering summer heat. And I must admit, all that scrambling over and squeezing through rocks does offer some beautiful scenery, as well as a few hidden Nabetean rock carvings. I feel like a modern day explorer, Mr Burckhardt would have been proud.

‘Local nomads find them after a day or two, dehydrated and exhausted.’
Second stop: desert safari in Wadi Rum
Often described as the most beautiful desert in the Middle East, Wadi Rum is definitely a must-see when visiting Jordan. Not only to feel its overwhelming and silencing power, but also to explore this legendary desert. The area that was once the residence of British army officer T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) offers plenty of opportunities for adventure. Camping under the stars, riding Arab horses, rock climbing and four-wheel drive safaris - it’s all possible if you have some time and money to spare. After a one-and-a-half hour drive from Petra I arrive just before sunset, the perfect time for a jeep safari. The early morning and late afternoon light are fairytale-esque, as well as being a photographer’s dream.



Since they know the area like the back of their hand, I decide to explore the desert with a local driver. Even though there’s no problem with renting your own four-wheel drive, you should only attempt this if you’re familiar with the terrain, the driver assures me. The soft sand is difficult to drive on and navigating through the desert is a whole different ball game. It’s a lot safer and easier to climb in the open back and let a professional drive. And I’m glad I did. Not only do I have to hold on firmly to stay seated, the view is also too good to be stuck behind the wheel. The valley has been inhabited by human cultures since prehistoric times, with many of them - including the Nabateans - leaving their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti and temples. Nowadays several Bedouin tribes inhabit Wadi Rum and the surrounding area. The colours of the sand, sky and rocks are incredible and it’s almost a shame that the sun is down before you know it. Luckily, the night time is not too shabby either. The Bedouin camp that I’m staying at is not as basic as I expected. The private tents are quite comfortable (I do check my bed thoroughly for scorpions and rattlesnakes) and they offer delicious local meals featuring mensaf (lamb, rice and pine nuts), humus and home-made bread. After dinner I take a walk just outside

The colours of the sand, sky and rocks are incredible.

FAST FACTS , Population: 6.2 million , Surface: 82.287 km2 (a little smaller than Portugal) , Bordering: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Israel , Landscape: divided in three major regions. The valley, with the Dead Sea at 400m below sea level as the lowest point in the world, the mountains (average height 1200m) and desert plateau (the largest but least inhabited part). , Environment: Jordan boasts several national parks and nature reserves. The government is, not least because of its growing water shortage, very concerned with the preservation of nature. The parks feature protected animals like the gazelle and oryx, as well as over 2,500 species of wild plants and flowers. , Climate: varies from Mediterranean in the north west to a desert climate in the rest of the country. Summer temperatures can easily reach 40 to 45 degrees Celsius (100-115 degrees Fahrenheit).



the camp to gaze at the star-studded sky. With hardly any artificial lights in sight, this is a once in a lifetime experience. Since the desert can get sizzling hot in summer and extremely cold in winter, the best periods to visit are early spring (March to May) and late autumn (October to November). But if you’re not afraid of a little heat and looking for the ultimate party, make sure to mark your calendar for 23 August 2012. On this date, the Distant Heat Festival will turn the valley into one huge dance floor under the stars. I know what I’m doing next summer.

Third stop: Canyoning in Wadi Mujib
‘This is where the world ends and paradise begins,’ my guide tells me before entering Wadi Mujib. And he’s not lying. This nature reserve near the Dead Sea, 400 metres below sea level, making it the lowest nature reserve on earth, feels magical. The Wadi Mujib gorge houses spectacular sandstone cliffs and offers possibilities to hike, swim, slide and abseil right down the centre of them all. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), a project that promotes the biodiversity of Jordan, has different hiking and canyoning trips available. I decide to take the two-hour ‘classic’ trail, but there is also a half-day trip on offer. This one’s only for the real adventurers, since it includes some intense rock climbing and abseiling. That being said, the basic trail is pretty demanding as it is. Depending on the water level, I’m wading through some strong currents and climbing a few cliffs and waterfalls. Lightweight hiking shoes, a life jacket and sunscreen are essential for this trip. Hanging from a rope on one of the small but powerful waterfalls, I do wonder what on earth I’m doing here. However, arriving at the beautiful waterfall that marks the end of the trail is definitely rewarding. For the less adventurous types, there are also great hikes around the reserve. Some 400 recorded species of plants and 200 species of birds inhabit the area. And surprisingly enough, this reserve is still little-known by tourists or Jordanians, fellow canyoneer Hassan from Amman tells me: ‘Most of the city people head to the Dead Sea for holidays, nobody told us about this place.’ So if you need an active break from mass floating in the Dead Sea, head down to this still fairly unknown adventurer’s paradise.

A flight from Schiphol to Queen Alia Airport in Amman takes 4.5 hours. Destinations like Petra (3 hours south of Amman) and the Dead Sea (1.5 hours west of Amman) are easily reached by (rental) car. ✈ DIRECT FLIGHTS AVAILABLE

4.5 hrs

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MORE ADVENTURE IN JORDAN Floating in the Dead Sea might be a unique –and healing – experience, but there’s also some less salty water to explore in Jordan. If you want to safely stick your head under water, go to the southern Red Sea coast for some world-class snorkelling and diving. While Egypt’s waters attract massive crowds, Jordan’s underwater scene is still a lot less known. The reefs off the coast of Aqaba are beautiful enough to rival their neighbour’s. From circling sharks and exotic fish to old shipwrecks and colourful corals, Jordan’s underwater world will satisfy even the most spoiled diver. In case you prefer land over sea, it’s also possible to explore Jordan by bike. Cycling your way across endless desert highways does require some serious fitness and determination. Not all roads are in the best shape and Jordan drivers are not used to bikers on the highway. Due to the heat, water and sunscreen are essential. At the same time, the desert views and open vistas are priceless. And you’ll definitely get respect and motivating honks from the locals.

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