In Madaba, I met a brother-and-sister hiking duo that had spent the past week walking (unguided) from Dana to Petra. When asked for Petra recommendations they told me about a half-day hike between Little Petra and Petra, which they reckoned was a much more impressive way to set food into the Lost City for the first time than the standard access via Wadi Musa and the Siq.
Unfortunately, there are no regular (mini)buses from Wadi Musa (Petra) to Little Petra (or Al-Baydha, the village next door), so we get up early, buy our usual breakfast falafels at the little shop next to the Al Arabia, and catch a cab. We haggle the initial ask of JOD10 down to JOD6, which is still too much. We just want to get going. They’ve announced rain for the afternoon.
The ride takes 15 minutes, partially because the driver insists twice on stopping for us to take panorama shots.
Our route starts just outside the designated “Little Petra” area. But since we’re already here, we decide to have a peek.
At 9, there is not much happening at the Little Petra visitor center. Nobody asks for our Jordan Pass or wants us to buy a ticket. We pass the souvenir and coffee shops and step in.
We haven’t seen the real Petra, yet. So we are sufficiently impressed by the Triclinium and the Painted House, hewn into the yellow-red rock like at the big neighbor. It takes us only a couple of minutes to walk through.
At the end of the valley, there is a steep climb.
We are about to turn back, but a sign reads “Best view in the World.”
Too easily convinced, we scramble up. Steps turn into rocks. After 10 minutes, we’ve made it.
The people with the sign must not have traveled much. The view into a small valley and onto the adjacent mountains is underwhelming.
A few Bedouins are sitting around a fire, helping themselves to tea. One of them looks uncannily like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Along the rocks, the usual souvenirs have been neatly arranged.
Jack Sparrow invites us to have tea.
We decline, pointing out that we have to go back because we want to hike over to Petra.
He objects: “Do you have a guide?”
“Who is it?”
“It’s our GPS.”
“You will get lost without a guide.”
“We don’t get lost. We have a guide: the track is right here on my phone.”
“You can take a shortcut from here. It is easy. It will cut half of the way.”
I am skeptical. But Gabby, my wander companion is all ears.
“You just go down here on the other side, follow the valley to the left, and you will be on your track.”
We climb down into the little valley, turn left, and start walking.
In the beginning, it is easy. We follow the path floods have left behind.
But after 20 minutes that path ends in a fall. Through a crack between two rocks, the waters would plunge five meters and then some more to the valley below, where I can see our path. Luckily, there are no floods right now.
Gabby finds a path that leads up a rock to the right, but I am not keen on balancing along the edge to find myself in another dead end (or at another dry waterfall).
We turn back and for the next hour and a bit try every possible exit from the valley, other than the one we came from. Time after time we are hopeful, start climbing, sometimes up, sometimes down. Just to find another dead end.
I have been ready to go back, hear the sneers from the Bedouins, and take our safe, plotted route a while ago. But my comrade motives me to do one more climb. And then another one.
Eventually, we hear a cry from above: “Hello!”
Clad in bright red, Jack Sparrow is waving at us. We’re on a rock across from his shop at the best view of the world.
We shout at him to give us a hint at where we went wrong, but he is adamant that we come up to him so he can explain.
So we climb down and up again to where we started our shortcut almost two hours ago.
He grins and won’t take no for an answer when he invites us to sit down and have some tea. “After, I will take you.”
We sit down by the fire, and it’s a really good tea: black with cinnamon.
Jack Sparrow’s name is Awad, and he claims that he looked like that before the movies.
Our path leads us to the end of the valley to the fall, up the rock, and onto the path Gabby had discovered hours ago. I stop believing Awad’s claim that it was an easy route when he takes off his sandals and socks to lead us along the rock. “That’s safer.”
For the next 15 minutes, I do my best not to look down, slide a lot on my butt, and am surprised I am still alive.
Finally, we are at our last descent, a particularly tricky one down what looks like 5 meters of smooth vertical rock. “But you must go back. It will start raining, and it is not safe to walk in the valley when it is raining.”
My heart sinks. I had fun and all monkeying around in the mountains. But I came for the Monastery.
We assure Awad that we’ve checked the weather report and that we have at least three more hours before the rain, time enough to get to Petra.
There’s nothing he can do. He turns back: “I have to go to my shop. When it’s raining everything will get wet.”
I briefly consider offering him some money but feel he might perceive this as an insult. Instead, I take his phone number and will share it with you below.
A quick check of the GPS reveals that we are maybe a quarter into our original route. At least, moving forward is easy here. All we do is go straight, sometimes adjusting our course as signaled by rocks with orange or yellow paint, visible from afar.
We pass Bedouin family camps, some mere tents, some compounds attached to caves. We pass boys herding goats, the occasional industrial one running towards us to sell postcards.
A spot, about half-way into the track is marked as “Lookout” on my phone. We get there at noon and sit down for lunch.
From here on, my phone flashes with a “Lookout!” every few steps. We are following a wide path winding along a mountain. Heeding the call we stop every few steps for photos.
Just as the first drops of rain start falling, a shepherd girl tells us to wait, a man in the distance needs to talk to us. We follow the order and present our Jordan Passes. He glances at them and is satisfied. “Was there anybody else behind you?”
We shake our heads. “We didn’t see anyone.”
Suddenly, there it is, behind just one more corner: the Monastery!
It. Is. Impressive.
The past 2,000 years have been kind to it. The pillars, the urn details, the carvings.
With the rain intensifying, we all but run the 5km from here to the exit beginning with hundreds of steps down to the Petra Museum. Lucky us we didn’t have to climb them. Our path was easy.