A Personal Report by Marcus Dimbleby

Having seen an advert on the intranet at work back in October 07, offering the chance to hike through Jordan from the Dead Sea to Petra, all in aid of The Douglas Bader Foundation (DBF), I jumped at the chance and sent in my application.

The task was simple: pay a nominal fee to cover the flight, raise a minimum of £2,000 in sponsorship funding, then fly to Amman and hike for 5-days through the deserts of Jordan in temperatures exceeding 35 degrees C!

As the date neared I started to think that the task might not be as simple as I first assumed, ah well, I was committed and looking forward to the challenge ahead. The first challenge was raising the sponsorship funds; letters to the big companies produced little fruit, with more success gained from local businesses who were happy to donate to a man in uniform with cap in hand – I found a smile and a few words face-to-face rarely failed to get people onside.

One key supporter was The Spice of Asia in Lyneham village who I must pay special thanks to. Each month they hosted a charity curry night with a 1/3 of proceeds donated to The DBF, totalling over £650; we are still continuing this event and supporting other worthy causes. Other funding came from near and far and I cannot thank people enough for their charitable donations and encouraging words, encouragement such as ‘I hope it hurts’, ‘You’ve used emotional blackmail’, ‘I want to see photos of you suffering’, and ‘Don’t stray over any borders and get captured’ are a few that spring to mind! Suitably encouraged, I was ready for Jordan…

The DBF is an incredible charity, which does so much good work for those unfortunate enough to have suffered limb loss. Celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year, I felt it a particularly appropriate charity to support, especially considering the number of limb-related injuries our troops are suffering on operations. Coupled with Help for Heroes, our troops are getting the best treatment available to them and, more importantly, the follow up after-care that charities like The DBF can help provide. Full details can be found at: http://www.douglasbaderfoundation.co.uk So, with all my sponsorship raised, totalling over £2,400, Sunday 5th Oct arrived and 14 intrepid hikers met at Heathrow for the first time and headed off on what promised to be an adventure of a lifetime.

A mixed bunch of all ages and backgrounds, with one commonality – trepidation! We arrived in Jordan in the early hours of Monday and a lengthy coach transfer to the hotel saw us get to bed at 0400. Up at 0830 for breakfast and a quick dip in the Dead Sea, quite an experience in itself, like trying to swim in custard! After quick lunch amongst civilization, we then headed to our start point to begin the gruelling hike down to Petra over 100km away.

A steady intro for the first afternoon as our Israeli guide led us up an active riverbed, through a narrow canyon and eventually to a stunning waterfall. With only one thing for it, kit was dumped and the cooling flow of the waterfall was put to best effect, watching open-mouthed the group members soon saw the benefits and another followed suit, de-kitting and jumping under as well! We eventually made it to our first camp as the sun set around 1800, to find a Bedouin tent (an open-sided canopy made from goat’s hair) set up and a group of locals preparing an open fire and cooking the local delicacy of goat, sheep, rice, nuts and pitta bread – a welcome sight indeed. Needless to say, a few of us left the tent for the open skies and slept out under the stars, which was incredible and became a nightly habit. No ambient light with very clear air, and the sight was incredible. So much so we set our alarms for 0300, when the moon had disappeared, and left us in total darkness.

Some say there are more stars above than sand in the Sahara – and having laid back and looked towards the heavens, I would probably have to agree! Day 2, a lengthy slog of 27km over some horrendous terrain – small boulders and rubble, with a twisted ankle just waiting to happen. Fortunately, the team got through unscathed, although the heat began to take its toll as the day progressed and the sun rose higher. Even though a very dry heat, temperatures of over 35 degrees C soon have an impact and the water intake was going down like free beer at a squadron function!

By the end of the day, the Bedouin was a welcome sight on the horizon, and the reality of having to do 3 more days of this was beginning to sink in. As the boots and socks came off so did the odd toe nail, and personal medical admin took over! Luckily I only suffered a couple of minor blisters all week, if I could only say the same for others… Day 3 saw better terrain but no let up in the scorching heat. However, the promise from our Israeli guide of lunch by a waterfall and lagoon gave purpose to our stride. As we asked of the lagoon, details were sparse, and as we got nearer to lunchtime, the waterfall and spa had degraded to a ‘small pool, maybe’. Needless to say our arrival at said lagoon almost saw our guide dunked head first into it – if his head would have fit! He called it motivational encouragement; we informed him that mirages should remain in his own mind!

By now the team had bonded well, banter was flowing and spirits were high. After 23km, another day of spectacular scenery and achievement came to an end as the sun set yet again and on the horizon the familiar welcome sight of the silhouetted Bedouin came into view.

Day 4 was the one promised to be the toughest yet, a climb to the top of Mount Qaroun, the highest mountain in the area at 1600m, followed by a descent into Baidah (Little Petra), one of the caravan stations from Nabatean times. The promise was correct, 3 hours and only 7km covered gives an idea of the terrain and ascent, and for some reason, the higher we climbed it still didn’t get any cooler! But the team helped each other along the way and by early afternoon we had reached the summit.

This point for me was the pinnacle of the trip as from the top we had a 360-degree panoramic view across the stunning terrain of Jordan, seeing across to the border of Israel and been able to retrace our steps from the previous days over the many different landscapes we had traversed, hard to believe that at one point it had all been underwater. As we arrived at our final camp, the atmosphere was even more upbeat. Welcomed by our local hosts, all in fine song and spirits, we were promised an evening of the finest cuisine.

The menu was Mansaf, the national dish of Jordan, made of lamb cooked in a yogurt sauce and served with rice. The lamb is cooked in a broth made with a fermented then dried yogurt-like product called Kishik, and served on a large platter with a layer of flatbread (markook) topped with rice and then meat, garnished with almonds and pine nuts, green granish and the sauce poured over all. Served on such special occasions as a wedding or birth, or, in this situation, to honour a guest (14 guests to be precise, all looking a little dishevelled, dusty but smiling nonetheless).

The hospitality shown by our local hosts was both humbling and gratifying; we all slept well that evening with a combination of fatigue and stomachs full of Mansaf, I’m sure the wine may have helped a little too, maybe. Day 5 and the promise of a short walk into Petra and then a guided tour of the sights.

Once again our Israeli guide must’ve been having another of his mirage moments as 8 hours later we completed our walk! However, he was saved from death as every hour of the day was filled with breathtaking sights and the time flew by.

Climbing the 1,000 well-worn steps, all hand carved into the rock face, up to the hidden Monastery was amazing. We were now in the tourist zone, so to find a small cafe at the top of the climb was like finding an oasis in the Sahara, although from the looks we got from the super-sized American tourists they must have thought we’d been stranded for months! Lunch, then onto Petra itself; declared one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World and it wasn’t hard to see why as we approached.

Towering sandstone cliffs veined with shades of red, purple and pink, out of which the city’s monuments and temples were carved, creating ornate facades, which constantly changed colour with the movement of the sun. Walking into the hub of Petra we passed the amphitheatre and numerous temples, until the trail narrowed and the tourists increased as we approached the famous Treasury.

Like the Monastery, the Treasury is another breath-taking monument, more so due to its well preserved exterior, sheltered from the elements by the high sided gorges surrounding it. One of our team burst into tears, overwhelmed by the moment – well she was an archaeologist and had wanted to see the Treasury since she was a little girl, so we didn’t banter her too much! With that, the sights were complete so the team and our blubbering digger set off on the final leg, another visually stunning journey up the Siq, a mile-long narrow gorge that leads out of the city of Petra, famed for its use in one of the Indiana Jones movies, I’m not sure which one, the archaeologist did tell me but I forget.

A final hike to our hotel and the promise of a cold drink and hot shower, a mile later it turned out the Israeli had lied again, but a hot drink and cold shower was just as welcome. That night we had a team meal at a local restaurant to celebrate the end of a fantastic week.

The wine and banter flowed equally, speeches were brief, emotional by some, amusing by others, and the local hospitality was enjoyed once again. The return flight was a sombre affair, having to return to the reality of our real lives and the busy craziness that is Western culture made everyone reflect on the passing few days. Had the offer been there to stay another week and do the walk in reverse I know there’d have been 14 volunteers. If you ever get the opportunity to take part in such an event then I can highly recommend it and promise that you will not be disappointed.

For the full gallery from the hike go to: http://flickr.com/photos/digitalattraction/sets/72157608053522471/ For further information please take a look at: http://www.justgiving.com/hikejordan2008