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First steps

Follow in the wake of prophets and shepherds on the Jordan Trail – a new long-distance footpath that traverses lost cities, parched wadis and some of the wildest quarters of the Middle East

@OliSmithTravel

The trail passing rock formations in Bedouin country to the north of Petra
Photographs JUSTIN FOULKES @justinfoulkes

Wadi Dana to Wadi Feynan

THERE IS NO PART OF PLANET EARTH WORSE SUITED TO hiking than the Middle East. Setting out for a stroll one morning with a backpack and a sandwich, you are likely to run into checkpoints, barbed wire and people in uniform sternly telling you to turn around. Were Abraham to journey to Canaan in 2018, he’d have to cross two war zones and three areas where his standard travel insurance policy was invalid. Were Moses to lead the Flight from Egypt today, he’d have spent the entire Book of Exodus twiddling his thumbs in the queue as 600,000 Israelites passed through multiple high-security borders.

All of which makes the creation of the Jordan Trail something miraculous. It is a new long-distance footpath, spanning the length of the most peaceful country in the Middle East. It stretches 400 miles, from the green orchards of the north to the meeting of red sands and Red Sea in the south. It offers a rare taste of hiking in a land with an illustrious history of rambling: Old Testament prophets with crooked staffs, barefooted pilgrims on journeys to Mecca. And also Mohammed Al Homran, my softly spoken guide, who recently made history as part of the first team to walk the length of the Jordan Trail. He never leaves home without a teapot and a flute in his backpack.

'Walking is my life,' he says, skipping over the boulders of Wadi Dana in the morning sunshine. 'Some people even tell me my feet move in my sleep.'

Sporting a pair of neon-yellow trainers and a black keffiyeh, Mohammed will guide me on a 50-mile stretch of the Jordan Trail, from the mountaintop village of Dana south to the ancient city of Petra. He grew up in Madaba, a town close to Mount Nebo, from whose summit Moses sighted the Promised Land in the Book of Deuteronomy then dropped dead aged 120. Until recently, Mohammed worked as a shepherd - leading his flock among the hills by the Dead Sea, singing to them at night so they knew that they were safe. In 2016, he heard about the new Jordan Trail and applied for a job. He now considers hikers to be easier customers than goats - most of the time.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - October 2018
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