The Jordan Trail's 44-day mega hike offers a back door to Petra

There's a theory about the evolution of dogs which posits that wolves made a calculated decision to cautiously approach campfires then, rather than seek confrontation, attempt to be cute. Humans eventually fell for it and began dishing out leftovers. Now, tens of thousands of years later, evolutionarily useless breeds such as the chihuahua have a place in the world.

In a cold desert in the south of Jordan, the process seems to be ongoing. Beneath a sky of stars, an enormous dusty hound approaches us. Initially, Bedouin guide Mahmood Al Bedool, better known as Habu, barks a threat to chase it away. A couple of minutes later, the dog returns, supine rather than lupine, rolling around on its back, offering Disney-eyes to its would-be hosts.

Eventually, the Jordanian cracks, picks up a bowl of bones and gristle from what was left of a delicious maqluba, wraps his woollen jacket around him, and walks into the sand to feed the visitor. "Bloody hell," he says to the dog, in an almost "mockney" accent, "you win."

We are a day's walk south from the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, camping along the Jordan Trail. The route was designated only in 2017, and connects several existing routes and paths to create one country-long mega trail that runs for 650 kilometres, the length of the country.

While the trail's website is new, with GPS co-ordinates to help anyone who fancies making the long journey alone, versions of this – marching for the days through the deserts of the Holy Land – have been happening for millennia.

Technically, Moses would have walked a version of the trail, taking his famous shortcut through the Red Sea, before entering the southern part of what would one day become Jordan, then trekking ever north to Mount Nebo, where he laid eyes on the Promised Land and promptly died.

Had he had an individual like Habu to help along the way, the journey may have been a good deal less arduous for him and his refugees. The 35-year-old Jordanian is a service provider along the Jordan Trail, a more official role in the tourism industry than he had during his youth when he sold postcards to tourists in Petra. Habu is one of more than 40 such providers who facilitate the Jordan Trail, helping to make and break camps and, vitally, transport large luggage items between trips. The service providers don't do any of the actual trekking. Most live very close to their particular part of the trail and are part of small teams, either families or friends, clubbing together to provide support for hikers.

With the help of the Jordan Trail Association, I cherry-pick a few of the best southern sections of the main route and am joined by guides George Inkababian and Lama Hamdan. The next morning as we start out again, this time through the psychedelic corridors of Wadi Gseib, my guides give me a little more understanding about the purpose of the route.

George explains that most participants do something similar to myself – selecting parts of the enormous whole either to walk individually or in a small group. The mammoth 44-day through-hike is appealing to many but, given its physical and temporal length, is attempted by fewer than 20 people each year. Whether doing one day or all 44, the majority of hikers also come from other parts of the world, George said.

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"The mentality of Jordanians towards hiking is that it's something new, but I think the Jordan Trail will help them to enjoy it more," he explains. "The awareness that it exists, the benefits it creates for people along the trail, and that we are trying to get foreigners to stay for longer than one week – it's all positive."

The prices go up and down for participants depending on the quality of accommodation (luxury constitutes anywhere with airconditioning and an en-suite shower) averaging out at about $US125 a day. For the truly adventurous, those who do unsupported solo trips, the costs may come down just as quickly as the challenges go up. Whatever way they attempt it and whichever sections they complete, it's estimated that 20,000 hikers have been on the Jordan Trail since its inception.

I was happy to follow George and Lama's suggestions as we tackled just four sections, first entering Petra "through the back door" then, having overnighted in Wadi Musa and had a final shower, marching back into and finally out a side door from the "rose red city half as old as time".

Almost a million people visited Petra in 2018, but few of them would have followed our path, skipping out behind the amphitheatre and onto an unseen trail. George and Lama use a GPS to ensure we are headed in the right direction and while everyone else focuses on the main ruins and attractions such as the famous Treasury and Monastery, it's as though we pull a book from a shelf and disappear behind a secret door.

In six hours of trekking, we didn't see another soul until Habu picks us up. In Wadi Gseib we see another group heading in the opposite direction, but by the fourth day, the Jordan Trail is empty again.

This silence adds to an awesome sense of the ancient, a feeling that's never too far away in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. As I follow Lama and George deeper into the canyons, or wadis, the rock turns a bloody crimson, then the colour of toasted barley. At one point we pass through a natural siq, or shaft, which looks as though it has been sculpted by a master. As we pass back into daylight on the other side, we step over the leathery remains of a camel carcass.

The climb out of the high wadi is perhaps the stiffest of the week, gaining several hundred metres without a plateau to catch our breath. When we finally emerge into the brilliant sunshine, Abu Sabah and his sons, also trail service providers, offer us sweet tea and respite from the heat.

That night we climb into a support vehicle and drive to the sensational Wadi Rum, that vast Martian ocean of sand and furious-looking mountains which was used as a backdrop for movies such as Star Wars and Transformers. We plan to camp that night then push on through its extra-terrestrial terrain, but a surprise rain storm means we quickly pack and flee to the safety of the Bait Ali luxury camp.

On the final morning, we drive the last few sections rather than trudge through the persistent drizzle. It's cheating, of course, but after our first showers in four days, no one is really complaining.

FIVE OTHER MEGA HIKES

88 TEMPLES PILGRIMAGE

Shikoku is the least visited and the least understood of Japan's four main islands, but inside the country it is arguably most famous for this six-week, 1200-kilometre trek.

THE SULTAN'S TRAIL

Follow in the warring footsteps of Suleyman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who made the trip from Istanbul to Vienna – all 2250 kilometres – in 1529.

APPALACHIAN TRAIL

The Pacific Crest Trail may have had a lot of press lately, but Americans from the east coast will be quick to point out the superiority of the 3500-kilometre-long Appalachian, which runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.

GREATER PATAGONIAN TRAIL

Starting in Argentina, this Andean monster criss-crosses the border in and out of Chile. In total, just over 1400 kilometres, most people set aside at least three months to attempt it as a through-hike.

SCOTTISH NATIONAL TRAIL

At a little over 850 kilometres, the Scottish National Trail runs the length of Scotland, from Kirk Yetholm in the south, through the Highlands, all the way to the excellently named Cape Wrath.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/Jordan

jordantrail.org

FLY

Emirates and Qantas fly to Amman, Jordan's capital, daily from Melbourne and Sydney. Qatar offers a similar service via Doha, while Etihad goes via Abu Dhabi. See emirates.com; qatarairways.com; etihad.com

HIKE

Plan your trek at the Jordan Trail Association's website. See jordantrail.org

STAY

The new Hyatt Regency Aqaba Ayla Resort is a slice of luxury the likes of which you won't find along the trail. See hyatt.com

Jamie Lafferty was a guest of the Jordan Trail Association.

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