A crow draws expansive circles against the blue sky; a multicoloured lizard stays motionless on the rocks in the heat of the sun; the head of a small snake pops out from a gap between the rocks and quickly retreats. “Just sitting here is meditation,” says Mosa Al-Rawajfih, as we take a break from our scrambled ascent from the valley floor.
Burdah Rock Bridge is one of the most popular hikes in the Wadi Rum Protected Area. ‘Popular’ is a relative term these days in Jordan, and we’ve passed only one other couple with their guide on the entire three-hour trek. It’s bad news for trekking guides such as Mosa; regional instability has led to a collapse in visitor numbers, and while he admits to enjoying the mountain best when there are no other people around, on most days he goes without the bookings on which he relies to make a living.
It would be impossible to hike to the Burdah Rock Bridge without a guide. There’s no marked trail, and each turn reveals another set of weathered rocks without any obvious access route. The sandstone rock provides the perfect gripping surface for hiking boots, and it’s just as well; every other step involves a sharply-slanting stone, a narrow ridge up which to squeeze, or a ledge along which careful shuffling is required.
The trail proves a serious challenge for us, but for Mosa it’s no more than a morning stroll. Decked out in a flimsy pair of flip-flops, he scales the rocks with the deftness of a mountain goat. After around 90 minutes of climbing we turn a corner and catch our first sight of the bridge, rising high above us and creating a precarious natural link between two sides of a wide gulley.
The final ascent is the most difficult, and we gingerly make our way around a narrow ledge, inch by nervous inch. When I first saw a photo of the arch I was unsure whether I’d be able to stomach a crossing; it’s less than two metres wide in places, with a drop that could induce vertigo in the strongest of minds. But we arrive at the bridge, having successfully managed a series of physical challenges during the ascent. As a result, I feel more than ready to march confidently across. I’m still unable to look beyond the edge, choosing instead to concentrate on placing one foot ahead of the other, as near to the centre of the rock as possible.
Fortunately, the areas on either side of the bridge offer safe points from which to soak up the fabulous views that stretch across the valley floor and over the mountains of Wadi Rum for miles around. I sit in contented silence, watching the rocks, listening to the silence, and deep inside congratulating myself on a climb which tested me to my limits. Perhaps, as Mosa said, I was meditating; perhaps I was merely trying to avoid thinking of the descent that we were about to begin.
Follow Andy and Sam over the next two weeks as they travel around the Jordanian region of Aqaba, blogging and posting on social media as they go #NGTUKnomad