Before I started I knew it might be bad. People were saying the buses weren’t running. When the bus drivers can’t make it, it’s bad.
Petra is high. But every road out of Petra is up. To the north and to the east, you have to climb to the crest of the mountain ridge before you can drop down onto the great plateau that slopes east out of Jordan to the Euphrates. To the west is only a sawtooth wall, poetic and impenetrable, its back warmed by the Wadi Araba sands, a thousand metres below.
I had an appointment on the beach, south, in Jordan’s corner of Arabia. At the door of this hotel, on my right, down the hill and behind Petra’s invisible valley, Aaron’s Mountain hid behind swirls. On my left, the uppermost end of town disappeared into the same clouds. I was safe enough here, beneath a grey-grim umbrella. But I had to go.
The verges turned white at the last petrol station. Within five minutes I was down to walking pace, inching over resistant snow with hazards flashing. Drivers were churning past me up the hill, flashing. Drivers were whomping towards me down the hill, flashing.
I could see a snow bank on my left. I could see white nothingness on my right. How cold was it really, in such a blizzard? Instantly I cracked the window, everything in the car yelled at me to close it again and focus.
Then I was blind. What was road? What was verge? Was that the snow bank, or was it the cliff edge? I sat for a while and thought about possible futures. Then I inched a nine-point turn, the gale nosing at my wheels like a labrador, and went back to huddle with humans in the foot-stamping town down the hill.
I took no photos that day.
The following day on the same road, after the blizzard had eased and the gritters had got through, I took some pictures on the climb out of Petra, around Taybeh village:
Then I stopped somewhere past Rajif village at the highest point of the ridge, where I knew, without seeing, that the land yawned away to the south and west, completely exposed to the weather.
As I sat in the silence, the gale rocked the car to and fro on its springs.
When I stepped outside, my first thought was for my own mortality. Out here, as the wind literally howled in my ears and every sliver of exposed skin shrieked, my life felt fragile. I wondered, if lost, how I might not die. The corners of my eyes cracked with horizontal wind-blown tears. I dare not venture more than a few metres from the car. I dare not let the car cool down too much. I dare not let myself get really cold, in case, when I sat back inside and turned the key, there were only illuminated orange symbols of apology.
Then I saw beauty.
If you doubt the power of the winter wind in Jordan, see what it did to ice here.
I wanted to spend more time looking. I didn’t want to spend more time looking.
I left a thank you.
And within ten minutes, I was down the steep slopes of Ras An Naqab and rolling along a desert road under powder-blue skies, warmed by the huggable sun, my head full of the ice on the heights above.