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Wadi Mujib: Canyoning Jordan-style

Fighting against the current in Jordan's most spectacular sandstone canyons is a pure adrenaline rush, discovers Will Hide

By Will Hide
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:15 BST, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 11:49 BST
Wadi Mujib, Jordan

Canyoning in Wadi Mujib, Jordan

Photograph by Slawek Kozdras

I'm driving south after checking out from my hotel by the Dead Sea. The water is shimmering away to the right. I've got one last stop before I return to Aqaba and the Red Sea. From Dead to Red: if I were musically inclined, that'd be the title of my first album.

My break from the highway comes at the Mujib Biosphere Reserve, about 50 miles south of Amman, which is run by Jordan's Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (although it's usually known by the niftier title of Wild Jordan). I'm not quite sure what to expect. Another hike?

"You'll get wet," says my ever-smiling guide, Nedal. He hands me a life jacket. "Very wet." So, erm, not a hike then?

We descend a ladder by the visitor centre, which also organises rock climbing and zip-lining outings. There's a stream, which is quite wide, and moves quickly. We wade in. The water is warm. It's quickly knee deep and the current is strong. It seems like a good workout, pushing against the flow, swinging one leg then the other, as if you're at the gym and have heavy ankle weights attached. The 'Jordan Workout'? Not sure what Katie Price would have to say about that.

We round a corner and the canyon closes in, sandstone walls towering perhaps 200ft overhead. In places, the sides at the top almost touch so the daylight barely filters through. It's like being in a cave, what little light there is casting shadows and patterns on the walls.

The sound of the water becomes louder as we turn corners, going deeper into the wadi (ravine). We're still pushing. I'll have calves of steel tomorrow, I think to myself, somewhat wistfully.

In some sections, the shallower water opens up into fairly deep pools that can only be crossed by swimming. The power of the water at these spots means we have to grab onto ropes and pull ourselves up over rocks as the stream cascades around us. It's hardly a river here but calling it a stream makes it sound a lot wimpier than it is.

There's an escalation of force around every bend. At some points we have to climb steel ladders hammered into the rocks as the water gushes over us. At other spots, there are more ropes and we scramble up, soaked, rope in one hand, and a helping pull from Nedal in the other. He does this three times a day, he tells me, and he certainly exudes an air of confidence.

The final climb, by a large, powerfully roaring waterfall, is somewhat bottlenecked by a large group of local students. "Maybe we should sit this one out, or we'll be waiting forever?" I venture, pleadingly. "You mean you don't want to do it?" replies Nedal, almost like a child who's been denied a go on the best rollercoaster at the theme park. Yes, that's exactly what I mean.

But the fun isn't over. We turn around, and this time on the way back, the strength of the water is our friend, pushing us along and doing most of the work for us. It also means that those slick boulders we had to clamber over become slides that I shoot down, very ungracefully, on my bottom, screaming most of the way. Manly whoops of adrenaline, of course. Either way, who knew Jordan offered something like this? I wade back out of the canyon as the sun's setting over the Dead Sea and head south to Aqaba. It's been the last pleasant surprise in a week full of pleasant surprises. Now it's time to go home.

One last practical note to add to my final blog post: if you enter Jordan at Aqaba, even if transiting at Amman on the way there, you don't pay the 40JD (£42/$56) entry fee that you otherwise have to.

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