raveller interview: Jill Marquis - Petra & Wadi Rum trekking holiday

Petra and (inset) Jill Marquis
Petra and (inset) Jill Marquis
What made you want to go on this trekking trip to Jordan?
A friend of mine walked the Great Wall of China a few years ago and wanted me to go, which I would love to have done. But I wasn't well enough. So, she said 'I'm going on another adventure, where shall we go?' and between us we looked a t a variety of things and Jordan was the one both of us agreed we would be able to do. I am a keen hiker, but we don't often hike together. She tends to go off and do things every year, whereas I am the one who walks regularly. I live in Liverpool, and so I often walk in North Wales.

What is the most useful thing you packed?
A great big Tilley hat - you know one of those very expensive sun hats with a very wide brim. It was just so bright there. It was almost what I call white heat. I just couldn't take my hat off and I think without something that big it would have been quite trying really. I don't like the tie on it, so I've got a clip that attaches to the top of the back of my shirt, and so it stops it blowing off. It's one of those ones that boatmen have, that when their hats blow off, they don't go into the water. I bought mine online but you can buy them in marine shops. And it was windier in the desert at times than I thought it might be, so at times it did blow off, but it didn't disappear.

Did you overpack?
Oh yes, I overpacked. Now, why did I take a mac? But I took a mac. That is very British isn't it? Although funnily enough the week before, I had looked at the weather forecast and there had been torrential rain in Petra for about a day and a half, and so I thought maybe I'm not so bad having it on my packing list! The other thing that I shouldn't have bothered with were my walking poles. I put them back in my case and just left them there. I was able to manage the undulations without them and when we got to climb Burdah Bridge, they were inappropriate for that anyway.

What is your favourite souvenir or present?
The only thing that I brought back really was, in the desert, I picked up two rounded red stones, or they're more of a sort of pinky colour. And I liked the shape and feel of them. So, they are a reminder of the trip.

Pink sand dunes
Pink sand dunes (Photo by amanderson2)
Were your preconceptions very different from reality?
In some ways they were, because half of me wondered whether I would find that huge space of the desert intimidating, but actually I found it so liberating. I thought it was wonderful. So, that was very different than I thought. We were quite a small group, only five of us. So, I didn't feel lost, I didn't feel intimidated, and I was overawed by all that space, but it was liberating really. There was just no one else around, apart from the odd jeep in the distance, so essentially we were on our own.

Was it a lovely group that you were travelling with?
Oh, we got on really well. There was my friend that I went with, and then two young men in their thirties, who were much more seasoned travellers . And experienced travellers who went on their own everywhere, so much more adventurous than us. But actually we got on well. And one of the best things about the holiday was that, led by our guide, so that made five of us, sometimes we would walk for an hour, or two hours, all at the same rhythm, with no talking. And I can't explain that to anybody else, but that is what was so wonderful about it. It's almost like a healing process. It was just so rhythmical and we were obviously all in tune with the desert somehow. And with each other. It just worked. I won't ever forget it.

Where was your best sleep?
Oh I think it was the second night in the desert. I didn't sleep so well on the first night settling in, but on the second night when I realised I could do everything, and I was comfortable being there, I just knew I could relax and enjoy everything then. It wasn't too cold at night. A couple of times I got a bit chilly and just threw another jumper on, but it was alright. You did have to have your sleeping bag and under blanket, but it was fine.

Have you done lots of camping?
I am not a novice but I did actually stop going camping annually a few years ago when I decided I was too old (I'm 65), and it was too far from the ground to get up and down. But in a sense, there was no other way I could walk in the desert unless I did this, so it was worth it.

What did you think was going to be hard that turned about to be ok?
I thought that walking in the sand was going to be much harder than it was. I did go to practise, as Liverpool is not too far from Southport beach and there are lots of dunes there. So I went practising, going up and down these bloomin' sand dunes! So, although I had worked for the trip I was still worried, but actually I think I coped really well. So I was pleased with myself, and that is probably because I did that bit of training before I went. And that soft sand of the dunes at Southport was, in fact, very akin to the desert, which is soft, hard working sand. I tried to go twice a week and do a long sandy walk. But I also went to Snowdon in Wales, because I was worried about going up the mountain in Jordan. So, I checked out how high it was, and I knew that I had done that height in the past, but I just wanted to have it in my head that I could do it again before I went. And so eliminate the worry before I went.

Did you have a scary moment?
No. I keep telling people that. Never once did I feel scared in Jordan at all. I did look at the FCO website before I went, which was a bit scary, because it does give advice about being aware everywhere. But then common sense told me that these tourism companies were still doing these trips, and if there was any doubt then they wouldn't. So, I had to have a leap of faith, and decided I wasn't going to worry about it, and if it got that bad, the trip would be cancelled. And local people were delighted to see us, although we were a small group because some people are nervous of going. To be honest, I was more worried about things like snakes and scorpions, but I just put them in a little box in my head and told myself not to open it. But in fact, they didn't bother me when I was there.

Sunset (Photo by Kyle Taylor)
Do you have any sense memories from your trip, other than 'sight' ones?
Again, it's related to the walking really. I have a very clear memory in my head of our guide walking at a really steady pace. He only had one pace, and you could almost hear him going 'one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four'. So, I have a memory of this walking sound as we went along, because it was so rhythmical. It was mesmerising really, so you could almost meditate in a sense. Which is partly why I enjoyed it so much.

Was there one local person that you met whom you will always remember?
The guide, Sammi. He said he was 46 and that he was getting a bit old for this, but he did it in order to ensure that his children had a much better lifestyle than he had. He was very passionate. He had a Dad who had married three times, there were 22 children when he was growing up. They lived twelve in a room, and he said that at 12 years old, 'I told my dad, I'm not going to live like this'. He said, 'you won't believe what I've done to get to university. I sold vegetables on the roadside, I've done all sorts. And I got myself a degree, and I do any work that I can do so that my five children will all go to university and they will all make good choices. I had no choice and nobody guided me and I have had to struggle to find my way', he said, 'but I am doing this for my children'. So, he made quite a strong impression on me.

He had to work so hard, he didn't go to university until he was 30, and then he went because he got a scholarship to do so, and then he got another one to do an MA afterwards as well. He did politics and something else that I can't remember, and he could be quite political, but I can as well. So, for example, he talked about Laurence of Arabia from their point of view, which I thought was interesting. But he felt very strongly about this being his country and within his country what his rights would be. And he would argue with authority because he felt he had as much right to things as, maybe, some of those higher up in his country had, but which he had no access to. He was a brilliant guide. Also because from the first day he also realised that we liked the peace and quiet. It just so happened that one day, when somebody asked him something, it was like a fountain that came out for an afternoon. And then he went back to being quiet, because he knew that we all liked that.

How was the food?
My partner didn't come because he knew there was nothing he could eat, because he's fussy, and a real meat eater, and I am a vegetarian. They had made an amazing effort to make sure we had a different vegetarian meal every single day. It was all tasty, it was all excellent. And I have to say, it was better than some hotels that I've been to that have been all inclusive, where I get pasta and cheese sauce every single meal for about ten days. Of course the food is very much what I would like anyway, with hummus, halloumi, pitta bread and so on, so not too much out of my comfort zone.

What is your favourite photograph?
I tell people that whatever I show you in the photos, they will not explain how wonderful it is. It's all about how I felt there, which was just wonderful really. My favourite photo is probably one that shows the huge desert with just a small group of us walking in the middle of it.

Desert (Photo by Jill Marquis)
Has this trip influenced where you would like to go next?
I think what the trip did was, it made me wonder why I hadn't done more adventurous things before. So, I think I did grow in confidence in my ability to do these things. So, when the guide said, 'we are going up the mountain, just follow me' - I did just follow him. So, I walked over boulders much quicker than I had ever walked over them before. And then I realised, actually, look, I have just done all of that! Over Snowdon, I would have worried about that, and it would have taken me twice as long. So, I know I can do it now. And maybe think about places I hadn't thought of before.

I mean, I am a person who likes to say yes, but the only long walking holiday I have done before is Hadrian's Wall. And I did enjoy that, but it wasn't challenging in the same sense as this. What I thought was, there was no way in the middle of the desert that I had a choice. There is no way that I could say, I've got a blister and I want to go home. Which is what people did on Hadrian's Wall. There is no local bus that is going to go past. So, having realised I can do that for one holiday - get physically fit for something challenging, but I also managed with the mentally challenging bit too - then I can do it somewhere else now too.

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Written by Catherine Mack
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