Most people's image of Jordan and the archaeological treasure that is the ancient Nabaetean city of Petra in the south of the country involves oppressive heat and blazing sun in a parched desert landscape. And the reality for most people who are lucky enough to visit Petra confirms this image.
But it can be different, especially if you visit in the depth of winter as we did in January 2015 when rain and snow where the order of the day.
We arrived in Amman, Jordan's capital, on a cold winter's morning to be told by our taxi driver that a serious snow storm was due that night which was expected to blanket Amman and the surrounding region.
A similar forecast same time last year had eventuated in him having to abandon his taxi as the storm worsened, eventually recovering it two days later when the snow covering it had melted.
Mmmmm? Was this going to impact on our plans to drive a hire car from Amman to Petra, 4 hours to the south, in two days time. Possibly.
We spent that afternoon having a look around Amman not sure as to whether we'd have two nights here as planned or if we'd be snowed in for days, as predicted by the taxi driver.
Amman, like so many other towns and cities of the Middle East, was part of the Roman Empire for hundreds of years – from 30 BC under Herod. It's ancient name was Philadelphia named when under Egyptian ruler Ptolomy Philadelphius (283 – 246 BC). And the name lives on in restaurants, the local beer and a myriad of other local businesses.
Consequently there are a number of worthwhile historical sites to visits including the ancient Roman Citadel which sits on Amman's highest hill, the Roman Amphitheatre, and the Nymphaeum (fountain).
Overnight it did snow all along the spine of mountains on which both Amman and Petra sit that runs the length of Jordan from south to north. We contacted our car hire company in the morning to find out what our options were. Their English was good but optimism in short supply.
Last night's snow had surrounded Amman so there was no way in or out at present and the forecast was for a much bigger snow dump tonight. They thought it likely that we'd be stuck in Amman for at least 2 or 3 days. This was not good news. Petra was to be the highlight of our trip, something we'd been planning to do for years, and now there was a possibility that we would not get there.
It was cold, wet and sleety outside, so with the prospect of having far more time in Amman to take in the remaining sights than expected we decided to spent the rest of the day in our hotel catching up on emails home and reading.
This turned out to be a good move as at around 2.00 pm the hire care company called us at the hotel to say that one of the 3 roads in/out of Amman was now open – the desert road running south and beside the eastern side of the mountains. And the word was that it was also clear at the Petra end where the road winds back up from the desert in the mountains for the last 45 minutes.
They put it to us that they could collect us in a 4x4 from our hotel (as driving in the city was not possible for conventional vehicles yet), take us to their depot at the airport and we could be heading south by 4.00 pm. The snow storm was expected around midnight and it was a 4 hour trip, so if nothing unexpected happened we should make it. We decided to give it a go.
Happily all went well. The desert road was not particularly busy. Being winter it was dark by 5.00pm and the looming black snow-filled clouds were ominous in our rear view mirror, but we kept ahead of them. The last part of the road winding up into the mountains around Petra was foggy but we arrived right in the predicted 4 hours.
That night, sure enough, the snow dumped down and both Petra and Amman and the mountain towns in between were all isolated again. But we'd made it, a day earlier than planned and we now had 4 nights in Petra, exploring it's marvellous sights, all with a dusting of snow, and very few other tourists.