Culture + Style

A Spontaneous Trip to Petra Leads to an Unforgettable Photo

As a professional model and dancer, often backing up pop icon Brittany Spears, Dakota Adan has spent the last two-and-a-half years exploring the world, honing his creative skills as a writer, photographer and videographer along the way.

“Growing up, I always had a camera in hand,” Adan says. “When I was really young, my parents gave me one of those little camcorders, and I became addicted. I first started storytelling through visuals with that.”

Adan studied journalism in school but has learned most of what he knows about photography and videography online. He draws inspiration from places like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube and has developed his own unique style from what he’s learned on those platforms.

“The original plan for me was to become a television broadcaster,” he told Marriott TRAVELER. “While in high school I had an internship with CNN. While there I helped create a documentary on the Holocaust that aired on PBS. That project took me over to Germany and Croatia and is really what introduced me to travel. I definitely got bitten by the travel bug, and I had some serious wanderlust after that. Since then I’ve been trying to travel as much as I can!”

From his childhood days in the backyard with his brothers and a camcorder to the lunar-like landscapes of Jordan, Adan has seen a lot.

Marriott TRAVELER caught up with him to uncover the story behind just one of his many awe-inspiring photographs from the ancient city of Petra.

Where was the photo taken?

The photo was taken in Petra, Jordan, and what you can see below me is the treasury building. It’s one of the more iconic buildings of Petra. It was built to inspire awe and show people the power and splendor of this wonderful trade city, and it still does to this day. You’re walking through this gorge and then all of a sudden [you] turn the corner to see this massive structure that’s just been carved into the rock. The first time you see it, you’re rendered speechless. It’s shocking how beautiful and well-preserved it is.

How did you get there?

I had just finished up a project in Israel with a friend of mine, and I really wanted to see more of the Middle East. So with a few days left in that trip, I asked my friend if she’d want to see Petra and that if we wanted to go, we had to leave in a couple of hours. Somehow I convinced her, and later that afternoon we were en route!

We had to jump on a bus that left Tel Aviv and drove through the night. We woke up as we crossed the border and dropped our things off at a Bedouin camp and immediately set out to explore Petra. We had two days there, and it was an amazing, amazing experience. Petra is a place that should be on everyone’s list.

What was the atmosphere like? Were there crowds?

There were a fair amount of people there in the morning. So many people will take day trips from Israel or Egypt and get there early but essentially only have a half day to spend before heading back. That’s why I recommend people stay at least one night so that they can have an afternoon there. The complex is huge, and there are plenty of places for you to go and experience it for yourself without feeling like you’re crowded. It’s actually quite comfortable.

How did you get up on that rock?

We had been making friends throughout the morning. Someone told us the best spot for a photo was from above and offered to guide us up there. The next thing you know, we’re scaling this cliff! We started up this hidden sideways route. I was a little bit nervous because I was climbing with all my camera gear. Finally, when we reached the top, we looked down and saw the treasury building and how small the people looked that were down below in comparison. You can’t help but marvel at the artistry and craftsmanship of your ancient man with a view like that.

Who snapped the photo?

The friend I had made, the same one that guided us up there, helped me take the photo. I don’t always like giving away my camera to people — I’m a bit of micromanager in that way. But I had already had such an amazing day and thought, “What could it hurt?” So I handed him my camera and sat down for a few minutes to really take in the view.

When I got up and he showed me the photos, they were wonderful! He did a really great job. It ended up being one of my favorite photos from the trip. So I’m super happy that it was taken in that way while just enjoying the view and appreciating the moment.

How did you discover this place?

Growing up, I loved Egyptian culture, I loved Middle Eastern culture, and so I was always looking at these ancient structures, and they always fascinated me. For me it wasn’t just about seeing ancient wonders of the world. It was just kind of marveling at the mystery of it. I think as we get older and as we discover more, the world seems like it becomes less magical of a place.

These places like Petra, like ancient Egypt, like Angkor Wat … seeing these ancient structures kind of brings the magic back. That’s why I love going to these types of places. It’s not just for the history. It’s to see the sheer willpower and manpower that was brought together and has withstood the test of time. That’s what blows me away.

Any tips for people heading here?

Yes! I actually ended up writing a little blog post about this because I’ve gotten so many questions about it. I think a lot of people are intimidated by the Middle East. So I wanted to help answer as many questions as I could and encourage other people to go and visit here.

The first tip is just invest more time. If you’re a photographer and you stay the extra day, you’re going to avoid a lot of the crowds. You’ll be able to get that amazing picture without having to Photoshop a bunch of people out.

Second tip would be to stay at a Bedouin camp while you’re out there. There’re tons of Bedouin camps you can stay at. I stayed at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, and it was such a cool experience. You can smoke hookah and drink Bedouin tea and just have a great time sitting under the stars around a campfire with these travelers who’ve come from all over.

The third tip would be to plan your trip out at a time where you can see Petra by night, so go on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday. Lastly, I would say while you’re there, take in the Jordanian hospitality. Meet the people. Talk to the shop owners. Talk to the people who are giving tour guides. You don’t have to buy from them in order for them to be nice to you. Just talk to them. Have a human connection.

Where can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?

People can find me on Instagram at @dakotaadan and @thetigermap or on my blog!

For Snap ChatMarriott TRAVELER is connecting with photographers around the world to capture the backstories behind some of the best images posted on Instagram.