We made our way up a track going straight through someone’s olive grove, passing by picnicking families and some very angry dogs. We were slightly confused. Map with instructions in one hand, compass in the other, my travelling companion Mike and I were definitely on the right path of the Jordan Trail. So, through someone’s property it was. After a tense 5 minutes fearing someone might shoot us, we got back to the road just before sunset. We found the forest, and there suitable-looking ground for camping. All was well—until we started hearing the approaching barks of some very angry dogs, then the cries of wolves, human shouting, and gunshots.
This was our first attempt at walking and camping in Jordan: the next few weeks would not be nearly as frightening! Mike and I walked from Ajloun castle, a 12th century fortress built by Salah al-Din’s nephew on the remains of a monastery on a forested hill in northern Jordan, to Orjun, a traditional village situated in a lush valley full of fresh figs and pomegranates. On our way, we casually passed by the 6th century church and pilgrimage site of Mar Elias, as well as an unusual rectangular roofless mudbrick mosque.
‘Hello! what’s your name?’ excited children ran after us; adults asked us the more sensible question: ‘What are you doing here?’. The Jordan Trail, though far from complete and in need of correcting the logistical issues of going through people’s olive groves, allows travellers to see both the nature and culture of Jordan, beyond Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan’s top destinations.
After making our way south, Mike and I reached Wadi Dana, a valley renowned for its numerous birds and ibex. Another opportunity for enjoying nature and culture: our budget hotel (to be far from the wolves this time!) was on the roof of one of the 19th century houses of Dana village. Another sleepless night; although this time because I couldn’t take my eyes off the Milky Way. Though traditional villages of Jordan have mostly been abandoned in the past 50 years, with their inhabitants moving to cement apartments, the locals of Dana keep a strong relationship with their past by allowing travellers to sleep in the village. These hotels are all locally run, and are even at competition with the big ecotourist companies. The villagers let us into the Nature Reserve for free, and were critical of the government-backed organization that charged entry fees to the land in which they grew up.
Our footsteps sank into purple and red sand from Dana to Feynan, the landscape was a striking combination of the awesome rock formations of south and the green hills of the north. Gradually, the green disappeared and we were in a fully fledged desert –one that had been used for copper mining in the Byzantine period. A Bedouin on the way thought we looked funny, and told Mike to try riding his donkey. Shortly after politely refusing tea from the Bedouin over and over again, we arrived in Feynan and finally wondered: how are we getting anywhere now? Luckily, a lorry driver was passing by, so we hopped in and told the lie that we were engaged when he asked Mike ‘What are you doing with her?’ — a young man and woman who are travelling together and not in a relationship are still not quite understood in Jordan. The lorry went down to Aqaba at the incredible pace of 45km/hour— with nothing to look at on either side except for endless desert, and the winding music of Mohammed Abdu. I was in a stupor.
Then we were in Aqaba, and soon after in Wadi Rum. The third sleepless night: not due to wolves, stars, but the punctuated echoes within the still silence. One dog barked; one thousand barks came back in a wave. The endlessness was almost nauseating. And when I heard the echoes of the braying of a donkey –that, my friend, is the demonic sound of hellfire. Once morning came, off we went walking into the true silence of the desert. I was overcome by desire to lie down and live in that silence. But too soon, it was time to return to the city—if for anything, due to lack of water.
Written by Maïra Al-Manzali, edited by Bethany Naylor
To read another article about a hitchhiking experience, read Beth’s post about hitching in France and Spain