‘Sukran’ I said to a beaming smile – he liked that I knew a few words of Arabic. Offering tea is a key pillar of Islamic hospitality, and with the Bedouins you will almost certainly experience it.
‘Shi’ rang out across the vast dusty wadi as we walked down from the village of Dana to Feynan Eco Lodge in Jordan. ‘Shiiii’. I had a slight clue as to what it meant, as a similar world means tea in Hindi. Low and behold, a bedouin appeared from beside an acacia tree with a smile. He was greying, his head covered by a traditional Keffiyeh, in a crisp red and white pattern that is so distinctive of the Middle East. He waved his hand, inviting us to approach his tent, where a fresh pot of tea was brewing. With a dash of exuberance, he raised the teapot high above his head and poured. Down flowed the most delicious tea, sweet and flavoursome. ‘Sukran,’ I said to a beaming smile – he liked that I knew a few words of Arabic. Offering tea is a crucial pillar of Islamic hospitality, and with the Bedouins, you will almost certainly experience it.
‘It is a lonely life being a shepherd’ he continued ‘you rely on your sheep, on your goats and Allah’.
I found out that his name was Sliman before his few words of English ran out. Out came a stick, and we reverted to time-old pictorial communication. He was apparently about 45, had at least four children, and about a hundred sheep. Some of which were munching on wild parsley outside the tent. Our guide had then caught up with us and made his salaams. He acted as my translator as we spoke more about his life. Until about 30 years ago, he and his family were nomads. They spent the winters in the deserts of Wadi Araba, keeping watch for the wolves that would stalk their flock. In the summer,s they would head north to the village of Shobak, right beside the famous Crusader Castle. They stay put now, as his children and grand-children need to go to school. ‘I miss moving around,’ he said. ‘It is a lonely life being a shepherd’ he continued ‘you rely on your sheep, on your goats and Allah.’
We said our farewells, and I offered the packed lunch Dana Guest House had kindly given me for the walk, and with a rusty ‘Sukran, salaam alaikum,’ we set off down the wadi. These small little moments define what turns a stunning walk down a dramatic wadi into something more immersive, more unique, and utterly unforgettable.
Our guide was called Mohammed and hailed from Madaba, the small town to the north of Dana famous for its superb 4th-century mosaic that sits on the floor of St George’s Church. ‘Walking is my life,’ he said, ‘some people even tell me my feet move in my sleep.’ He used to tend sheep, even singing to them at night, so they knew they were safe. Now he escorts guests as an expert trekking guide. His stories were as vivid and remarkable as the walk itself.
Those who stop here for a few nights are certainly rewarded.
The walk from Dana Village to Fenyan is one of those experiences that many guests often skip in their desire to head straight from the capital, Amman to Petra. It is the starting point for the famous long walk from Dana to Petra which was rated by National Geographic as one of the best in the world. We now offer it on our Walking Holiday in Jordan tour. Those who stop in Wadi Dana for a few nights are certainly rewarded. Both lodges are run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. Dana Guest House sits at one end, at 1,500 metres overlooking the dramatic wadi (or valley) down below. After we arrived in the afternoon, we spent an hour exploring the village, seeing terraced gardens, and local craft workshops. That night, we enjoyed a selection of authentic Jordanian mezze dishes. My over-indulgence was, in part, decided by the notion of a long calorie-sapping walk the following day.
‘I always thought Jordan was all about Petra, but I was so wrong, this is what I wanted to find when I dreamt about coming to the Middle East.’
The downhill walk of about 16kms takes about 5-6 hours. During this time you pass through three different bio-geological zones – from limestone to sandstone and finally granite. As you walk down the wadi, the flora and fauna changes at almost every turn. We pass through green canyons where mistletoe sprouts, and pistachio and fig trees grow. You finish at Feynan which is at sea-level and sits on the northern part of the Great Rift Valley. So far, there are a total of 894 plant species, 190 bird species, 37 mammal species, and 36 reptile species in the Reserve, of which 25 are endangered, including the Blanford Fox, the Arabian Wolf, the Syrian Serin and the Spiny Tailed Lizard.
Whenever I walk here, it makes me want to live freely like the birds. Just sleeping under the rock, carrying nothing but maybe a pack of sardines.
As we approached Feynan Eco Lodge, we turned a corner we meet Salem, a former lieutenant in the Royal Jordanian Army. He now looks after Dana Biosphere Reserve. His family hails from Wadi Dana, and this corner of Jordan is evidently where his heart lies. He told us that his family used to ship homemade olive oil on donkeys over the mountains to Jerusalem. He said, ‘whenever I walk here, it makes me want to live freely like the birds. Just sleeping under the rock, carrying nothing but maybe a tin of sardines.’
We continued onto to Feynan Eco Lodge for the night. The eco-lodge has no electricity so that the whole place is lit in a countless number of candles each evening. The overall atmosphere is magical. We feasted on yet more mezze and walked up to the roof to sip hot tea and looked up at the night sky above. We heard wolves howling in the distance. A guest turned to me and said, ‘I always thought Jordan was all about Petra, but I was so wrong, this is what I wanted to find when I dreamt about coming to the Middle East.’ She was so right.