Driver: Why are you doing this?
Hiker: Because I said I would do it
Driver: To whom did you say this?
Hiker: To myself
translated from: Te voet door Africa, Ffyona Campbell (On Foot through Africa)
The Jordan Trail Hike
- 650 kilometers
- 34 days of walking
- 12 days of resting, sightseeing, and waiting out storms
- Carrying 7 kilo (Coen) and 5 kilos (KM) of camping gear, cooking gear and clothes. (Not counting water/food).
- From Umm Qays in the north (just south of the Syrian border) to the coastal town of Aqaba in the south.
- Traversing agricultural communities, cities, wadis (canyons/valleys/dry riverbeds) and deserts, including Petra and Wadi Rum.
We did it. We hiked the Jordan Trail!
After overlanding for seven months in South Korea and nine months in Japan, Coen and I were ready for our next adventure. As we wrote about here, it was one that would span the cold, snowy winter months in the Far East and one that would challenge us.
Here is part 1 of dispatches.
Day 1, 15 kms, Zabda
What a great start to a new adventure.
From Amman we take a bus to Umm Qais, the head of the 650km Jordan Trail. Tea with Bedouins, hiking amidst a vast landscape of olive groves where people are harvesting. “Welcome to Jordan!” they shout.
As we are ready to set up camp, we meet Rany who brings us water and made coffee. His mother, however, decides we should eat and stay at their home. So here we are, instead of freezing in our tent (3 degrees Celsius at night), we are taking in a Jordan home and are thoroughly spoilt.
Day 3, 47 kms, Beit Idis
After 3 days and 47 kms we are tired and hungry when we arrive in Beit Ibid around lunchtime. No restaurant in sight. Only hot asphalt and boring buildings.
“Falafel?” we ask, making the gesture of bringing food to our mouths.
“1 km down the road,” a man mimics back.
1 km further the ritual repeats itself. We are too tired for this. Man #3 stops a bus and we meet Said.
“No falafel in the afternoon,” he says, “but chicken and rice in my house.”
We meet his 2 wives and some of his 9 kids. With full bellies we are back on the road.
On our way to the trail a family motions us to drink tea. We meet Khada and her kids, parents and more family whose relationship remained unclear. We are plied with tea and oranges and can sleep there. They speak no word of English and we two words of Arabic.
Hospitality requires no spoken language in Jordan.
Day 5, 79 kms, Ajlun
Jordan ranks #2 in the world when it comes to smoking (70% of the population), a Jordanian told us (Indonesia #1). Indeed they are avid smokers. Everywhere and always. They smoke in the street, their homes, while eating and probably in bed. Asking for permission to smoke is unheard of. Some smoke shisha, water pipe.
Such as in the cafe we are now, in Ajlun, where we are resting for a day. Part of the cafe is for men only. The air is thick with smoke and men are socializing with their shisha and strong and sweet, delicious cups of coffee (in paper cups). The adjacent room is, we assume, for women and families and this is where we sit. With sweet, delicious mint tea.
Yesterday, on our way to this town, we met a group of people picnicking outside the city. Tariq, a Syrian who lives in Saudi Arabia with his Kuwaitian wife Anoura, had been invited by his Jordan friend Arafat who was cooking maklubbah (translated as ‘opposite sides’ Tariq said, but it must be something like ‘upside down’ as after the cooking the meal is served upside down on a large plate).
“Come and eat with us, our Arab ways don’t allow us to let you go before you eat with us.” The fact we had just eaten our lunch was irrelevant. We joined them on the mats and cushions on the ground and devoured the delicious rice with chicken – as a hiker you can always eat more.
Lunch was the reason to set his water pipe aside for a bit, which Tariq had bought in Amman just for his 10-day vacation in Jordan. Afterwards, he showed me how a shisha works while Arafat filled it with fresh tobacco and topped it with 3 glowing pieces of charcoal. Here sat a highly content man, in good company, with a full belly and his water pipe.
I don’t care for smoking at all but I see the charm of smoking a water pipe. Thank you Tariq, for your invitation. It was a pleasure.
Day 13, 156 kms, Iraq al Amir
The Palace of the Slave – Qatar al Abid – is a Hellenistic site in the center of Iraq al Amir. Coen is drawing, sitting in one of the openings in the wall, I am jotting down notes, sitting on the remains of another wall (while keeping a fly away from my nose).
Jordan hasn’t ‘discovered’ boom boxes yet and in this country, villages can actually still be silent. Until prayer time, that is. After the typical crackling of the sound system, the call to prayer comes wailing through the air. As is common as well, it is quickly followed by a second. The clear and passionate cries echo through the valley.
We have grown used to them but when we listen and let the sounds penetrate our being, we feel we are part of something ancient and sacred, even though we don’t understand a word and are not religious. The deep voices fill us with a sense of belonging to something bigger than Mother Earth.
Just as suddenly, the stereo is turned off and silence reigns again.
After 2 days of getting organized in Amman – new shoes, visa extensions, etc – and a quiet day here, we will hit the trail again tomorrow for the next 500 kms or so. What more lies in store for us in this ancient and empowering land?
Day 14, 176 kms, Husban
Hiking the 650km Jordan Trail through wadis and over mountains means that we minimized to the bare minimum on stuff. We did replace Karin-Marijke’s shoes in Amman and had to improvise a little here and there with regards to other wear and tear of our older gear. Halfway through we are still very happy with our choices in what we brought and what we left behind in the Land Cruiser.
Day 17, 234 kms, Wadi Hidan
We find ourselves surrounded by deep valleys. Only the sun and wind are with us. Void and vacuum. Or so it seems until you notice the small shrubs and insects inside them, that little bird fluttering around at times. More and more beautiful little things seem to appear out of nothing – only if you take the time to stand still, observe and open up to see them. The world is full of life and beauty.
Day 20, 292 kms, Kerak
“Come back any time, my friend. I will have coffee for you.”
And so we sit with Mohammed, his two brothers and friends who are watching life go by, sitting on plastic chairs in front of the shop. We talk life, religion and how the world should be ruled. Conversation and leisure are of value in this country, where nobody ever appears to be in a hurry.
Kerak is a city on a plateau about 950 meters high and marks the halfway of our hike. Its landmark is a vast crusaders’ castle on the southern spur of the plateau. Through history it was built, extended, destroyed, rebuild, besieged and so on. It is massive and impressive with some well-restored sections.
We also meet Omar, a nice, inquisitive fellow who tries to understand the complexities of immigrants, Islam and the fear they cause in Europe. It is too complex to explain in one afternoon but we have a fine and interesting discussion sharing our views.
Hands and feet language is part of traveling, but I love the deeper discussions we have when sharing a language, in this case, English. And there was plenty of this in Kerak.
After 2 rest days and a healed blister that had gotten infected we are ready to hit the trail once more.
Freezing temperatures, gale winds, and threatening rain, here we come!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Jordan Trail Hike.
Useful Information on the Jordan Trail Hike
- The Jordan Trail has an informative website, including maps and GPS tracks, as well as a Facebook Page.
- Contacting the Jordan Trail beforehand, or visiting their office in Amman, is a good idea. They can assist you in several ways, such as providing you with a letter in Arabic explaining your hiking adventure, which you can show to authorities (or others) when the need arises.