‘Come to Jordan. It’s sunny, they said. It’s flat they said. It’s easy, they said.’ This has become a mantra that Munther and I chant to each other as I pant up another sheer ascent with the arctic winds howling and the clouds threatening rain. Actually, no-one ever said that to me but for some reason before I came to Jordan, to cross it north to south on the Jordan Trail, it was the impression I had. All facts to the contrary – ie that I was planning to do it in December and that the excellent website gives the ascent and descent every day and warns of difficulty – simply passed me by.
So, hiking the jordan trail has been a shock.
I’m now over half way through and acclimatised but when Munther Al Titi, my knowledgeable, funny and long-suffering guide from Treks Jordan, and I restarted after 9 days off so that my dog bite could heal, the first ten days or so were extremely challenging. The weather has been really varied, from the soft damp of the north, to the sun of the three wadis, to the chill of Dana and some torrential rain.
I had assumed because Jordan doesn’t have really high mountains and I was coming from the Atlas, that I would find the terrain really easy. This was a major mis-apprehension. The country is a constant roller coaster of steep hills. You are almost always descending sharply or ascending sharply. Think Lancashire hills. ‘No zig zags here,’ Munther tells me, ‘We are Jordanians, we like to go straight.’ Before I came, Fouad from Treks had told me, ‘It’s called the Jordan Trail, but don’t imagine trails like in Europe or the USA, it is really wild country.’ I had actually imagined rough ground with small goat tracks, like those at home in Morocco. Again, I was so wrong. Often, we are just heading straight across country and on muddy days, you can end up with a kilo of mud on each boot.
But, it has been truly wonderful so far. My days have been crammed with new experiences and exciting discoveries. Jordan is bursting with history and I have been unleashing my inner archaeologist. On our third day, we started off at the ruins of a Byzantine church and as we were poking around, totally on our own, Mohammed, one of the site guardians arrived. ‘Look under the sand,’ he told us. I was down on my knees and scraping away in seconds and as we dug away, a beautiful mosaic of an ostrich revealed itself. There is nothing like the excitement of uncovering a treasure.
Munther is a Twitcher and has the eyes of a hawk. Whenever he freezes up ahead of me, I know that he has spotted something. We sat for quarter of an hour on a peak watching a Steppe Eagle play in the thermals above us one glorious day. However, top bird spotting moment so far has to go to the Small Owl who posed elegantly on a fence post in front of us seemingly unfazed by how close we were.
I’ve also been enjoying the foraging. From the red juicy fruits of the strawberry tree to the luf leaf, which was miraculously transformed into a delicious dish called Chacheel by Umm Mahmoud on one of our homestays, to the wild thyme we can add to our tea.
The 3 Wadis are flagged as one of the hardest sections of the trail, but it was a section I revelled in. The deep drops into the river beds, followed by breath-taking (literally) climbs up the golden rocks towards the blue sky and distant views of the Dead Sea, fed my soul and scoured out all the poison that another year of Covid had left behind. We also had the company of the two Mohammeds who were the first people to ever walk the trail and made a comedy triple with Munther. On previous visits deeper down into the wadis, Munther had seen Ibex and the Arabian Wolf and we were lucky enough to hear the hyenas sing one night in camp, an eery but somehow melodic wailing.
Yesterday, New Year’s Eve, was tough. The profile was straight down, then straight up and then straight down into Dana. It was bitterly cold but the rain thankfully held off. We were trudging up towards the high plateau past a field where a burly man and his two young sons were gathering up firewood and putting it into their pick up, totally wrapped up against the chill. ‘Tik Tok,’ he yelled down at us, ‘Are you the pair from TikTok? I have been watching your journey. Stop. Have coffee with us.’ His eldest son was dispatched to bring a large flask and poured out two fragrant cups of scented Arabic coffee. ‘What’s your story?’ our host asked me as he settled himself comfortably on the ground. I told him a little bit about myself and we talked for a while. Then he said. ‘I have my religion and you have yours. You can wear a veil and not be a good person or you can go bareheaded and be a wonderful person. An unbeliever can enter heaven through his deeds. It is a person’s heart that matters, not his creed or his beliefs.’
With those words warming our hearts, and the coffee warming our bellies, Munther and I waved goodbye and set off with renewed vigour up the hill.
Happy New Year to you all and I hope you get to escape and join me in hiking the Jordan Trail for a time through these blogs. I’m posting a new picture every day (that I can) on Instagram and podcasting every Thursday.