“You are the first group I have not been able to control,” declared our hiking guide Mohammed, finally giving up halfway through our slot canyon adventure in Wadi Ghuweir. Dealing with an energetic group of outdoor journalists, eager to squeeze out every last drop of adventure, scrambling up and down rock ledges and jumping in and out of emerald pools of water, can be a Herculean task at the best of times. But exploring the numerous enchanting “wadis” of this arid landscape would quickly become one of my favorite and unexpected highlights of our recent trip to Jordan, a joint venture between Columbia Sportswear and the Jordan Tourism Board.
As our most outstanding tour guide Kamel Jayusi warned us when we first arrived in Amman, “Jordan is beyond expectation,” a nation steeped not only in centuries upon centuries of history, but acres upon acres of natural beauty. Most tourists come to Jordan simply to visit Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Although a must-see stop on any visit to the region, this Hashemite Kingdom has so much more to offer, especially to the outdoor adventure seeker or eco-tourist.
For Jordan, environmentalism is neither a luxury nor a fashionable trend, as scarce resources and fragile ecosystems propelled the country to become the first in the Middle East to adopt a national conservation strategy. Around 4% of the country is now protected land, spread across 11 different nature reserves and protected areas, developed and run by the non-profit Royal Society for Conservation of Nature (RSCN) with support from the Jordanian government and even USAID. The RSCN promotes conservation through responsible adventure and eco-tourism, fostering local economic development and environmental awareness in the process.
The best way to explore the various reserves is on foot, with particularly great hiking possibilities in the Ajloun Forest Reserve, Dana Biosphere Reserve, and the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve. Established in 1989, the Dana Biosphere Reserve is Jordan’s largest, covering some 320 km2 of rugged and beautiful landscape along the face of the Great Rift Valley.
Our introduction to Dana started with a night spent at the Rummana Campsite. Featuring twenty goat hair tents, complete with communal showers, toilets, and a full meal service on offer, Rummana is glamping at its best. After a night spent telling stories over sweet tea while lounging in the communal Bedouin tents and scampering over the numerous crazy shaped limestone boulders surrounding camp, we set out on the 16km Wadi Ghuweir hike at first light.
Starting down a steep paved road outside of the small town of Mansoura in the vicinity of Shobak Castle, the trail quickly veers off into a stream bed lined with pink oleander, eventually flowing into the siq or slot canyon where you are surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs rising up in infinite rings of red color.
Mile after mile, we hopped to and from rocks, wading in and out of water that would suddenly form deep, swimmable pools then just as quickly disappear into some underground aquifer. Mohammed would stop us occasionally to tell us more about local plants, point out the geological history of the rock, play the flute for us, and even brew up some stomach soothing tea made from herbs picked along the route.
The end of the canyon passes through a tropical forest, complete with palm tree oasis and hanging gardens, eventually spilling out into the Feynan valley with no shade to be found and where the temperature rose significantly. After checking out some Byzantine ruins, we missed our shortcut to Feynan Ecolodge, our ultimate end goal for the day. A couple more miles of aimless wandering, we eventually stumbled upon the dirt road that would lead us to the lodge, a beautiful candle lit resort run completely off the grid, where you can spend the night on the rooftop terrace gazing at the endless sea of stars that fill the desert sky.
Toward the end of the trip, we spent a morning at Wadi Mujib in the Mujib Biosphere Reserve, another slot canyon close to the Dead Sea resorts. Traveling the popular Siq Trail and donning the required life jackets, our hike followed a narrow passage carved through the towering red sandstone cliffs, eventually ending 2km upstream at a dramatic waterfall. While mostly a wade through knee deep water, there are a few points where steady hands and feet are required to help cross fast moving rapids or use of the fixed ropes to get up and over large boulders.
Jumping down smaller waterfalls, I tried to float the entire hike out, being pushed from one mound of gravel to the next by the fast flowing water, bumping over rocks along the way. I may have ended up with quite a few bruises but Wadi Mujib was a fun little mini adventure to be had before floating the rest of the day away in the briny waters and mud baths of the Dead Sea.
With all this adventure and cultural experience on offer, I have no doubt that I will soon return to Jordan, whether it be for rock climbing in Wadi Rum, exploring more of the endless slot canyons in spring, or cycling the country from north to south. For as T.E. Lawrence wrote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, “…the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
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