Here’s my first observations and experiences with Jordan, named after the river forming most of its northwestern border. Located on the crossroads of Europa, Africa and Asia, it was previously called Transjordan, meaning ‘on the other side of the Jordan river’. Nowadays we should say the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: a constitutional monarchy, with king Abdullah II since 1999 representing his ten million people, of whom 98% is Sunni Muslim. Apart from a 26km shoreline at the Red Sea the country is pretty much landlocked in between Syria, Iraq, Saudi-Arabia and Israel. It’s considered a semi-arid country though holds only 0.6% water. Less than 2% is blessed with forests, mainly in the greener northwestern mountainous corner where I will start my hike. Further south the vegetation becomes more scrubby and increasingly steppe-like untill I reach the desert. The highest point is 1854 meters and the lowest -420m, which is the Dead Sea, of which I have fond memories. Containing 10 times more salt than any regular ocean, I swam (or I should say floated) there with my father and brother, rescuing the latter after he thought it a good idea to swim underwater without closing his eyes. I directed my blind twin to and over the sharp salt crystals that form the shorelines, from where we made fun of the floating whales further down (the same fat American tourists we saw later polluting and desacrifying the Jordan river where Jesus was baptised by wearing overpriced seethrough clothing and making peacesigns while taking selfies).
The Great Arab Revolt during WWI ended the Ottoman rule, turning Jordan into a Britsh protectorate, though granted with great levels of autonomy, leading to full independence in 1946. Despite its British ties, people drive on the right side of the road. Though blessed with a skilled workforce, the Jordanian economy struggles with a lack of natural resources and an increasingly large flow of refugees, including an estimated 1,4 million Syrian refugees. Interestingly, the country was left relatively unscathed by the Arab Spring which swept a trail of violence through the region since 2011. Different sources call Jordan an oasis of stability in a turbulent region. It should be very safe to travel here. Once a popular tourism destination, welcoming 8 million tourists in 2010, tourism declined by 70% between 2010-2016, only slowly recovering now. The opening of the Jordan Trail in 2015 aims to attract more tourists. I happily contribute 🙂
I have not seen any foreigner at all and I made it to um qais which seems pretty much empty. Im about to start the trail. I love you lots and will keep you updated on my progress!!
Al Pacino tells me Jordan and Israel are friends. In fact: in his town, Ajloun, there are 2000 christmasses (he means christians), and 3000 muslims and they all live together ‘no problem’. At the house AP fittingly shows me his pigeons and tells me he prefers the young pigeons, they’re like viagra! and he laughs out loud. He is also growing weat, beans and lots of fruit and veg, has rainwatertanks in the walls and gets all his electricity from the sun. I teach them to use the nettle for tea, they show me the skin of the lemon is deliciously sweet when eaten straight of the tree. We conclude the night with Magloubeh, a traditional dish of rice, chicken and herbs; eaten with the right hand from the same plate (10 people!) Sitting on the floor. I play games with the kids, do some yoga, pull funny faces etc. The family begs me not to go, I am a sister now ‘tamara we love you, we will miss you, please stay, please come back, one more day then?’. Ive fallen in love with this family but cant stay. I need to walk my donkey 😀 this arab adventure is amazing! I improve the poor packing AP shows me and put nice soft padding on all hotspots. Me, Yustra and Agrab set off 8 -ish. Agrab is still a bit scared of me and doesnt let me come close. Another dog follows us for a few kilometers, I was hoping he’d stay with us, but he didnt. We walk trails through the forest and countrylanes. Compared to the last week I see very little people and feel a lot more free. And so excited for my new family! Yustra is amazing and I cant believe she just follows me anywhere and never spooks, not from people, cars, dogs, not even those superscary plastic bags.. along the trails there is signs of humans everywhere with quite some pollution. Pristine wilderness is not here. But other fairytale-like things are happening. I see a man waving a stick in front of him as if he is blind. Im amazed by his courage to walk this challenging terrain. When he gets closer I see its a metaldetector, hes looking for coins. I test his machine and it works. when not much later it bleeps away he starts digging, deeper and deeper. My anticipation grows, till he finally pulls the bleep-source out of the ground: an empty pack of juice. Apparently there’s silverfoil in there.. Later I see a little shepherdman that reminds me so much of the rabbit in alice in wonderland, he even moves and laughs the same way.. will he guide me down the rabbithole? Around 2pm Yustra starts to be a bit stubborn and doesnt want to follow anymore. By 3pm I really cant get her to move anywhere. I am on a mountain just short of the town Burma with amazing views and plenty grass. I decide, well really Yustra decides, we make camp here. She happily eats away while visiting me every time I get close. Agrab lays down and goes to sleep immediately. It was enough for both of them on the first day, I am so proud!!! I hope its no-ones land and I hope those wolfs and hyenas I heared howling every night so far wont visit our camp. Now that im not walking with a pack anymore I notice how cold it actually is, especially with the sun fading. I wear my hoody, also so that from a distant noone can see im not a man. The sun sets and the hills illuminate with thousands of lights. by 7 pm its too dark to read my reindeertribes book. I can go to bed nice and early, yeay! I get up a few times to check on Yustra and awake with first morning light at 5’30. Its freezing cold so ill make a fire and wait for the sun to dry my tent. Another day with my new friends 😀
At the summit we enjoy magnificent views of King Talal dam and kilometers of mountains ahead of us. The dam looks gorgeous from a distance, though sadly has a broad brim of garbage floating from the edges, so much that I dont want to wash and Yustra doesnt want to drink. Again. She hasnt drunk any water for two days now, im really worried. What can I do to make her drink? With only one last house ahead of us, which also has lush grass surrounding it, I go there to see if they can give Yustra some water. I also ask whether its ok to camp there. They welcome me and I enjoy the abundance of animals around (goats, sheep, cats, dogs, chickens, a donkey, quails), the 360degree views and a gorgeous sunset. I ask to camp on their land but of course they wont have it and want em to sleep in the house. Yustra calls out a few times and a donkey over the hill answers. Yustras former family calls me on the phone asking me to please return and stay with them. AP says he drove to Burma yesterday to come find me. Smothering love… AP had previously also thrown away my icebreaker socks. Yes they had big holes but I only carry two pairs of socks and icebreaker is expensive and has a lifetime guarantee in socks.. ah well, ill have to do with my one other pair!
The new family that welcomed me and Yustra show me a few more edible plants on their property. The mother was picking and I joined her with great interest. I recognize the pineappleweed but others are endemic to Jordan. Liza shows me oregano and then adds it to hot goatsmilk with sugar, its delicious: ‘zahki’! I try to tell her not to make me anything, but not long after she shows up with food: more Mansafh, the special Jordanian dish of rice and meat and hot yoghurt. In the midst of eating together Liza gets up, puts on a long skirt and headscarf, rolls out a little flying carpet and starts praying to Allah for it to fly her away to new horizons. She does that 5 times a day: 5am, 12, 4, 5.30 and at 7pm. Her and all her 12 siblings. The corner holds a big pile of carpets. I look around for the closest escape route in case they all start flying off.. Liza would love to travel, she tells me with the help of google translate, but her father wont allow it. She is 31. I ask her if shes anxious to find a husbanf, time is ticking if she still wants to make 12 babies! She laughs, no way shes having 12 babies! Two, or maybe three..thats enough. I tell her my brother is still single, but ‘he no muslim, is problem’. yeah, cant change that.. This all plays out in the guestroom, the first room after entering the house. As with many families I never make it past this room and I realize how special it was for me to be invited in Al Pacinos family and even attend Rahaf’s engagement party
I wake up to the sound of the call of prayer. Though its 5 am its actually pleasant to listen to. I wonder what Matthew Walker (my favourite sleep expert) thinks of this sleep disturbance every morning. Did he research sleep deprivation in Arab countries conpared to Christian?
The first thing I do when daylight arrives is go outside and check on Yustra, just like the family checks on me. Im glad to see Yustra is drinking from the babybath is filled up for her. She even shares it with 10 chickens 🙂 Liza tells me these chickens are not for eating, only for eggs. Many dishes contain chicken thoigh, so I ask where that comes from. ‘from the chickenshop’ she says. Ive seem these little butchers in town, with lots of chickens in cages. Meat is bought fresh here!
It was a tough day, the heat was killing me and Yustra was giving me a hard time. We are in a competition to see who is the most stubborn donkey of the two. Ive learned that Yustra means ‘the one that makes things easy’ whahaaha lies, all lies!! 😀 Usually she wins but so far were still making good progress. She made a few other donkey and horse friends on the way as we past biblical scenes of arabic shepherds grazing their goats and sheep. Some were riding their donkey, without stirrups, just rocking their legs back and forth. I wish I had such control over my donkey. We struggled but made it finally to the city Al Fuhais. I planned to camp just 2,5km further up but I was exhausted and very nauscious. Did my food not go down well, was I experiencing a heatstroke or was I infected by the former two families who were all coughing and not feeling well? Im not sure, but when a big russian-looking man invited me in for a cold glass of water I happily accepted. I collapsed on the couch and tried not to throw up on his beautiful carpet. The house was richly decorated and a maid from Bangladesh brought me a drink. He offered me food which looked amazing but just the smell made me sick. This man was a Christian as is almost everyone of the 20.000 in this city. The irony is that I find myself fasting (through illness) on Ash Wednesday (the start of christian fasting period) in the only christian city in Jordan! Seems meant to be! The mans brother arrives who speaks very good english. He is a poet, writer, journalist and the former minister of culture. Im in high company now. While im trying not to yawn in his presence we have interesting conversations. He is a very liberal thinker who doesnt believe in marriage, is not religious, though knows lots about it and has spent many years living in New York city. I ask him why he returned, Jordan must be very conservative and repressing for him! Its just appearance, he says, under the surface you can find anything here though. He tells me about tantra and swingers clubs and way more than I want to hear.. He also tells me lots about the history of Al Fuhais and he loves talking so much that I become his guest. He shows me his art collection, his library and a beautiful shepherds instrument his father made himself, which he breaks the moment he tries to play it. Oops! He offers to put Yustra in his garden and I ask him at least three times whether he’s sure about it. The garden looks well maintained and Yustra will just destroy it. He doesnt care as long as she doesnt eat his grapevines. I cant guarantee it.. we speak about Kafka and Dostoyevski and he gets all excited and tells his brother hes speaking to an intellectual. Now im in trouble as he wont let me go. I hint many times that id love to go to bed now and when he finally allows me, he decides to bring me to a hotel. I tell him the bed in the corner is perfect and I really dont need a hotel. He insists, not understanding that hes really not doing me a favor. I much rather stay close to Yustra and leave early morning. And I certainly dont want him to spend money on me! We drive through Al Fuhais and I must admit that it looks incredible after dark with all the lights. He shows me a few of the churches, the bulletholes from the Turks and then rocks up to the only hotel in town. I wait in the car like the Queen of Jordan till he comes back to tell me this hotel is not good enough. We drive another 20min to a hotel where a single room is 120$. By this time I cannot argue anymore, I just want to sleep. Jeryes promises to pick me up in the morning. What a crazy day! I fal asleep straight away.
Its still 350km to wadi rum; even on easy terrain thats a challenge with the four weeks I have left. Besides, I might be more interested in the cultural aspect of this trip than the scenery (i just had my fantastic landscap fix in new zealand :p). I will still see incredible sights, so im not too worried and happy Yustra can stay with me. One night apart and I miss her! I call the jordan trail association. ‘You’re the donkey lady!’ they excitedly reply. He tells me that the trail is designed as a donkeytrail and I should be able to walk Yustra at least till Petra. Im not so sure about it, but I decide to try it.
Hashies lives in the apartment below his parents, who bring him food three times a day. His study is impressive, im in the house of the luitenant colonel himself…. who doesnt know how to cook. We go out one last time to pick up his friend who lives in the palestinian refugees neighboorhoud. The streets are narrow and steep. Amman is built on seven hills. His cousin has a shop there where we work on the donkey project 😉 together we make a little nametag stating in Arabic that this is my donkey and when you find her please call this numbre. We find a small bucket I was looking for to help Yustra drink. She has been quite the princes (fitting though, as I am the queen), refusing most of the water I offered her. We also find better rope that is softer on her skin. As we walk up the stairs to meet his cousins mother we pass boxes of potatoes. ‘Dont worry about the potatoes’, he says ‘they’re for the egyptian embassy’. I wasnt worried about the potatoes, I don’t recall ever worrying about potatoes in my life, but now im curious.. I ask him whether he’s egyptian, but no, he is Palestinian. Im confused but there’s no time for clarity as we enter the house. When he tells his mother about my mission she almost has a heartattack and they scream back and forth. She tells him he cant allow me to do this! This lady gave birth to twenty children, she is much more strong and brave than me! I relieve the tension by inviting her to join me, everybody laughs and thinks it’s a great idea.
In the morning it was still very cloudy but thankfully there was no more rain. We made our way out of the forest and through areas, strangly uninhabited. We saw almost noone untill we past our first bedouin camp! There were a bunch of big tents in and amongst animal shelters for sheep, goats, chickens, donkeys and dogs. The women waved at us, inviting us for tea. We had so much fun with the many children, pulling faces, playing games, being silly, that the family asked us to stay the night. Our first bedouine experience, yes plaese! Curious as I was to have a look inside all the tents. I unpacked Yustra and took all the children for little donkeyrides while a bunch were running around me screaming ‘me, me, me!’. Oh Yustra makes us so popular 🙂 the children each asked me at least 35 times hewther I would really sleep there tonight. With them. I agreed. My biggest fan was a 10year old winking at me and saying ‘Tamara I love you’. Some of the older girls were picking greens and interested as I am in foraging I joined them. It was chobeze. I cut it all up fibely and was invited in the kitchentent. Some of the adults sat around the stove while I helped 21year old Houda cut up onions, we were both crying heavily and laughing through our tears: ‘tamara, very good’. It got even better when it was time to milk the sheep. Graeme was impressed by the way they tie them up. Infact, its the same method as ive seen in Mongolia and the method to coil a climbing rope: a daisychain with a sheeps head in each loop. It creates a long line of sheep, tied together by their heads. That way we could easily reach their utters, while holding one sheepsleg between my calf and thigh. Graeme (who is now called Kerim) wasnt much succesfull with the milking, but my years of practice are finally paying off: ‘Tamara very good!’. While Kerim is taking a nap I want to soak up this experience, though I find it exhausting to play with twenty children at the same time, all running around screaming tamara, tamara, tamara. Soooo much fun though! The big tent is divided in two big rooms, bith empty. Carpets on the floor and a matress for me to sit on. I spend most of the night in the room with the women, snuggled up around a gasheater. Kerim is sitting in the other room with the men. Even though we told them we are married we are not allowed to sleep in the same room. I am finally invited to sit with my husband in the mens room for a while, using my best arabic to make stupid jokes. Houda prepares a bed for me and everybody is gazing at me while I get in and close my eyes. My ten year old fan jumps in under the blankets with me till she is sent away. Im so used to this now that I comfortably fall asleep. The lack of hygiene in this family has gotten to me though as my guts are very upset and I have stomach cramps and running diahrroea. The toilet is a hole in the ground, some girls always waiting outside for me to finish and return. Theres a lot of noise from barking dogs all through the night. Noone else seems to be bothered by it. In the morning the family begs me to stay one more night, pleeaaassseee?? Kerim can go, Yustra can go, but tamara stay!! I help them with the morning milking and watch the women package squares of yoghurt to sell. One of the boys charges up bareback on his donkey. almost everyone we meet now has a donkey, but none look so healthy and happy as Yustra! Kerim and I say goodbye; we give the men a batterypack with solarpanel, perfect for their days herding sheep! The family tries a few more times to keep us there or postpone departure, but we must be strong and manage to break free.
We use the bathrooms to wash our faces and arms and even a few cloths. With so little water on our trek we hardly get a chance to wash anything and due to the rain the last days we are covered in mud. When the cleaner comes in I think hell send me away but instead he helps me wash my shirt, his green eyes shining bright over his big smile. I explain the stains come from milki.g the sheep with the bedouins that morning. I tell him about my donkey. Asany others have done before him he refers to her as monkey, giving me a much appreciated excuse to perform both my monkey and my donkey impersonation 😀 we laugh.
Part : 9
Being below sealevel, with the lowest point on earth, it is warm and we sleep without a tent. I find a nice flat rock and only roll out my sleeping bag. The moon is reflecting in the waters beneath us. When we wake up we decide to stay a day to explore the area. Hashies knows a good place to hike. We climb down a bridge an follow a wadi qll the way down, passing waterfalls and little oases. For the first time in Jordan the water is swimmable and we enjoy our long overdue shower! I struggle with the lack of clean, fresh water in this country and feel revived today. The hike is incredible and couldnt have been done with Yustra. We left her with our new friend Ahmed, the guard at the panorama complex who insists on tea and doesnt let us pay for the entrance. He’s obviously great at his only job there :D. We leave our big backpacks and set off for the day. Amazing views, beautiful hanging gardens, palm trees, blue pools and some in redible wildlife. We are lucky enough to see a fox! The bright blue lizard strikes us most, next to dark red dragonflies, and a big crab that bites Hashies in the finger when he tries to grab it, after Kerim has shown him how. Thank God he thinks its very funny too, cause I cant help myself 🙂 it is worse when the fighter pilot makes Kerim pull out his first aid kit to put a little bandage on his finger.. we find out the colonel is completey mad. Every time he tells a story, especially about his girlfriend, im amazed at his capability of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time over and over again. He lied to her about having facebook and snapchat ‘I never heared of it, what is it?’ And ‘oh yes that IS my picture, I forgot’ and then they fight and he says crazy things as ill fuck your morher and ill have your son suck my dick. He laughs loudly as he tells this and realizes he’s an idiot, so gladly I can keep pointing that out to him. I laugh my ass off with this character though. He makes us help him think of ways to win her back. Kerim tells him he needs a plan, I tell him he needs a brain and leave the poor woman alone. Its a hilarious hike this way. We conquer some steep descents untill we really cant go down a hundred meter waterfall with sheer cliffs surrounding it. It looks amazing!! We have to climb back up the mountain using hand and feet till we finally meet a shepherd who guides us back out. It was a magical day which we conclude with kebabs on the fire before Hashies gets picked up and its back to us three musketeers again. 220 kilometers in the trip were ready for pur next, most challenging section where we cross three major wadis to make it to Karak.
We see noone today. Except for one man, who seems way too big to be riding that poor little donkey. We meet him just at the moment where were having some issues getting Yustra across a difficult section. He tries to help but in the end I know my donkey best and get her across safely. We walk in the mountains. High, steep, challenging sidling and crossing. Most of the day the environment is dry and barren, no Yustra snacks in sight. I wonder whether I should have brought more hay, if its going to be like this from now on. But strangely enough we conclude the day walking through fields of wheat tickling our armpits. The second person we see is a boy with a donkey dresses up like a christmass tree with lots of fabrics, colours and bells, as are many donkeys we meet. The boy is with two other men milking a herd of sheep. Its the first time we see men doing the milking! There must be something wrong! The men takes heaps of pictures with us, which has also become quite common and insist we take a bottle of milk and some oregano. Google translate tells us the music shop provides us with the boiling of milk. I understand. Everywhere we go we meet other donkeys. And if we dont see them we hear them as Yustra sings to them and they respond. ive got the fine art of packing pretty much down now. Her pack sits tight, there is no sign of rubbing and though she jumps big crevasses and rocks on steep slopes it never moves. The weather is hot and the sweat dripping in my eyes stings as much as the nettle on my legs. The only little shop we pass that day just ran out of water, crazy! We buy all sorts of fancy cookies instead so we have something to share next time we get invited for tea. We forget about the water as were headed for the wafi anyways. When we make it to the bottom of the wadi it is very tempting to camp there, but we push on. We make it another 22km day, when we finally decide to stop and make camp on a ledge on the side of a steep slope. Three shepherds on the opposite slope yell at us and we yell back. We tell them were camping there on the ledge. Kerim hopes he wont roll off in his sleep. I decide to sleep out again with no tent. There’s apparently no dew in Jordan anyways, perfect!
To get some impressions about the landscape Tamar encounters, watch some other footage on youtube from John E. Poulter
Thankfully i was vast asleep though during Odei’s hours of masturbation, Kerim told me about the next morning. Kerim moved, coughed and finally said something. Odei would stop for a bit but continue when he tought Kerim was back asleep. I keep bursting out in laughter as Kerim and I make our way back to Karak. Though Rafat insistingly asked us to change our donkey for his black one, apparently his sheep are racist and prefer a white donkey, we refuse and set off with our beloved Yustra. She seems happy today. She runs and jumps and gorges on the extra apples and grains I give her. In town I worry about her nicotin-addiction as she prefers the cigarettebuds over the grass once again. I take her somwhere more clean. She happily lays on her side in the sun while I wait for Kerim to extend his 40 arabian nights at the policestation in Karak. Busdrivers, taxidrivers, passers by and shopowners all one after other come to check out Yustra and hear my story. They love it. I get fed falafel and cups of sugary tea till Kerim returns.
By the time Kerim returns the entire busstation is awaiting him. He shows up with Jaffat and tells me his version of the Kafkaesk visum extension process. Something that should take 30 minutes, took me two days, Kerim only 5 hours. His adventure includes coffee with the principle of the boys-school in town. We were planning on doing 30 km today but we dont set off till 2 pm. Yustra manoeuvres fearlessly through the heavy traffic, in which honking your horn is curtousy. Soon we find ourselves on a winding road along a long wadi heading in the direction of Dana. Yustra perks up when she spots three donkeys in a cave. We climb up to 1200 meters where it is easy walking through fertile fields of mostly wheat, Yustras favourite. We ponder about our Katrani mission and think back about the man that suddenly appeared from behind a door in the otherwise abonded trainstation that hasn’t been in use since decades. Is he one of those Japanese soldiers still fighting in the jungles because he never got the word or denies the war is over? Around the corner we see two men pushing 18 goats into a minivan, its a hilarious sight! When I am done laughing and pointing, he suggests I put Yustra in there too and just drive to Aqaba, much easier! Also this man asks me to buy Yustra. With the abundance of donkeys we meet on our way I’m surprised almost everyone wants to buy Yustra, there doesnt seem to be a shortage of donkeys!
Thankfully i was vast asleep though during Odei’s hours of masturbation, Kerim told me about the next morning. Kerim moved, coughed and finally said something. Odei would stop for a bit but continue when he tought Kerim was back asleep. I keep bursting out in laughter as Kerim and I make our way back to Karak. Though Rafat insistingly asked us to change our donkey for his black one, apparentlt his sheep are racist and prefer a white donkey, we refuse and set off with our beloved Yustra. She seems happy today. She runs and jumps and gorges on the extra apples and grains I give her. In town I worryy about her nicotinaddiction as she prefers the cigarettebuds over the grass once again. I take her somwhere more clean. She happily lays on her side in the sun while I wait for Kerim to extend his 40 arabian nights at the policestation in Karak. Busdrivers,taxidrivers, passers by and shopowners all one after other come to check out Yustra and hear my story. They love it. I get fed falafel and cups of sugary tea till Kerim returns.
It was a cold cold night! Wearing all my cloths inside my winter sleeping bag on an air matress with 5.7 R-value I still only just about managed not to freeze. I got out once when I heared something that wasnt quite the sound of Yustra I have become so familiar with by now. When I open my tent I see a dog running away with a plastic bag in his mouth. I realize ive been so dumb to leave my foodbag outside! The bastard ate all my pemmican, my raisins, tomatopaste..
We started the day with what the jordan trail association had described as a long but pleasant uphill. Yustra is slow and needs lots of loving motivation. I keep reminding her that this is pleasant. We climb a thousnd meters before lunch and walk most of the rest of the day on roads. Its hard on the feet and a less exciting. We tell each other bad jokes and wonder about things like butterflies. We see hundreds of them. Such a stupid name for such a beautiful animal! In french its papillon, in dutch vlinder. A butterfly is a fly you wack away from your breakfast. Kerim thinks its a fly that flutters by.
While were enjoying this feast, we see our first scorpion, tail up, charging towards us. First we are amazed by its beauty, tiny and yellow, but when it gets very close we both jump up and move. I planned to sleep out without a tent but question that decision now. I decide to take the risk andan, its worth it! As my bed is a bit lower than where Yustra is happily grazing away, it means that I only have to open one eye to see a pair of bunny ears with a mohawk in between on the skyline. I can keep a good eye on her 🙂
A few hours in, the sun breaks through though and it turned out to be a beautiful day! Its a friday, which is weekend here, and many groups of men and families are out nd about maling tea over small fires and having picknicks. After we visited the impressive site of the Ma’tan ruins (mainly for its location above incredible sandstone canyons) we have tea with two Jordanian unmarried men. We are happy to contribute cookies. We continue on a long steep 1000 meter descend into the wadi. It would have been very dangerous in the rain. We have to repack Yustra half way down as it is so steep her pack is hanging in her neck now. I negotiate the easiest way for her and zigzag us down. The last hundred meters consists of sheer cliffs and only one challenging section provides an option to get down into the massive slot canyons. Yustra doesnt want to go there. I understand and explore all other options. There are none. We try everything we can think of to motivate her, good cop/bad cop, easygoing and forceful, up to the point where Kerim is pulling her rope and I am pushing her with my full bodyweight from behind. Im impressed she doesnt kick me, she never kicks. Only other donkeys. Kerim thinks we might have to spend the night but I try one more thing. I take off her entire pack and its a miracle but she takes a step in the right direction. I take advantage of the momentum and manage to lead her all the way down. I cant believe she just did that! I scramble back up on hand and feet (thats how steep it is md how big the boulders are) and with the adrenaline of the moment lift her entire pack on my shoulder and run back down. Endless cuddles and scratches for Yustra who is no doubt the most amazing donkey in the world!
We push on till sunset to be able to find a green field to pitch camp and provide Yustra a decent meal after all this hard work. We manage to knock off another 20km, including a 1000m descent and ascent. Team Yustra is inhumanely strong! We finally camp in a beautiful olive grove, only 5 km away from Dana, where supposedly the most beautiful section of the jordan trail starts. I am excited! Again I sleep out, fingers crossed for no rain!
The wind was so intens I kept looking out the window expecting Yustra to fly past any time soon. When it also started raining I went out to cover her with a blanket. The drivers we hung out with for the last few hours, drinking endless cups of tea together, started to talk amongst each other. Phonecalls were made and soon Yustra was going to spend the night inside one of the ruins, with four walls and a roof. Much better in this weather! Kerim and I asked to sleep on their couches but the owner insisted we would sleep in a room downstairs. Unsure of what he would charge us we agreed as we didnt feel much for pitching a tent in these thunderstorm conditions.
I lay in bed crying, knowing my journey with Yustra will soon be over. I wonder whether I should ever travel with animals again. As much as I love it, I get too attached! She is my family, my child, so innocent and sweet. No one will ever love her as much as I do. How can I leave her? The only concern is now to find her a good new home. But how do I decide? And what are my options?
It all depends on Yustras health too. She is still limping. The vet comes to give her an antiimflammatory shot and some ointment. Im not allowed to pay. The local cooperative sees us pitching our tent in between gails of hail (temperature 3 degrees) and wont have it. They invite us to eat and sleep in the hotel. For free. I feel very awkward about that and am happy to camp, but I calculate they are making at least a thousand dollar each day with all these tourists and that makes me feel a bit better. I take Yustra outside to feed when it stops raining and put her back inside with her twenty goatfriends ahen it rains again. I bring her loads of leftover bread from the restaurant but the goats steal it out of her mouth as she is trying to eat! I save it for later. Her ruin is protected by dogs and since we didnt have much dogproblems for a while now I confidentally walk up the alley. Two barking and growling dogstrap me though and my heart beats in and almost outside of my throat. One attacks! He bites me in the shin. Thankfully he doesnt brake any skin and I dont have to worry about rabies. The bastard. I put Yustra somewhere else. luckily more beautiful medieval ruins have turned into goathouses, so I find a new place where she can be dry and sheltered. I planned to read my book but wiyh all this organizing I only manage 10 pages in the entire day. I burn those on the stove as I want to carry everything on my back tomorrow and take yustra down into the wadi without a pack. Between showers the wadi emerged under a magnificent colourful sunset, calling us in. We will give Yustra another shot and very slowly walk her down. If she still struggles ill find her a new home, but im hoping she is recovered and can make it to Petra and preferably beyond.
Finally we come up with a great solution: Yustra is going on a holiday! A nice bedouin experience for a few days. I call Ali who picks her up with his car, just before Little Petra. We manage to get her in the back of his pick-up and he will drive her to his fathers place in the desert, where we will reach in three days. That should give her enough time to recover and walk with us southwards, far away from Petra and all the miserable donkeys here. it is also perfect as the hike into Petra, ‘from the back door’ would have been impossible for her and also it is not allowed to being your donkey in. Many problems solved by Ali! After finally understanding we dont want to go to Wadi Musa, where all the tourists go, Ali drops us on the side of the road. We hitchhike back to town and stock up 7 days worth of food. Wow, our packs are heavy! Surely more than 25kg each. Well have to carry that for three days ourselves now, which I am very happy to do though. We have a falafelsandwhich in the local shop, then a shoarma sandwich and another falafel sandwhich. Yum! In the bedouine village the people look different from the Jordanians weve seen so far. They all look like pirates, with eyeliner and all! Horses and donkeys gallopping in the streets everywhere, an occassional camel. We make a few friends who invite us: ‘come sleep in my cave!’. Its a sentence youll only hear here I guess.. mamy pirates make the same joke and refer to Bob Marleys ‘no woman, no cry’ and add ‘no donkey you die, no sugar no hai’. Tempting as it is to stay with these guys, we are not great companny, exhausted as we are and decide to try to camp closer to tomorrows hike. Im very excited to see Petra!! Walking the street a car with two jolly araq-drinking boys stops and offers to bring us for 5 dinars. Kerim bargains down to 3 dinars and they bring us to a cave. This cave is closed though (a door with a lock). They bring us to another one, which is now occupied by goats. We finally spend the night in their bedouinetent. Everything for free. After the boys took off, pissdrunk, the winds picked up, lots of rain fell from the sky and the thunder and lightning was just above our heads. Im so grateful for this tent! We make a huge breakfast of potatoes, onions, turmeric and baked beans and set off for the highlight of our trip: the magnificent Petra awaits us!
We pass the checkpoint where Hassan checks my Jordan pass. He trusts Kerim and insists we have tea with him. Even though he has already seen 200 tourists pass by today, he picks us to invite in and feeds us falafel and tries to give us bread, tuna, tomatoes. We dont accept, but are so impressed with the cultural hospitality, which obviously stands much higher than business. When we later walk into a restaurant the owner is having lunch himself and insists we join him. No pay. He says its his culture to invite guests when youre eating. But this is a restaurant! And he only invites us, not the other customers that walk in. I feel blessed in this crazy world. I experience hospitality like I never have before on all my travels and I wish us Europeans would learn from it.
Kerim and I spend all day walking around and amazing ourselves. Petra is defenitely a highlight on all my travels and would highly recommend it to anyone. Once a thriving city in and around pink coloured canyons where merchants would rest and trade as they went through. The colours and shape of the natural surroundings together with the well preserved and unbelievable monumental carvings make it feel very holy and I feel like a pilgrime, blessed to have made it to Mecca. We visit the theatre and royal tombs where the paintings on the ceiling remind me of Marc Chagall. Would he have been inspired here too?
Petra is greek for rock but in Aramaic times it was called Raqmu meaning colourful. We are indeed astounded by the colours of the rocks on site. I understand that many an artist must have been inspired with this city, located in the heart of heights of many colours. I see Chagall in the inside decorations, Gaudi in its shapes, Salvador Dali in the seemingly melting rock faces and even Escher in the eroded Nabatean stairways.
Today is a day of unexpected treasures where we truly discover endless hidden gems just off the beaten paths. amongst many other highlights we climb up to the Place of Sacrifice, we see a stone lion fountain, a garden complex, a roman soldier statue and enjoy and the view of Aarons tomb in the distance (Moses’ brother).
Between first century BC and the first century AD Petra flourished and at some point housed 20.000 people. This is the time when most of the monuments were built. In 106 the Romans finally managed to take control (what did they do different now?). The city suffered from a big earthquake in 363 and trade routes diverted to the north, but it survived until Byzantine times. Partly due to more earthquakes and the fact that Petra was not on the pilgrimage route to Mecca, it fell into oblivion.
Inspired by his accounts, many others followed, including the painter David Roberts, who painted the site in the early 1800’s. I cant stop myself from buying his lithographs and hope i will be able not to destroy them on our way through the desert. He painted it ‘untouched’ as archeological excavations didnt start untill 1924. Nowadays it is a UNESCO site and one of the Seven World Wonders. We are blown away and would highly recommend anyone to come and see it for your own eyes. It is such a big site that it is hard to capture on camera. We spend two full days here and just touched the surface of what is here to see. Admittingly we were also a bit distracted with all our new friends who I ask about the possibility to buy a camel or 8. Some have seen us in the bedouin village, some im the falafel shop, some have seen Yustra pass by in the car, some know I have a donkey for sale, some have heared from others about us. Some are very appreciative of the fact we have walked more than 400km to get here and that we slept in a cave, like real bedouines. Mohamed from the restaurant doesnt let me pay for the coffee, the boys from the village allow us up to the viewpoint for free and we end up spending two days in Petra on two dollars, which I pay for a few bananas to take with us into the desert. Another thing id like to research is what the Koran says exactly about hospitality? Because this just blows my mind. Even inside the most touristy place of Jordan we are treated like royalty and best friends at the same time. Why? Kerim says: ‘everybody just loves you’, I reckon we mean well but mainly are extremely lucky.
We cooked our own lunch inside the siq, the narrow slot canyon leading unweary travellers up to the majestic Treasury. Horses with carriages race through over the Nabatean pavement. An ambulance arrives and Kerim concludes someone got sick in the siq, so funny!
After two amazing days of exploring the sites we decide it’s time to move on. We are up for a week of desert travel. We leave the main trail and within minutes there is not a sight of human presence, besides a poor old lady who thought she had lost her way and kisses me violently on the cheeck when we tell her to just follow the path for a few minutes to get back. We walk on a few hours to find the last hidden gem on site: a first century amphitheatre carved out from the melting rocks. I climb up the remains of a bench while Kerim stands on the floor reciting a passage from Shakespears Henri IV by heart, which he sometimes uses to motivate his soccerteam back in Sydney. What a man 🙂 we consider sleeping in the theatre, though I have to be strict and tell him that snoring is not allowed here! The acoustics might wake up the guards, as we are still officially inside the Petra site. We are bound south, in anticipation of finding my beloved Yustra tomorrow with a bedouin family in Ga’ambried. Hopefully she enjoyed her holiday and is feeling healthy and strong for the last week of tough travel heading towards Wadi Rum.
These are the things we discuss while walking through the desert..
Good news: we are reunited with Yustra and heading into the desert. Updates when we come out alive 🙂
Though thunderstorms are forecasted I sleep outside. Close to Yustra. Every second is precious.
Its a clear night, there is no moon and the stars are phenomenal. I watch them for a while till I hide in my sleeping bag from the biting flies. And from Yustra who comes to check in on me regularly. Another amazing arab adventure day..