Vast, echoing mountains, sandstone gorges, an endless, deserted path, and me… (as well as other bloggers from Canada, Mexico, and the US, a guide, and two reps from Tourism Jordan, but that doesn’t sound as good). Hiking the 14 km from Wadi Dana to Feynan, Jordan was one of the most difficult treks of my life. It’s not that 14 km is that difficult under normal standards, but I was battling a cold and strep throat. I hadn’t slept in days and coughing through the night was as common as taking a breath. The dry, windy desert played its role like a fiddle too, not to mention the 40 C temperatures. Ashamed and defeated, I did make it to Feynan but it wasn’t without its trials. Would you have missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hike through one of the most beautiful places in the world because you were sick? You might change your mind after I share my story, regardless of your standpoint.
We started our hike at the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan’s largest nature reserve. The first part of the hike winded downhill with lots of loose rocks. I thought about what it would be like to be a mountain goat who lived its life on the side of this intense mountain, but it’s not a place to find yourself lost in thought so I tried to focus on the steps ahead.
After 45 minutes of hiking, I made it to the bottom of the first hill. The hike still seemed doable but I already noticed that my nose was running more, my throat was parched, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to breath. The entire trip was starting to feel like I was on the tv show Biggest Loser.
The valley walk began…. I didn’t want to be one of those complainers who needed to stop every ten minutes, especially since we were only 45 minutes into a 5 hour hike so I distracted myself. It was easy. Just look around.
I successfully hiked for 4 hours and I took in every second of it. I led the group. I was awestruck. Photos and video can’t do it justice. Lone trees pushed up from the desert floor like little miracles, their stark greens appearing even more vivid against the pale sand. Mountains created a wall around us; their lines telling the story of time.
Do you remember that I said it was a 5 hour hike? I may have successfully hiked for 4 hours, but I hiked the final hour very, very unsuccessfully. About an hour away from Feynan Eco Lodge, I had to speak up. I was struggling to breath. My nose was stuffed and every time I tried to take a deep breath, I started a fit of coughing. If I didn’t do something soon, I was going to pass out.
Then, I started thinking… what if I did pass out? It plagued my mind and occupied it in a bad way. Someone would have to carry me out. We couldn’t rest in the open desert without shade. We couldn’t call for a truck to come and get me; it was impassable. I would get heat stroke on top of everything else and I was putting others at risk as well. I had to tell the guide.
Our guide, Ibrahim Al Wahash, lived up to his name, “father of many”. He asked what was wrong and I told him that I was stuffed up and couldn’t breath. He fell back and walked with me, allowing someone else to lead the way along the path. He took my bag, later carried by one of the tourism reps, and gave me water while explaining that shade was not far. He distracted me by talking about his children and family. When we did arrive to a saving tree, he poured water into my hands and told me to sniff it up; he literally wanted me to sniff the water up my nose. Hesitantly, I did it. It burned and poured out the first time. I was embarrassed with water coming out of my nose and dripping all over my face. No one looked at me in an attempt to make me feel better. He asked me to do it two more times. Although I hated it and felt like I was drowning, it provided relief. I could breath through my nose again. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be enough to get to the hotel but it was a start.
After many “it’s just around the corner” replies, we reached a water basin. (A Bedouin camp was near by and it was their water supply as far as I could tell.) Ibrahim asked one of the others to wet my scarf. He said, “It’s only 10 minutes away but it might take a little longer because you’re exhausted. Rest and put the water on your face and then we’ll finish up.” Hearing that it was actually just around the corner was the encouragement that I needed to put one foot in front of the other and carry on.
Lower grounds lay next to us. I could see how people claimed that water appeared in the desert. A mirage of water flowed next to me as I neared the end of my journey.
Deep in the heart of the mountainous Dana Biosphere Reserve, at the end of my rugged trek, an idyllic lodge rested in the magnificent Wadi Feynan. I had arrived. I might survive after all. Oh the thought of air-conditioning and ice cold water; it was enough to make me pick up the pace. I had “hit the wall”, as runners say, long before that but visions of ice cold water kept me going.
Entering the building, I realized that it was an eco-lodge and air conditioning and ice didn’t exist. I’m not going to say that I regret the hike because that would be a total lie. Never in my life have I experienced such depth and contrast all in one place. At that moment though, all I wanted to do was cry. My heart sank and the beauty that surrounded me had become invisible.
Thankfully, I have photos to remember my journey from Wadi Dana to Feynan and if I didn’t experience it I would never have believed that it existed.
I’m here; I’m starting to get better; and although unbearably comfortable at time, I made it. Would you have done the same?