Exploring Feynan

Our walk yesterday from the Dana Biosphere Reserve and to Feynan Lodge forms part of the Rift Valley Trail. The mountains were formed when African plates and Arabian plates collided. Originally we had wanted to walk this entire section from Dana to Little Petra through the Shobak Heights but rescheduling because of COVID made it impossible for us this time (but maybe one day!) The section that we hiked yesterday was truly breath-taking and the photos just don’t do it justice and the vastness of the landscape dwarfed us and we felt so lost amongst the hills.

We came here to hike, and this morning we choose to go with a guide high up into the herding paths in the surrounding mountains, following the shepherds to the higher grazing.

Our guide today was Ibrahim and he introduced us to a couple of his Bedouin friends, their donkey, goats and their dogs. Who’d have thought after yesterday’s struggles that today we’d be walking with shepherding dogs. But actually it helped me. The men explained that their dogs are not aggressive but it’s likely that one or two young female dogs had joined us, initially, thinking that they would be protected by us. It’s true that the first four dogs simply followed us and did nothing, they never even barked. But because we were then travelling with a pack of dogs, the sheep-herding dogs did what they should do… and moved us along. The two dogs that really stirred things up later were probably males, trying to mate. The Bedouins reassured us that the dogs were never interested in us… if they had wanted to harm us they could have and would have… but we just got caught up in their squabbles. What they said made sense, it was true that as scary as it was the dogs never tried to attack us… and the four who followed us never made a sound and kept a distance. It all made sense. I’m glad they explained it and thankfully no harm was done and in spite of the dogs, or maybe because of the dogs, yesterday was magnificent.

We reached the higher plateau and Ibrahim showed us different plants and herbs that they collect, and different stones that they use for building or decoration. There’s a lot of copper here too… indeed there seems to be every age of geology here and the colour of the stone changes as we walk higher. Our guide collected a handful of tiny green stalks, they looked like tiny asparagus. He bashed them with a stone while our shepherd guide poured water over them and in a few minutes they had made a really fresh, green scented lathering soap, when you rubbed it together in your hands it felt like a rich moisturiser. He also pointed out trees that the woman use to make oil for their hair. Traces of human settlements around Feynan and the Rift Valley have been dated back over 500,000 years so I guess the people who still live here will have a pretty extensive knowledge of how to get the most from their environment. It was a fascinating hike.

Ibrahim said it was time for tea but the shepherds were walking on so they bid us farewell. As with all of our hikes we settled down on the rocks whilst the kettle boiled on a makeshift fire. We drank tea and the sky darkened, the wind blew and for two minutes fat drops of rain fell. Hardly any rain at all really but Ibrahim was happy. They need rain so badly.

After our tea it was time to pick our way back down the mountains. For the most part the trail was covered in scree. Its loose and it moves as you walk. The Bedouins walk along as if walking on smooth flat sand but me and his nibs slowly made our way along behind and not for the first time on this trip I wished I had a pair of hiking poles!

Ibrahim told us we were good walkers. We would make good Bedouins he said… with a little practice. We laughed; I think we need a lot more practice. Oh my what a crazy walk we had! I think we’re turning into mountain goats.

We returned to Feynan and lunch had been prepared. In the afternoon we had yet more adventures planned with a walk to the local Bedouin village to learn how to make their flatbread; no good for me but Gerry fancies a bit of breadmaking when he’s retired.

We met in reception and joined a Photographery Club from the US who would be coming too. We meandered down to the village. This is their winter camp, in the summer they head higher up for cooler weather. There is a school here which means from age 6 to 16 all Bedouin children can easily access education.

At the camp, we were led into one large tent. The owner was a widow but she lived next to her son, and he was going to make the bread. It’s usually a woman’s job but we don’t get to see the women of the house. With flour and a little salt, our host mixed water and kneaded his dough and shaped it. Whilst it proved, he and his children serve sweet tea for everyone. After our tea we all headed outside where a fire had been lit and once the embers are hot the bread was placed on the hot earth and covered with sand and ash.

What surprised us was, when we entered the tent the sky had been bright blue but 30 minutes later after our team the sun was gone and a pale orange hue has settled everywhere. The hills and mountains that we had walked this morning had been swallowed up by the dust and the air was heavy and humid; there will be no star gazing tonight!

After 15 minutes the bread is turned and re-covered and we waited another 15 minutes. Finally he lifts it from the hot embers, beats it to remove any charcoal and dirt and it was ready to eat. He broke the bread into several pieces and everyone grabbed a chunk and dipped it into some of their homemade olive oil. There were a great many ooohs and aahs and yums from the group. Gerry went back for seconds and was happily surprised at how good the bread tasted, with so few ingredients and so little prep time and yet our host had made delicious bread.

I enjoyed our visit but there is a part of my that felt a little unsure about the Bedouin Experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was special to be invited into their lives and be part of it, even if for just an hour or two and we are assured it is very good community sustainable tourism. But for me it felt just a little odd. Gerry wondered if we were exploiting a way of life or at least intruding? Or are we bringing in new opportunities for folks living in difficult times? I wanted to ask but never had the opportunity, but one thing is certain, everyone here is so generous and there was no denying the bread was good.

We all wandered back to our eco-lodge, the sky was pale orange and the dust means there will be no sunset hike tonight so instead were returned to our room and relaxed before dinner. The food here is plentiful but not as good as Dana! But the sweet tea in front of the open fire, by candle light was very lovely. We sat chatting with a few other couples, one was a geologist who was able to explain a little about the volcanic rocks we’d seen. It was another wonderful evening, in the company of other travellers. It was hard to pull ourselves away but we have more adventures planned for tomorrow… and an early start!

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