After a delicious breakfast, and standing back while the departing guests got rides into the village, and guests paying for guides got advice on what trails to take, Margaret and I waited till everyone else was taken care of, then talked with one of our hosts and tried to decide what to do for a hike. I had caught a cold the night before and was feeling cruddy and didn’t want to exert myself too much, but I had my heart set on going into the canyon. Margaret was worried about how her knees would deal with that steep downhill slope, and was actually hoping to climb higher instead of lower. So we split and she took the high road. I passed on the opportunity to follow trails down the hill, and instead walked to the town and took the road that we had been seeing. If there was a road to the bottom, I reasoned that there was less opportunity for me to get lost or to get bit by the biting plants (the ones with grabby spikes on them).
I had an easy, lovely walk into the village, and was soon on the road into the canyon. There were several other tourists on the road with me, and I could see them in the distance, far below me on the switchbacks that seem to drop into the canyon forever. I went slowly and took it easy. The steep downhill was rough on my knees, and I decided that Margaret had made a good choice for leg protection.
The hazy skies never cleared, but as I entered the canyon I began to see more clearly the rock formations and the bold variety of colours in the rocks as I got up close and personal. There is no development within the reserve, no structures at the bottom. There is a single sign notifying you that you are about to enter the reserve and should only do so with permission. I assume our reservation at the Eco Camp was our permission? There is almost no trash, which I hope means the tourists and locals respect this land.
Halfway down the canyon, the road stopped at someone’s house. After that, it was a true trail. But a good trail, and I did not lose it and get myself side tracked on goat trails. However, I did get sidetracked by goats.
My goal this morning had been just to stand in the bottom. I wanted to get all the way down, rest, then come back up. If I could do that with a cold, then I would consider my day a success. After a long time, I got within a 25 foot drop to the dry riverbed at the bottom of the canyon. I kept following the trail, but then I saw that it rose in elevation again, climbing back up the steep walls as it continued along the valley. I refused. That is the point where I left the trail and scrambled over the edge and went directly to the bottom. I stood in the sandy riverbed and felt accomplished. Nearby was a huge olive tree casting copious shade over a huge, somewhat flat rock. I took off my backpack, my extra layers, my hat, my shoes, and kicked back. I laid back on the rock and rested in the shade. It was refreshing and quiet. No tourists, not even goats. I was hoping to see one of the endangered Ibex in the canyon, but I did not get that lucky. It had taken an hour and a half to get there – not too bad. I knew the really tough bit would be going the other direction. I rested for a full hour, ate a hard boiled egg and a piece of flatbread I had pinched at breakfast, drank some water, then climbed the bank and found the trail again to head back to Dana Village.
It was a tough slog. I took it easy and rested constantly. I sat when there was a convenient rock, otherwise I stood in the full sunshine in the middle of the trail (and later the road) and remembered to drink water. I think there were more switchbacks going up than down. I was gasping and heaving. I had a hat on to protect me from the sun, but the hat made my head hotter. I switched to a headscarf for awhile (always have one of those handy here in Jordan!), but it was even worse, so I went back to the hat. I chatted a little with tourists that passed me. There were not many (none?) that I passed. Ha!! Finally, I crested at the top, chest heaving. I knew there was a tiny shop right at the top, and that was what I had my eye on.
The young Jordanian man working the shop at the top did not recognize me. I guess all we tourists can blend together after awhile. I told him all I remembered about him, that his name was Ari, and that he had told Margaret and me the day before that he had family in California and Chicago. Maybe he needed her fabulous California girl look to remember who he had talked to the previous evening. Anyway, he couldn’t figure out why I kept talking to him, so he went and got an older man nearby, Jaber. Jaber has pretty good English, and chatted away at me. Once he translated to Ari that I merely recognized him from the day before, the mystery was solved and the younger man went back to his life. That meant: trying to sell me a drink. No high pressure tricks were needed with me because that is exactly why I stopped here in the first place. I found the only pomegranate drink I could find in the cooler (I’ve been drinking a lot of pomegranate here), and when Jaber made a place for me on a carpeted stone wall, I gratefully sat next to him.
The two men began preparing a shisha pipe. I had not seen this done in its entirety. In Jordan, shisha (an Egyptian word that is commonly used) is found almost everywhere. Margaret and I have seen dozens of these tall, elaborate, silver contraptions at nearly every shop, tent, restaurant, and cafe. We’ve seen people smoke them, but didn’t really understand them. Jaber checked and cleaned parts and put together the big thing while the younger man took off and came back with shredded apple in tinfoil. Jaber explained that his favourite was when there was “Just a little bit” of marijuana mixed in, but most of the time his favourite was apple. He said this time he was using one red apple and one green apple. I have asked around a little, and I’m still not sure if there is anything else in with the flavours – like tobacco or some other stimulant. I just don’t know. He poured water into the bottom. He carefully packed the shredded apple into a cup and tightly wrapped the top of the cup with tinfoil. He punctured the tinfoil with a nail so there were many holes in the top. Then both men sat and waited. “A man is coming with the fire,” explained Jaber. I spotted him approaching from one of the stone huts across the parking lot. “The man” handed over a blackened cup at the end of a wire. Inside the cup were three tiny hot bricks, and Ari used metal tongs to carefully place tiny hot bricks onto the top of the tinfoil. They waited a few minutes to heat the apple, then Jaber began taking deep pulls on the tube to get the air flowing through. In another minute, I saw smoke swirling above the water in the bottom of the pipe. Then the men began smoking. They offered it to me and of course I tried it! I couldn’t tell if there was anything in there besides apple, but I could definitely taste the apple. It seemed distinctly tart, like green apple, and fruity sweet.
Jaber took a shine to me and talked about his life, his ex-wife, his carvings. He showed me pictures of his carvings on his phone, and photos of arrowheads that he had found in the canyon. Then he showed me a carving that looked like a dragon – and you all know I love dragons! He confirmed that it was the hilt of a knife carved into the image of a dragon. I gushed appropriately. By then I was rested and it was time to head back to camp.
I found Margaret already back at camp and happy with her “upland” hike. She was becoming distracted with news from home, however, as a rapidly expanding fire called the Kincade Fire raged near her home in California. The Eco Camp has one outlet available to guests, and it’s in a common room, but the power is not always on. Also the Internet is available about 50% of the time, but only in the common room and not in the living quarters. So Ms. M was spending a lot of time in the common area trying to get updates.
We enjoyed the second most fabulous dinner of our entire Jordan trip (the first being the night before, also at the Eco Camp). I was still sick and crawled gratefully into the comfortable bed early. Margaret was getting only increasingly worrisome news. I got in touch with my forecaster friend Will and asked him to put Margaret’s city on his watch list. Margaret had AirBnb clients in her home and she was trying to keep them informed and safe, not knowing if her home was in direct danger or not, not being able to contact friends. It was a terrible night for Margaret.