Nearly two years ago, we made our first visit to Jordan. Wadi Rum was a stop we almost missed, until a friend who had spent years living in Amman insisted we add it to our itinerary. She was right. There’s nothing like camping in the desert. And I use the word “camping” liberally.
We stayed with the Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp in semi-permanent, “basic” tents. These tents are on stilts and have a full-sized bed inside. I remember head lamps, not electricity, but maybe I’m dramatizing.
Two years have passed and, according to their website, the camp now has “deluxe” tents, complete with electricity, king-sized beds, AC/heating, and a terrace to “enjoy the starry night sky after dinner.” Basically: You’re glamping.
But glamping’s got nothing on our weekend at Feynan Ecolodge. Located in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, there’s literally no better way to see the desert. National Geographic Traveler Magazine calls it one of the 25 best ecolodges in the world. Completely off grid, the lodge gets its energy needs from solar power and is lit by candles and stars at night.
Not only does it check all of our eco-friendly boxes, all their food is vegetarian, and the setting is, undeniably, incredible. We arrived at night and fell in love with the sight of corridors lit by hundreds of candles.
But we didn’t just pick Feynan for its mesmerizing architecture. They also offer a wide range of activities (included in the price of the room!) that we were all too happy to explore.
After a night filled with star gazing, we woke up the next morning, ready for our first hike.
The Feynan Plant Hike is an easy, 2 1/2 hour hike, and our guide, Suleiman, made frequent stops to teach us about the different plants used by the Bedouins as soap, herbs, medicines, and treatments for their animals.
The Dana Biosphere is the only reserve in Jordan to encompass all four biogeographical zones of the country: Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabian, and Sudanian. Meaning we got to view everything from deserts to mountains to forests (not quite) to dry plains.
In this part of the reserve, we were amazed by the tenacity of the Bedouins and the animals they raise in this harsh, often unforgiving environment. We didn’t even realize how lucky we were to have sunny weather the whole time we were at the reserve. Last fall, it started raining in October and continued through March. If that had been true this year, many of our hikes would have been underwater. No rains mean sparse vegetation; frequent rains mean flash floods – neither option is safe.
With our morning hike complete, we opted for another sponsored activity: a cooking class. Offered on Thursdays, we were the only guests around to participate and we were more than happy to take advantage of the one-on-one lesson. Led by Mohamed the cook and Mohamed the guide/translator, we got to learn and practice the steps to making manaqish, falafel, and tahini salad.
We mixed the ingredients for the flatbread and then cheated by using already raised dough for our manaqish. In just a few simple steps, we rolled the dough, pinched the sides, and filled the pieces with za’atar (Arabic thyme & other seasonings) or akkawi (salty cheese).
Our next recipe was a bit more complicated: falafel. We started by grinding the chickpeas in what looked like a Middle-Ages torture device. When filled with too many chickpeas, it became nearly impossible for me to turn – and that wasn’t the hardest part! We also put the parsley through the same grinder and then added about my weight’s worth of spices. Then it was on to the frying.
We were essentially given a vat of bubbling oil and a device that looked like a combination of an ice cream scooper and a squirt gun. It was terrifying. Chandler took a backseat on this step while my rather lopsided falafel were pushed into the oil.
Our third recipe, the tahini salad, mostly involved cutting a million cucumbers and tomatoes, and then pouring a vat of tahini and – you guessed it – spices on top.
To top it all off, we made wraps out of the falafel and tahini salad and I have to admit, they were delicious! I’d share the photos with you, but for the sake of hygiene, we wore hairnets and it was not a good look for either of us! Picture millennial-aged lunch ladies (Chandler’s growing out his hair these days!).
That evening we went on another hike (it could also be called a stroll) to a lookout point about 30 minutes away from the lodge. Few things are as beautiful as a sunset over a desert. We watched the rocky outcroppings begin to glow as we sipped our sweetened Arabic tea. A perfect end to our day.
The next day would be our last full day at Feynan Ecolodge, so we were glad a longer hike was scheduled. We set off with a small group, led by Mohamed, on the Wadi Ghwayr Sampler Hike. You can hike the Wadi Ghwayr in its entirety, but it takes eight hours and involves getting more than just your feet wet. We were more than happy with the four hours our sampler took.
We got a refresher course on the plants used by Bedouins, but we also encountered a Neolithic settlement estimated to be over 11,000 year old. Turns out it’s also a convenient place to be when you have to go to the bathroom!
We continued following the (mostly) dry riverbed and noticed the increase in greenery from the previous day’s hike. The area is known for flash floods, but it’s the water pipes that carry water from the springs to the Bedouin villages that keeps the area wet year-round.
With just a couple of splashes in water, I remained 95% dry (Chandler’s waterproof hiking boots kept him 100% dry). Our hike stopped when we reached the bend that would require full-body submersion to continue!
We were back at Feynan in time for another glorious vegetarian buffet. With all that hiking, we needed it! We spent the rest of the day lounging on the rooftop, soaking in the sun while napping (Chandler) and reading (me).
We left the next morning feeling refreshed and optimistically ready for the last three weeks of the semester. Our time at Feynan reminded us how comfortable traveling in Jordan can be and we plan on taking advantage of more trips during our next few years living in Amman.