My Many Homes In Jordan
The stranger hands me coffee, pushing the small porcelain cup into my hand and nodding with kind acknowledgment when I say, “Thank you.”
The man is about my age and dressed in a sport coat and slacks, his head draped in the traditional red-and-white checked kuffiyeh. Over the last two weeks, I have become accustomed to so many random strangers thrusting drinks into my hand—tea, coffee, water, juice—that it takes me awhile to realize that he is our host, and this two-storied house built into the mountainside will be our home for the night.
One by one, small children descend from the upstairs balcony, surrounding us and welcoming us with shy smiles, leading us indoors and urging us to sit, relax, to have a drink and cool off. We are a massive group of hikers, and within minutes our dusty boots fill up the outer hallway. To plop down on a floor draped with carpets and lined with soft embroidered cushions feels like one of the greatest luxuries I have known. After a day’s hike, my happiness is bare feet and mint tea.
An hour later, dinner bursts into the room with a parade of massive platters and dozens of smaller dishes, each one piled high with fresh, yummy things: cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and greens. The salads are followed by enormous dishes of maqluba and mansaf, spiced rice and meat that fills the tummy and soul, leaving all of us lolling on the floor in a kind of post-Thanksgiving trance.
Our group sleeps in three separate rooms, sprawled out on our mattresses and wrapped in warm blankets. The nighttime conversation wanes, as one after another we drop off to sleep, until we are a symphony of snoring adults. It is not even nine o’clock.
Solid slumber is one of the benefits of walking the trail. The other night I closed my eyes and woke up nine hours later, revived and ready. In the past week I have slept on the floor, in a tent, under the stars, in a theatre, and in a church. To be a good traveler is to be comfortable with whatever bed you find, and like any worthwhile adventure, every night brings a new surprise.Our walk to Rmeimeen was arduous and rocky, so that we all were glad to finally glimpse the minaret of the village mosque, tall and white, marking a pause and a night’s rest. We walked single-file into the village, passing the mosque and Christian church that face one another, so that the steeple and minaret stand side by side. When dusk came, the church bells rang out “Ave Maria”, followed soon after by the ethereal azan (call to prayer).
We had only just sat down at our campsite when we were called back to the church, where a Jordanian nun welcomed us in on the eve of Palm Sunday. The clergy and nuns invited us to stay for the night, opening up their big recreational hall, and giving us access to water, shelter, and electricity. I can’t remember when a hot shower felt so good, and the simple act of washing ourselves clean cheered up everybody in our group. And yet, the church refused to accept any money from us—not even a donation. “Feel welcome,” is all they said.
That same evening, a café owner invited us one by one to sit for tea, to be his guest and share our stories. One by one, chairs were added to the table and other villagers and hikers joined us, until we simply ran out of chairs and cups for tea. When it came time to leave, no matter of persuasion on our part would convince our host to accept payment. My money was pushed back into my hand, his refusal was adamant, followed by that same natural smile I have witnessed too often now—a smile that says, “It’s no bother. You are welcome.”
To say that Jordanians take pleasure in giving is not some saccharine generalization—selfless giving is a way of life here. It goes beyond the constant cry we hear on the trail, “Come, drink tea! Come, eat lunch!” It says, “Come inside my house, live with my family for a night, please share with us.”
As a thru-hiker on the Jordan Trail, it says, “Do not worry. No matter where you go, you are covered.” After arriving in the town of Fuhais, the local scouts surprised us with an outstanding musical show, complete with bagpipes, jubilant drumming, and group dancing. “We want you to know that you are welcome here,” said Lewa (age 20), and I do. Village homestays add a third dimension to the Jordan Trail—this cross-country path may be mapped on GPS, but my experience has been marked with waypoints of love.
I have walked a hundred miles now (160 km), which feels like something, even if it is only a quarter of the trail. As we wrap up this second section of The Jordan Trail, from Ajloun to Fuhais, the landscape resembles a crumpled quilt, as if the layered limestone is having its last hurrah, with jumps and waves that expose steep hillsides dropping away to the blank space of the Jordan Valley below. Perhaps it’s all in my head-or my sore legs—but it feels like the hills are becoming higher and steeper, and the valleys even lower, so that every climb feels a tad more extreme than the last. The land is trying to tell us something—that this is nothing really, mere foothills—that the real mountains have yet to come, and when they do, they will be grand and difficult.
Yesterday I caught my first glimpse of sandstone—purple, pink, orange, red and white—another hint of things to come. For half an hour we walked in the vermilion dirt, and I thought back to my first day on the trail, surrounded by the glowing green of the north. But Jordan changes, constantly. Every hour on the trail feels like a new country. My hiker’s mind has begun to notice these things—how suddenly, every tree is a lemon tree; how the shade of the hills is never quite the same as the day before; how people look or sound a little different. So quickly, the Jordan Trail has turned my mental map of the kingdom into a mosaic of a million little pieces, and every one of them unique. Now that I know this, I have to keep walking. If anything, the Jordan Trail has taught me that despite my past trips and all my dedicated sightseeing, I have seen so little of this country. And so I have to keep walking—day after day—gathering all the tiny pieces I see in hopes that eventually, down the road, I might have the better, fuller, extraordinary vision of this place called Jordan.
Follow my personal adventure on social media with #AndrewWalksJordan and #ThruJT and on the Andrew Walks Jordan homepage.
On March 31st Andrew Evans will depart from Um Qais on a 600-km walk through the Jordan Trail, reaching his final destination of Aqaba and the Red Sea. This 40-day hike, comprised of 8 sections, is referred to as the Thru-Hike. While crossing Jordan by foot is one of the oldest adventures in the world, the Jordan Trail is brand new. Andrew will be one of the first few to complete the Thru-Hike. Without the dedication of Andrew, Jordan Tourism Board North America, VisitJordan.com, The Jordan Trail Association, and Intrepid Travel, this trip would not have been possible. Learn more about Andrew’s 600-km trek here.