Stories from the Jordan Trail

Thoughts, photos, and videos from Andrew Evan’s adventure along the Jordan Trail

The First Day

The First Day

Making History in Jordan

Three drops of rain fell on my head, and then it stopped. In a few seconds, the dark mist of rain vanished in favor of the more common sunshine that matched the mood of the crowd. Ours was a small gathering—a few dozen of us, standing outside the historic ruins of Um Qais on a quiet Friday morning. Some hikers were busy filling their bottles and packs with water, others tightened their bootlaces, checking their phones one last time, but then we all stopped to listen.

The speech was brief and to the point—only a quick congratulations from the Minister of Tourism, Lina Annab, who was dressed for the trail ahead, with solid boots and hiking poles.

“This is a beautiful dream come true,” she said, “Today we are making history in Jordan.”

Repeated cries of yalla (“Let’s Go!”) chased us toward the first waypoint, a painted rectangle of red and white that marks the start of the 400-mile (640 km) Jordan Trail.

As a thru-hiker—someone who aims to hike the entire trail in one consecutive go—I craved a bit more ceremony. As the parade of fellow hikers shot past, I lingered for a moment, inhaling deeply before stepping across the imaginary line and planting my right foot in the dust. To paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, the journey of 400 miles begins with a single step, and I took that first step at 9:30 AM on the last day of March.


And So It Begins

Right away, the first mile shocked me with bright green—intense springtime green that contrasts with the more common impression of Jordan with its deserts and Dead Sea. Up here in the north, everything was so alive you could smell it—and even taste it! Aside from the gentle slopes of healthy green wheat and barley, whole fields of wild arugula scented the air. Forget trail mix—I merely plucked fresh leaves from the stems and munched the natural salad—so much better than anything you buy in a store.

Then came the flowers—millions of wildflowers that painted each new hill with red, white, and yellow. I loved the crimson poppies, shooting up from the edge of the trail, followed by the wild irises that grew from stony outcrops. At moments, I found myself wading through endless daisies, lost in a kind of alternative dream state in which all the other colors of the world have gone away and left us with yellow.

These first marvelous hours of hiking felt like stepping on the brakes, untethering from the fast-paced carousel of modern life, and committing to a slower way—rejecting all the benefits of combustion engines and rapid transit in favor of my own two feet.

The Jordan Trail is not a race, but a long, unbroken thread of amazing moments and beauty that spans a kingdom—the trail demands one step at a time. Stopping is just as important as hiking, and I loved every small break we had to stop and sit, to watch and listen, and just be in each new place. We lunched beneath a sprawling shade tree, dining together from paper sacks stuffed with lovely Jordanian treats like fresh cucumbers, apples, and fennel bread. We were 33 hikers in total, each with their own personal connection to the trail. Some would only hike on this first historic day, others intended to hike for the first of the trail’s eight sections, and a few of us were attempting the entire thru-hike.

Our two guides, Mohammed and Mohammed, are the first people ever to complete a thru-hike of the Jordan Trail, which they accomplished in just 29 days. Right away, they began teaching me a long list of Arabic, and how to command the sheep and goats we pass. We never go far without encountering another herd of tangle-haired beasts that mutter back at us and then run away . . . sheepishly. Most of all, I loved the baby lambs and kid goats, reminding us that now is spring—that like this trail, everything is new and potent, with a long life ahead of it.

I lost count of the young children who waved us on, waving, laughing, yelling “hello” and cheering us as if we were racing by in the Tour de France. Alas, we were merely passing by, but our walk is not some isolated event. Every person sees us, and we see them, and that moment makes another stitch in this trail.

Climbing higher, past chickpea fields and olive groves, we smelled the fragrant smoke of outdoor barbecues—whole families gathered round a fire, grilling kebabs on this weekend afternoon. An hour later, we all gathered around our own fire, grinning from the day’s good hike, sipping smoky cups of tea and basking in the afterglow of physical strain—rewarding our bodies with rest.

IMG_7896.jpgThe First Night

I pitched my tent next to a knotty olive tree, right as a crew of belching sheep rushed past, their shepherd nodding from the back of his donkey. The sky went pink and we feasted on chicken, rice, eggplant, and too many good things to count—then we talked and laughed, until one by one, we succumbed to exhaustion, retreating to the temporary peace of our individual tents.

That is the wonder of hiking—to live a lifetime in a single day of footsteps; to blink in the darkness of night and notice everything: a flash of lightning from the north, a shepherd’s flute, the bark of a dog, and the faraway call to evening prayer.

I slept soundly until midnight, when I awoke from the yip-yip howl of jackals, followed by a wave of rain that tickled the tent and cooled the night. Then I awoke once more—at dawn, unzipping the morning with its sudden sunlight, inhaling the scent of another fire glowing beneath waiting pots of coffee.

I sat up in my sleeping bag and rubbed my face, then quickly laced up my boots, because there are many miles left to go, and this is just the beginning.

Follow my personal adventure on social media with #AndrewWalksJordan and #ThruJT and on the Andrew Walks Jordan homepage.

Topics: Adventure Travel

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