“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Friday, December 8, 2017

Ecolodge Experience

Feynan Ecolodge has been named by numerous sources as one of the world’s Best Ecolodges. Since I’ve never stayed in an ecolodge, I wanted to find out what the hype was about. But to get there would be a three-hour drive back north through the country.
Feynan Ecolodge

I had asked how far the border was from where we stood. Khalil said there was no physical border. There used to be, one staffed with legions of armed men. Years ago a number of Jordanian military were killed in an attack, but ever since the peace agreement with Israel, the soldiers were replaced with land mines instead. This was No Man’s Land. Mines were cheaper than supporting an army at the border. Most checkpoints and watch towers were eliminated, save a few that we had passed (as well as being pulled over a few times by roadside soldiers to check ID). It was an eerie feeling to be driving along just yards from one of the most heavily-mined pieces of land in the world (oddly, this would not my by first encounter with a mined landscape, see also: biking through the Cambodian jungle in the dark).

We headed back north up the King’s Highway and right past Petra. To be honest, I’ve been swamped since I booked the plane ticket, so I outsourced the trip planning to the tour company. The itinerary hit every site I wanted to see, but I didn’t look too carefully at the sequence, except for ending in Amman. So this took me far south then had to double back a couple days later. I need to play more of an active role next time I work with a tour company or travel agent. It would have made more geographical sense to begin the week in Wadi Rum and continue to move north.At any rate, driving
The only way to legitimately access the ecolodge is to drive to their reception building, which is a separate building a few miles from the lodge.  From there, I was handed off to a young Bedouin driver who was to drive me to the lodge.  His truck was old, and I could feel the front suspension under my feet, as though the entire floor were going to dissolve at any moment.  He didn't speak much English, about as much as my Arabic.  When he asked where I was from, I dutifully responded Chicago, America... and I usually add "Michael Jordan" or "Barack Obama."  There is one universal truth when traveling: EVERYONE knows who Michael Jordan is.  He held out his hand, and I slapped it in high-five agreement.  A few minutes later we continued what loosely resembled chatting, and he held out his hand again for me to slap, although his hand lingered and I wondered if he were looking for a grasp.  A few hundred feet down the road he took out his phone and began snapping pictures... WHILE DRIVING.  Mind you, we were going about 2 MPH over what loosely resembled a road, so there was no danger in crashing.  However, there was zero reason he needed to be snapping pictures of the landscape.  He wasn't even aiming.  Then he asked, "Selfie?" I learned back in Petra to be a bit more stern and stubborn with my friendliness around young men, so I said, "le le, yalla!"  No... GO! and I waved my hand for him to keep driving.  He put his phone away and didn't attempt another photo op or handshake.  *sigh*
Apparently goats can climb trees
As I took a walk around the outside of the lodge at dusk, Ali met me outside for a chat.  We had just hear the news out of Egypt of the 305 victims of the Sufi mosque bombing.  It was an opportunity to find out how the locals in the region felt.  Ali was visibly saddened.  The consensus of anyone I spoke with in Jordan about this tragedy was that those terrorists were animals, that it had nothing to do with religion.  There were safe places where anyone should be able to worship without fear: mosques, churches, and synagogues.  No matter your religion, you should be safe in your temple.  No argument here.  We discussed the similar tragedy that America has been experiencing, the senseless mass gun violence.  These men, too, are animals, targeting innocent people where they should feel the safest.  Schools, churches, concerts... We agreed that there was no difference between the people who use bombs or use guns... it's all a senseless tragedy.
Water jar
By 8pm I was nearly passing out, and after a very brief period of stargazing on the roof (they has set up a powerful telescope), I retired to my room since I had been up since 4am and barely slept 4 hours the previous night.  The chest cold I had started to wear on me and sleep was calling.  I hope my neighbors didn't hear my coughing in the early hours of the night, but I finally settled down to a peaceful sleep after midnight. The next morning after breakfast a new driver met me to drive me back to reception.  This was an older Bedouin who was driving a brand-spanking new 4x4 truck.  He still kept the bubble wrap on the handles and gear shift.  As I rolled down the window to get some air, he kept wiping down the dashboard and I finally relented and rolled the window up so as not to get any more dust inside his new truck.  He was so proud of it.

around was just as much of a treat as sightseeing itself as the geography of Jordan is so varied. North of Petra we had to pass over a spectacular mountain range with a range of switchbacks I have had yet to experience. So often we’d ascend a hill and not be able to see the road dip down ahead of us, as I leaned forward over the dashboard as if I were on a rollercoaster. I resisted the urge a few times to fling my hands in the air as if I were on one. At the very top of the mountain range - which was a gorgeous geology of black rock - we stopped at a small roadside stall for a stretch. I scrambled atop a rock and looked out upon the vista that stretched before me. A great dusty and rocky flat plain spread out for miles. Across the valley the land rose up again. This was the West Bank.

The lodge was very relaxing... After a whirlwind few active days, I needed peace and quiet.  After settling in and a hot shower (solar panels on the roof heat individual room water tanks), I saw outside under a tree just taking in the scene.  A German group descending from a long hike in the mountains... a couple kids playing with goats under a tree, Bedouin coming and going... I watched the sun set from the lodge rooftop while a cat curled up and purred in my lap.  

There is no refrigeration in the lodge, so all food is vegetarian, and I didn't miss the meat because the dishes they served were the best meals I've had all week!  The bread that is served with each meal is made fresh by neighboring Bedouin women.  The lodge doesn't advocate for bottled water on the premises - because plastic bottles - so each room has a clay jar full of fresh mineral water.  This was the first time I have ever drank non-bottled water in a foreign country, but I had to trust them this time.  And so far, so good.  *touch wood*  There was a sunset hike scheduled, but I was so worn down - the staff couldn't understand why I didn't want to participate, but I've seen a lot of sunsets already - so I asked if I could help the staff light the candles in the lodge.  I helped an older guy as he gestured to me how to do it and where to place the candles.  The lodge construction was interesting, too, as there is an open courtyard, open hallways, and narrow vertical openings throughout the public places which force air through as a breeze.  Since there's no air conditioning, it's an interesting innovation for temperature control.  My
room was small but functional.  My bed was covered by a mosquito net canopy, and it was so quiet inside that I could hear my heart beating in my head.  In preparation for staying here, I packed a head lamp that was indispensable when night fell and light was necessary for unlocking the room door or even navigating the hallways beyond candlelight.  I really did keep to myself here.  Not talking to people and just being quiet with myself was much-needed.  Although I'm not used to the attention and would rather have been left to my own vices, Ali the manager was very polite and struck up a few conversations with me, and one of the Bedouin guides visited me at each meal to chat for a few minutes.  I imagined I was the mysterious woman solo in the corner - was I American?  Dutch?  Australian?  Who knows... the only tourist that spoke to me was a little girl of about 8 years old with an accent I couldn't quite place.  I settled on New Zealand.  

After dinner there was a presentation by the staff about how the ecolodge contributed to the local economy.  It provided jobs for the Bedouin (cooking, baking, delivering visitors, guides), and different activities allowed tourists to participate, such as spending a day with a shepherd or learning a new craft.  Income from the lodge also went to fauna and flora conservation inside the Dana Biosphere Reserve where the lodge is located.  I continued to be amazed at how much of an effort Jordan is making toward environmentalism and conservation.  But in a way, they really do have to be conscious of this.  Jordan is the second poorest water country in the world.  Their only source of water is the Jordan River, which was dammed in many places - together with mining has caused the Dead Sea to recede at 1 cm per year!  The country understands the importance of preserving and protecting the Dead Sea, so they've started pumping water back into it from the Red Sea. 

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