Conservation Meets Job Creation

Feynan Eco-Lodge, Wadi Araba, Jordan

At first, when the Tareef Cycling Club said we’d be staying at a hotel with no electricity, there was skepticism, especially from high-maintenance Stephanie, who was only convinced to go on this overnight trip when it was revealed that there was electricity in the bathrooms. We were all worried that it would be cold, especially after coming over the mountains from Wadi Musa to Wadi Araba.

We were still more skeptical when our two rented kindergarten buses, one laden with two dozen mountain bikes on its roof, began bumping across a dirt road so faint that, for all intents and purposes, we were off-roading. There was some disagreement among the men in the back of the bus as to which faint dirt track, exactly, we were supposed to take, and we seemed to bump about in circles in the dark for a very long time. And then, right there in the middle of the desert, the busses stopped and everyone was ordered off. There was a stream to cross with a low embankment on the far side, and the busses couldn’t make it with their passengers aboard. This really raised our eyebrows, but we switched on the flashlights in our mobile phones and filed out of the bus.

However, as the two busses carefully maneuvered the obstacle, Megan, Stephanie, Nara and Ester quickly determined that this was the perfect opportunity for a much-needed bathroom break, and crept off in the dark, determined to believe that no animals live in the Jordanian wilderness. Everyone filed onto the first bus, and the man in charge came looking for the riders of the second bus. “They’re waiting for the girls,” I said. He got an annoyed look on his face and began to say, “Why are they waiting for the g–Oh!” Even as dark as it was, he quickly turned his back on the direction the girls had gone and hurried back to the busses.

When we did get to the Feynan Eco-Lodge, however, it proved to be an amazing place full of indoor courtyards, wrought iron furniture and fixtures, and candelabras and shelves and chandeliers of locally made candles bathing the whole place in a romantic glow. They served us tea and assigned our rooms, putting Megan, Stephanie, Nara and I in one room, and we went up on the second floor to find the corridor open to the sky and the full moon. The room was built like a Nabatean triclineum, with a wide shelf on three walls holding our mattresses, with mosquito nets draped from the ceiling over each bed, and niches on each wall, lined with fragmented mirrors to reflect and refract the light of three candles so it filled the whole room. It was surprisingly warm, considering how cold it was outside, and we all stripped down to the lowest of our sweaty layers of clothing. The brochure on the table said no showering after 7pm, because the water was only hot when the sun was shining, but it proved warm enough for showering. And in the bathroom I discovered Orjan Soap, handmade by the women of a village up north in Ajloun where my friend Betsy was a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Normally, I’ve read, the lodge serves a vegetarian menu, but we were visiting with a significant number of Jordanian men, and when Jordanian men travel, they grill meat! With all the outings we’ve been on with Aboud and his friends, or the regulars of the Dove Bar, we should have known better, but we girls made the very American mistake of offering to help. We were very kindly but unequivocably told that we should just wait and let them handle it. And I have to say, they did an excellent job with shish-kebabs and gallayat bandoora (tomato and onion cooked in a frying pan, in this case with added big chunks of the men’s excellent grilled beef).

Much to our chagrin, we girls were so tired when we’d finished eating at 10 that we went to bed, except for Nara, who filled us in the next day on the games and singing that went well into the wee hours of the night.

From Hiking in Wadi Araba

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