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40 days, 650km? nah. and yet...


THE JORDAN TRAIL, which first opened in 2017, is a 650-kilometre-long hiking route running from the north of Jordan to Aqaba in the south. It passes through 52 villages and towns and pretty much every major attraction - the Roman ruins at Jerash, Amman, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea, Petra - in the country.

It takes about 40 days to complete and … no, I’m not doing it.

What I am doing is taking a couple of nibbles out of the whole with the help of a 10-day World Expeditions Jordan Trail Highlights tour.

One of the early sections of the trail wends through Ajloun Forest Reserve. Today, the reserve covers just 13 square kilometres and is a much-loved rarity in a country where wooded areas account for just 1 per cent of the total land area.

On the way there our guide tells us that, according to legend, the forest was once so thick that a woman could walk naked from Ajloun to Damascus without being seen.

It’s here the next day that, fully clothed I might add, we meet Mohammad Dwekat, a retired soldier who now works as a guide and who is going to take us through Bergesh Forest, one of the densest parts of the reserve.

It’s not an overly arduous walk at just 11 kilometres, and the thick tree cover creates plenty of much-needed shade as we follow Mohammad through gentle hills, dry creek beds, man-made caves and, unexpectedly, a Roman cemetery.

Our walk finishes at Mohammad’s house in the village of Orjan, where he and his wife Maisoon showcase the amazing Jordanian hospitality by whipping up a feast which includes maqluba, a traditional Jordanian dish of chicken, vegetables and rice, cooked, and then tipped upside down to serve.

A few days later, we arrive at Dana Nature Reserve and

the spectacular Dana Guest House where we are staying for one night before tackling the more challenging 20-kilometre Wadi Dana section of the trail.

Dana Guest House is a simple and elegant three-star hostel with a five-star attitude and six-star views down the gullet of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, perched as it is right at the top of a cliff face into which it blends almost seamlessly.

At 8am the next day we set off from the hotel, through the quiet streets of the once abandoned but now partially restored village of Dana, and down a series of gentle gravel switchbacks to the floor of the canyon.

It’s a long, sweltering day, punctuated by frequent water stops and a packed lunch in a dry riverbed. The literature says the reserve is the haunt of a whole host of flora and fauna, but the fauna obviously has other plans as pretty much all we see are a few birds.

But that’s more than compensated for by the simple fact of hiking through such a ruggedly good-looking, biblical landscape full of desiccated juniper, oak and acacia trees and a geology which throws up smooth, wind-buffed sandstone bluffs that look like frozen gelato, well as limestone and granite cliffs. It’s not a difficult path, either, with no steep ascents or climbing involved.

Hot, sweaty but happy, we rendezvous with our minibus at 3.30pm and 90 minutes later we’re sitting at a low-key Bedouin camp site in Beidha (our home for the night), sipping sweet mint tea around an open fire.

I’m never going to do the full 40-day, 650-kilometre trail but just now, feeling that satisfying, all-over ache and glow that comes from a day of hard yakka, this feels like the next best thing. Onward…

Keith Austin was a Guest of World Expeditions.

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