Leaving the glories of Petra behind I set off for the King’s Highway, heading north towards Madaba where I planned to spend the night before journeying into Jordan’s eastern desert. I’d had my doubts about going into this region due to its proximity to both Iraq and Syria, but everyone I’d spoken to said it was safe…and there are extraordinary sights in the desert.
First though I headed to the village of Dana, where a few dozen mud brick buildings cling to the mountainside dramatically overlooking the Dana Biosphere Nature Reserve. This is a village that comes with views.
The current village dates back to the Ottoman period, and is between 500 – 600 years-old. Once a thriving agricultural community, the village suffered the same fate as many others in this region: drought. It was abandoned in the middle of the 20th Century and is today being brought back to life as Jordan’s premier ecotourism centre – sitting, as it does, next to Jordan’s best know nature reserve.
A few inhabitants have come back to live in the village, and there are now a cluster of hotels focused on building a tourist trade based around nature spotting and hiking. If eco-tourism is to support the community here it will need a few more tourists. I didn’t see anyone else while there, although it’s not for want of a welcoming environment.
I walked into what I thought was a hotel run by Jordan’s Royal Society for The Conservation of Nature looking for a refreshing cup of tea. Retrospectively, the man who greeted me did seem a little surprised, but when I asked if they served tea he went off to get me a cup, even asking how sweet I wanted it. I was actually in their office and he was just being very Jordanian – polite and accommodating.
After I’d gotten over my embarrassment, and my offers to pay had been refused, I went for a stroll around the village. Some of the buildings have been renovated and are being turned into holiday lets, others are derelict and crumbling. All come with sweeping views and atmosphere.
I didn’t have time for any hiking, and the temperature was a bit forbidding, but the views from the village made me wish I’d packed my walking boots. The reserve starts near the village at an altitude of around 1700 metres, it plunges downwards to a point around 50 metres below sea level. It’s hard to imagine but this vast expanse of valley is home to wolves, foxes, caracal and ibex amongst dozens of other species.
After a walk around I retraced my steps and, picking up a hitchhiker on my way out of the village, headed back to the King’s Highway. My new friend turned out to be a policeman travelling back to his barracks outside of Karak. He suggested the Desert Highway would be quicker. Before I knew it I was going miles out of my way across a barren landscape. Still, he did tune the radio for me.