Feynan Eco Lodge – Jordan
There are two ways to reach the lodge;
1) You can drive to Dana and leave the car at the Dana Guest House and hike the 3-4 hour route down the wadi to the lodge. Recommended. At the end of your stay, the lodge can drive you back up to Dana (for a fee) where you can collect your car. The journey back up the Wadi is beautiful. After ‘kissing’ the border with Egypt, the windy roads skirt the edge of the mountains giving amazing panoramas over the country’s borders to lands beyond. We were joined on the trip back up the mountains by locals, children and animals, all who hopped on and off the back of the ruck at regular intervals to deliver goods, pray and simply admire the view.
2) I believe you can also drive into the wadi as far as Feynan town and leave your car there. The lodge will meet you there in a 4×4 / trucks and transport you along the bouncy, dirt tracks to the base of the valley where the lodge is located.
The lodge itself is stunning. It is the only building nestled into the foot of the Wadi amongst the backdrop of red, orange and green mountainsides. It appears as a low-lying fortress, just 2 stories high and with a flat topped open roof, ideal for celebrations, star gazing and traditional music to serenade you to sleep. The lodge is locked to the outside world – to gain entry you use one of the many door knockers on the wide wooden door to signal your arrival. You’re then welcomed into a beautiful cool building which, architecturally is sparse but stunning. It mixes Arabic influence with simple modernity, and no comfort is spared. Natural materials are used throughout the building, which is characterised by soft lines and concealed courtyard spaces open to the skies and elements.
There is no electricity in the building for guests, so ensure your camera equipment is charged before visiting! At night, the rooms and courtyards are lit with a plethora of candles and night lanterns, casting dancing shadows over the interior walls of the courtyard and open stairways. Each room has a number of alcoves built into the walls upon which candles are lit, providing a aromatic and relaxing ambiance in each immaculate presented guest room.
The best way I have of describing Faynan Eco Lodge is to liken it to the residence of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars – it is almost troglodyte like in its shapes, build and natural formation, but with more creature comforts (including the most delicious scented homemade local soap! I defy you to resist the urge to buy more for all your friends and family)
Our guest room had a small balcony on which we could sit and marvel at the sounds of silence – that was until the largest bug we’ve ever seen landed on the curtain and prompted an extremely swift exit. It was like a huge wasp, and the buzz from its wings could be heard behind closed doors and from within our room. I dread to think how much a sting from a beast like that would be. That aside, that was the only bug to visit us in the lodge, but we went in search of plenty more in the valley beyond the lodge.
We took the opportunity to wander the valley floor – many visitors like to visit the abandoned mines in the area, but we wanted to take the opportunity to explore the local bird-life and bugs of the desert. We amused ourselves for an entire afternoon, tracking musical songbirds in the dry trees of the once riverbed and locating crickets in the sparse and thorny undergrowth. It was hard work and we stopped after an hour or two to rest by a lonely boulder above the desert floor and surveyed the scenery around us. We noticed in the distance, a figure standing tall and not moving at all. We’d been so busy looking for bugs and birdlife that we’d failed to see a young girl who’d been gradually approaching us, collecting the few dry twigs she could find for firewood. Encouraged by, and learning from my previous lesson about trusting strangers (see previous blog post about the people of Jordan) I didn’t hesitate to raise my hand and offer a friendly wave – she did likewise and then continued about her business. Feeling brave, I decided to go and meet her, and Ali and I started to gather any twigs we could find, approaching her a wee while later with arms full of bundles of sticks. As we approached and held them out to her, she beamed with happiness and enthusiastically offered our gifts, thanking us over and over in Arabic. She gestured for us to follow her across the sands, and we did so, continuing to collect twigs and sticks on the way. We saw in the haze of the valley, an silhouette of a tent in the distance. As we approached, she picked up some speed, eager to show us her home. Shouting loudly, other occupants of the tent emerged, including a large jolly woman in traditional dress. I swore I thought she was going to bear hug us when we saw us approach the tent, arms laden with twigs. She didn’t, but she did fuss over us, insisting that we take a seat in the tent and make ourselves at home. Becoming more accustomed to Jordanian hospitality I was instantly at ease as we fell into the traditional pattern of welcomes, tea and family /goat introductions.
So generous, was the family of two teenage girls, one baby and the mother, that they immediately paraded their goat through the tent and offered us its milk. Ali and I nodded wholeheartedly, keen to experience more of the lovely Jordan tea (each time we had it it was subtly different and even more delicious). It was here I learned a very valuable lesson about their hospitality – if you empty your cup they will keep on filing it. If you have had enough, leave the cup full and place your hand over the top and smile. This will not cause offence and will prevent any sticky situations like the one I found myself in…
I had not seen, smelt or tasted anything like that goats milk which was generously offered to me. It was butter like in colour, very thin and had quite a lot of floating bits in it of various colour and size. Needless to say, it had never been near a pasteuriser in its life. I quietly questioned Ali on the likely freshness of it – but as we heard the goat bleat in the background and saw the child milk it, there could be no doubt of its authenticity and freshness…in fact it was still warm from the goat’s udder. I took a deep breath and tried to swallow it in one. It was extremely unpleasant and I started to gag. Not wanting to cause offence, I had to swallow and smile, all the while worrying about the bout of dysentery and hepatitis that would follow. It was like drinking gone off milk mixed with a scent of sweaty socks, but it was all the family had and I was desperate not to offend them, but at the same time I could not drink any more. Ali and I raised our thumbs and gave them a huge smile, and they ran in to the back of the tent – I prayed it was to get some tea. I took the opportunity to drip the remainder of the milk outside the tent and covered the tracks with my sand. The mother arrived with a teapot, but upon seeing our milk cups were empty, retreated with it to the kitchen and returned with more milk to top up our empty glasses. This time I cottoned-on, and after she’d pored the glass of milk I politely covered its top and gestured ‘No thank you’, for which I was rewarded with beautiful amber herb tea. Ali, much to my admiration, proceeded to drink another glass of the goat’s milk, declaring it to be ‘not that bad!’. We’ll never know whether it was this or the fruit washed in local water he’d eaten which caused him to be horribly ill later in the holiday! Answers on a postcard?!
We enjoyed our time with the family. Whilst enjoying the tea and cooling off in the shade of the tent during the heat of the day, we chatted on our own native languages, yet seemingly understanding each other. As comfortable in our chatter as we were in our collective silences, we got to know one another. I took the opportunity to suggest that we hand them our digital camera to show them the images we’d taken on the holiday to date. They gently took the heavy camera from us, bemused at to what was to come next. Ali showed them the screen and how to navigate the images and we took them through a little slideshow of Petra, Amman, Jerash and Wadi Rum. Their eyes widened as the pictures unfolded and then they hooted with laughter as they saw the pictures we’d taken that morning. They could not believe we’d spent the morning taking pictures of crickets, common birds and most of all, their goats. We had not realised the herds we’d seen were theirs, and they could not stop giggling as we showed them picture upon picture of their goats. Assuming we had some uncontrollable goat fetish, they then proceeded to introduce us to all their goats which had, by this time, surrounded the tent in curiosity. I felt almost embarrassed – but their laughter was well intended and served to break any cultural and language barriers that might have existed until then. We laughed together until the heat of the afternoon calmed and we bid then farewell, thanking them immensely for their generosity – and them thanking us once more for the sticks and goat pictures. As we walked away into the distance I kept turning to see the tent once more, and they’d still be stood there, waving us goodbye. They were a lovely family, so kind, so hospitable and so gentle. I felt privileged and proud to have met them. They had really ‘made’ my holiday and had given me memories and experiences to cherish.