Starting in March 2019, my donkey Yustra and I walked the Jordan Trail from Um Qais in the north to Wadi Rum in the south.
Here’s my first observations and experiences with Jordan, named after the river forming most of its northwestern border. Located on the crossroads of Europa, Africa and Asia, it was previously called Transjordan, meaning ‘on the other side of the Jordan river’. Nowadays we should say the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: a constitutional monarchy, with king Abdullah II since 1999 representing his ten million people, of whom 98% is Sunni Muslim. Apart from a 26km shoreline at the Red Sea the country is pretty much landlocked in between Syria, Iraq, Saudi-Arabia and Israel. It’s considered a semi-arid country though holds only 0.6% water. Less than 2% is blessed with forests, mainly in the greener northwestern mountainous corner where I will start my hike. Further south the vegetation becomes more scrubby and increasingly steppe-like untill I reach the desert. The highest point is 1854 meters and the lowest -420m, which is the Dead Sea, of which I have fond memories. Containing 10 times more salt than any regular ocean, I swam (or I should say floated) there with my father and brother, rescuing the latter after he thought it a good idea to swim underwater without closing his eyes. I directed my blind twin to and over the sharp salt crystals that form the shorelines, from where we made fun of the floating whales further down (the same fat American tourists we saw later polluting and desacrifying the Jordan river where Jesus was baptised by wearing overpriced seethrough clothing and making peacesigns while taking selfies).
The Great Arab Revolt during WWI ended the Ottoman rule, turning Jordan into a Britsh protectorate, though granted with great levels of autonomy, leading to full independence in 1946. Despite its British ties, people drive on the right side of the road. Though blessed with a skilled workforce, the Jordanian economy struggles with a lack of natural resources and an increasingly large flow of refugees, including an estimated 1,4 million Syrian refugees. Interestingly, the country was left relatively unscathed by the Arab Spring which swept a trail of violence through the region since 2011. Different sources call Jordan an oasis of stability in a turbulent region. It should be very safe to travel here. Once a popular tourism destination, welcoming 8 million tourists in 2010, tourism declined by 70% between 2010-2016, only slowly recovering now. The opening of the Jordan Trail in 2015 aims to attract more tourists. I happily contribute While flying over endless stretches of Saudi-Arabian desert I learn a few basic words of Arab and realize how incredibly hard this language is for someone with a Latin tongue. I dont think I have even ever been to a country where I cannot read the alphabet and have no chance of learning! In fact, ive never really been to an Arab country, though Turkey, Bosnia and Mongolia hold lots of muslims. At the airport I am nervous for the visa process as my passport is damaged quite a bit from getting wet. Its not problem though. My backpack on the other hand doesnt show up at the belt! Im my best hand and feet Arab I ask and get directed to a special room. More bags are sitting there and men from left and right ivertake me to get their bbag first. Finally its my turn, but I get redirected to another special room with only one table where the door closes after me and I am asked to open my backpack. Apparently they are looking for my binoculars! Very suspicious. Obviously im just a birdnerd and they let me keep it. Finally outside I catch a bus downtown. I almost cry from happiness whem the first animals I see along the road are camels!!I had arranged a couchsurfing place to stay the night. Its only 11am and im hoping to get all my missions accomplished today so I can start my hike either later tonight or tomorrow morning. Haha that turned out to be wishfull thinking! Every mission turned out to be so incredibly complicated! A true urban adventure unfolds.First I ask a taxidriver to bring me from the busstop to my new friend Zaid’s house. I know it should be around 2dinar max, but he asks me 18, I decide to walk 1,5 hours instead. Im due for some exercise after the 25hour flight anyways! I didnt sleep much, was stuck on the windowseat next two to people that never went the toilet and were sleeping the whole way, I was imprisoned! But I did get to watch movies about Vincent van Gogh (the poor struggler), Queen, Gandhi, a docu about the nonsense and dangers of vitaminpills etc.On the way I walk into a phoneshop to arrange a simcard. The price seems very high to me and I decide to wait for Zaid. After a long walk with lots of cars honking at me, i meet zaid downtown in a fancy little restaurant. When the wifi is not working the waiter kust gives me his personal cellphone and incourages me to use as much data as I need. I only whatsapp Zaid my location and he shortly after arrives. Zaid is a heavily smoking overweight lovely 29year old man. He is on an incredible mission himself and started a diet and going to the gym, losing 22kg in the last 4 months! I am so impressed! Coming from 137kg he still has a ways to go though, but is certainly on the right track! We drink a sahleb together: a delicious thick coconut and cinnamon drink. Its more for winter Zaid explains. I didnt realize though that I would arrive in winter! Im very happy I decided to bring my wintersleepingbag after all as it is almost freezing in Amman. The city is located quite high Zaid explains and I should find much hotter wheather on my trail. Zaid and I discuss the missions I hae to accomplish and he offers to help me. First we get a simcard and indeed the price for the same plan suddenly is halved in his presence. Then we try to extend my visa, I need ten extra days and dont want to come back to Amman halfway my journey to organize that. It turned out to be a Kafkaesk struggle, getting sent from the one department to the next. We sent many hours over two days till we make it to the riggt window with the right person. Nobody speaks english and I am so so grateful for Zaid helping me. I cannot imagine how any tourist does this without local help. Apparently the police wants an adress to extend my visa, but I cannot give Zaids as it is illegal for him to host me! If I would have known I would have booked a hotel, not to risk getting Zaid into trouble! Later I find out that many things are illegal, including hitchhiking and selling maps! There are no detailed maps of Jordan to be found anywhere! We end up downloading and printing all the maps from the jordantrail website, after the first few copyshops were closed and at this place the only printer brakes down halfway through the mission. But in the end we succeed! My visa is still not granted though.. Finally I make a booking at booking.com but then we get redirected to the policestation near my hotel. There the man tells us to go get a stamp from the hotel where I did not stay the last night and have no intention on staying the next. Thank god his colleague lets us off the hook and I pay another 40dinar. The visa is in Arab and I need Zaid to tell me I can now stay for 3 months. I had almost given up hope and am in am excited celebrative mood and take Zaid out for humus and falafel. Zaid lives in a big appartment complex owned by his family and inhabited by grandparents, uncles, cousins and brothers, who are all very welcoming. He promises me a sunset on the rooftop but due to rain and snow ill have to come back for that. The sum sets already at 5.30! Thats a bit of a worry for the trail as ill have to find a campingspot very early each day…In the house i am pleased to find an absence of toiletpaper, replaced by a waterfountain to eash. Much cleaner and less wastefull! Two brothers join us for brunch. The main meal here is lunch and for breakfast and dinner its usually humus and falafel, yum! The boys tell me lots about Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where they were born but cant imagine living due to too many rules and oppression. Even as a man you cannot walk the streets by yourself or go to a restaurant. Everything is designed for families. One brother tells me about his girlfriend and how theyve been together for 7 years already but still everything has to happen secretively. He should marry her but doesnt have the money for it. He reckons he needs 40.000 dinar before he can ask her father for her hand. Her brothers will kill her and then him when they see them togethern I ask him if he is not scared of that and whether he carries a gun when he visits her. He doesnt want to think about it too much. I ask them about the burqas in Saudi-Arabia and how the people recognize their own wife from a crowd?! They tell me funny stories how they grabbed the wrong hand as a child, not knowing who was their mother. Jordan is a lot more liberal and most women only wear a headscarf. Main reason to not be too attractive. I ask how they can wear thick layers of makeup and fancy cloths with it, doesnt that defeat the purpose? They laugh and tell me most headscarfs are more cultural or to not stand out or keep the family happy but in fact many young people are not religious, maybe up till 50%? I see plenty of liquorstores, though am told that there are no casinos. There are funny rules like you are allowed to kiss on the street, but you have to be 40m away from any private building. I learn that there are many hyenas in Jordan, that the police couldnt care less about drunk driving and that a murderer goes free if the family of the victim forgives him. Syrians are not allowed to go to Aqaba for fear of them swimming over to Eilat. Everybody is a heavy smoker, patting themselves on the back for smoking e-cigarettes, traffic is total madness and everyone is very happy when it starts raining that afternoon. They tell me I am very lucky to be here in the only three weeks in the year you might see some green. When the rain turns into snow later that day I cant believe my eyes! Global warming? While we drive around for another few hours to find camping gas, which doesnt excist in entire Jordan we get told over and over, the boys tell me I should tell people on my trail that im a christian, it will be much more respected than agnostic or atheist. Also I should not shake hands but I should shake my coffeecup if I dont want a refill. Finally we go to a closedoff floor of a hardware store and find the gas which I had also given up hope of finding it. Even the storeclerk was surprised he had it. The last mission of exchanging money went quick and we head home for a classic bachelors dinner of ordered dominos pizza in front of the tv watching family guy. The boys are all well educated though and one is currently reading the idiot by Dostoyevsky (great book!). I ask them about history and what they learn in school. Like our historylessons its all quite biased of course. Theyve learned lots about Sykes and Pico, who separated the Arab world, but have hardly heared of Hitler. Those who have usually thinks hes a hero, according to one brother. I ask about the lack of musea and they think all the antiques and relics where stolen under Ottoman rule and are now in the musea in Istanbul. They take me for a delicious desert of baked cheese, drowned in sugar suryp and topped with some crunchy nutmixture. Next to baklavalike sweets its something I would never order but super enjoy with the boys. I feel so blessed to be so warmly welcomed.That night I have a whatsappcall with Tara from Camel Connection Australia asking me to organize everything for their project in September. We will go to my eaglehunters in Altai, buy 8 untamed camels, train them to be handled without nosepegs, do a little trek and then gift them to the nomads, to my Dalaikhan. As much as I want to be part of this and learn from them in mongolia, she even insists to pay me a salary! She provided another dimension to the jordan trail, asking to research the option of walking parts of it with a camel. Ill try to find out and make some contacts! I have a quick and lovely chat to Dave and its well after midnight when we finally hang up and I go to bed. I get awakened again at 4.30 from the minaret starting the morning prayer. Its gentle though, nothing near the extreme horror in Indonesia. None of the boys gets up and I try to get back to sleep. Not much later I hear the sound of an icecreamtruck circling the streets around us. Zaid explains later its not icecream but gasbottles they sell. All the houses are heater by gasfired heaters. I do worry a bit about it with the heater going all night in our bedroom but am tired enough to not care too much. I spent two nights with Zaid, when we get up at 7 and he drives me to the busstation. Unexpectedly there is no direct bus to Um Qais. Ill have to change busstations in Irbid. Zaid is sorry but I am happy as the supermarkets were still closed this morning and Irbid might be my last chance to stock up. Everything happens for a reason at the busstation a 28 year old guy insists on ‘helping’ me though I end up guiding him and he cant even lift my backpack. I find the bus to the next bus and then the next to Um Qais. I so love finding my way and everybody is friendly. The buses are a bit of a hassle to find and only leave when full but a great experience and very cheap: only 2 dinar from amman to um qais. The closer I get to the borders the more headscarfs I see, im the only one without! They seem to be used to tourists enough that I dont feel like a monkey in the zoo, so far everything feels pretty comfortable.
I have not seen any foreigner at all and I made it to um qais which seems pretty much empty. Im about to start the trail. I love you lots and will keep you updated on my progress!!
Um Qais is situated in the NW corner of the country, in a mountainous area overlooking the Yarmouk River, Golan heights, Tiberius Lake and Jordan valley. I visit the museum with its artefacts dating back to the 7th century BC, passing through Roman, Greek, Byzantine and Islamic times, showing the remains of theatres, churches, city walls and a cemetery. Here is where I see a handful of tourists and where I walk the other way to start my journey southwards. A big sign in the road reads ‘the beginning of the Jordan Trail’. I quickly walk off the road and in amongst olive trees and greens overgrowing the bits and pieces of trail. Sometimes a red and white bit of paint marks that I am not lost yet. Only navigating by the not very detailed maps I printed from the website seems a bit hard and I often open the gpxtrail on my phone to guide me. That works well. This area is still quite populated and I pass little villages and a few houses here and there. On this first I seem to tick all the boxes of what I was hoping (and also not hoping) to experience already! I wonder if there is any sense of continuing? So I walk through beautiful fields of fragrant greens, gorgeous wildflowers and mich appreciated shade providing olive trees. I scramble over boulders and hike along narrow gorges. I find a natural spring to refill my water bottles and I encounter herds of sheep led by men in gumboots and jeans riding their donkeys. Unfortunately I also encounter many of the verocious dogs ive been warned against. Some chase me and give me genuine heartattacks. Moments like that I feel so dumb to be there all by myself.. I scream, violently wave my hikingpoles and throw rocks. Im even considering to go back to the city after a few of these encounters, they really scare the hell of out me! When I pass the lake I see many people having picknicks with their families, one of which invites me to join. I kindly refuse and move on. The heat and 30kg backpack (I carry a lot of water and food now, just to be on the safe side) is making my heart beat almost outside of my chest. I hear gunshots in the distance and wonder whether this is coming from the border somewhere. Someone tells me later what I hear is actually explosives for the marble quarry. Not a very plausible story I reckon.. anways I walk up and down the many hills of this area. I see a young shepherd with a babygoat ubder his arm which he lets me cuddle and talk to for a few minutes before he asks me for my water and then to have sex with me. I have learned to be clear and firm and I say No, send him away and keep walking without looking back. He tries to discuss the issue and asks me why. No is obviously not accepted until I finally show the ring around my neck and tell him im married. Thank god marriage is sacred, as he accepts and moves away. I walk over a plateau overlooking the magnificent Jordan valley and Tiberius lake when I hear a womans voice asking me whether I am alone. I cant see her lips as she is covered behind her niqab. She is sitting in the grass with her husband Osama from Palestinian heritage enjoying the view as well as mesmorizing the land he feels belongs to him but he is not allowed to visit. I feel strange to tell him I was there, on the other side, years ago. In front of the woman is a plastic bag with some greens she just picked. She cuts the thorns of the khorves and gives it to me. Also a plant they call the legs of the birds which is very refreshing on a hot day. In the meantime the sun is setting, I need to get used to the day ending at 5.30 already! The couple asks me all sort of simple quesrion, like why I am alone, where do I live, what job I have. Unfortunately im a unicorn and have no simple answers to these questions! I try but quickly get tangled in a complicated web of lies, its hilarious. The couple is strongly religious obviously and share their opinions freely. I told them I am married but husband couldnt come as he had to work, babies will hopefully come this year if Allah allows. I can t tell them I dont want any and I always travel alone! The play some verses of the koran for me on the phone and ask me how it makes me feel: ‘doesnt it make you feel calm, relaxed and happy when you listen to this’? Again, I cant say that most in our western world probably have images of bombs exploding when they hear this now.. as the night is setting in, especially the man is worried for my safety and insist they bring me to the campsite. They ignore my instructions, ask around and cant find any; they decide to take me home. Their religion insists on it, Osama decides we were meant to meet, everything happens for a reason. The more time we spend together the better it gets! Their 5 year old son Ahmed attaches to me like he will never let me go again and they proudly introduce to their family. Their mothers are sisters, he married his cousin. It seems to be a trend for many more families I meet. I offer my hand to the father, who refuses: it is not allowed in islam. The mother on the other hand takes it, drags me on the bed and smacks three big kisses on my face, one on the left, two on the right. We drink arab coffee, a thick sludge fragrant with cardamom. The brother brings his ude in, an 11string guitarlike beautiful instrument. Osama’s is covered in niqab, only her eyes are showing. The only time she can take it of is in front of men she cant marry or already did: her husband, father, brother etc. She is the only one in the room and she tells me her family doesnt like it. For her it gives her freedom though, she decides who can see her face. Interesting thought as for many of us its a symbol of oppression. The couple has lived many years in SaudiArabia where almost all women wear the blavk niqab. I ask hiw Osama recognizes his wife: ‘by her shape’. I think of barbapapa: ‘wouldnt it make sense to wear different coloured niqabs?’ Also because of the heat in black. She says its allowed but they’re just not for sale in the markets. I suspect though that my coloured, purple polkadot niqabbusiness wont take off.. back at their house osama turns in the tv and shows me his favourite video from holland: we watch a machine harvesting potatoes.. really?! He thinks its amazing. Also they show me queen Rania, who is a photomodel, anorexia and all.. she is not very popular, she doesnt care about the people. I show Maxima, also gorgeous and lot more popular. In the morning we eat bread with olive oil and zhatar, a dip made from oregano, before I head off on my trip again. Luckily its a cloudy day as the sun is fierce. I walk through the last bits and pieces of forest, though there is no wilderness: it is all cultivated, olive trees planted, people herding their goats and sheep and cutting firewood. I suspect the forest has little chance to survive civilisation. The shepherds dos are so aggressive, they scare the hell out of me. When I see a group of dogs already barking and growling from a distance I stop for a second for my heart to stop racing. That moment two men come out of the house and tell me to approach. The dogs are leashed by the time I arrive and after some smalltalk he invites me in for coffee and yoghurt. His wife tells me it is made from the milk of God, wow! She pointed at her god which was this weird creature with a huge nose: she meant milk of goat In every house we sit on pillows arranged against the walls, sometimes around a gasheater, here around a fireplace. Above the couch is a huge portret of the man himself, called Jehad. He tells me he has three wifes, I ask him if hes kidding me but it turned out to be true! One is in America and both wifes here are lovely, they have their own bedrooms and Jehad sleeps sometimes here, sometimes there. One wife speaks reasonable english. There are also a lot of children in this family, one of which has her engagementparty the next day. The ask me to join, yes please! Thats a unique opportunity! So I stay, I help milking the goats and ask many questions. Apparently four is the maximum of wifes, so I quickly tell them im already marrried, a woman can only have one husband. The polygamy seems to work harmoniously and in a very classic way where Jehad, who looks like an Arab Al Pacino and screams more than he speaks, asks his second wife to make us coffee, clean the house, cook us lentil soup. She even cuts his toenails and we all laugh when they see my disgusted face: ‘dont you cut your husbands toenails?’, ‘thank allah he never asked me to!’ :D. Jehad wants to buy cows from Holland and asks me what they cost. I have no idea! I can tell him the price of beef in the supermarket, but buying a cow? In Jordan it’s 2000$, a sheep is 300 and he is willing to sell me his donkey for 400. As much as I already fell in love with this beautiful strong healthy and gentle donkey, there are donkeys for sale for 60 dinar. It might be less perfect but thats part of the adventure I decide. The women prepare for the party and I get to try a few dresses and shoes. We turn up the music and dance. The family takes many photos and videos of everything I do, but I am not allowed to take any of them, it is not Haram. I feel sorry I cannot show you any pictures of what happened the next day when we went to the salon for hair and make,up and turned up to a party with everybody dressed in the most extravagant princesslike dresses with lots of bling. I dance with all the women, the men are in another room. A few times I see all the women anxiously running to their bags to grab their veils: men are coming. The music is loud and these women know how to party!! Even AP’s mother represents the dancefloor. She could hardly get up the small stairs but she can dance. She asks me to come sit next to her and points to all the women on the front row. She grabs her boob and shakes it, then points at her chest: these are her children. Haha I almost fall of my chair laughing, so does she, showing a perfect toothless smile.Later I understand the women danced like crazy from the moment they arrived as the party only lasted two hours. all of a sudden we got back in the car, a normal five seater, fitting ten people with broken windows and no mirrors, while the male driver smokes with his left hand and answers the phone with the right. We make it back alive and prepare the Mansafh, a traditional dish of rice, nuts and coriander, chicken and warm yoghurt, so delicious! We all eat from the same plate. With AP getting drunk in town, there is noone in the house that knows how to light the fire. Women, girls, not even the young men. As I see with many families they use a pice of foam to start it. It dies quickly when the 19year old son tries his luck. I come to save the day and everybody is happy not to sit in the cold till AP returns. Strange world.. They insist I stay the rest of my 5 weeks with them.
Part 3:I couldnt help myself and I bought the donkey! Her name is Yustra and she has a friend, a dog called Agrab. Yustra is three years old, healthy and strong and very gentle. She is lovely, lets me kiss her, pack her, ride her, never kicks nor bites and follows me up and down the street easy, both walking and running. I had my eyes on her since I arrived but Al Pacino was asking too much money. I found other donkeys in the neighbourhood for much less but none as good as Yustra, besides I was already in love. I managed to finally make a good deal with Al Pacino and he drives me to town to have some bags custom made for her: 5 dinar. A smith heats up a piece of metal and welds me a stake: for free. We pick up some falafel: free. Ropes: 1 dinar. Bread: free. Coffee with the local lawyer: free. This guy is the maffia. He tells me he is big boss and nobody takes his money. His wife (#2) tells me he works for the council and writes people tickets, no wonder they treat him well.. a good friend to have! I couldnt have found the man who sows (is that english? The man who made my saddlebag), the smith, the ropeseller etc. without him either. We have a good friendship now: I call him mafia, he calls me crazy. He screams ‘Tamara crazy’ every time he gets a chance. All day I hear ‘tamara come here’ or ‘tamara look’ when he shows me he can shoot a bird with his slingshot, he can ride the donkey, he can make his dogs growl and jump, he can throw his garbage out of the window, he can pretend to be a shark etc. A big proud child.. dressed like a gentleman he moans up the stairs while cleaning his ears with his carkey. After I pay him for the donkey, he fills up the car and drives me along the incredible jordan valley, which is supergreen, full of palmtrees, greenhouses and other agriculture, providing the country its fruit and vegetables. We pass a town where the people are different, AP screams ‘look, all black ones, look another one, all black!’. 30km further there are natural hot springs, I smell the sulfur from far away. He pays 25 dollars for us to enter, off his donkeymoney.. in a place that has never seen a tourist, everybody turns their head for this white girl. On the way back its already dark and the sun sets in Israel, only to arise again from Iraq. We pass the gateway to Israel, a bridge through the valley, connecting the two countries.
Al Pacino tells me Jordan and Israel are friends. In fact: in his town, Ajloun, there are 2000 christmasses (he means christians), and 3000 muslims and they all live together ‘no problem’. At the house AP fittingly shows me his pigeons and tells me he prefers the young pigeons, they’re like viagra! and he laughs out loud. He is also growing weat, beans and lots of fruit and veg, has rainwatertanks in the walls and gets all his electricity from the sun. I teach them to use the nettle for tea, they show me the skin of the lemon is deliciously sweet when eaten straight of the tree. We conclude the night with Magloubeh, a traditional dish of rice, chicken and herbs; eaten with the right hand from the same plate (10 people!) Sitting on the floor. I play games with the kids, do some yoga, pull funny faces etc. The family begs me not to go, I am a sister now ‘tamara we love you, we will miss you, please stay, please come back, one more day then?’. Ive fallen in love with this family but cant stay. I need to walk my donkey this arab adventure is amazing! I improve the poor packing AP shows me and put nice soft padding on all hotspots. Me, Yustra and Agrab set off 8 -ish. Agrab is still a bit scared of me and doesnt let me come close. Another dog follows us for a few kilometers, I was hoping he’d stay with us, but he didnt. We walk trails through the forest and countrylanes. Compared to the last week I see very little people and feel a lot more free. And so excited for my new family! Yustra is amazing and I cant believe she just follows me anywhere and never spooks, not from people, cars, dogs, not even those superscary plastic bags.. along the trails there is signs of humans everywhere with quite some pollution. Pristine wilderness is not here. But other fairytale-like things are happening. I see a man waving a stick in front of him as if he is blind. Im amazed by his courage to walk this challenging terrain. When he gets closer I see its a metaldetector, hes looking for coins. I test his machine and it works. when not much later it bleeps away he starts digging, deeper and deeper. My anticipation grows, till he finally pulls the bleep-source out of the ground: an empty pack of juice. Apparently there’s silverfoil in there.. Later I see a little shepherdman that reminds me so much of the rabbit in alice in wonderland, he even moves and laughs the same way.. will he guide me down the rabbithole? Around 2pm Yustra starts to be a bit stubborn and doesnt want to follow anymore. By 3pm I really cant get her to move anywhere. I am on a mountain just short of the town Burma with amazing views and plenty grass. I decide, well really Yustra decides, we make camp here. She happily eats away while visiting me every time I get close. Agrab lays down and goes to sleep immediately. It was enough for both of them on the first day, I am so proud!!! I hope its no-ones land and I hope those wolfs and hyenas I heared howling every night so far wont visit our camp. Now that im not walking with a pack anymore I notice how cold it actually is, especially with the sun fading. I wear my hoody, also so that from a distant noone can see im not a man. The sun sets and the hills illuminate with thousands of lights. by 7 pm its too dark to read my reindeertribes book. I can go to bed nice and early, yeay! I get up a few times to check on Yustra and awake with first morning light at 5’30. Its freezing cold so ill make a fire and wait for the sun to dry my tent. Another day with my new friends
Part 4:Today I lost my dog when in the nature with just the three of us he stayed with us. Yustra called out for him and he came running. I enjoyed seeing them play together, agrab on his hind legs, yustra sniffing and gently nibbling him. I even saw them kiss! When we reached the outskirts of town I had to refill our waterbottles and rang the door. Agrab was excited and ran off behind the house to explore. The family insisted id stay for tea and when I came back out I couldnt find Agrab anywhere. I called and called, I searched and waited an hour while Yustra was happily grazing away in the families rosegarden, they didnt mind. She even layed down for a while taking a beautiful rest like snowwhite waiting for her prince. All day i sang ‘i want to lay down in a bed of roses’ :p I was summoned back in for bread with yoghurt and olive oil and eggs. All the women I met so far wear colourfull fleece pyjamas inside the house and none will let me take a picture, not even with headscarf, even though they all take my picture. I save some bread for Agrab but he never returns.. im sad.. also for Yustra. But I dont know what I can do. I hope he will come when we slowly walk away, while I keep calling out for him. But no such luck.. its just Yustra and me now. We walk up, we walk down, up again, down again over endless mountains and hills, through lush vegetation which makes our progress slow as Yustra stubbornly insists on eating every ten steps. I hope Yustra and I can get to an agreement where she can both eat and walk. On uphills she seems to struggle and needs to catch her breath. I wait patiently. Cause even if we go only 2,5 km/hour we can still do 20km in a day, and if we dont I dont care either. My goal is now to make it to Petra and preferably Wadi Rum. Ill explore travHere’s my first observations and experiences with Jordan, named after the river forming most of its northwestern border. Located on the crossroads of Europa, Africa and Asia, it was previously called Transjordan, meaning ‘on the other side of the Jordan river’. Nowadays we should say the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: a constitutional monarchy, with king Abdullah II since 1999 representing his ten million people, of whom 98% is Sunni Muslim. Apart from a 26km shoreline at the Red Sea the country is pretty much landlocked in between Syria, Iraq, Saudi-Arabia and Israel. It’s considered a semi-arid country though holds only 0.6% water. Less than 2% is blessed with forests, mainly in the greener northwestern mountainous corner where I will start my hike. Further south the vegetation becomes more scrubby and increasingly steppe-like untill I reach the desert. The highest point is 1854 meters and the lowest -420m, which is the Dead Sea, of which I have fond memories. Containing 10 times more salt than any regular ocean, I swam (or I should say floated) there with my father and brother, rescuing the latter after he thought it a good idea to swim underwater without closing his eyes. I directed my blind twin to and over the sharp salt crystals that form the shorelines, from where we made fun of the floating whales further down (the same fat American tourists we saw later polluting and desacrifying the Jordan river where Jesus was baptised by wearing overpriced seethrough clothing and making peacesigns while taking selfies).elling the desert when I get there, to organize such a trip for camelconnections.com as requested. Travelling with Yustra is now more inportant than getting anywhere..
At the summit we enjoy magnificent views of King Talal dam and kilometers of mountains ahead of us. The dam looks gorgeous from a distance, though sadly has a broad brim of garbage floating from the edges, so much that I dont want to wash and Yustra doesnt want to drink. Again. She hasnt drunk any water for two days now, im really worried. What can I do to make her drink? With only one last house ahead of us, which also has lush grass surrounding it, I go there to see if they can give Yustra some water. I also ask whether its ok to camp there. They welcome me and I enjoy the abundance of animals around (goats, sheep, cats, dogs, chickens, a donkey, quails), the 360degree views and a gorgeous sunset. I ask to camp on their land but of course they wont have it and want em to sleep in the house. Yustra calls out a few times and a donkey over the hill answers. Yustras former family calls me on the phone asking me to please return and stay with them. AP says he drove to Burma yesterday to come find me. Smothering love… AP had previously also thrown away my icebreaker socks. Yes they had big holes but I only carry two pairs of socks and icebreaker is expensive and has a lifetime guarantee in socks.. ah well, ill have to do with my one other pair!
The new family that welcomed me and Yustra show me a few more edible plants on their property. The mother was picking and I joined her with great interest. I recognize the pineappleweed but others are endemic to Jordan. Liza shows me oregano and then adds it to hot goatsmilk with sugar, its delicious: ‘zahki’! I try to tell her not to make me anything, but not long after she shows up with food: more Mansafh, the special Jordanian dish of rice and meat and hot yoghurt. In the midst of eating together Liza gets up, puts on a long skirt and headscarf, rolls out a little flying carpet and starts praying to Allah for it to fly her away to new horizons. She does that 5 times a day: 5am, 12, 4, 5.30 and at 7pm. Her and all her 12 siblings. The corner holds a big pile of carpets. I look around for the closest escape route in case they all start flying off.. Liza would love to travel, she tells me with the help of google translate, but her father wont allow it. She is 31. I ask her if shes anxious to find a husbanf, time is ticking if she still wants to make 12 babies! She laughs, no way shes having 12 babies! Two, or maybe three..thats enough. I tell her my brother is still single, but ‘he no muslim, is problem’. yeah, cant change that.. This all plays out in the guestroom, the first room after entering the house. As with many families I never make it past this room and I realize how special it was for me to be invited in Al Pacinos family and even attend Rahaf’s engagement party
I wake up to the sound of the call of prayer. Though its 5 am its actually pleasant to listen to. I wonder what Matthew Walker (my favourite sleep expert) thinks of this sleep disturbance every morning. Did he research sleep deprivation in Arab countries conpared to Christian?
The first thing I do when daylight arrives is go outside and check on Yustra, just like the family checks on me. Im glad to see Yustra is drinking from the babybath is filled up for her. She even shares it with 10 chickens Liza tells me these chickens are not for eating, only for eggs. Many dishes contain chicken thoigh, so I ask where that comes from. ‘from the chickenshop’ she says. Ive seem these little butchers in town, with lots of chickens in cages. Meat is bought fresh here!Before I go today I improve my packing method. AP has only used his donkey to work the land and obviously has no experience with long distance travel. With my horse and camel in Mongolia I experienced the same local attitude of ‘no problem’ when I do see problems. The rope is sharp and plastic, eventually cutting Yustras skin. She is tough though. She has no problem jumping over crevasses or even a barbewire fence that reaches above my knee, I think to myself ‘no problem’ as I can hardly believe my eyes: not even a hesitation! On steep downhills Yustra is stronger than me. I learn I need to teach her to stay behind me. I let her go in front once and she runs down. I dont want to let go of the rope, so hold on, but I fall and get dragged over the sharp rocks. Yustra stops and looks behind her to see what the hell im doing? From now on, ill go first.The family doesnt want to sell their donkeysaddle unfortunately. The brother made it himself and it took a long time, Liza explains. Ill keep my eye out for better gear as I move on. All day we walk on countryroads up and down mountains with spectacular views. There is no wilderness but the nature is very beautiful and I love meeting the people. Whenever I see someone they stop, we chat, they take pictures. Though I dont speak Arab everybody speaks the language of Facebook. I made many new ‘friends’, some of which started sending me koran verses. I take it as a ‘welcome to jordan!’ Like I hear may times a day. Everybody seems so happy to see me and I suspect my donkey makes people even more excited, including me. I am forced to turn down a few tea invitations, otherwise were going nowhere! Also, though I tell people ‘no sugar’ I am shaking from a sugar overload. After the tea question usually follows the question whether.id like to charge my phone! The new world and the old world meet On the hills I see many herds of sheep and goats and Yustra makes a few donkeyfriends. I notice that the goats always have their tail up in the air and the sheep down to the ground. They’re still wearing their thick wintercoat. There is a valley with a river coming from Rmeimeem, and herefore unfortunately polluted. But the whole valley is very fertile and famous for its fruit, especially pomegranate. I pass many orchards. I am walking in the right time of year, as I am already struggling with the heat. I am too early for all the fruit though. I remember my summer on a bicycle in southeast europe where I became almost entirely fruiterian with the abundance of fruit growing everywhere! At the Rmeimeem waterfall there was a little trail leading up to the town. It was too small for Yustra so I had to find another way. Steep cliffs were surrounding us. I saw a little trail leading up and decided to give it a try. Id go first to show Yustra it would be allright. I climbed up but Yustra decided it was too steep ( which it probably was). She turned around, through which I lost control of the rope. And she started running! She didnt respond to my ‘hoooosh’ and the faster I walked after her, the faster she went. There was a family enjoying the waterfall and I called out. They didnt respond and Yustra increased her speed. Thank Allah that she didnt go back to where we came from but chose a deadend turn. At the end she had to stop and I was able to catch her. I survived another heart attack. It made me rethink what is in her bags and whether I could afford to lose any of it. Thats the risk im taking. So far I always see people and if it stays that way I can get out of a problematic situation if I just have some food and water with me. I increase the weight of my backpack again and have Yustra mainly just for the company. People tell me to put my pack on her AND ride her. A donkey is not considered a pet. I enjoy telling people I LOVE DONKEY, they always laugh. When they ask me whether im alone I point to Yustra and say ‘no, were with two!’. Its a long day for me and Yustra and its getting close to sunset when im still searching for a place to pitch the tent. A policeman stops the car, takes my picture, gives me his numbre, welcomes me to jordan and tells me anywhere on this road is ok to camp. A lot of the land is farmed though and a few houses are scathered around. It feels wrong to just camp on anyones land without asking. So when I see a few men drinking tea outside I approach to ask whether we can pitch our tent there. Of course they wont allow it and I am invited to sleep in the house. The grass is amazing for Yustra and the girls in this family are so excited for a visitor. They insist I have a shower (fair enough!) and make me wear one of their super comfortable fleece pyjamas, after theyve gone through my whole bag and discovered to their amazement I dont have one of my own. I feel very Arabic now! They want to know everything about camping and I show them my maps, my stove etc. Sisters and brothers are called, they stop by or I say hello on the telephone. I have a soar throat and am terribly tired, we walked about 20km in the scorching heat today. They see me jawning and make me a bed in the room where everyone sits around an electric heater which also serves as a toaster, warming up the bread. The television is on loud, the lights are on but I slowly sink into a dream. When I open one eye I see the sister trying to unlock my phone, they are so curious! I pretend I didnt see it. I show a picture of Dave ‘my husband’ and just like anyone else they respond excited, probably because of the beard a few people explained. At 22.30 another brother comes in with his children with hot cake they just baked. And out come the sunflowerseeds, chips, juice and hot milk with oregano. Im amazed the children are still up so late (Matthew Walker?). We eat with our hands and lick our fingers. In my best Arab I explain we use forks and knifes in holland and when I lick my fingers my father will smack me on the hand and say ‘no’. Sara explained she learned that in school, ‘considered rude’ she says. Im impressed she knows those words as she speaks very little english. Unfortunately I dont succeed to download an arabic keyboard so I can only use google translate one way now.. I can ask questions and not understand the answer but nod and laugh anyways, great conversations! The brother, like a few more people today, asks me if Yustra is for sale: ‘absolutely not! She is my family’ is explain in four weeks he can buy her in Wadi Rum. I give the family a beautiful scarf, which she doesnt want to accept but I insist, and yake off with yustra for another day of grtting to know each other several herders I meet ask me for water which I happily share.
It was a tough day, the heat was killing me and Yustra was giving me a hard time. We are in a competition to see who is the most stubborn donkey of the two. Ive learned that Yustra means ‘the one that makes things easy’ whahaaha lies, all lies!! Usually she wins but so far were still making good progress. She made a few other donkey and horse friends on the way as we past biblical scenes of arabic shepherds grazing their goats and sheep. Some were riding their donkey, without stirrups, just rocking their legs back and forth. I wish I had such control over my donkey. We struggled but made it finally to the city Al Fuhais. I planned to camp just 2,5km further up but I was exhausted and very nauscious. Did my food not go down well, was I experiencing a heatstroke or was I infected by the former two families who were all coughing and not feeling well? Im not sure, but when a big russian-looking man invited me in for a cold glass of water I happily accepted. I collapsed on the couch and tried not to throw up on his beautiful carpet. The house was richly decorated and a maid from Bangladesh brought me a drink. He offered me food which looked amazing but just the smell made me sick. This man was a Christian as is almost everyone of the 20.000 in this city. The irony is that I find myself fasting (through illness) on Ash Wednesday (the start of christian fasting period) in the only christian city in Jordan! Seems meant to be! The mans brother arrives who speaks very good english. He is a poet, writer, journalist and the former minister of culture. Im in high company now. While im trying not to yawn in his presence we have interesting conversations. He is a very liberal thinker who doesnt believe in marriage, is not religious, though knows lots about it and has spent many years living in New York city. I ask him why he returned, Jordan must be very conservative and repressing for him! Its just appearance, he says, under the surface you can find anything here though. He tells me about tantra and swingers clubs and way more than I want to hear.. He also tells me lots about the history of Al Fuhais and he loves talking so much that I become his guest. He shows me his art collection, his library and a beautiful shepherds instrument his father made himself, which he breaks the moment he tries to play it. Oops! He offers to put Yustra in his garden and I ask him at least three times whether he’s sure about it. The garden looks well maintained and Yustra will just destroy it. He doesnt care as long as she doesnt eat his grapevines. I cant guarantee it.. we speak about Kafka and Dostoyevski and he gets all excited and tells his brother hes speaking to an intellectual. Now im in trouble as he wont let me go. I hint many times that id love to go to bed now and when he finally allows me, he decides to bring me to a hotel. I tell him the bed in the corner is perfect and I really dont need a hotel. He insists, not understanding that hes really not doing me a favor. I much rather stay close to Yustra and leave early morning. And I certainly dont want him to spend money on me! We drive through Al Fuhais and I must admit that it looks incredible after dark with all the lights. He shows me a few of the churches, the bulletholes from the Turks and then rocks up to the only hotel in town. I wait in the car like the Queen of Jordan till he comes back to tell me this hotel is not good enough. We drive another 20min to a hotel where a single room is 120$. By this time I cannot argue anymore, I just want to sleep. Jeryes promises to pick me up in the morning. What a crazy day! I fal asleep straight away.I feel much better when I wake up. Outside its raining, shit. As I wait for Jeryes I re-examine the route for the jordan trail and realize it will get a lot more remote and challenging terrain from now on. I cant take Yustra over steep trails through gorges.. Im afraid ill have to choose between Yustra and a less spectacular route or to sell Yustra and finish the Jordan trail. Of course I choose Yustra! Well take it day by day to find the best way for both of us
Its still 350km to wadi rum; even on easy terrain thats a challenge with the four weeks I have left. Besides, I might be more interested in the cultural aspect of this trip than the scenery (i just had my fantastic landscap fix in new zealand :p). I will still see incredible sights, so im not too worried and happy Yustra can stay with me. One night apart and I miss her! I call the jordan trail association. ‘You’re the donkey lady!’ they excitedly reply. He tells me that the trail is designed as a donkeytrail and I should be able to walk Yustra at least till Petra. Im not so sure about it, but I decide to try it.AP called me to tell me Agrab has returned home. Now, thats a relieve! Im happy he is not lost somewhere and back with his four other dogfriends.And then another phonecall, long live technology! A guy with the hilarious name of Hashies on the other end. I had met him a few days ago on the road. He speaks good english and loves hiking. He likes to catch up, have lunch and discuss plans to maybe hike together for a bit. He also met an Australian guy hiking the Jordan trail, now very near to me. I secretely hope he is nice and would like to join me and Yustra for a few days. It will be much easier to motivate her when someone is behind her. Fingers crossed!Tonight I sleep at the Orthodox club in Al Fuhays, waiting out the rain and recovering. Its about 7 degrees outside and poor Yustra must be cold. I can sleep on the floor in the office tonight.
Part 7:Hashies came and picked me up. The rain was now bucketing down and had turned the garden into a mudbath. Poor Yustra was cold but the maid from Bangladesh had given her a little blanket. Yustra was naughty and had broken the little stone walls, the russian looking man and his trophy wife assured me ‘really its no problem. We have people to come and fix it’. Its their honour to help me. Hashies drives me back to Amman (30min), the visibility is now less than 5 meters, its 7 degrees and im so grateful not to be outside walking. He takes me for traditional lunch, then shisha and backgammon and more tea. Its great to speak english finally. I meet his family, all of them very highly educated. His father asks me whether I have children, I say not yet and he replies ‘great’, I dont need any. He has six but tells me this happened before his brain started working properly.He was in the airforce, so is Hashies. The family seems liberal but I have to sneak in the house anyways, Hashies cant just have women staying the night. He tells me it is still allowed by law(!) to kill your wife within 24 hours of finding her cheating on you. Marriage equals possession, the woman signs away her life, quite literally. Amman has many clubs to go out, but you can only go there as a couple, certainly a man alone wont be accepted. and the main beer in Jordan is Amstel! I wonder how that happened.. what is our relation to Jordan?
Hashies lives in the apartment below his parents, who bring him food three times a day. His study is impressive, im in the house of the luitenant colonel himself…. who doesnt know how to cook. We go out one last time to pick up his friend who lives in the palestinian refugees neighboorhoud. The streets are narrow and steep. Amman is built on seven hills. His cousin has a shop there where we work on the donkey project together we make a little nametag stating in Arabic that this is my donkey and when you find her please call this numbre. We find a small bucket I was looking for to help Yustra drink. She has been quite the princes (fitting though, as I am the queen), refusing most of the water I offered her. We also find better rope that is softer on her skin. As we walk up the stairs to meet his cousins mother we pass boxes of potatoes. ‘Dont worry about the potatoes’, he says ‘they’re for the egyptian embassy’. I wasnt worried about the potatoes, I don’t recall ever worrying about potatoes in my life, but now im curious.. I ask him whether he’s egyptian, but no, he is Palestinian. Im confused but there’s no time for clarity as we enter the house. When he tells his mother about my mission she almost has a heartattack and they scream back and forth. She tells him he cant allow me to do this! This lady gave birth to twenty children, she is much more strong and brave than me! I relieve the tension by inviting her to join me, everybody laughs and thinks it’s a great idea.I spent the night in Hashies sons room and in the morning he calls someone to bring me back to Yustra. We walk to Jordans one and only artisinal beer brewery to meet Graeme, the Australian guy who’s also walking the Jordan trail. We wait for an hour for him to arrive. Graeme has an impressively lightweight backpack and seems very well organized for the trail. He is lean, has one hiking pole, bought a new tent and borrowed a jetboiler. He has been staying in the homestays and hotels advised by the jordan trail organization, paying between 25 and 50 dollars a night. He even already booked accommodation for tonight, at the women’s cooperative in Iraq-ala-miere. Graeme is male though, 43 years old, a human rights lawyer and hasnt been on an adventure for a long time. He is very nice, kind, gentle and most importantly lovely to Yustra, a welcome addition to the team! We decide to walk together today and see how it goes. Unfortunately Carakele brewery is closed, no beers in the morning for us! So we set off. The scenery on part 3 of the trail is increasingly spectacular with our first views of the dead sea. The hills are big and we make our way up and over little trails, by now just following het arrow on the gps. We are amazed with the colours as everything is still very green, dotted with colourfull wild flowers. The terrain is getting more challenging as most is now offroad and we climb steep donkeytrails, jump over rocks, cross cold rivers and slip and slide over muddy foresttrails. I wonder if I would have managed Yustra without Graeme’s presence. Just him being there behind her and sometimes ever so slightly touching her is enough to motivate her over the most incredible terrain. Im so happy we dont need any force on her! Graeme seems to genuinely like her and is amazed by the attention we get from locals. One family invites us for lunch which we decline as their house is far away in the wrong direction. 30 minutes later the car finds us again as we walk on a 4wd track and insists we take the plates and lunchpack they prepared for us: stuffed zucchinis, grapeleaves with rice, olives, yoghurt, bread. Unbelievable! Its a friday and quite a few families and groups of men are enjoying the scenery and cups of tea, brewed on open fires. Such a great custom! When were about to make a short cut through a field the father of a picknicking family tells us go to back to the mainroad. When I ask him why, he says its dangerous. We are stubborn and press on anyways to make it town before dark, no more detours. When we hear a bleet Graeme whispers with fear in his eyes ‘is that a sheep?’. I almost piss myself laughing!We arrive in town, I would normally avoid at night, but I decided to follow Graeme to his accomodation. The sign says ‘ andi rafts village’, I wonder who this mr. Andi is, while it’s Graemes turn to laugh his ass of, this town is known for its handicrafts! One of the children on the street throws rocks and hits Yustra, I scream at him and doubt my decision to come here. I wonder where Yustra will sleep. I end up camping near Graemes guesthouse, next to Yustra. I get up at least 1000 times to check on Yustra. She lays down resting most of the night but jumps up when I arrive. She seems not to worried about the pck of dogs surrounding her and barking so loud that Graeme finally arrives to chase them away. It was a terrible night for me and my cold is not recovering this way. Very bad weather is predicted but we decide to see how far we’ll get. We visit several caves and carved out tombs. We pass a man with a shotgun, looking for pigeons: ‘i shoot beard, you want to see?’. Graeme unintentionally stalls time by talking to the shepherd as Yustra happily joins the sheep feeding from their throughs. The only sun we see that day is when we sit down for a quick lunch after hiking non-stop for 5 hours. We push on through the rain untill in the afternoon it gets really bad and hail and thunderstorms hit us. Jordan has been so much colder than expected. Locals tell us the weather has not been like this in 15 years. We quickly pitch our tents and hide. It is very cold and everything is wet…But the good news is: we made it past the first 150 kilometers! 100km with Yustra she’s amazing. Will you celebrate with us?!
Part 8:It rained the entire night. I left the thick pad on Yustra to keep her warm. I enjoyed listening to camel connection podcasts while dozing off regularly. Id poke my head out of the tent and into the rain to check on Yustra, I feel sorry for her. I wish she fitted in my tent too!
In the morning it was still very cloudy but thankfully there was no more rain. We made our way out of the forest and through areas, strangly uninhabited. We saw almost noone untill we past our first bedouin camp! There were a bunch of big tents in and amongst animal shelters for sheep, goats, chickens, donkeys and dogs. The women waved at us, inviting us for tea. We had so much fun with the many children, pulling faces, playing games, being silly, that the family asked us to stay the night. Our first bedouine experience, yes plaese! Curious as I was to have a look inside all the tents. I unpacked Yustra and took all the children for little donkeyrides while a bunch were running around me screaming ‘me, me, me!’. Oh Yustra makes us so popular the children each asked me at least 35 times hewther I would really sleep there tonight. With them. I agreed. My biggest fan was a 10year old winking at me and saying ‘Tamara I love you’. Some of the older girls were picking greens and interested as I am in foraging I joined them. It was chobeze. I cut it all up fibely and was invited in the kitchentent. Some of the adults sat around the stove while I helped 21year old Houda cut up onions, we were both crying heavily and laughing through our tears: ‘tamara, very good’. It got even better when it was time to milk the sheep. Graeme was impressed by the way they tie them up. Infact, its the same method as ive seen in Mongolia and the method to coil a climbing rope: a daisychain with a sheeps head in each loop. It creates a long line of sheep, tied together by their heads. That way we could easily reach their utters, while holding one sheepsleg between my calf and thigh. Graeme (who is now called Kerim) wasnt much succesfull with the milking, but my years of practice are finally paying off: ‘Tamara very good!’. While Kerim is taking a nap I want to soak up this experience, though I find it exhausting to play with twenty children at the same time, all running around screaming tamara, tamara, tamara. Soooo much fun though! The big tent is divided in two big rooms, bith empty. Carpets on the floor and a matress for me to sit on. I spend most of the night in the room with the women, snuggled up around a gasheater. Kerim is sitting in the other room with the men. Even though we told them we are married we are not allowed to sleep in the same room. I am finally invited to sit with my husband in the mens room for a while, using my best arabic to make stupid jokes. Houda prepares a bed for me and everybody is gazing at me while I get in and close my eyes. My ten year old fan jumps in under the blankets with me till she is sent away. Im so used to this now that I comfortably fall asleep. The lack of hygiene in this family has gotten to me though as my guts are very upset and I have stomach cramps and running diahrroea. The toilet is a hole in the ground, some girls always waiting outside for me to finish and return. Theres a lot of noise from barking dogs all through the night. Noone else seems to be bothered by it. In the morning the family begs me to stay one more night, pleeaaassseee?? Kerim can go, Yustra can go, but tamara stay!! I help them with the morning milking and watch the women package squares of yoghurt to sell. One of the boys charges up bareback on his donkey. almost everyone we meet now has a donkey, but none look so healthy and happy as Yustra! Kerim and I say goodbye; we give the men a batterypack with solarpanel, perfect for their days herding sheep! The family tries a few more times to keep us there or postpone departure, but we must be strong and manage to break free.Kerim and I set off for our most challenging day so far. First we head down to the moses springs to fp our waterbottles. As we get closer to the dead sea, everything is getting a lot drier and barren. A few other shepherds pass to get water. One of them has a donkey straight from a zombiemovie that broke lose and charges towards us, scaring Yustra. She looks so unhealthy, dull fur, skinny, one blind eye and several chains on her. I wish we could save her too! From the spring its a long climb to mount Nebo. The same steep hill Moses supposedly climbed to see the Holy Land from the top and die a peacefull dead. A memorial was surrected and beautiful mosaics have been preserved to honour the prophet.Theres a fence at the top we need to navigate around as most tourist come from the road and are directed to the parkinglot. So is Yustra. Shes not allowed to eat the holy flowers and has to wait for us on the side of the road where there is a tiny patch of grass. Cameras are clicking away as we walk our donkey through the masses of visitors. Especially the chinese are rude, pushing to get a good photo without saying anything to us. We enter the site and admire the monument. In the mosaics I see a white man leading a horse and a spotted camel, and next to him a black man leading an ostrich. Whats up with that? Several chinese are eating Jesus body and sing to him. The view is long and far, looking over the jordan valley, the dead sea and countless hills and valleys. Dry as it is, not quite the land of milk and honey.
We use the bathrooms to wash our faces and arms and even a few cloths. With so little water on our trek we hardly get a chance to wash anything and due to the rain the last days we are covered in mud. When the cleaner comes in I think hell send me away but instead he helps me wash my shirt, his green eyes shining bright over his big smile. I explain the stains come from milki.g the sheep with the bedouins that morning. I tell him about my donkey. Asany others have done before him he refers to her as monkey, giving me a much appreciated excuse to perform both my monkey and my donkey impersonation we laugh.After fulfilled with cultural, religious and panoramic impressiveness, we quickly get away from the masses and head down into the wadi. The water has carved out the landscape and steep hills surround us. The wadi is already challenging to ealk for ourselves but even harder with Yustra. Often we have to go up and over sheer drops while she struggles to find feet. Im starting to panick doubting if she can do this. Often we have to reroute and I fear for all of our safety. One time the ground under her starts to break away and she slides five meters down into the bottom of the wadi. I had a heartattack and thought we might loose her there! I check her thoroughly to see if shes ok. Without hesiation she follows me up another way to try again. She’s such an amazing strong donkey, getting braver everyday! The progress she made since day 1 is unbelievable. I should tell AP that shes worth much more now the wadi is incredibly spectacular with its eroded shapes and forms, warerfalls and polished sandstone. Finally the wadi is opening up a bit more and I celebrate Yustras amazingness. I can see why the wadis are dangerous, even with the slightest bit of rain. Recently Jordan lost a group of schoolkids that way. After we pass an ancient grave, old ruins and caves we stop for some warer for Yustra at a wannabe farmer/retired bank managers house. He shows us a video of that place in raging torrents after just 30minutes of rain. We share a lunch and the man shows me Miramiya (sage) and Shiya (artemisia) which we put in our tea, together with the Zahtar (oregano) thats already in there, good for many things including my stomach problems, my cough and at the same time cancer! Arent we lucky we move on to climb the nect humongous hill, in the scorching heat, but fortunately this time on a nice trail making it a lot more easy. We see a beautifully coloured flightless bird that reminds me of the weka in New Zealand. Birds of prey are circling the termals. And huge black millepieds cross our path. I tell Kerim he cant touch those, which makes him break out in singing the entire MC Hammer song. This guy surprises me every day, so funny!Its almost 5 pm when we reach the summit. Kerim stopped a hundred times to takes pictures of the amazing view. There is a little bit of forest where we decide to stay for the night, a great spot! An old ruin serves as our house and Yustra performs as a guarddog from the porch. I feel like pippy longstocking! Not long since were admiring our spot when a few men come to direct us a bit further up and have tea with them. They made a fire with the last bits of wood left in this forest and we watch a colourful display of the sun setting and reflecting in the dead sea. The men have been making slingshot we try out. they were here foraging and collecting pinecones which they break open with rocks for us to taste the pinenuts. When the fire bns down we all stand up to dance and sing, clapping our hands. What a way to finish this day!
Part : 9We had a big day. Yustra is now walking 20+ km days with us, shes so strong, brave and loyal! And not to forget: the loveliest and prettiest donkey on the planet!We get up with sunrise, around 5.30, make coffee, have breakfast (oats) and i pack the donkey. Ive got a really good system now where her.pack is tightly strapped and nothing is pinching, rubbing or hurting her. Though we climb up and down steep hills, where she regularly has to jump up, over or down obstacles, her pack stays in place. She is lovely and trusting and great at making friends. Though we hardly see anyone on these sections of dry barren rocky desert, the few people we meet are happy to see us. Assam immediately invites us in for tea. He’s from Egypt, and proudly shows us a picture of his ugly baby, but now works in this tent in the middle of nowhere. He’s got a very efficient workline setup, cutting, salting and packaging cheese (pronounced jibne). He insists we sit down for a cup of te and pulla out some bread and eggs. We make some jokes back and forth and his bright green eyes show his appreciation of us turning up there. Google translate is very helpful but often makes us laugh even harder. Apparently the music shop opens the boiling of milk. Got it?We push on to make it to the Panorama complex tonight, where we will meet our commin friend luietant colonel Hashies. I wonder where the Panorama complex fits in the DSM-V, probably under anxiety disorders: a fear of amazing views?We have the lush green northern mountains behind and stepped into the dry barren rocky desert that will lead us to the dead sea. The colours are just fenomenal, the english language lacks words to describe it. All different shades of pruple, pink, orange, red and even black. The closer we get to the dead sea, the more we see these curious black rocks. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomara (which supposedly sank in the dead sea), he ‘rained brimstone and fire’ destroying everything (genesis 19). This biblical story corresponds with seismically active eastern shores. God only saved Lot and his daughters, his wife was turned into a salt pilar which is still standing. We made it there after 22 long kilometers of climbing up and down small wadis, with no place to shade from the desert sun. Hashies was dropped by someone to meet us and he called to other friends to come bring us shoarma and firewood. They didnt arrive till after midnight. Thankfully they brought hay for Yustra to eat, as there is nothing here! She doesnt quite like the tastes of rocks yet..We enjoyed an amazing view over the dead sea though, with bright shining full moon behind us. from a ledge high above the sea we looked at the lights of Jerusalem, Jericho, Betlehem..We wonder at the dead sea, while it is still here. It lost 1/3 of its surface in the past 100 years. Now, 90% of the water that would naturally feed the lake is being diverted for farming and cities on both sides of the rift valley. It is considered a problem but i wonder why: what will be the consequence of the dead sea drying up?Though everything seems dead and barren here, I marvel at the richness of the area. It is believed to be the place where the earliest mining and smelting of copper took place 7000 years ago. In Mamluk times it provided the sulfur-stone and tar needed for their pottery bombs: beautiful clay hand grenades. It is also the place for many biblical events like the Mission of John the baptist, who preached to multitudes and baptized many, including Jesus Christ himself. In 1947, a shepherd in search of his lost goat discivered the famous dead sea scrolls, that have been lost for humanity over 2000 years. Many more were found. Most written on leather and some on copper it provides rich commentaries on various books of the Old Testament and is rich in historical value. The dead sea lays on one of the worlds biggest traffic lines for migratory birds and hot springs and hanging gardens emerged all around. It is a place providing lots of indigo, the bright blue pigment used to colour textile and exported all over the world. We saw a lizard sunning on a rock with exactly that colour!
Being below sealevel, with the lowest point on earth, it is warm and we sleep without a tent. I find a nice flat rock and only roll out my sleeping bag. The moon is reflecting in the waters beneath us. When we wake up we decide to stay a day to explore the area. Hashies knows a good place to hike. We climb down a bridge an follow a wadi qll the way down, passing waterfalls and little oases. For the first time in Jordan the water is swimmable and we enjoy our long overdue shower! I struggle with the lack of clean, fresh water in this country and feel revived today. The hike is incredible and couldnt have been done with Yustra. We left her with our new friend Ahmed, the guard at the panorama complex who insists on tea and doesnt let us pay for the entrance. He’s obviously great at his only job there :D. We leave our big backpacks and set off for the day. Amazing views, beautiful hanging gardens, palm trees, blue pools and some in redible wildlife. We are lucky enough to see a fox! The bright blue lizard strikes us most, next to dark red dragonflies, and a big crab that bites Hashies in the finger when he tries to grab it, after Kerim has shown him how. Thank God he thinks its very funny too, cause I cant help myself it is worse when the fighter pilot makes Kerim pull out his first aid kit to put a little bandage on his finger.. we find out the colonel is completey mad. Every time he tells a story, especially about his girlfriend, im amazed at his capability of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time over and over again. He lied to her about having facebook and snapchat ‘I never heared of it, what is it?’ And ‘oh yes that IS my picture, I forgot’ and then they fight and he says crazy things as ill fuck your morher and ill have your son suck my dick. He laughs loudly as he tells this and realizes he’s an idiot, so gladly I can keep pointing that out to him. I laugh my ass off with this character though. He makes us help him think of ways to win her back. Kerim tells him he needs a plan, I tell him he needs a brain and leave the poor woman alone. Its a hilarious hike this way. We conquer some steep descents untill we really cant go down a hundred meter waterfall with sheer cliffs surrounding it. It looks amazing!! We have to climb back up the mountain using hand and feet till we finally meet a shepherd who guides us back out. It was a magical day which we conclude with kebabs on the fire before Hashies gets picked up and its back to us three musketeers again. 220 kilometers in the trip were ready for pur next, most challenging section where we cross three major wadis to make it to Karak.
We see noone today. Except for one man, who seems way too big to be riding that poor little donkey. We meet him just at the moment where were having some issues getting Yustra across a difficult section. He tries to help but in the end I know my donkey best and get her across safely. We walk in the mountains. High, steep, challenging sidling and crossing. Most of the day the environment is dry and barren, no Yustra snacks in sight. I wonder whether I should have brought more hay, if its going to be like this from now on. But strangely enough we conclude the day walking through fields of wheat tickling our armpits. The second person we see is a boy with a donkey dresses up like a christmass tree with lots of fabrics, colours and bells, as are many donkeys we meet. The boy is with two other men milking a herd of sheep. Its the first time we see men doing the milking! There must be something wrong! The men takes heaps of pictures with us, which has also become quite common and insist we take a bottle of milk and some oregano. Google translate tells us the music shop provides us with the boiling of milk. I understand. Everywhere we go we meet other donkeys. And if we dont see them we hear them as Yustra sings to them and they respond. ive got the fine art of packing pretty much down now. Her pack sits tight, there is no sign of rubbing and though she jumps big crevasses and rocks on steep slopes it never moves. The weather is hot and the sweat dripping in my eyes stings as much as the nettle on my legs. The only little shop we pass that day just ran out of water, crazy! We buy all sorts of fancy cookies instead so we have something to share next time we get invited for tea. We forget about the water as were headed for the wafi anyways. When we make it to the bottom of the wadi it is very tempting to camp there, but we push on. We make it another 22km day, when we finally decide to stop and make camp on a ledge on the side of a steep slope. Three shepherds on the opposite slope yell at us and we yell back. We tell them were camping there on the ledge. Kerim hopes he wont roll off in his sleep. I decide to sleep out again with no tent. There’s apparently no dew in Jordan anyways, perfect!Lies, damn lies. My sleeping bag is soaking wet when I wake up. Oops. We have breakfast even before sunrise as we have another big day ahead of us. First of all well have to make it down the supersteepslope again. Its so chllenging it could have kept me awake all night but thankfully ive got nerves of steel :p the same shepherds are up early too and direct me where to go, as they can see it much better from their position. Together we make it down pretty quickly and we continue our way through the bottom of the narrow wadi until it finally widens out and makes our lives a bit easier. When we reach the top of the next wadi we are looking down some proper grand canyonstyle terrain. I amaze myself once again at the seashells that are embedded in the rocks up here. Once the water came up to here! On our way down again we hear gunshots. And when we get further down we see a few tents and about a dozen men in camouflage gear. They are shooting birds with their shotguns, they show us a bunch of about 20 birds. I dont think they need all that camouflage gear for it, but I guess its their uniform. They invite us for coffee and some sweets and resupply is with drinking water. One ties Yustra to the tent, though she quickly pulls out the peg and the tent starts crumbling. The princess is also little impressed with the carrots they offer her, but happily munches away on the grass. One of the men picks up my backpack and estimates it to be around 20kg. I pick it up with one hand and easily swing it on my back, as we wave goodbye and walk on. Down into another wadi and up the mountain on the other side again. Sheesz, you really need to be fit for the jordan trail! Not far behind us we see a group of 7 other hikers getting dropped by cars and starting to follow us up. When we take a wrong turn and find ourselves on a top with amazing kilometers wide views qe stop for lunch, qhich consists of the bread the hunters gave us, the tomato Hashies cousins gave us and the zahtar (oregano, sesame, olive oil dip) we got last week. The group unexpectedly turns up at our lunchstop though. Two jordanians and five expats, all living in man, just out here for the weekend. We join them for a little while and I am very proud of Yustra as we charge up the big mountain, over boulders, overtaking most of the group. At the top the Jordanian points out a black iris to us, the jordanian national flower. Yustra sniffs at it and I was secretly hoping she would take a big bite of it, while everybody was admiring the flower. We follow along the plateau for another few kilometers passing little groups of families having barbecues and all admiring the view. Dry and barren as far as the eye can see, though were wading through fields of flowers here at the top. 17 kilometers in we are headed for our last challenge of the day. A steep descent, classified by the jordan trail association as difficult plus. The map reads ‘steep! Dangerous’. We will drop almost a kilometer in altitude and the slopes are steep and exposed. I struggle to find the right way for Yustra but we have great communication now. Most of the time she trusts me, like I trust Kerim navigating as I lead Yustra and in his turn Kerim trusts the device, the magic machine telling us where to go. His gps died ten days into the trail so we now follow the arrow on our phones. There is hardly any wau og knowing how much ascending and descending well be doing, which is great, we worry about it when its there.Out of nowhere there are all of a sudden dogs barking and growling at us. We know there must be a shepherd close. He has a donkey too and Yustra walks ovee to say hello. This donkey is not so friendly though, or maybe a little bit too friendly. When he tries to jump her from behind (I cant blame him, she’s gorgeous!) she wont have it and turns around to kick him with tqo legs full force. Ive never seen her do that! In the commotion both donkeys jump and run a few meters, almost dragging me off the mountain into the depths. My heart beats in my throat for the next ten minutes, as we quickly get out of there.. Yustra takes big jumps on scary sections and I am so amazed by her baldness and toughness I cant stop complimenting her and saying how proud I am and how much I love her. Our communication improved majorly. She usually trusts my leaf but sometimes sees angles on the path and lets me know she prefers a different route. I give her enough rope to go there untill she joins back up with us. I constantly try to maintain a workable balance between giving her plenty of leash for her to freely move around the rocks and not giving her too much as the rope gets entangled around her feet. She has made such amazing progres since the day I bought her. She wouldnt cross the smallest crevasses and little streams and most certainly wouldnt jump steep big boulders on exposed mountain slopes. Kerim is very gentle, patient and loving towards her, what a great friend to have on this trip! He whispers to her and encourages her from behind. He found out that for some reason she is ore responsive on her left side then her right. We get to know her better each day. As I compliment Yustra once more, he smiles and says ‘it’s great to see your little ine grow up, isn’t it?’. It sure is! Im a very proud mammie Its a loooooong descent and though we are all exhausted we push on to make it to the water down in the depths of the massive Wadi Mojib. Just before reaching a well, I slip once coming down a totally unchallenging little slope and make an impressive 180 pirouette, leaving me hilarious with laughter. Of course thats the moment two locals showed up, saw me fall and give me a hand down the next few steep meters. They should know the sort of terrain we just conquered! I appreciate it Descending further down we enter seemingly inaccessible lower reaches by a path built down a cliff. It once again feels like we entered another planet. On this planet people are even farming cacti, ive never seen that before! I wonder what for..Just after sunset we make it down to the water. There is very little food for Yustra but thankfully we still carried a bunch of hay. I quickly unpack her and run to the river for a proper shower, washing myself, my hair and my cloths with soap. Its been many days and I feel very refreshed. It quickly turns pitch black dark around and I start a big fire on which we cook a delicious meal to celebrate an amazing day, completed with superhuman effort. Im proud of all of us. I lay down donkeys blanket on top of bunch of reed and marvel at the stars and the big bright moon that comes sneaking up from behind the mountain. I abandon donkeys blanket shortly after as the flees living in it wake me up. The reed is comfortable enough on its own though and a well deserved rest is in place now. Go team Yustra!
Part 11:We start the day off with a walk up and down along the wadi. We meet the other group of weekendhikers again as they are just working on a boulderproblem (rockclimbing) before a Jordanian breakfast of flatbread and humus. Kerim takes off his shoes and has a go at it while I spot him. We leave the group behind and move on to cross the water and start our neverending climb out of the wadi. It eventually brings us to the rim of the canyon with magnificent views, but during the day I wouldnt have believed you if you said so. There are too many false tops and unbelievable elevation gains. This day is again classified as difficult +, just like the day before. We descended a kilometer into the wadi and now climb up 1200 meters on the other side of the wadi. The climb is extraordinary and it just never seems to summit. We repack Yustra halfway up as her saddle starts sliding backwards from all the jumping up ledges and rocks. The view into Jordans Grand Canyon is magnificent and keeps impressing. I smile as I hear Kerim whisper encouraging words to Yustra all the way up. We totally underestimated this day, which is a good thing as we now worry only when we need to we started walking around 7.30 and didnt reach the high fertile plateau at the top till 1.30 pm. Thats six hours of nonstop steep mountainclimbing. I am most impressed with Kerim who now also got diahhrea. I had it twice already, explosive and running, but a Norit charcoaltablet fixed the problem straight away. I give one to Kerim. At the top we find a lush field of grass for Yustra to munch away on. We still had a long way to go though to reach our 20km daymark. Coming from untamed wilderness its a bit of a shock to walk on countryroads again. Few cars stop and make this now so fimiliar hand gesture assumingly meaning ‘what the *** are you doing with this donkey?’, I explain in my best Arabic and they all ask me to buy my donkey. Absolutely not an option! I tell people now that ill put her in the airplane with me back to Holland I wish!!When we pass our first town in ages we stop for an icecream. I feel like I need the sugars to drag me through the last little bit.. im exhausted. We all are. At the edge of town we pass a cafe with a few billiards and Kerim spots a soccermatch on the televison from the corner of his eyes. He is attracted like a magnet as are a dozen or so boys that see Kerim coming their way. ‘Who’s playing?’ he asks. ‘Me’ answers a young boy with a playstationcontrol in his hand.. a few photos later we push on, dreadfully..When we get invited for tea at the edge of town we gratefully accept. There’s good grass in their garden for Yustra and they let us camp next to her. When the older brother arrives we start regretting our decision though.. he is very opinionated and passive agressive. He complains that all Jordanians are too curious and nosy, want to know everything of everybody, and then he asks us lots of personal questions and does not hold back on his opinion about our western develish lives. How dare I leave my fathers house at the age of 19?! After all he has done for me? He works on our nerves, but lets us off the hook at 20.30 to finally go to bed. This is late for us now. We are packing Yustra at sunrise again to make the 25 km we have left to go to Karak and its impressive castle.Its a long and relatively boring day walking on country roads most of the way. We take advantage of the villages to get a proper arabic coffee (50 cents), half a kilo of fresh bread from the bakery (50 cents) and 12 pieces of falafel (20 cents). A bunch of children are excited to see Yustra and try to jump on her back, hit her with sticks and scream and run around her. I understand their excitement but want them gone. I apologize and tell them its not possible to ride this donkey as she bites and kicks. A white lie.. in the last village we meet the group of thru hikers that signed up for the organized hike from Aqaba to UmQais. Theres a couple dozen of them. Kerim and my biggest nightmare! Though they are walking the same Jordan Trail, I am so happy not to be part of them. They haven’t even stayed with one family yet! The Jordanian people is such a big part of my trip… they continue north and we go south.Dark clouds are forming. We see Karak on the hill in front of us. Just 1,5 km before the city we spot a nice campsite with a few trees, some firewood and a lush green field of juicy grass, perfect for Yustra’s day off tomorrow. We decide to stay. Its only 2pm and we already knocked off 25 kms! Just minutes after I organized Yustra, pitched the tent and had a cup of tea, the rain starts bucketing down. Perfect timing! Today we finished part 4 of the 8 stages, we are exactly halfway through the country and in total we completed 300kms of amazing donkey adventures through inhospitable terrain meeting the most hospitable people we carry the Jordan flag with pride.
Part 12:Were on a hill just outside of Karak, its already dark when theres a dry window in the otherwise rainy day. I break some dead branches of the trees and make a fire. A hot cup of tea with some fresh herbs warms us up. The floor of my tent is not waterproof anymore, but my matress keeps my sleepingbag dry. I cook a meal of rice, potato, onion, cheese and the last of the dried meat from the deer I shot in new zealand. A light comes our way and three young men join us around the fire. This time I have tea, cookies and a meal to share! Odei, a fifteen year boy and his black donkey joins us not much later, bringing fresh milk. We still have to boil it before drinking. Im trying to find out whether it is goats or sheep milk. They dont know the english words, I forgot the arabic. So I imitate: ‘is it beeeeeh or maaaah?’. Kerim, rafat and ahmed laugh. Its ‘maaaaah’. Though im still not sure which animal that is, its a good enough answer for me the boys invite us to come home with them, but we promise to visit them in the morning instead. That night we question whether we should have accepted their invitation, the weather turns aweful! A big thunderstorm races over us. Flash, bang, flash flash, rumble. There’s not even a second in between! I peak through a little opening in my tent to see the lightning down in the valley, quite spectacular. I feel sorry for Yustra though who looks all sad hiding under a tree. It comforts me to know im giving her the day off though! In the morning it rains on and off. We visit Rafat and his sheep and donkeys. He proudly shows us his puppy with one blue eye and one brown.Rafat lives in a horsecaravan/trailer. Its quite cosy in there, I love it! He makes tea on a gasstove, we bring cookies and bread. He has some stuffed eggplant which is amazingly tasty! He showes us his shotgun. We’ve been seeing shotgunshells literally everywhere along the trail! Kerim and I leave Yustra with 27 year old Rafat, who is four days a week a policeman and four days a sheperd. We leave our backpacks dry inside the trailer and set of on a special mission. Kerims friend has a great uncle that was an airforce pilot in the Australian army in world war I. He was shot down here in Jordan nor far from Karak. Kerim and his friends have been doing lots of historical research to find out more details, including the exact location. We decide to go there and speak to the ghost of luitenant Gordon Oxenham himself. We walk to town, take a bus and then a taxi into the middle of nowhere. The driver confirms 30 times whether we are sure we want to be dropped there. Its a rocky and muddy walk to the site, 6 miles south of Katrani and half a mile east of the railwayline. We work out where the guns must have shot the plane and an unexpected trail of cairns directs us to the site of impact. By now the wind has picked up and the rain set in. Its freezing cold and one sandal has finally given up on me. On one barefoot we conquer the weather and pay tribute to the pilot. We hink back to the road where a big cementtruck takes pity on us. When the driver sees my muddy bare foot he makes me get out of the truck. He walks around to wash my foot with water and gives me a pair of sandals, six sizes too big. Thats what I wear the rest of the day! He drops us at the turnoff and another truck brings us to town where we visit the ancient railwaystation, once part of the impressive Hejaz railwayline, meant to bring people from Istanbul to Mecca. It never made it past Damascus and Medina and is no longer in use. Sleepers were made of steal as ‘the locals had a habit of using the wooden sleepers for firewood’. At the station an old train is still present with a plaque stating ‘Belgique. 1912.’. Despite shivering from the cold I am grateful to be part of this mission and see things no other tourist ever sees. We warm up with a cup of tea and delicious sweets, these arab countries are so good at. A syrian refugee serves us very friendly. For everything you need in Jordan you just have to ask someone. So we ask about a bus back to Karak, there is no such thing, but within 5 minutes we are in a car to visit the famous castle. Built on an strategic hillside it managed to keep out the crusaders. Not accepted as a UNESCO site it seems like funding might be a problem. The lights are turned off and the museum closed. We rush through the ruins as the rain and wind are unbareable. Local men wear long comfortable warm gowns we couldnt get away with in the western world! We decide to go find a restaurant to warm up. As we walk the streets we hear someone saying ‘mr. Kerim, mr. Kerim! Do you remember me?’. I feel bad as I don’t. It turns out to be Rafats brother, conveniently named Jafat. I talked to him briefly on the phone the day before. He has been looking for us in Karak! Unbelievable, thats a long shot! I tell him were looking for food but he insists we come to his house. He shows us everything and is constantly talking to us, quite the oneway conversation, but he has a really by good heart and I like his thinking. Not much later he brings in the chickenrolls Kerim had been talking about all day. Then he even gives us his wifipassword, something weve also failed to find in Karak but were looking for so I would be able to call Dave and my father and Kerim could send me the pictures he took om his iphone which are much better then my shitty old Huawei. Unfortunately its midnight in New Zealand and Jafat never stops talking about his car, his laptop and his believes. He makes me very very happy when he offers me to have a hot shower! It has been two weeks since I had a wash now. Hygiene is a real problem on this trail if you dont stay in hotels. There is no natural water. We pass a few streams and rivers but they smell and are not very tempting to wash in.. my nails have never even been this long as I am very careful not to bite my dirty donkey fingers.. clean and refreshed, though now more aware of my smelly cloths, we go to town to buy the shoarma I promised Rafat to bring back from town. Jafat drives us, saving us an hours walk in the dark, cold, rain. He seems very offended when we dont go back with him to sleep in his warm house but prefer his brothers invitation to stay with him and Odei in the horse caravan. Though our camp is just 5 minutes away, I love the idea of sleeping in the caravan! The four of us snuggle up on three matresses. Dogs barking, sheep bleeting, wind howling and Odei snoring dont make for a great night. I wonder why I am annoied by Odeis snoring but melt from the bleeting of the two young sheep that sleep with us in the trailer, hiding from the cold. They make for a great cuddle in the morning!
Thankfully i was vast asleep though during Odei’s hours of masturbation, Kerim told me about the next morning. Kerim moved, coughed and finally said something. Odei would stop for a bit but continue when he tought Kerim was back asleep. I keep bursting out in laughter as Kerim and I make our way back to Karak. Though Rafat insistingly asked us to change our donkey for his black one, apparently his sheep are racist and prefer a white donkey, we refuse and set off with our beloved Yustra. She seems happy today. She runs and jumps and gorges on the extra apples and grains I give her. In town I worry about her nicotin-addiction as she prefers the cigarettebuds over the grass once again. I take her somwhere more clean. She happily lays on her side in the sun while I wait for Kerim to extend his 40 arabian nights at the policestation in Karak. Busdrivers, taxidrivers, passers by and shopowners all one after other come to check out Yustra and hear my story. They love it. I get fed falafel and cups of sugary tea till Kerim returns.Part 13
By the time Kerim returns the entire busstation is awaiting him. He shows up with Jaffat and tells me his version of the Kafkaesk visum extension process. Something that should take 30 minutes, took me two days, Kerim only 5 hours. His adventure includes coffee with the principle of the boys-school in town. We were planning on doing 30 km today but we dont set off till 2 pm. Yustra manoeuvres fearlessly through the heavy traffic, in which honking your horn is curtousy. Soon we find ourselves on a winding road along a long wadi heading in the direction of Dana. Yustra perks up when she spots three donkeys in a cave. We climb up to 1200 meters where it is easy walking through fertile fields of mostly wheat, Yustras favourite. We ponder about our Katrani mission and think back about the man that suddenly appeared from behind a door in the otherwise abonded trainstation that hasn’t been in use since decades. Is he one of those Japanese soldiers still fighting in the jungles because he never got the word or denies the war is over? Around the corner we see two men pushing 18 goats into a minivan, its a hilarious sight! When I am done laughing and pointing, he suggests I put Yustra in there too and just drive to Aqaba, much easier! Also this man asks me to buy Yustra. With the abundance of donkeys we meet on our way I’m surprised almost everyone wants to buy Yustra, there doesnt seem to be a shortage of donkeys!In the field I spot a white bird and ask Kerim the difference between a pigeon and a dove. We conclude its more a linguistic difference than a taxonomic one. As we pass a few watersources we also discuss the difference between a cistern and a well. (A well taps into groundwater while a cistern holds water from any source). With the dove still there we name the place Ararat and conclude the bird has done a great job of planting her olivebranch around. It must be a good sign. Up on Mount Ararat the wind is fiercly cold. I am walking brisk, wearing two merino layers and my downjacket and still wish I had brought gloves and a hat. Jordan is in winter!When the sun is close to setting, we spot some ruins we make our home. We choose the ballroom where Yustra can be the princess with plenty of long juicy grass for her and sheltered flat camping spots for us. We enjoy a colourfull sunset from over the sandstone walls while I make a fire to boil some tea to warm us up. I roast our leftover falafel-sandwhich and by 18.30 it is pitchblack dark and we are in our sleepingbags. I blow steam just by exhaling. The good news is that if we push on another 25 km tomorrow, we will reach some natural hot springs! Hoorah! I wonder if Yustra will enjoy a bath too..Were on a hill just outside of Karak, its already dark when theres a dry window in the otherwise rainy day. I break some dead branches of the trees and make a fire. A hot cup of tea with some fresh herbs warms us up. The floor of my tent is not waterproof anymore, but my matress keeps my sleepingbag dry. I cook a meal of rice, potato, onion, cheese and the last of the dried meat from the deer I shot in new zealand. A light comes our way and three young men join us around the fire. This time I have tea, cookies and a meal to share! Odei, a fifteen year boy and his black donkey joins us not much later, bringing fresh milk. We still have to boil it before drinking. Im trying to find out whether it is goats or sheep milk. They dont know the english words, I forgot the arabic. So I imitate: ‘is it beeeeeh or maaaah?’. Kerim, rafat and ahmed laugh. Its ‘maaaaah’. Though im still not sure which animal that is, its a good enough answer for me the boys invite us to come home with them, but we promisr to visit them in the morning instead. That night we question whether we should have accepted their invitation, the weather turns aweful! A big thunderstorm races over us. Flash, bang, flash flash, rumble. There’s not even a second in between! I peak through a little opening in my tent to see the lightning down in the valley, quite spectacular. I feel sorry for Yustra though who looks all sad hiding under a tree.. it comforts me to know im giving her the day off though! In the morning it rains on and off. We visit Rafat and his sheep and donkeys. He proudly shows us his puppy with one blue eye and one brown.Rafat lives in a horsecaravan/trailer. Its quite cosy in there, I love it! He makes tea on a gasstove, we bring cookies and bread. He has some stuffed eggplant which is amazingly tasty! He showes us his shotgun. Weve been seeing shotgunshells literally everywhere along the trail! Kerim and I leave Yistra with 27 year old Rafat, who is four days a week a policeman and four days a sheperd. We leave our backpacks dry inside the trailer and set of on a special mission. Kerims friend has a great ubcle that was an airforce pilot in the australian army in world war I. He was shot down here in Jordan nor far from Karak. Kerim and his friends have been doing lots of historical research to find out more details, including the exact location. We decide to go there and speak to the ghost of luitenant Gordon Oxenham himself. We walk to town, take a bus and then a taxi into the middle of nowhere. The driver confirms 30 times whether we are sure we want to be dropped there. Its a rocky and muddy walk to the site, 6 miles south of Katrani and half a mile east of the railwayline. We work out where the guns must have shot the plane and an unexpected trail of cairns directs us to the site of impact. By now the wind has picked up and the rain set in. Its frezing cold and one sandal has finally given up on me. On one barefoot we conquer the weather and pay tribute to the pilot. We hink back to the road where a big cementtruck takes pity on us. When the driver sees my muddy bare foot he makes me get out of the truck. He walks around to wash my foot with water and gives me a pair of sandals, six sizes too big. Thats what I wear the rest of the day! He drops us at the turnoff and another truck brings us to town where we visit the ancient railwaystation, once part of the impressive Hejaz railwayline, meant to bring people from Istanbul to Mecca. It never made it past Damascus and Medina and is no longer in use. Sleepers were made of steal as ‘the locals had a habit of using the wooden sleepers for firewod’. At the station an old train is still present with a plaque stating ‘Belgique. 1912.’. Despite shivering from the cold I am grateful to be part of this mission and see things no other tourist ever sees. We warm up with a cup of tea and delicious sweets, these arab countries are so good at. A syrian refugee serves us very friendly. For everything you need in Jordan you just have to ask someone. So we ask about a bus back to Karak, there is no such thing, but within 5 minutes we are in a car to visit the famous castle. Built on an strategic hillside it managed to keep out the crusaders. Not accepted as a UNESCO site it seems like funding might be a problem. The lights are turned off and the museum closed. We rush through the ruines as the rain and wind are unbareable. Local men wear long comfortable warm gowns we couldnt get away with in the western world! We decide to go find a restaurant to warm up. As we walk the streets we hear someone saying ‘mr. Kerim, mr. Kerim! Do you remember me?’. I feel bad as I don’t. It turns out to be Rafats brother, conveniently named Jafat. I talked to him briefly on the phone the day before. He has been looking for us in Karak! Unbelievable, thats a long shot! I tell him were looking for food but he insists we come to his house. He shows us everything and is constantly talking to us, quite the oneway conversation, but he has a really by good heart and I like his thinking. Not much later he brings in the chickenrolls Kerim had been talking about all day. Then he even gives us his wifipassword, something weve also failed to find in Karak but were looking for so I would be able to call Dave and my father and Kerim could send me the pictures he took om his iphone which are much better then my shitty old Huawei. Unfortunately its midnight in New Zealand and Jafat never stops talking about his car, his laptop and his believes. He makes me very very happy when he offers me to have a hot shower! It has been two weeks since I had a wash now. Hygiene is a real problem on this trail if you dont stay in hotels. There is no natural water. We pass a few streams and rivers but they smell and are not very tempting to wash in.. my nails have never even been this long as I am very careful not to bite my dirty donkey fingers.. clean and refreshed, though now more aware of my smelly cloths, we go to town to buy the shoarma I promised Rafat to bring back from town. Jafat drives us, saving us an hours walk in the dark, cold, rain. He seems very offended when we dont go back with him to sleep in his warm house but prefer his brothers invitation to stay with him and Odei in the horse caravan. Though our camp is just 5 minutes away, I love the idea of sleeping in the caravan! The four of us snuggle up on three matresses. Dogs barking, sheep bleeting, wind howling and Odei snoring dont make for a great night. I wonder why I am annoied by Odeis snoring but melt from the bleeting of the two young sheep that sleep with us in the trailer, hiding from the cold. They make for a great cuddle in the morning!
Thankfully i was vast asleep though during Odei’s hours of masturbation, Kerim told me about the next morning. Kerim moved, coughed and finally said something. Odei would stop for a bit but continue when he tought Kerim was back asleep. I keep bursting out in laughter as Kerim and I make our way back to Karak. Though Rafat insistingly asked us to change our donkey for his black one, apparentlt his sheep are racist and prefer a white donkey, we refuse and set off with our beloved Yustra. She seems happy today. She runs and jumps and gorges on the extra apples and grains I give her. In town I worryy about her nicotinaddiction as she prefers the cigarettebuds over the grass once again. I take her somwhere more clean. She happily lays on her side in the sun while I wait for Kerim to extend his 40 arabian nights at the policestation in Karak. Busdrivers,taxidrivers, passers by and shopowners all one after other come to check out Yustra and hear my story. They love it. I get fed falafel and cups of sugary tea till Kerim returns.
It was a cold cold night! Wearing all my cloths inside my winter sleeping bag on an air matress with 5.7 R-value I still only just about managed not to freeze. I got out once when I heared something that wasnt quite the sound of Yustra I have become so familiar with by now. When I open my tent I see a dog running away with a plastic bag in his mouth. I realize ive been so dumb to leave my foodbag outside! The bastard ate all my pemmican, my raisins, tomatopaste..Since we were in bed by 1830, due to the arctic conditions, I managed to catch up on some reading in my book about the reindeertribes of siberia. One paragraph was quite relevant and I read it to Kerim the next morning. It was about the packing of reindeer and we were struck by the exact similarities of I thaught Kerim to pack Yustra: there should be equal weight on both sides of the saddlebags, preferably also balanced front and back with nothing sticking out or poking Yustras flanks. The weight should be more in the shoulders than the back. And everything needs to be tightened as much as we can, lifting the weight of the bags while pulling the straps tight. I love it! These ancient old methods still work very well today.We set off for our big 25km day still wearing thermals nd down jackets that dont come off till well after midday. Today Kerim takes the lead of Yustra and does an amazing job, he has become a true donkeleer! He leads her confidentally but keeps her best interests in mind all the time. He leads her across slippery mountainslopes, over big boulders, through steep wadis, across washed out tracks and muddy fields, readjusting and rerouting where needed. Today he graduates A+! I enjoy walking behind them and seeing more precisely where it is that Yustra puts her feet and where she struggles. We pass two tiny villages, but they have no minimarket. When two women see us pass they insist we come in. They bring tea, we bring cookies. The womans face lit up like a christmas tree! Then she brings out bread, again roasted on the gasheater, humus, yoghurt and olives. I ask if there is a shop where we can buy pasta and she comes bringing us a pack of pasta from her own kitchen. When I offer her money she is offended: ‘this is Jordan! Welcome!’. After lots of kissing, we wave goodbye till they are out of sight. Were making good progress and are on our way down to the Burbeita hot springs when we meet another shepherd with his sheep and donkey. He loves the fact that we have a donkey too and asks us if we want to have a go at riding his donkey. Kerim politely refuses but im not letting that option pass! I jump on and charge up the hill waving my feet side to side to make her go faster. Its surprisingly easy! We all have a good laugh. Two german hikers watch the whole thing take place. Wolfgang and Dana have been hiking also since UmQais but started two weeks earlier. I think it s great to meet a woman called Dana when we are all on our last days towards the town and naturereserve with the same name. They are very German. Wolfgang explains to Kerim how he managed to take such a long holidayleave but feels the urge to quickly add that he loves to work: ‘I was born to work!’. We part when I let Yustra graze on some good grass before we make the last kilometer down to the hot springs. When I see a field of lemons I walk up to the young man next to it to see if I can buy some. They are not ripe yet unfortunately. The young man escorts us to the hot springs and while were setting up the tents just 2 minutes away, he leaves to come back bringing us tea and cookies. I invite him for tea the next morning. He walks us up to the hot springs where we pay 4 dinar to enjoy a well deserved bath. The 5m2 bath is all for us and we use it to relax our muscles, have a good shower and wash our cloths as well. I feel so clean!! When we come out the Germans are there and a group of five Jordanian men invite us to share a meal of Magloubeh, which means upside down. The dish, consisting of rice, potato, cauliflower and chicken is served on a big plate after the even bigger pot was turned upside down on it. We eat this with bread and yoghurt and compliment the chef, who keeps giving Wolfgang more rocket, telling him it’s good for sex. The rest of the night he points at the germans and tells me over and over again ‘sex’ while pointing hus thumb down. I teach him the english word crazy, I learn the arabic. When I offer to sing a song in exchange for an arabic song the cameras come out immediately. I have sung many songs on camera in jordan! Then the ‘dj’ starts and I dance, soon the others follow and were all doing silly moves and laughing, yelling ‘crazy’. Even the germans participate. Kerim tries to dance salsa with me and I wish I was a better dancer. Well after dark I decide to go check up on Yustra and we make a move back to camp. I feed her leftover magloubeh and enjoy the warmth of this night compared to the previous days. Tonight is a special night. It is exactly 4 years ago that I left Holland on a bicycle and ive been adventuring ever since. It brought me far and beyond. It brought me proper happiness and this was a proper celebration.Refreshed from the hot springs, we woke up in amongst the reeds. As we lost her stake a few days earlier, I had to tie Yustra to a bunch of reeds. It wasnt very strong, but I rememberd what I had learned from the nomads in mongolia: to weave her rope through it a few times. She munched away on the new shoots. I love expanding her diet greatly by travelling with me, I want to believe its very healthy for her!
We started the day with what the jordan trail association had described as a long but pleasant uphill. Yustra is slow and needs lots of loving motivation. I keep reminding her that this is pleasant. We climb a thousnd meters before lunch and walk most of the rest of the day on roads. Its hard on the feet and a less exciting. We tell each other bad jokes and wonder about things like butterflies. We see hundreds of them. Such a stupid name for such a beautiful animal! In french its papillon, in dutch vlinder. A butterfly is a fly you wack away from your breakfast. Kerim thinks its a fly that flutters by.We use the time to put the word ‘plan’ back in our vocabulary and think about the upcoming stages and what to do with Yustra. We get information from other hikers that the path from Dana to Petra will be at times very difficult or outright impossible with a donkey. It is also not allowed to take your own donkey into Petra itself. Between Petra and Wadi Rum is pure desert and it is not recommended to take a donkey through the sand. She will suffer. I see how she struggles in the mud! We contact the hiking viking who is part of the thruhikergroup going south to north. He tells us they have a donkey with them since Little Petra. All this information together, we secide we accept the challenge of trying to get Yustra to Little Petra and try to find a nice new home for her there. We will continue then without her. I fantasize about renting or buying a camel for the desertstage, but at this point im in total panickmode with the thought of having to say goodbye to Yustra soon. Were less than a week away.. tears well up in my eyes and I cant sleep. Ive fallen so much in love with her and even though I make her work hard I believe she is in better hands with me than with anyone. I take extreme good care of her. I let her carry as little as possible. When people see or feel my backpack they aleays suggest I strap it on Yustra. I have found out that the only acceptable answer is that I work for the police and this is my training, to get strong. I then show my muscles. Everybody also suggests I ride her, and the only accepted answer is ‘bukra’ (tomorrow).Its a big day. Including that 1000m climb out of the wadi, we end up walking 27km. And we had done 25 the day before! Tenacity and perseverance rules in team Yustra. Partly because we pass through the town of Ais by the end of the day and we want to get far away from it! Somehow problems often arrive in or near cities, not in the wilderness or the countryside. Many children come running at us and in their excitement throw rocks, hit branches, try to jump on Yustra or otherwise annoy our poor pricess. Kerim is very protective and tells the children to fuck off. The way out of town takes us quite a bit along the highway and many people stop to take a picture. When a van with four young men stops, trouble starts. Mulletman in particular is very obnoxious and disrespectful. He doesnt care about Yustra, or us, just about his picture. He blocks our way, screams and when he puts his arm around me I dont think it was an accident that he grabbed my boob. I make very clear that that is not ok and walk on. He wants another picture though and when he doesnt get it, things get out of hand. Everybody screams. When he kicks me, I spit at him and Kerim explodes. A fight was very very close to happening and only prevented by one of the other boys. They finally let us go. We want to get as far away from this town as possible. But its also getting late. I keep my eye open for some grass but see nothing. The green patches that look ok-ish from a distance are totally overgrazed. We push on and on and on untill our perseverance is finally rewarded. A nice big field of planted weed and shrubs and grass on the side, not too far from the road and with a nice big wall to hide behind. We celebrate by making a feast. I picked up potato, onion, tomato and eggplant and boil some lentils with fresh rosemary and black pepper: ‘Zakhi!’ (Delicious). We havent had such a great meal in ages! And this is all cooked on Kerims Jetboiler. I always assumed those things were only good for boiling water but in fact we manage to simmer oats, pasta, veggies etc. Its very gasefficient and cooks things superquick, I want one! Ill put it on the list for santa claus, together with a steripen (for sterilizing water) and a headlight, both rechargable by usb so they plug in to my solarpanel. Xtorm sponsored me one, and it works super well.
While were enjoying this feast, we see our first scorpion, tail up, charging towards us. First we are amazed by its beauty, tiny and yellow, but when it gets very close we both jump up and move. I planned to sleep out without a tent but question that decision now. I decide to take the risk andan, its worth it! As my bed is a bit lower than where Yustra is happily grazing away, it means that I only have to open one eye to see a pair of bunny ears with a mohawk in between on the skyline. I can keep a good eye on her When I wake up, im surprised that its already 6.20 and its still darker than I expected. Also Kerim is not up yet, though we usually set off around 7. I start packing up and cook breakfast. Maybe its the thick layer of clouds and cold wind. Rain is forecasted and heavy thunderstorms for the next two days. Surprisingly there was no dew and my sleeping bag is totally dry.Its freezing cold when we set off and sidle around and up and down hills. Later we find out daylight savings started, that explains my confusion!
A few hours in, the sun breaks through though and it turned out to be a beautiful day! Its a friday, which is weekend here, and many groups of men and families are out nd about maling tea over small fires and having picknicks. After we visited the impressive site of the Ma’tan ruins (mainly for its location above incredible sandstone canyons) we have tea with two Jordanian unmarried men. We are happy to contribute cookies. We continue on a long steep 1000 meter descend into the wadi. It would have been very dangerous in the rain. We have to repack Yustra half way down as it is so steep her pack is hanging in her neck now. I negotiate the easiest way for her and zigzag us down. The last hundred meters consists of sheer cliffs and only one challenging section provides an option to get down into the massive slot canyons. Yustra doesnt want to go there. I understand and explore all other options. There are none. We try everything we can think of to motivate her, good cop/bad cop, easygoing and forceful, up to the point where Kerim is pulling her rope and I am pushing her with my full bodyweight from behind. Im impressed she doesnt kick me, she never kicks. Only other donkeys. Kerim thinks we might have to spend the night but I try one more thing. I take off her entire pack and its a miracle but she takes a step in the right direction. I take advantage of the momentum and manage to lead her all the way down. I cant believe she just did that! I scramble back up on hand and feet (thats how steep it is md how big the boulders are) and with the adrenaline of the moment lift her entire pack on my shoulder and run back down. Endless cuddles and scratches for Yustra who is no doubt the most amazing donkey in the world!The slot canyons at the bottom are humongously impressive and the best sight weve seen in entire Jordan. We take our time to explore and devour a well deserved lunch or fresh bread with humus, tomato and onion, yum! Though Yustra might have thought that was it for the day and laid down to rest, I finally get her back on her feet and repack her to make the long climb back up. The way out is just as steep and challenging but Yustra is much stronger on the uphills and jumps up out of there with very little struggle. We are in for another lovely 1000 meter climb. When a family of 21 (I counted) invites us for tea we happily accept a short break. Lucky we still had big oack of sesamecookies to share. While one of the sons is trying to talk secretively with Kerim about where to find gold (he is not the first!), the family suddenly brings out big plates of magloubeh, this time with fried rice. Served with yoghurt and bread they insist we join them. They couldnt have had better timing. After lots of jokes, pictures and some shisha-smoking by Kerim we push on. ‘We just have to make it past this upcoming town’ I tell Kerim. Thats a titanjob though. The uphill never ends, neither does the town. A cute young donkey excitedly follows us for a while till it jumps and kicks and pirouettes and runs back to its mother. God, I love baby animals!
We push on till sunset to be able to find a green field to pitch camp and provide Yustra a decent meal after all this hard work. We manage to knock off another 20km, including a 1000m descent and ascent. Team Yustra is inhumanely strong! We finally camp in a beautiful olive grove, only 5 km away from Dana, where supposedly the most beautiful section of the jordan trail starts. I am excited! Again I sleep out, fingers crossed for no rain!PART 16I woke up from a few raindrops. That gave a big adrenaline rush. I jumped up and pitched my tent in mere seconds. More rain fell on us the next hours, but it was dry at sunrise. Today was the next stage in Kerim’s donkeleermanship. He wanted to learn how to pack Yustra properly. There’s quite an art to it, but he had been paying attention in the last weeks and did a really good job. Her pack looked great! Tight and well-balanced. I was sure it would stay in position for the rest of the day. as wet set off the wind was blowing fiercely and we had to scream to hear each other. As we started our anticipated 28km down into the magnificent wadi Dana, I noticed Yustra was walking a bit strange. I checked all her feet, cleaned them out, but couldnt work out what was wrong. Maybe she had stepped in some glass? It was only 5km to Dana but she struggled more and more, developing a proper limp. We asked around in Dana but there seemed to be no donkey doctor in the tiny town with a population of 31, according to wikipedia. Kerim managed to get a vet on the phone from another village who was willing to come out to see her. Yeay for Kerim! Verdict: swollen knee, probably from a bad landing while jumping her way down the canyon yesterday. I have sore knees from steep downhills sometimes too. All that helps is rest. The vet tells us she needs two days rest and also he might be able to get an injection of anti-inflammatory drugs to us tomorrow. I dont even care about the price, lets do everything we can to help out poor Yustra.In the meantime I am preparing for the worst case scenario, which is that she cannot walk with us to Petra. On the trail we met Leith, an American living in Amman with his family for the last three years, working with a Norwegian non-profit organization, helping Syrian refugees. He suggests he might buy our donkey once we make it to Petra. He also doesnt mind taking some of my gear back to Amman, for me to collect before I fly out. Kerim is happy to team up with me, even without Yustra, meaning we can leave a lot of gear that we were both carrying, going very lightweight as the pack will be heavy enough with the food and mainly water we now have to carry ourselves. I decide to give back my tent too as ive been enjoying sleeping outside so much, only hiding in kerims tent in extreme bad weather. And boy, do we have some bad weather coming! Tomorrow there will be thunderstorms and a temperaturedrop to a real feel of -1! In Petra they’re expecting snow! This has been such a crazy month for Jordan. As Yustra is resting we wait out the bad weather. Hopefully were all ready to go in a few days. The medieval half-ruined town of Dana is not a bad place to be stuck. Brief moments where the clouds are not all-surrounding us, views into the Dana bioreserve appear with its sandstone cliffs and hugh variety of plants and wildlife. The anticipation grows..Part 17:
The wind was so intens I kept looking out the window expecting Yustra to fly past any time soon. When it also started raining I went out to cover her with a blanket. The drivers we hung out with for the last few hours, drinking endless cups of tea together, started to talk amongst each other. Phonecalls were made and soon Yustra was going to spend the night inside one of the ruins, with four walls and a roof. Much better in this weather! Kerim and I asked to sleep on their couches but the owner insisted we would sleep in a room downstairs. Unsure of what he would charge us we agreed as we didnt feel much for pitching a tent in these thunderstorm conditions.
I lay in bed crying, knowing my journey with Yustra will soon be over. I wonder whether I should ever travel with animals again. As much as I love it, I get too attached! She is my family, my child, so innocent and sweet. No one will ever love her as much as I do. How can I leave her? The only concern is now to find her a good new home. But how do I decide? And what are my options?Although its our first proper restday that does not involve hiking, it gets filled quickly. Many tourists come into the lounge to drink tea, wait out the bad weather and visit Dana. My donkey is discussed and newcomers are filled in by others. I spend the morning making phonecalls to find out about donkeytravel to and through Petra. Some people say its impossible, illegal or unwise. Prices for waterdrops after Petra, when we walk for days through a dry desert, range from 25$/day to 250. Some advise to take a camel after Petra, others say camels cannot climb the hills, only a donkey can. Some suggest they pick up Yustra by car here or at little Petra and deliver her after. Others think we could hire a local guide who can pretend she is his donkey and go through Petra like that. I love the idea of bringin Yustra to Petra and also having a guide explaining everything, even though it will be expensive and impossible to hide and spend the night in one of the caves.
It all depends on Yustras health too. She is still limping. The vet comes to give her an antiimflammatory shot and some ointment. Im not allowed to pay. The local cooperative sees us pitching our tent in between gails of hail (temperature 3 degrees) and wont have it. They invite us to eat and sleep in the hotel. For free. I feel very awkward about that and am happy to camp, but I calculate they are making at least a thousand dollar each day with all these tourists and that makes me feel a bit better. I take Yustra outside to feed when it stops raining and put her back inside with her twenty goatfriends ahen it rains again. I bring her loads of leftover bread from the restaurant but the goats steal it out of her mouth as she is trying to eat! I save it for later. Her ruin is protected by dogs and since we didnt have much dogproblems for a while now I confidentally walk up the alley. Two barking and growling dogstrap me though and my heart beats in and almost outside of my throat. One attacks! He bites me in the shin. Thankfully he doesnt brake any skin and I dont have to worry about rabies. The bastard. I put Yustra somewhere else. luckily more beautiful medieval ruins have turned into goathouses, so I find a new place where she can be dry and sheltered. I planned to read my book but wiyh all this organizing I only manage 10 pages in the entire day. I burn those on the stove as I want to carry everything on my back tomorrow and take yustra down into the wadi without a pack. Between showers the wadi emerged under a magnificent colourful sunset, calling us in. We will give Yustra another shot and very slowly walk her down. If she still struggles ill find her a new home, but im hoping she is recovered and can make it to Petra and preferably beyond.
Part 18:Yustra walked like a princess again and we slowly slowly walked her down into the amazing valley of wadi Dana. Two Ecuadorians joined us and fell victim to the fact that today was april fools day. Kerim transformed into professor Edgerton, working for the department of biomechanics of NSW University, researching animal movement. He hired me as an experienced donkeleer to help him do his fieldstudies, paid for by sultan Ernie III to develop a mew and improved prototype. We apply sensors several times a day, take blood samples, measure heart rate and temperature and in little petra our supportcrew will be waiting with a tredmill. The first hours of this trail are very popular and we met many people, all victims to our story which got more and more elaborate. We had a blast! I shall call Kerim professor for ever more. If you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth though. Yustra must have turned into the prototype, she is doing amazing and seems to have made a full recovery. We walked five hours straight before we have a break and make lunch. We leave wadi Dana and its rich biodiversity and layered birthdaycakerocks, the fondant seemingly dripping from the sides, behind us. Unfortunately we saw no ibex and the arabian leopard has gone extinct.We buy some barley for Yustra from the bedouines and push on for another five hours straight. We are in dry barren rocky wasteland now and there is no flat spot to pitch a tent. When we finally see one we take it. Its next to a huge slot canyon and after some exploring I side we find running water. Amazing! The area is incredibly dry and the next known watersource another 6 hour walk up the mountain. I give Yustra the barley and leftovers but wake up many times in the night from her looking under every rock for something to eat. The poor thing. And that after 28km, our biggest day so far.The next day we continue on this rocky wasteland, seeing miles and miles of nothingness around us. The way up is steep and rocky with big boulders to manouvre around. Yustra is doing amazing. After a long climb, at the summit, we meet a group with their guide and a donkeleer. We follow them down to a bunch of waterfalls and pools. Kerim and I dont hesitate and jump in immediately. Its cold but so refreshing! We share some tea at a fire while Yustra grazes on the greenery. The guides are superimpressed with Yustra. So am I. Previous hikers told me this section would be very hard if not impossible with a donkey but shes doing just fine. In fact, she did much better than the guides donkey. The guide says hes been working with donkeys for many years but never seen one so amazing as Yustra. I am so proud!! She conquers very steep uphills some of the clients cant even get up on hand and feet. When we walk through a wadi she takes enormous jumps from the shore to a rock to another, landing her back feet where her front feet were standing, just to do it again. Even I have never seen her do that! Such a showoff. The guide immediately tells me hed like to buy her for 200 dinars. But I dont want Yustra to end up in tourism. We say goodbye and walk up another huge mountain, pushing on and on, passing ruins and amazing views of several wadis with colourful rocks, hoping to find food for Yustra. We walk until we find some green, though it’s not great. I sleep outside again, but this time my sleeping bag is soaking wet and even though Kerim was in his tent we were both cold. The temperatures have been so surprising and unusual, but actually very pleasant.After coffee and oats we walk on to find a nice irrigated field of juicy grass just two kilometers ahead. No one is at home in the bedouintent next to it. We stop to let Yustra feed and take the time to dry our stuff. With the bedouines next door we manage to biy more barley. But Houston, we have problem: Yustra has started to limp again this morning. She showed off a bit too much yesterday, also thinking she was a robot donkey maybe?! We are just 15 km from little petra but as we walk she goes slower and slower and are hardly making 2km an hour. We are all terribly exhausted. I go around and around in my head what to do? Sell her anyways and feel guilty forever? Stop and take more rest, but not make it to wadi rum? I am so confused! The tought of having to leave her behind makes me so sad I walk a few hours with tears in my eyes.. Ive come to love her so much! I love the way she always walks up to me and looks at me with her big eyes, bunny ears pointing forward. I love how she drops to the floor and starts rolling like a maniac, kicking her feet in the air, as soon as I take her blanket of. I live how she cratches behind her ear with her backfeet. And I love how she stops every time Kerim is more than two meters behind her, looks back at him and only continues when he has rejoined our family. I love everything about her!
Finally we come up with a great solution: Yustra is going on a holiday! A nice bedouin experience for a few days. I call Ali who picks her up with his car, just before Little Petra. We manage to get her in the back of his pick-up and he will drive her to his fathers place in the desert, where we will reach in three days. That should give her enough time to recover and walk with us southwards, far away from Petra and all the miserable donkeys here. it is also perfect as the hike into Petra, ‘from the back door’ would have been impossible for her and also it is not allowed to being your donkey in. Many problems solved by Ali! After finally understanding we dont want to go to Wadi Musa, where all the tourists go, Ali drops us on the side of the road. We hitchhike back to town and stock up 7 days worth of food. Wow, our packs are heavy! Surely more than 25kg each. Well have to carry that for three days ourselves now, which I am very happy to do though. We have a falafelsandwhich in the local shop, then a shoarma sandwich and another falafel sandwhich. Yum! In the bedouine village the people look different from the Jordanians weve seen so far. They all look like pirates, with eyeliner and all! Horses and donkeys gallopping in the streets everywhere, an occassional camel. We make a few friends who invite us: ‘come sleep in my cave!’. Its a sentence youll only hear here I guess.. mamy pirates make the same joke and refer to Bob Marleys ‘no woman, no cry’ and add ‘no donkey you die, no sugar no hai’. Tempting as it is to stay with these guys, we are not great companny, exhausted as we are and decide to try to camp closer to tomorrows hike. Im very excited to see Petra!! Walking the street a car with two jolly araq-drinking boys stops and offers to bring us for 5 dinars. Kerim bargains down to 3 dinars and they bring us to a cave. This cave is closed though (a door with a lock). They bring us to another one, which is now occupied by goats. We finally spend the night in their bedouinetent. Everything for free. After the boys took off, pissdrunk, the winds picked up, lots of rain fell from the sky and the thunder and lightning was just above our heads. Im so grateful for this tent! We make a huge breakfast of potatoes, onions, turmeric and baked beans and set off for the highlight of our trip: the magnificent Petra awaits us!
Part 19:A retired nurse drives on the road in the opposite direction but stops and asks is where were going. He brings us to the entrance of Little Petra. It is still early when we walk into the slot canyon with caves and carved out facades that blow our mind. There are cisterns, dining rooms and a temple, still holding some of the frescos painted on there in Nabatean times. I find it hard to grasp how this all preserved for 7000 years! We walk up into the slot where we would have come from if we didnt arrange a taxi for Yustra. It is so narroe, steep and slippery she couldnt even have made the last kilometer down. We decided well!From the sites here its a few hours walk to the main attractions of Petra. We pass Bayard, the remains of an ancient village, 9000 years old, velieved to be the first where people changed from hunting and gathering to agriculture and living together.
We pass the checkpoint where Hassan checks my Jordan pass. He trusts Kerim and insists we have tea with him. Even though he has already seen 200 tourists pass by today, he picks us to invite in and feeds us falafel and tries to give us bread, tuna, tomatoes. We dont accept, but are so impressed with the cultural hospitality, which obviously stands much higher than business. When we later walk into a restaurant the owner is having lunch himself and insists we join him. No pay. He says its his culture to invite guests when youre eating. But this is a restaurant! And he only invites us, not the other customers that walk in. I feel blessed in this crazy world. I experience hospitality like I never have before on all my travels and I wish us Europeans would learn from it.Its a long way up, mostly on worn steps carved out of the mountains. Tourists are impressed to see and hear about our by trip without a local guide. I explain them Yustra is our guide, one lady replies ‘sometimes thats all you need’ and Kerim and I burst out in singing ‘all you need is donkey lalalalala’ to the tune of all you need is love as we paaa exhausted hikers going up. The view into wadi Araba is breathtaking, defenitely in the top 3 of amazing views weve seen. A wadi older than 500mln years old. Caves inside the sandstone rock everywhere. I overhear one of the guides saying Gaudi himself was inspired by these natural shapes and I can totally see that. I am happy to see that as we approach Petra we still see bedouine families living on this land and herding their goats. The even walk next to ‘the Monastery’ the main attraction, that leaves me flabbergasted (my favourite english word) for hours when it appears into view. The hellenistic facade is 50 meters wide and 45 meters high and incredibly well preserved since it was built in the 3rd century BC. Im reying to get my head around how they might have done it, but many questions remain unanswered.When we can finally peel our eyes of this architectural wonder and move on there are more and more donkeys on the path. Also mules, a mix between a donkey and a horse that cannot reproduce, such a strange thing in nature. One girl is wearing a t-shirt stating: ‘animals are not slaves, they have sensitivity too’, such a bold statement to make in a place filled with donkeys, mules and camels used in the tourism industry!
Kerim and I spend all day walking around and amazing ourselves. Petra is defenitely a highlight on all my travels and would highly recommend it to anyone. Once a thriving city in and around pink coloured canyons where merchants would rest and trade as they went through. The colours and shape of the natural surroundings together with the well preserved and unbelievable monumental carvings make it feel very holy and I feel like a pilgrime, blessed to have made it to Mecca. We visit the theatre and royal tombs where the paintings on the ceiling remind me of Marc Chagall. Would he have been inspired here too?I talk to donkey owners, mule owners and especially camelowners. Letting them know I consider buying one to take with us to Aqaba. Prices range between 1000 and 3500 dinar and most camels are not in the best condition. As we walk through the site sometimes a pirate cameleer comes up to me, already screaming from a distance ‘for sale!’, pointing at the camel he is riding. We both get a chance to test this camel out. Its Kerims first time on a camel, I race it up and down the path. We tell everybody well think about it overnight as we plan to sleep inside Petra. They all start to whisper immediately as it is not allowed to stay inside, but if you go off trail and behind the hill it will be fine. Just dont tell anyone. Its a well known secret. When we reach ‘the Treasury’ we climb to the top of the Wadi to watch it from above and stare at the impressive details on it. Below us tourists are driven through the canyon in horse carriages. The light is fading, bringing out the pink in the rocks around us. We climb down, pick up our backpacks and walk over the hill where we find an empty monumental cave to spend the night. We make no light in case there are guardians patrolling. On the other side we see a light in another cave. We feel part of this ancient world and fall asleep like true Nabateans.
Part 20:To awake in front of a carved out cave with a faded facade inside Petra, adds something priceless to this otherwise already unique experience. We are blessed with another day of exploration of the pink city and its extraordinary architecture.
Petra is greek for rock but in Aramaic times it was called Raqmu meaning colourful. We are indeed astounded by the colours of the rocks on site. I understand that many an artist must have been inspired with this city, located in the heart of heights of many colours. I see Chagall in the inside decorations, Gaudi in its shapes, Salvador Dali in the seemingly melting rock faces and even Escher in the eroded Nabatean stairways.
Today is a day of unexpected treasures where we truly discover endless hidden gems just off the beaten paths. amongst many other highlights we climb up to the Place of Sacrifice, we see a stone lion fountain, a garden complex, a roman soldier statue and enjoy and the view of Aarons tomb in the distance (Moses’ brother).Petra has defied the centuries and has still not given up its secrets. Very little is known about the Nabateans though, as manuscripts are rare. Historians generally believe they were travellers from the Arabian peninsula. In 1993 manuscripts were found in the Byzantine church in Petra, dating back to the sixth century. How is it possible that noone found them before I wonder?They tell of the Nabateans carving channels and water cisterns into the rock ans distribute the water to the temples and residential neighboorhouds. Petra was on the caravan route running from Yemen to the Mediteranean. Caravans laden with frankincense, gold, silk and other rich merchandise would pass through and rest here. The city prospered. This wealth had to be defended. In 312BC Antigone Le Borgne (the succesor of Alexander the Great) attempted to seize the city three times but failed. If like to know why? Are there any plays, stories, movies, more details about this?! The Nabateans stayed independent. In 85 bc their first king was killed and the Monastery built in his honour. His son extended their power to Damascus. Also the Romans tried to invade Petra many times, but failed. Again: tell me more! I have some researching to do when I get a chance..
Between first century BC and the first century AD Petra flourished and at some point housed 20.000 people. This is the time when most of the monuments were built. In 106 the Romans finally managed to take control (what did they do different now?). The city suffered from a big earthquake in 363 and trade routes diverted to the north, but it survived until Byzantine times. Partly due to more earthquakes and the fact that Petra was not on the pilgrimage route to Mecca, it fell into oblivion.It was not untill 1812 when a swiss explorer named Johann Burckhardt went on pilgrimage to rediscover this city he had heared off. He went as sheikh Ibrahim, converted to islam and managed to persuade bedouines to bring him to Aarons tomb. Again, I hope there is more known about this Burckhardt; he sounds like a true explorer.
Inspired by his accounts, many others followed, including the painter David Roberts, who painted the site in the early 1800’s. I cant stop myself from buying his lithographs and hope i will be able not to destroy them on our way through the desert. He painted it ‘untouched’ as archeological excavations didnt start untill 1924. Nowadays it is a UNESCO site and one of the Seven World Wonders. We are blown away and would highly recommend anyone to come and see it for your own eyes. It is such a big site that it is hard to capture on camera. We spend two full days here and just touched the surface of what is here to see. Admittingly we were also a bit distracted with all our new friends who I ask about the possibility to buy a camel or 8. Some have seen us in the bedouin village, some im the falafel shop, some have seen Yustra pass by in the car, some know I have a donkey for sale, some have heared from others about us. Some are very appreciative of the fact we have walked more than 400km to get here and that we slept in a cave, like real bedouines. Mohamed from the restaurant doesnt let me pay for the coffee, the boys from the village allow us up to the viewpoint for free and we end up spending two days in Petra on two dollars, which I pay for a few bananas to take with us into the desert. Another thing id like to research is what the Koran says exactly about hospitality? Because this just blows my mind. Even inside the most touristy place of Jordan we are treated like royalty and best friends at the same time. Why? Kerim says: ‘everybody just loves you’, I reckon we mean well but mainly are extremely lucky.
We cooked our own lunch inside the siq, the narrow slot canyon leading unweary travellers up to the majestic Treasury. Horses with carriages race through over the Nabatean pavement. An ambulance arrives and Kerim concludes someone got sick in the siq, so funny!
After two amazing days of exploring the sites we decide it’s time to move on. We are up for a week of desert travel. We leave the main trail and within minutes there is not a sight of human presence, besides a poor old lady who thought she had lost her way and kisses me violently on the cheeck when we tell her to just follow the path for a few minutes to get back. We walk on a few hours to find the last hidden gem on site: a first century amphitheatre carved out from the melting rocks. I climb up the remains of a bench while Kerim stands on the floor reciting a passage from Shakespears Henri IV by heart, which he sometimes uses to motivate his soccerteam back in Sydney. What a man we consider sleeping in the theatre, though I have to be strict and tell him that snoring is not allowed here! The acoustics might wake up the guards, as we are still officially inside the Petra site. We are bound south, in anticipation of finding my beloved Yustra tomorrow with a bedouin family in Ga’ambried. Hopefully she enjoyed her holiday and is feeling healthy and strong for the last week of tough travel heading towards Wadi Rum.Quiz:What are the seven wonders of the ancient world?What are the ten commendments?Do you know?
These are the things we discuss while walking through the desert..
Good news: we are reunited with Yustra and heading into the desert. Updates when we come out alive
Part 20We woke up in the amphitheatre. No resonating sounds have kept us awake. In fact, the lack of donkeysounds interrupting my dreams gave me an uneasy feeling all through the night. Kerim woke up earlier than ever and we set off even before the sun greeted us over the mountain, partly to avoid the days heat but mainly because I wanted to reunite with Yustra as soon as possible. We do have a proper stop at a little pool to have a proper wash of both body and hair and cloths. I even shave and for the first time in a month I feel like a woman again. I hope Yustra will recognize us! We aim for the one bedouine tent on the hill 8km south of the Petra boundary. I am excited and worried. Will Yustra be there? Will she be ok? Will we find the place with such poor directions and no cellphone coverage? But they were worries for nothing. Id be a terrible mum, too paranoid.. Just where we expected her to be, we found her! A lovely smiling old man and his wife greeted us and made us tea. I had an uneasy feeling though that they didnt take all too good care of her. She was tied to a tree with no food or water in the proximity. I took care of that straight away. I gave the family a solar panel/batterypack nonetheless to thank them for taking care of Yustra for the last three days. We bought food for her for four days as we were about to set off into the desert. Yustras knee seemed to have healed but I keep a close eye on her. Instead of unloading my heavy pack on her I take another three liters to lighten her load.. everything for my baby!And off we go. I consider stealing the roadsign with the camel on it, it is also the only sign weve seen that is not filled with bulletholes. But we leave it and head into nothingness and everythingness at the same timeIm astounished by the nature surrounding us and changing around every corner. Ive never seen a desert so empty yet so rich and colourful! Its like walking inside one of those bottles with coloured sand where the colours change with every layer. Both of us didnt expect to do some much canyoneering in Jordan, we walk miles and miles through canyons and only climb when we go from one canyon to the next. With very few shade options the jordan trail even marked the few sad looking trees as ‘shade trees’. For the first time on this trip we walk in sand and Kerim pulls out his fancy gaiters, brightblue and stretchy. He reminds me of Scrooch McDuck. He reckons theyre more suited for tapdancing. We walk many miles through long beautiful wadis, some of which actually still have a tiny bit of water running through it. We carry 10liters, which is obviously not enough for four days for the three of us, so we rely on these watersources on the way. In one of the little pools we spot two crayfishlike little creautures, in another a frog. Interesting to see these aquatic creatures in the desert! We climb over hills from one wadi to the next, with the only sign of human is the occasional footprint. Sometimes we are reassured by a cairn. There is something magical about finding cairns in the desert. Someone might have build it there yesterday, maybe last week, maybe it was build by a Nabatean 7000 years ago? We end up walking 25km till we mke camp at camelrock, a big boulder with impressive Nabatean carvings of camels, gazelle and goats on it. A few men on donkeys with proper rifles pass us. I invite them for tea but they dont even stop to say hello. They must be on a mission. Another hiker arrives and joins us. I make sure he drinks enough and share our rice/lentil/eggplant curry with him. We make a fire and Kerim and I dance around it like madmen for a bit. We spend the night sharing stories from the road. We have many!Our new friend Albert complains about blisters and just the last days ive been suffering too. I have blisters on my heels and because I walk like a monkey also on the tip ends of my toes. I dont tell anyone. We have all lost weight and our reserves are coming to an end. We feel great after eating but need to keep the fuel going. We have no snacks though and have to cook all our food. But I feel like we can push on a bit more. We have only 6 more days to go before I fly home. They will be long days, more than 25km through tough desert conditions each day. I wont be able to finish the trail in Aqaba. I waisted those three days with going to a wedding, with buying Yustra and spending an extra day in Petra. All absolutely worth it! Hopefully well make it to Wadi Rum, but more importantly: hopefully well find a good home for Yustra.
Though thunderstorms are forecasted I sleep outside. Close to Yustra. Every second is precious.The next day is easy walking through sandi wadis, narrow wadis, steep wadis, long wadis, rocky wadis, many different kinds of wadis. We make good time in the morning and find a ‘shade tree’ after 14km to cook up a proper lunch of pasta, zatar, zuchini, eggplant, onion and sardines. It was worth carrying the extra weight! While I cook Kerim looks for water. An hour later hes still not back though and I start to worry. Did something happen to him or to Yustra? Are they lost? Did Yustra run away? Maybe they cant find the water where the map said a little spring might be present under certain conditions? I open my map, lace up my boots and just as I start walking I see them emerge from around the corner. Almost like in slowmotion I run towards them and hug both, so happy to see them! In the meantime the wind has picked up and were in a bit of a sandstorm, for extra drama effects. With the water Kerim filled up we might actually make it through the desert without organizing waterdrops. That feels awesome! Team Yustra can conquer anything It is one oclock when we start the next 16kms. The rest of the day we go through one wormhole after the other, finding ourselves on different planets each time. We walk over steep rocky hills, along pixielike huge boulders, over moonscapes and through wadis not more than 2 meters wide, salmoncoloured rocks and sand on both sides. The sand gets deeper and the going tougher. Finally we emerge in a proper desert as you would imagine it; big sanddunes everywhere. And all different colours! We take one step and slide down half a step. With Yustras resistance pulling me down too its hard to make it up and over these dunes, but we make it. And im so amazed! Ive never seen landscape like this. I loved the interactions with people in the north, loved the cultural and historical significance of some of the places we visited and now I love the awe-inspiring and inhospitable landscape we manage to travel through for days. It was hard. Again. After travelling more than a month together Kerim and I are finally getting a bit more physical and give each other awkward hugs at the end of the day, exhausted and excited at the same time: we made it once again! We cook another great meal with rice, lentils, potato, onion, feta, sardines and italian herbs, yum! Im proud to be able to share this with our new friend Albert who stayed with team Turtle all day. The boys put on their arab headscarves for the occasion. We watch an incredible desert sunset while Yustra silhouettes against the skyline. We havent been tying her up anymore for a few days, except sometimes when were trying to eat and she tries to steal the food from our bowl. She can be quitee intrusive like that. On breaks she will come up screaming for attention and scratches, pushing her head into our chests. She is family and now just roams around camp freely. I love it.
Its a clear night, there is no moon and the stars are phenomenal. I watch them for a while till I hide in my sleeping bag from the biting flies. And from Yustra who comes to check in on me regularly. Another amazing arab adventure day..We wake up before sunrise. Albert found the tiniest little tigerstriped gecko in his tent and we spend a lomg time examining and photographing it. Today its easy going through a seemingly endless network of wadiflats. Its hot though and were all tired. Not many words are wasted as we drag ourselves and each other through 26 kilometers of sand and rocks. Ocassionaly a picture is taken as the scenery is truly stunning. At 11am we find some water trickling through the wadi and follow it to the source. A small slot canyon guarded by a big fig tree houses a beautiful green oasis with lots of lush greens for Yustra to eat. She lets us know shes happy by letting out gusts of air through the backdoor.. we fill our water bottles, though the water smells funny (or was that Yustra?) and it has very little flowing movement. We try not to scoop up the tiny little creautures swarming through the pool. Yuk. Its our only watersource for the next 10kms. We boil and sterilize. The rest of the day we walk through a maze of siqs: narrow canyons, smooth colourful sandstone walls reaching dozens of meters high, leaving us walking in the shade. Though Kerim was in the middle of reading us Jordans history, we all fall silent and dont speak for about an hour as we pass respectfully through this force of nature. I can see how people die here: a bit of rain causes flash floods and there is nowhere to hide, the walls too smooth to climb. I feel blessed for experiencing this. Sometimes the canyon gets so narrow we have to take Yustras pack off to fit her through. Sometimes we gently pull and push her a bit to squeeze her through, which amazingly she allows us to do. Often she has to jump up high boulders. On the whole trail, since Um Qais, I regularly questioned whether Yustra would make it along the whole trail. It has certainly been challenging but were still on the move, 550 kms later! Im so impressed and proud of her We all make it to the other side and up over the top to bare wasteland. Abasiya is a sad sad place. A few unfinished buildings, a few bedouin tents and a few donkeys chewing on the few slithers of grass make up the village. The town has mosque, where we hope to find water. As we walk towards it lots of little boys emerge and lead us to a watertank. All our bottles get filled while I repack Yustra. Then were invited for tea and get some bread and olive oil too. Its amazing how much food can change your energy level as well as your mood. We make fun with the dozen or so boys before pushing on another 5 kms before sunset. We are headed for the Humeima ruins! It is near a military base though and we are warned not to camp there. We ignore the warnings and find a nice empty building where the boys can both occupy a room and I sleep on the porch. Close to… well, you get it now. Were finally back in reception so I use Kerims phone to make phonecalls. We have two more days to find Yustra a decent home. Al Pacino says he has no money to pay for the taxi. I consider loosing all my money AND paying for a taxi to bring Yustra back home. But I also call Rafart, the guy near Karak who loves his animals and whom we stayed with in his horsetrailer. And then there’s Khaled, the man from Dana, where Yustra stayed in his goatbarn during the thunderstorms. He says he can pick her up from wadi rum and pay me 150JOD for Yustra. Meaning I travelled with her for free. I hope he uses her to herd his sheep though. Its awefully close to Petra and im so scared shell end up as a tourist donkey. But I justify it to myself thinking Al Pacino will probably sell her to tourism straight away if I bring her back for free. At least in Dana its a lot more lush and green than out here in the desert. This is no place for a donkey. She did such an amazing job overcoming all these obstacles nd her own fears, she has grown so much and I struggle to stomach the fact that it is almost over. Literally. Im nautious, im crying, im sad.. I love this donkey so much.
Im happy to share with you all that no fat lady has sung yet. Its not over yet! Even though Yustra walked into his room and made a lot of noise cheeing the doorpost at night, Kerim considered my offer to take Yustra for three more days to finish the Jordan trail properly with her hoofs in the Red Sea. He would love to take her and I feel confident that he can do it. It will be his final donkeleermanships exam. I couldnt think of a better man to give Yustra too and I am so excited! We call Khaled to pick her up in Aqaba in stead of Wadi Rum. It also means we have more days to consider other options. Excited and happy we wave goodbye to the Humeima ruins, also from Nabatean times, and the two dozen armyboys to come running past us at sunrise. For the first time our navigation consists of purely following a compassbearing. Its reasonably flat terrain and we walk in the increasingly deeper sand. First stop Humeima village to resupply after our desertstretch. We were all craving falafel and shoarma but well have to be satisfied with cookies and chips and delicious fresh arabic coffee. Fresh bread and humus from a pack ‘better than fresh’ makes my day! On the other side of the kings highway is a chickenshop. Sad looking chickens in ages the smiling man is more than happy to chop us for us. One chicken only 3 dinar. I tey to persuade the boys but its too full on for Kerim. Later he tells me he thought I suggested to buy a live chicken and butcher it ourselves at camp! Hahaha how is it possible he thinks that?! Although admittingly id be up for that… no chicken for us then. After town we aim straight for ‘the arch’, an impressive whole in the rockformations. Bedouines and their camels hang out there and invite us for tea in the shade. I negotiate camels and prices: for buying, for renting, for organizing a trip next year with 8 camels, walking from Aqaba to Petra. Ismael is more than willing to help out, show me his camels and walk with us for a bit after lunch. He walks barefoot and after inspecting the humongous puss-filled blisters on both my feet, I give it a go. Oh it feels sooooo good! Like walking on the beach without the salty smell. A cool breeze in the back and a donkey that keeps trotting ahead. Happiness The scenery gets more and more interesting as we get closer to Rum. This area is known for its similarities to Mars. Its like walking on a movieset. In fact, we are! We p ass a few cars with Jordanians telling us they are part of the filmcrew, some American movie, more details they dont know.
We were able to see the place where we wanted to camp already for hours and there is something liberating in not having to navigate but just enjoying the sand between your toes. Later we enjoy the sand EVERYWHERE as Kerim and I make sandangels in this magical isolated inhospitable terrain. We need only one more day to reach wadi Rum. We have pushed hard and walked 7 stages of the jordan trail in only 4 days, so we can now enjoy one full day in wadi Rum to end this journey properly. After a feast and some appreciative words we enjoy the starfilled sky of the desert, before falling into a satisfying sleep.
Part 23: Yustra
The colours of the sunrise are magnificent but im not enjoying them much. I am grumpy. Its hard to see beauty when youre tired and hungry. My human companions took me on an incredible trip but this last week in the desert there was so little to eat. They fed me barley and surely I ate some, but I dont like it much. To express my unhappinnes I also stopped eating the bread and vegetables they feed me. Theyll get it. She now feeds me the beans and the sweet bread they were supposed to have for breakfast, much better!
I had a good sleep next to Tamar. Oh how I love the soft sand on my poor worn feet! Tamar is cheating by wearing shoes and even the profile on those is completely worn away. Im glad she didnt listen to the people telling her that the sand is tough for a donkey, because im loving it! Tamar gives me a long lead so I can fall behind and then run in front of her, fall behind again and run again, guided by the cool breeze in our backs, im so happy! I pull on the rope when I see some yummy desert plants and she always stops to let me eat as much as I want. My favourite are the fluffy grasses. Some fragrant bushes are nice too, and the yellow flowers, ooooh Allah!
But wait, what do I see there? Such strange donkeys.. much bigger, long silly legs and a big hump on their back. Lets go check it out! Wow, these are camels! And I like them! I have met many donkeys, but usually when I go up to say hello they whisper such mean things in my ear that I quickly turn around and kick them in the face. Apart from that I cant reach these camels they is also no need for violence, I love them! Maybe just as much as Tamar does, and we both get excited when we see them. I get a lot of camelkisses today, while Tamar discusses prices with their owners.
Tamar and Kerim seem to struggle in the sand but im racing and we walk 25km in no time, reaching Wadi Rum at 1.30pm. Everybody hugs, high fives and kisses me. I get lots of cuddles. We celebrate that we all made it: 600km through Jordan. From the Syrian border up north to Wadi Rum down south. I know she doubted many times whether it was possible, but we were such a good team and I wasnt gonna let her down. I put my own life in dangers to do what she asks me to do. And even though she let me roam free for the last days I made sure not go to far from her. I know she takes good care of me. In town she drinks a beer, her first alcoholic drink in Jordan, for celebration purposes. Its from the Carakele brewery where she met Kerim, lets say where they got ‘married’ and where Kerim accepted to adopt me. I dont drink beer but they feed me anything I like: many appels, cucumbers, bread, some rice and the tastiest falafel I had. We have a good long break, before we walk around for ages to find a camp. Many questions are asked and many pictures taken. The people of Wadi Rum have never seen tourists with a donkey, and are even more surprised when we tell them we walked all this way and they see how pretty and goodlooking I am nonetheless. Suleiman stops his car for us and is so excited that he offers us to stay at his bedouin camp in the desert. He drives to a hill, backs up and digs his wheels in the sand so it is easier for me to jump in the back of the pick-up. Im a bit scared and resist but Tamar convinces me it will be ok. She sits in the back with me, holding my head and stroking me for comfort. That calms me down. We drive about 30 minutes like this, im a princess in my carriage, while the sun is setting behind us, amels are roaming the desert and the red sand reflects beautifully around us. Suleimans camp is in the ‘green desert’, with at least some fluffy grasses and bushes for me to chew on. I get the leftovers from an amazing meal, cooked ‘the bedouin way’ in a large pit under the sand. Suleiman is even finding me hay in town tomorrow while I have a rest day and Tamar and Kerim explore the desert. I listen to the fire and Suleimans playing the ude from the bedouin tent. I listen to them sharing bedouin knowledge about camels. Apparently the milk is produced on the spot and not stored, like with sheep and goats. Camelmilk therefore can be drunk straight away and doesnt have to be boiled first. We have seen camels with burnmarks on their shoulders nd this is to fix muscleproblems underneath. When camels have problems getting pregnant they let them be bitten by ants and when they have stomach issues they put cut up snakes inside them. Arent I glad im just a donkey and Tamar is not a bedouin. Though shes getting close to becoming one. I wish she could take me back home with her, but I am also excited to finish the trip to Aqaba, three more days, with Kerim, before I get picked up by my new family from Dana and live with all my new animalfriends in a beautiful bioreserve. Im sure Tamar will come to see me next year and ill be proud to tell all my new friends about the amazing adventures weve been on.