The moon shines like a freshly polished dime in the pitch-black sky. The stars glimmer, their brilliance untouched by the lights and smog of Amman. It is quiet and yet the air is saturated with noise: the chirping of crickets, the hooting of owls, and the gentle hum of silence itself. We sit under a tent overlooking a forested valley, drinking tea with sage. Nearby, an old man strums the rababa and sings a Bedouin tune. “Where have all the good people gone?” His melancholy supplications fade into the night.
The setting for this magical evening is Dana, a nature reserve in the southwest of Jordan. I visited Dana as part of a weekend trip with a group of students from my language institute. This weekend was a breath of fresh air; I can’t remember the last time I traveled with nature as the destination. Most of the trips I have taken in my adult life have been to urban centers.
I have long had a fascination with cities. Growing up in the suburbs of southeast Michigan, I dreamt of a big city life. I had romantic images of this life in my head: catching the bus on a bustling downtown street, walking down boulevards lined with charming coffee shops and bookstores, busy people and shining lights.
I learned a lot about city life throughout my five years of undergraduate and graduate studies in Chicago. It certainly includes the pretty images I imagined, but it also excludes other things. Nature—undomesticated, free stretches of land left relatively untouched by the human hand— is one of them.
This weekend returned me to feelings I associate with my childhood: the freedom of syncing yourself to nature’s rhythm, the thrill of exerting yourself to reach the top of a hill, a mountain, a sand dune.
At Dana nature reserve, we hiked until the late afternoon melted into the purple-pink of sunset. Bursts of green foliage lit up the beiges and browns of the trail. I saw rolling hills of rock and forest that seemed to stretch for miles into the hazy distance. Back at the campsite, we savored a simple dinner of roast chicken and vegetables and thick sheets of pita bread. They say that hunger is the best spice; a meal is that much more satisfying when your body has worked hard.
We slept in tents. The dark of night signaled lights out, and the light of dawn became our early morning alarm. We spent the next day traveling back north toward Amman, stopping at Wadi Mujib and the Dead Sea.
Wadi Mujib is a river valley that feeds into the Dead Sea. Words and pictures can hardly do justice to its stunning beauty. Upon entering Wadi Mujib, you will find yourself surrounded by towers of jagged orange rock. You will feel running water on your feet. As you go deeper into the wadi, the flow of water will accelerate and the depth will increase up to your waist.
Hiking to the waterfall at the end of the wadi trail requires team work, use of ladders and ropes, and careful attention. Any thoughts of the outside world—your responsibilities and to-do lists—must be put aside so that you can focus on scaling the next ridge. Adrenaline pushed me to the top, and an achieved sense of calm carried me back down. We celebrated our hard work with a few hours of lounging at a nearby resort along the coast of the Dead Sea. We sipped sweet iced tea to wash away the taste of the salty seawater, and watched the sun make its descent to the west.
And with that, my weekend of nature came to an end. We passed the last hour of our drive back to Amman singing Arabic classics and chatting aimlessly. In Arabic, a ‘wadi’ is not only a valley, but also an oasis. I will remember this trip as a retreat from the city, a resting space for my busy urban mind.
[Originally published on Andrea in Amman blog, November 2016]