The weather forecast warned of a snow storm and freezing temperatures in Amman, Jordan, but nothing could stop us. We were heading to a different world; one with hot springs and waterfalls, palm trees, red sandstone, and beauty everywhere we looked, we were heading to piece of paradise in the desert, to the biblical Valley of God; Callirhoe, locally known as Wadi Zarqa Ma’in.
Some say: “Compared to Petra and the Dead Sea, there isn’t much to see in Tafila.” I beg to differ!
If you are like me; where off-road adventures or treks to least traveled paths raise your heart beat, then Tafila is definitely for you.
Northern Badia; Safawi
Iraqi Border with Jordan
I left Amman with a hiking team from Jordan early on a Friday heading towards the Northern Badia Desert “Safawi” to see the one and only standing Tree; Al Biqyawiyya, but the desert has more surprises to offer!
I concluded 2016 with a hike in Rahma Wadi “The Valley of Mercy” in Araba/ Jordan.
Jordan is endowed with so much unique beauty, many times I find myself lost for words to describe.
All I can say is may your paths bring you to this beautiful country and to see for yourselves.
Wishing you all a Happy 2017 🙂
Here is some of what is said about this valley:
“Undoubtedly one of the most impressive and pristine deserts in Jordan, Rahma (Rahmeh) in Wadi Araba north of Aqaba is a unique hiking area rarely visited by tourists. The area offers a range of high quality features: a Siq, exceptionally beautiful dunes, hills, rocky outcrops and even some vegetation in the middle of the desert.
The views are great, and you will experience a tremendous sense of space and isolation in the vastness of this landscape. The area is truly exceptional and equals, if not surpasses, the beauty of Wadi Rum.”
“Breaching a sheer wall of black rocks, Wadi Rahma descends through a spectacular serious of dry falls and giant potholes, often holding water long after the rains. Its major tributaries descend from south to north, directed by faults paralleling the Rift. The Wadi terminates in mud pan in the “Araba Valley without reaching the Gulf of Aqaba. At its outlet is the village of Rahma”
“Trekking and Canyoning in the Jordanian Dead Sea Rift”
For a photo album, click here
Photos are copyrighted.
The beauty of Jordan lies in its location at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, Europe making it home of many civilizations. The archaeological ruins further attest to the varying civilizations that flourished in this region. One site portrays the distinctive marks of many historical periods whether Roman, Byzantine, Islamic or other.
The Ummayad caliphate is one of the civilizations that left clear traces in Jordan. The Umayyads ruled over a vast empire that extended from Portugal and Morocco to Arabia and Persia in the West with their capital in Damascus (AD 661-750). They established networks of trade routes, expanded their empire, left a legacy of a greater Arab Golden age that many nationalists aspire to restore, along with a trail of desert palaces that were used as retreats.
From one of these palaces in the Eastern desert of Jordan, my hike began along with a hiking group from Jordan.
Surrounded by the vastness of the Hammada desert with its black basalt gravel from both sides, my bus came to a stop by a small palace. Located 85km to the East of Amman and 20 km south of the oasis at Azraq, Qusair Amra was built in the 8th Century as pleasure palace and a Hammam “Bath” for the Ummayad nobles who traveled from Damascus.
If you think you know luxury, think again! The building is patterned after Roman baths including a caldarium (hot room), a tepidarium (warm room), a frigidarium (cold room), and an apodyterium (changing room). Sheer joy after days of traveling or game in the nearby Butum Wadi.
What is also special about the building is that it gives insight into a more secular, less strict way of living under an Islamic caliphate. The amazing frescoes in the reception hall and baths stand in sharp contrast with the teaching of Islam that forbids portrayal of any living creatures. Not only that, but the very detailed thematic paintings draw a clear image of a way of living that embraced Earthly over Heavenly pleasures.
You can see paintings of hunting scenes, dancing, musicians, bathing scenes, cupids, topless concubines, naked women in what seems to be as 8th century thongs, wine, and a Zodiac that covered the dome of the hot room. Really a small museum worth visiting in the middle of the desert with amazing frescoes that prompted UNESCO to include it in the World Heritage List.
Just outside the palace, you can see a hydraulic system that includes a 36m deep stone well, pipes and a pump turned by a donkey for extracting water to a cistern that supplied the baths.
With the hiking group, I crossed to Wadi el Butum also known locally as Um Shojeire el Sharqiye, a valley named after the Butum “Pistachio” trees, scientifically known as the Pistacia Atlantica. One can easily guess from the frescoes in Amra that the valley was once a dense forest with all kinds of wild life such as gazelles, ibex, and lions. Little remains nowadays as most of the Butum trees disappeared, with them the wild life that was driven to extinction or near extinction from over hunting.
We proceeded to Qasr Uwined, a Roman military fort built in the 3rd century AD to protect Wadi Al Sirhan; the main caravan route from Arabia to Syria, located nowadays in Saudi Arabia. The fortress was abandoned less than a hundred years later but the remains stand testimonial to the Roman presence in this region.
Our 21. 42 KM hike concluded in the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve “home of the Arabian Oryx”; the origin of the fabled unicorn 🙂 It was created to protect this beautiful animal along with other endangered animals like the onagers, ostriches and gazelles. The reserve will officially open end of January this year after a seven year closure.
A hike is never short of surprises or even discoveries if I may say so. My hike from Iraq Al Amir in the outskirts of Amman, Jordan to Al Kafrin Dam in the Jordan valley was one of those.
Starting from the beautiful village of Iraq Al Amir, all I could see around me was greenery. Always a comfort from Amman with its concrete, traffic congestion and pollution. Olive trees among others were everywhere, water trenches irrigating the farms, dogs barking, chickens, ducks, goats, geese, and beautiful children peeping from behind the windows or roofs of their modest houses waving their hands, giggling, and hiding every time I pointed my camera at them in an attempt to immortalize their smiles in my memory. Fresh air rushed into my lungs, my lips parted slowly in a smile only nature can provoke, my heart felt lighter as I approached Qasr Al- Abad “Palace of the Slave” one of the few examples of the pre- Roman construction in Jordan.
Little is known about the palace and plenty of mystery surrounds it ; most scholars believe that Hyracnus of the powerful Jewish Tobiad family built it between 187 and 175 BC as a villa or fortified palace. Aramaic engravings of the name Tuvya were found in nearby caves giving credence to this theory.
The local version is more of a tragic love and class struggle. Tobias was a commoner who loved and wanted to marry the daughter of a nobleman. The nobleman asked him to build this castle just to have him killed after its completion. Amazing how love turns the wise into a fool!
Another version suggests that the site was intended as a mausoleum for the Tobias family.
The biblical Book of Nehemiah, also, mentions “Toviyya, the Servant, the Ammonite” who left Jerusalem after losing a power struggle, and established his residence east of the Jordan, on the ancestral lands of the Tobiad dynasty.
Whatever version you choose to adapt, what remains of the site will offer you an extraordinary chance to see some of the biggest blocks of any ancient structure in the Middle East, in addition to carvings of tigers and lions that were once native and inhabited this land.
After Iraq Al Amir, we started a steep ascent just to meet the most amazing views at the top; the entire village of Iraq Al Amir on one side and the Jordan Valley on the other. Lucky are the people who live there; greeted daily with amazing scenery and marvelous sunrises and sunsets!
Soaking it all in to the best of my ability, my smile growing bigger with every step, the descent to Al Kafrin Dam began. With each step, I could feel the temperature rising. The hiking group took a trail made by running water taking everything in its path from rocks to dead animals. Dry now, we were left with wobbly rocks and boulders that proved strenuous on the feet and knees. My trekking pole came in handy giving me ample support along the way.
The Dam began to appear in the horizon, behind it the Dead Sea drawing a natural landscape that competes with the works of the best artists. But our treat was still waiting 🙂 Just before the dam, the view of a small village came into sight and I couldn’t wait to get to it.
The village looked extremely old but in reality it was built for a TV series about a courageous poet “Malek Bin Alreib” during the early days of Islam in Saudi Arabia. It was amazing; great attention to details, outdoor tannours “furnaces”, palm trees planted everywhere, pigeon houses similar to the ones you find in Egypt, simple architecture and decorations, ceilings of dried palm fronds, bridges, lizards running inside the rooms and halls, luckily for me, modern toilets for the acting crew, all just sitting there, neglected unfortunately! The entire site has great tourism and educational potential for those interested in walking down history lane; I see no reason in leaving it sit there for nothing.
Just outside the village, the Bedouin settlements with their tents, camels, and greeting smiles came into view. I heard their hellos as I proceeded along with hiking team, the hunters with their pickup trucks, and the 4× 4 riders all heading towards the dam each with a specific target in mind.
Fire, Food, water, sunset, puppies, fishermen, and birds were all part of a tremendous conclusion to my 19km hike.
A jolly heart and a smile that turned gradually into a full blown laugh, what more can I ask for!
I find the Middle East extremely peculiar! Diverse geography, diverse weathers, diverse civilizations, multitude of stories from nations that passed leaving behind ruins attesting that every footstep we make was once taken by many. If we are ever short in archaeological ruins, we have a set of Holy Scriptures with a plethora of mind-boggling stories to fill in the missing space.
To hikers like me who carry an equal love for nature and culture, this region is a joy for the mind and the senses alike. To those who wish to extract and learn lessons from the fates of others, this region offers many! As a connecting point between Amman and Jerusalem, Wadi Shuaib is among the most significant in this region. The valley is located in Jordan, Balqa Directorate, 3km away from AlSalt city, the old capital of Transjordan. You can’t miss it if you’re on your way to the Jordan Valley or the Dead Sea.
With 666 springs, a stream flows through it all the way to the Jordan River, perfect warm weather during winter times, thriving agriculture hence the lush greenery, amazing scenery overlooking the entire Jordan Valley, a major site during Jordan’s Neolithic period, naturally the valley is a destination to many.
Pilgrimage is also common here; Wadi Shuaib is named after prophet Shuaib/Jethro/Yitro known to Muslims as a Pious Prophet, to Jews & Christians as Moses’ Father –in- Law and a Priest, and to the Druz as a Spiritual Leader. It is said that he was sent to the Midianites who lived in parts of this region, a people of folly who rejected God, insisted on their deceitful ways, earning Gods wrath and consequent punishment.
The scriptures narrate different types of punishment that befell the Midianites that I find worth mentioning here. Moses and Gideon punished them twice for plotting against and persecuting the Israelites. But if Gods punishment was carried out in the hands of these two according to the Jewish narrative, he completely changed his methods in Muslim religious narrative in this particular event.
His punishment was surprisingly naturalistic. If considered in a scientific frame, one can easily see that the Midianites have fallen victims for sudden climate change and extreme weather! According to Muslim scripture, God’s first choice of punishments was excessive heat which doesn’t surprise me at all since I personally felt the effect of heat waves on this region.
Seeking shelter in a cloudy, shaded area, God sent scorching thunder that hit and burnt the Midianites. Escaping the thunder, they sought refuge in their homes, but God shock the earth beneath them. Those who managed to survive so far experienced an unorthodox kind of death still unfamiliar even in today’s modern warfare and technological advancement. God resorted to sound “Sayha” or what we now think is ultrasonic or infrasonic waves. Exposure to such waves causes little damage to infrastructure but great damage to the human body. It induces cortisol; an important hormone that prepares the body to deal with stress by raising both blood and sugar levels. If the body is in a state of sleep, tampering with this hormone causes major organ failure and subsequent death!
Clearly, a war of extermination conducted by no other means than Mother Nature! Shuaib returned the next day, and found them all dead in their sleep. The Midianites perished as if they never were, prophet Shuaib died after a while and I think few lessons were learned from their fate whether on a moral or climate level. As we continue to dissect with our borders and visas what was once an extended piece of land, a need emerges to satisfy the need of all religious pilgrims. So, two mausoleums were built on both sides of the Jordan River; one in the Shuaib valley and another in the Lower Galilee in Israel. Soon enough, we might need a third one if a Palestinian state is established, a situation reminiscent of the three baptismal sites we already have!
From the mausoleum in the Jordanian side, and with these notions in mind, my hike began. Along with the group of hikers, we went off road to trace the flow of the stream all the way to the Shuaib Dam. Passing through many private properties, farmers offered us all kinds of oranges, grapefruits, clementines and direction. The Jordanian people have an unmatched sense of generosity & hospitality. I can tell you something for sure; you will never go hungry, thirsty, or without a shelter in Jordan.
We crossed the stream a few times after making our way through dense bamboos, the water was refreshingly cold. Don’t assume, though, that this water is for human consumption. It’s not, and I only found one sign along the way indicating that the water is not for human consumption. That water is mostly sewage flowing from AlSalt city to the Dam. Many people, however, swim, drink, or wash their faces or picnic silverware in it putting themselves at risk of E-coli infections 😦
After a while, the greenery diminished, and we started passing between Bedouin settlements scattered along the way. Each kept a barn with cows, chickens, goats, and many dogs on the guard; a clear transformation from a Bedouin life style to possible future villages.
Shortly after, the reflection of the dams’ waters came into view, shallow as they may be but thankfully available. We picked up speed because we had every intention of watching the sunset and we did. We started fire, cooked our food, watched the sun rays and birds play on the surface of the water.
I dried my cold damp feet and rested thinking to myself “Where there is water, there is life”
I pray we never know drought in this region, that we wisen up, and work hard to protect our limited water resources from pollution and over consumption. I pray we never meet the fate of the Midianites, that we learn lesson from those that once lived here and perished. I hope that sooner than later, we minimize our footprint on this earth and control climate change. I pray that we find ways to coexist rather than build fences and walls.
Wishing you all Happy Holidays & a Happy New Year.
For a photo album from this hike, click here