25 Feb Desert Abduction? Day One on the Jordan Trail, Hiking 40 miles from Dayna to Petra
From my five days Hiking the Jordan Trail, from Dana to Petra. It is said that Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad have walked along what is now the Jordan Trail. I am excited to share from my on experiences.
[ Disclaimer: This story is told as I EXPERIENCED IT, I may never know for sure the depth of danger OR total innocence of my situation. Looking back I have nothing but respect, admiration and appreciation for the guide who substituted the first day for Ghassab Al Bedoul. I do not want anyone who might skim the following story to form the wrong opinion. In hindsight, I now realize that everything my guide did was in my best interest and I am grateful. Read on ]
Bear with me now for the setup, having a little context for my first day on the Jordan Trail will allow you to better understand my “desert abduction” on day one. It was a day that I will never forget.
Months ago, back in the US, I worked for weeks setting up this hike in the desert. I viewed an amazing video of my guide Ghassab Al Bedoul, wearing a white robe and red and white checkered keffiyeh.
In the video Ghassab tells about the bedouin life in the desert, dreams started forming in my head, bedouin tents with rich Arabian rugs, candlelight feasts and nights under the stars. Over a period of weeks I hashed out a six day plan with Ghassab’s corespondent in Amman, Laurie. Our emails resulted in a beautiful PDF itinerary that spelled out the path from Dana to Petra, mileage each day, caves and tents that we would sleep in, I loved the detail, I loved THE PLAN.
When Laurie told me by email that she could not guarantee that Ghassab would be my guide, I replied with “I will only do this trip if Ghassab is my guide”. Being an experienced traveler I did not want the third string. Laurie checked into this and made the guarantee that Ghassab would be my guide.
Flash forward a few months to my arrival in the desert, the night before my hike was to begin, Laurie’s new email read “unfortunately Ghassab has been detained and a substitute guide by the name of Ghassan would step in the first day. Wanting to be cordial and pleasant I hoped for the best and replied with “no problem’. My travel experience is that you plan the best that you can but once the plan is in motion you accept whatever comes as God’s will.
During our strenuous 12 mile hike the first day, water was a little more scarce than I felt comfortable with, Ghassan kept asking me about the plan, leaving me with the feeling that he was not fully briefed and that he intended to be my guide for the duration. Then, upon our arrival to camp that evening there was no bedouin tent. It looked more like a run down west Texas farm. No Candle lit tent or Persian rugs, no ornate pillows, instead of dancing to Arabic music (I have a big imagination and have watched too many movies) there was only goats baahing in the wind.
Ghassan informed me that a storm was coming and that if we stayed in a tent we would be blown away. Having lived my life as a Real Estate Broker and property manager from the age of 18, I had heard a lot of stories and my fatigued mind figured this to be another. Some conjured up excuse so as to get around delivering what I had been promised.
Bone tired, I laid down on the floor, the smoke from my substitute guides cigarettes permeating the air. My surroundings smelled much like the fire station of my childhood in Camack Village Arkansas where my Uncle Rupert was the mayor and fire chief fifty years ago. This did not feel like Lawrence of Arabia, the 3 1/2 hour movie that I watched on the plane during my flight to the middle east.
Gathering my thoughts I took my guides suggestion to take a walk and photograph the sunset that was soon to occur. In very broken english he said “but don’t wander off far, our driver will be here soon with lots of water and will cook us dinner.” Remember that phrase.
It helped to walk, it always does, even though my weary legs were cramping from our 10 mile plus hike in the mountains I forged ahead, the wind starting to pick up, photographing the sunset was my goal. The wind grew stronger, testing the abilities of my windproof Patagonia jacket, eventually I hid behind huge boulders for protection. Pulling my toob scarf up around my face and over my eyes allowed some vision through it’s thin layer but limited the intake of sand into my mouth, nose and eyes.
I knew there would be no way to describe this experience so I pulled out my iPhone and took the video that accompanies this story. I still chuckle at my word choices. There is this one clip where you hear me stumble slightly on my words as I try to explain the experience, I say “the wind is blowing so hard that I almost lost my footing”. I chuckle at this now as I remember at the time correcting the far more accurate “the wind almost blew me off the cliff as I rounded the corner” into this far tamer version in case Carol were to see my video.
The wind and sandstorm subsided enough for me to photograph the sunset, it was beautiful. With fatigue setting in, I began to hope that the rocky road I had trekked would soon produce the driver with the cook and water. If I could hitch a ride it would save the 1/2 mile or so walk in the wind back to camp. During my time here there had been NO ONE on this road, no 4×4’s had come by. Just as I was finishing up my photographs of the sunset I heard the sound of an engine in the distance. My hopes rose at the prospect of getting out of the wind and getting back to camp in about two minutes versus the 20 minute or so walk.
As the vehicle came closer I heard the toot of his horn as the vehicle slowed down. Walking around the front of the vehicle which had now come to a stop, I opened the back door, observed the bottles of water and stepped in. Everything seemed in order in this vehicle of four, including me. I was delighted to be a couple of minutes from camp. in our brief attempt at greetings I realized there was no English to be exchanged so I slipped my AirPods into my ears and disappeared into some music.
After a period of time elapsed, my weary eyelids snapped open as I realized 10 minutes must’ve gone by. Instinctively, my head spun around to look out the rear window, ascertaining our location. I could barely make out the cliffs where I photographed the sunset, the terrain was rough and barren but I knew one thing for sure, we were not heading back to camp. We had passed that fork in the road by a few miles at least. With the events playing out in slow motion in my head, my situation was starting to become clear. I had stepped into a vehicle with strangers, they were not a part of Ghassab’s hiking team and I had no idea where they were taking me.
Despite my best efforts to communicate, verbal and non verbal, they were not responding, the Arabic music blared on the radio as the driver only gave me a grin. My thoughts began to race as I summed up my situation, if I insisted they let me out here or pulled the door-handle and jumped I would never find my way back to camp which had disappeared in the darkness. Instead, I emulated the motions of steering the car and pointing back into the distance from where they had picked me up. I was hoping they would take me back but they either did not understand or chose not to.
For the first time in two weeks, I was grateful that my daughter Carissa had not joined me. I felt it to be divine intervention. As we started to crest the top of the mountain I pulled out my phone in the remote chance I would find a signal. My phone had not worked throughout the day but I was hoping for a miracle. As I watched the screen I saw the front right passenger poke the driver in the ribs, pointing to my high profile iPhone 11 Pro Max and grinning as he said the words “iPhone”. At this moment I was wishing that my much older, cheaper and less flashy iPhone 7 was in my hands. Their awareness of my camera bag seemed to increase as they saw this rather valuable object in my hands.
As if by a miracle, three signal bars appeared on my screen and I quickly pressed Ghassab’s number in WhatsApp. Unbelievably, his voice came through loud and clear. “Ghassab, this is Ronnie and I am in a vehicle with strangers, can you talk to them?”. With my phone in speakerphone mode I could hear both sides of the conversation, of course I could not make out the words but the Arabic dialogue grew more intense by the minute. The expression on the driver’s face as well as the intensity of the words exchanged had the feel of some negotiation.
Eventually the driver passed the phone back to me whereupon I received these words from Ghassab, a very articulate and even-tempered man of few words.
“why you get in that car, why you get in car with strangers, that veddy dangerous, don’t do that again, they take you back to camp now”…
I could not have been happier to return to our humble cement structure for the night, the cigarette smoke and lack of ambiance now bore the fragrance of home. Isam (our Egyptian cook for the trip) prepared the first of many delicious meals I would enjoy on this trip, all in bedouin tents and caves just as I had been promised, with Ghassab as my guide. I will start that part of my adventure tomorrow.
For that first night, I was just happy to have survived. The next day I was to learn that police had rescued two hiking groups that had attempted the night in tents. Ghassab had wisely instructed my substitute guide to get us to safety in this cement structure that I now lay.
With the wind howling around my safe and secure home for the night, I remember just gazing out the window above my humble bed on the floor, just staring into the blackness as my mind tried to process the events of the day.
Three phrases and verses drifted through my weary brain before my eyes closed for the night…
From Hava Levene in Israel several days prior… “In Hebrew, we have no word for coincidence, we use this word”, writing it first in Hebrew (מִכְרֶה), and then in english, she wrote the word MIKREH. “It means HAPPENED BY GOD… there are no coincidences.”
And then the words in Arabic that surrounded my wrist all day on a bracelet, “ثقتي في الله”, My trust is in God. And the last, my own favorite that I had meditated on during my hike that day – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own I understanding”.
As I watched the stars appear through the window of my little hut in the Jordan desert my heart was filled with gratitude that my daughter had not made this trip and that the events of the day ended with me safely out of the storm and into the palm of God’s hand.