“You can enjoy one of the many hikes, or for $7, you can spend the day with local shepherds.” These were our options upon reaching the beautiful Dana Biosphere Reserve, and by now you can probably guess what we chose. Why wander the hills alone when you can do the same thing with about 40 goats, two amiable guides and a trusty donkey?
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before we would join this merry band we had an ancient city to explore.
Friends told us to go to the park as soon as it opened: 6 am. We were the only ones in line when the ticket window opened and as such had the entire park to ourselves for most of the morning. We did gain a couple companions along the way: a friendly mountain dog, then two more, and eventually picked up enough dogs to count as a bonafide pack before the day was up.
There is a staggering amount of this 500 BC city to see, and we covered most of it during our 10 miles and 6 hours of hiking. The two most intact and impressive structures are the famous Treasury that greets you at the end of a narrow gorge (Siq) and later, the Monastery that you reach after 800 winding steps through the mountain.
The Monastery was a particular highlight for us as we were ambushed by seven friendly cats, the seventh (who we named Mountain Cat 7) being probably the sweetest cat we’ve ever met. I ventured off to take pictures of the Monastery in the hills while Stef tended to her feline herd.
Dana Biosphere Reserve
After Petra, we drove the three hours south and west through the mountains to the Dana Biosphere Reserve and quickly booked our day in the hills with Ahmed & Harun, half-brothers from the area, Arujja the donkey, and about 150 goats.
Goats and donkeys are impressively good at finding the easy path up or down otherwise challenging terrain. While we carefully picked our way behind them, Ahmed & Harun bounded up and down the mountains in their flip flops, singing and lobbing rocks at the distant hillsides as a way of herding the goats from afar.
As is now tradition, the day involved four rounds of building fires for tea, a delicious lunch of cooked up vegetables and a gigantic blanket of flatbread (shirak). Our hosts were incredibly kind. The few times when our conversations broke down due to our lack of Arabic and their limited English, they’d call a third brother on an old Nokia to try and translate.
By the time we returned to the valley floor, we had learned a bit of the craft of herding and left feeling very impressed that the whole group did this much hiking every day.
On our final day we woke up early to drive to the capital city of Amman and meet up with family friends. The route from Dana took us right up the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, and every few miles we couldn't stop ourselves from pulling over for a long, awestruck look.
As we pulled our rental car into the very cosmopolitan looking section of town we were staying in, it was unbelievable that just hours ago we'd been out in the hills with the guys and their goats. Or that just days before that, we'd been swept up in halls of an ancient civilization lost to the ages. When we'd first set out on our travels, Jordan wasn't even on our radar. But after 9 action-packed days in this magnificent country, it was hard to imagine why we hadn't come sooner.
We're skipping over the Arabian Peninsula to the land of skyscrapers and shopping malls. Dubai, here we come!