After hiking through welcoming villages where a cup of tea was always offered, our featured contributor Leon McCarron was struck by the sparseness of the landscape as he traveled the southern reaches of the Jordan Trail.
“Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit.”—Edward Abbey
So often, the beating heart of any travel experience are the interactions and human connections we make along the way. I’ve found these to be the elements of journeying—and indeed life—that become the catalyst for some fundamental emotional change within me.
But let me talk also of landscape. I’ve found that wilderness too has the power to shift one’s mood, or to wrench thought and feeling into an entirely new sphere in an instant. To feel a landscape—to be dwarfed by mountains or swallowed by ocean or humbled by the vastness of any new, natural scene—is one of the great joys of life.
For those of us who live in cities, being a part of this is seen sometimes as a luxury, but as Edward Abbey wrote so forcefully above: This is not true. We need it, and fortunately, there are still plenty of places on our planet where we can seek it out.
In 2016, I walked along the Jordan Trail, a new and audacious (and brilliant) hiking route that winds its way from Umm Qais in the north to Aqaba on the shores of the Red Sea. The early parts of the journey were filled with small villages and towns and sporadic Bedouin tents, and five, 10, 20 times a day I’d stop to drink tea and talk with those who lived along the trail. As I moved south, however those communities became more sparse—and empty, wild landscape took over.
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In the center of the country were three wadis (valleys) that ran laterally across my path, making their way west towards the Jordan River valley. They were: Wadi Zarqa Ma’In, Wadi Hidan, and Wadi Mujib, pictured above.
I’ve heard this latter gorge be referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Middle East, and it’s easy to see why. To cross each canyon required a descent of hundreds of meters to a hot, humid, riverbed, and then a lung-busting haul all the way back up to the plateau on the other side.
A few days on, beyond the city of Kerak, I walked into changeable weather and, above the natural hot springs at a place called Burbeita, I found an overhanging rock under which I could pitch my tent.
At dusk, I thought I had the mountains all to myself, but as darkness filled the sky, small pinpricks of light appeared at two or three places on the hillside; the sign of others—shepherds, surely—also spending the night under the gray clouds. We would never meet, but sometimes, when alone in an unfamiliar place, it’s enough to know that there are others out there, sharing the same sky.