International Writers Magazine:
We just had our
evening meal on the terrace and unwinding. Looking up into the sky,
it was pitch black, and the surrounding area was dense, nothing
to see but darkness, to the east directly, you see the faded lights
of Bissan, the Palestinian town that is now under Israeli rule and
For a moment, you realize the geographical homogeneity of the areas surrounding.
We were in the Ajloun reserve but from here, at the campsite, your realize
how short the distance is to Palestine, Israel, and the Druze mountains
There is nothing much to do at the campsite in the evening except to go
to bed for the next days hike. We were part of a group of tour operators
that sat down to play cards, while others chatted away.
Still others have been going to their tented bungalows and cabins to change,
and/or fiddle around with something and another. The newly created cabins
had bathrooms and towers, but if you were allocated a bungalow you either
had to keep a tight lid on your bladder or spend the night going up and
down to the toilets in the main building, which is actually only a stones
throw away! It was a cool night, there was a light breeze and the lights
at the compound were dimmed.
The Soap-Makers Trail
We had got in from Amman that day, at around noon, and spent the next
couple of hours lounging, especially after our big meal. Our first hikethe
Soap-Makers Trail started at 4 in the afternoon. It was a well-defined
trail, marked by small stones and pebbles; we were guided by two of the
staff at the Nature Reserve which is looked after by the RSCN in Amman.
The trail, an especially made hike of 6 to 7 kilometers, was clearly defined
so that visitors can go it alone or with a guide, directions are clearly
marked so that people do not get lost, the walk was easy at times and
strenuous at others, but for experienced hikers this should add to the
This was another one of those trips jointly organized by the Jordan Inbound
Tour Operators Association (JITOA) to market hiking holidays to local
and more importantly international holiday-makers who want to experience
something specialthe trails of Ajloun are a treat to unwind and
experience the ruggedness of nature.
The trails are planned by the RSCN through the Wild Jordan organization
to make Jordan an international eco-tourism destination. The party made
their way slowly downwards through oak, pistachio and strawberry trees
and bushels on hilly grounds at times engulfed with stones, at times smooth,
and slippery in certain parts.
The trail twists and turns as you move downwards, walking in between foliage,
open space, corrugated stones and rocks with thick and sparse clumps and
tufts of grass under your feet. I was glad I had a good pair of walking
shoes to protect my feet from the ruggedness of the grounds. Why not remove
the stones and rocks on the ground? "It would ruin the experience
and the atmosphere," came the reply.
It was a 2 to 3 hour trail, but the group thinned out, huddling into sub-groups,
as we descended down hill but you had to keep moving to catch up with
the others who were waiting at a point to start another descend.
The picture upfront was panoramic, of hills and rolling woodlands from
east to west. As you inch upwards, the heaving becomes heavier as your
nostrils are filled with the aroma of green and earth.
We were told we would be lucky to see any animals like badgers, foxes
and wild boars as they come out only at night. One guide told us there
are four types of non-poisonous snakes.
On the lowest points of the reserve, your horizons are blocked by trees
and as you reach the Eagles Viewpoint, the highest peak, 1100 meters
above sea level. You feel exhilarated as you go down to the Soap-Makers
House where traditional olive-oil soap-making is made. The climb-down
demands good foot grips in order not to skid in some part of the trail.
There are six surrounding villages around the reserve, and their inhabitants
take part in projects such as this one and produce fruit soaps, lavender
and pomegranate. The party had refreshments of peppermint tea, and shown
around the workshop.
Bringing the tourists to see the communities that live here is a form
of responsible tourism, we want to show the small economic processes that
exist around such reserves to sustain livelihoods.
Our party stopped at the workshop and went back to the campsite by bus,
but other hikers could have continued on what is called the Village Orchards
Tour hike which would have been an extra three hours from here of passing
rural traditional villages.
That night was extra special. At the campsite we went into a small conference
room where the staff talked about the special aspects of the reserve,
and how there was a need for its protection, but I dont think a
lot of information went in since the hikers were either too tired from
that days hike, they had too much too eat or were too eager for
the next days hike
The mountains of Ajloun are in the northern part of the country and trips
like these are important for the upkeep of the reserve as they generate
income for the preservation of nature, and help local communities.
Staff told us many people, local and international, especially Americans,
British, and Europeans came to the reserve. In 2005, 7000 people visited
the reserve, in 2006 it was 9000 and this year (up till July) 10,000 visited
But despite these huge figures, 90 percent of the reserve as like the
six other reserves in the Kingdom subject to zoning and only 10 percent
open to the public.
The Prophets Trail
By 8 oclock sharp the next morning, and after a 7:30 breakfast,
everyone stood to leave at the Visitors Center.
It was serene, hardly anyone was around. The Prophets Trail is an
8.5 kilometer hike linking the Ajloun reserve to Tel Mar Elias, a monument
for Prophet Eligah.
This hike is for the dedicated, you pass through different landscapes
of woodlands in between villages and asphalted roads to experience different
terrains and environs. The green mellows the harsh semi-arid environment
dominated by the stinging summer sun.
Its a four-hour hike of walking down the road for 10 minutes into
a corridor of thick trees of oak and wild strawberry that actually lowers
your gaze and horizons until you move downhill to the bottom of the valley.
The hikers proceeded through foliage thickness, followed by open space.
The adrenalin was moving, there was a momentum in the pace of the walk
for if you slowed down you would have been left behind. But after a welcome
5-minute tea break it was a flat walk into the woods.
On this trail, we had donkey to carry precious goods like pots of tea
and water. It obediently followed, and in many cases it performed better
than we did as we moved into the rough and tumble of another terrain.
Another tea-break, we are nearly at the end of the valley, ready for the
next upward climb.
The hikers walked for
5 more minutes then went down again to another Wadi. This time the trees
were separated; it was another slog walking in between sort of a maze
of bushes and clamps of trees and green till the end of the valley.
trail is not made for tour operators, but for experienced hikers,
however we had to walk it for our packages to international tourists.
The climb was hard, it was stiff with sweat almost oozing from various
parts of our bodies. We dragged our feet upwards moving two steps
at a time and then stopping to catch their breath.
Another asphalted road was seen from the top. Two hikers couldnt
walk anymore, an RSCN van was called to take them back to the campsite.
They were in a daze as much angry by the fact that they had to stop
and couldnt see the end.
The group started as one, then split into three then joined up again.
The climb was up again, the last lap to Tell Mar Elias, they were tired
but they felt a sense of achievement as if nature and human become interlocked
again; tour operators were falling by the wayside, but it was 12:30.
Hot snacks was waiting for them, none were talking anymore, they tucked
The hikers could have continued walking till Ajloun Castle which is another
four hour walk but they stopped at Tell Mar Elias, a coach waited to taking
them to Amman.
© Marwan Asmar August 2007
Azraq Wetland, a heaven for ecotourists
It was 6:15 in the morning, there was a chill in the air but the
dew and the mist were intertwining with the brilliant sunshine.
JITOA juggles more than one ball
Business Associations are a new buzzword in Jordans corporate
world of finance.
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