Desert Night Camps – Feynan Ecolodge
The Feynan Ecolodge is not just another place to stay while in Jordan. It is actually an experience. Somehow placed in the middle of nowhere in Jordan, the Feynan Ecolodge offers you a stay you won’t forget. Here is my account of getting there and taking part in a Bedouin experience before making it to the Lodge…
We were in the van for what seemed like hours. Gazing out the window, I noted how the landscape was changing and soon it felt as if civilization was slowly creeping away on our way to Feynan Ecolodge. Dana Biosphere Reserve, in the lands of Jordan’s desert, was vast and diverse. Occasionally, I would see herds of sheep or goats and the shepherds tending to them in their mocked-up desert camp. Then maybe a camel or two and a makeshift tent with their rubble on side of the road.
I had entered Nomad’s Land!
Feynan Lodge This Way
We finally saw a sign indicating our destination was near. At the “reception” area, there were three Arabs sitting in folding chairs outside, underneath a blowing canopy. Our driver pulled up, spoke to them in Arabic for a few minutes, and then instructed us to grab our bags and load them into the truck. They would be taking us further out into the desert to a desert camp.
From Van to Rickety Truck
Throwing my bag over my shoulder, I headed towards the two rickety Toyota pickup trucks. They looked as if they had been thru a war zone, covered in dust. As we piled in the back of the truck, I was thinking how surreal it was that here I was in the middle of nowhere in the Arabian Desert with Bedouin men on my way to their desert camp for tea and bread.
Dana Biosphere Reserve
We drove deeper into the desert along a bumpy, partial road, passing a few more sheep with shifting desert landscaping. I now knew why our van wasn’t coming out here as the road was beginning to disappear. The rock formations began to change from jaggedly, red to smooth, pale tan stones.
Like an Out of Body Experience
I kept glancing over at the other American in the back of my truck noting how nervous she was getting. It felt like an out of body experience. Driving up to the top of the hill, we left our bags in the truck as we got out and followed the two men on foot. The truck drivers were going to take our luggage to the Feynan Ecolodge and the other Bedouin took us to their campsite.
It was one single “tent” with a fire inside. Off to the right of the “tent”, they had a large piece of white plastic on the ground surrounded by mats and blankets as a place for us to sit during our ceremonial breaking of the bread and chai tea.
And As the Sun Set
The sun turns bright orange which bathes the landscape in the same golden hue. We stood and watched the egg-yolk sun as it was starting to set low in the sky over the mountains when a male Bedouin motioned us over to show us how our bread would be made.
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Lessons Learned in a Desert Night
That’s when I saw her, covered from head to toe in a niqab (a veil that covers the face showing only the eyes) sitting cross-legged in the dirt inside the tent. She had a tin pan, water, and a sack of white flour.
She poured a pile of flour into her pan, added salt and water, and started the kneading process. Soon enough she had it rolled into a ball of dough and flattened it out like an extra-thick pizza. Then she laid it on the coals of the fire, having carefully floured it prior so that the sand/dirt would not adhere to the sticky ball of dough. Slowly with a stick, she scraped the coals across it, until it was completely covered. Then eventually, she scraped off those coals, turned it over and did the same thing to the other side. Once done, with a stick she poked it and dropped it back into the same pan.
Sitting in Silence in the Desert
The male Bedouin then motioned us over to be seated on the mats for the bread and chai tea. At first, there was an air of awkwardness as our two cultures collided: Americans and Jordanian Bedouins were an unusual combination.
I could hear the mumblings of the Americans not wanting us to offend them, whispering customs for us all to remember:
“Don’t sit with the soles of your feet facing … (North? The woman?)
“Don’t take photographs of the women Bedouin.” (A direct shot is not allowed.)
“Don’t turn down an offering of the chai tea.”
There was an awkward silence, but then, one by one, he poured us tea with a single herbal leaf. He broke the bread with his hands into big chunks, offering it to each of us.
Prayers in the Night
He excused himself, as he and the other two Bedouin truck drivers went to their mat to say a prayer. There in the desert, they got down on their knees, mumbled a few words in Arabic, and then bowed to their God. Silence had engulfed the group as we watched; we were entranced and fascinated by them. As the deep red sun was slowing dropping below the horizon, I was thinking about how quiet and still it was out in this deafening desert.
Silence Swallowed Me Up
I could not hear a single sound. Silence had swallowed me up and I knew this very moment was a life lesson for me. The girl who could not sit in silence had to travel halfway across the world to foreign lands, in the Arabian Desert, in the dark of night, in the presence of Bedouins to sit in silence. Her lesson was to learn how to sit with it, how to “feel” it. In so many ways, I wanted to run, run from it, as silence is so frightening. But I had no choice but to sit there and have it sweep over me. I realized that if I can just sit here in silence, then silence could become a part of me.
May Peace be with You
They closed up camp and we said our goodbyes:
“Shu ka ran” – Thank you…
“Eslam elikem” – May peace be with you…
And I walked away in the desert night, alone in silence for over a mile to my room in the candle-lit Feynan ecolodge.
Cellphone Lights in the Dark
I had gotten separated from the group in my own deep thoughts but could see them up ahead and behind me by cellphone flashlights. Occasionally, I would look up to the hundreds of bright stars in the sky, which would only make me realize what a speck I am in the universe. Once in my bed, in my candlelit room, I felt as though I had crawled into a cocoon of silence. It had enveloped me and I wasn’t sure what to do… so I just listened.
Call to Prayer
At 4:00 AM, I woke up to the faint sound of a dog barking and a harp playing the “call to prayer” in the distance.
This silence, I decided was golden.
Feynan Eco Lodge
Like I said before, Feynan is used to giving people experiences that they have never had. It is an enchanting world of authentic Bedouin hospitality. The natural beauty in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, where the lodge is located, is at the end of a rugged trek that you won’t soon forget.
Feynan Ecolodge is one of the Best Ecolodges
It has been hailed as one of the best 25 eco-lodges in the world by National Geographic Traveler Magazine! And I would have to agree. The peacefulness you will feel here is beyond your imagination. This 26-room lodge is set against the glorious Jordanian desert landscape. And quite frankly, it is beautiful at night. There is no electricity in the rooms, so for turn down, they light candles throughout the lodge, suites, and rooms. On a dark night, it gives you a sense of peacefulness like you have never experienced before. It is almost eerie.
Feynan Enhances the Desert
One thing I noticed about the lodge is that it fits perfectly into the environment. They built it to enhance the desert, yet not take anything from the surrounding nature. When you get a room, you get 3 meals a day, activities, day hikes, water, and of course, some gorgeous star gazing at night. And since there is no electricity in the rooms, you really can unplug and immerse yourself into this desert. Using large solar panels, Feynan Ecolodge produces all its own electricity. In winter, the lodge is heated using olive pressing waste. And the water is solar heated. The laundry is air-dried. So as you can see, they go the extra mile to practice ecotourism.
Feynan Ecolodge Supports the Community
Another thing that Feynan Ecolodge does is to help support the local Bedouin community. Rather than purchase some fancy Suburbans to transport guests, the ecolodge works with members of the local community to drive guests, thus the reason I was in the rickety pickup truck. The ride is pretty bumpy (as mentioned before, I was was in a beat-up Toyota truck), but it provides local bedouins a job! Plus not too far down the road there is a Bedouin family who bakes bread three times a day for all the guests’ meals. So as you can see, they care and give back to their community.
Feynan Ecolodge Rooms
The rooms are gorgeous, as I had a king suite. The comfy king-sized bed comes complete with nets, in case you are concerned about insect bites. For the bathroom, they give you an extra sink that does have LED lighting and a full shower with hot water. The toiletries are kept to a minimum. Each sink has handmade olive oil soap from the Orjan village near the Ajloun Forest Reserve. However, you will need to bring your own shampoo and conditioner. The suite also comes with its own balcony. As you can see from the photograph above, my room was gorgeous and it looked out over the horizon. During the call to prayer, I got up and looked out to hear a harp playing. It was surreal!
Charging Station at Feynan
And when you need to charge your phone and computer, you can leave it at the front desk to charge up, as they do have a charging station there. They play by the honor system here.
Feynan Ecolodge Offers Many Activities
If you think that a day unconnected from the world sounds boring, you must think again. The Feynan Ecolodge offers you a variety of options from hikes of the area including Wadi Ghwayr and Wadi Dana, to exploring the old copper mines in the region, or they even offer cooking classes. You can learn how to bake traditional Jordanian bread or how to make traditional coffee. If none of these are appealing, you can opt to spend a day with a local shepherd Bedoun and his flock to learn about this aspect of local life. They even have bicycles for you to rent. There is even a small nature gift shop to check out if you want to purchase a few souvenirs.
The afternoon is quiet and used for rest, but then after dinner, there’s tea by the fireplace. This is followed by stargazing on the terrace with a telescope. The moon and star-gazed sky were gorgeous as we lay on the rooftop terrace relaxing into the night.
Getting to Feynan Lodge
We took transportation from the Feynan Reception Center off of the Dead Sea Highway. The cost is 12.50 JD per pick up of up to 4 people. Just so you know, it is practically impossible to drive yourself to the lodge. The closest paved road is 5 miles away, and the dirt roads are extremely rocky.
From Amman, Jordan, Feynan Ecolodge is approximately a 3 and a half-hour drive via the Dead Sea Highway to the Reception Center for parking.
So there you have it, the experience that changed my life. My time spent at Feynan Ecolodge. It will change your life too!
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Disclosure: The writer believes in full disclosure and wanted to let you know that this trip was provided by Feynan Ecohotel and was courtesy of the Jordan Tourism Board and Royal Jordanian As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation. The emotions evoked in me the day I met the nomads of Jordan were all my own. I am still learning how to sit in silence with them.