We arrived into the small town of Dana in the pitch-black of night. The road wound down a steep hillside towards a scattering of lights, with an empty darkness beyond. The temperature had dropped with nightfall and we tumbled out of the car into the fire-lit lounge room of our guesthouse to be warmed by tea and the relief that comes with arriving at a new destination well after you intended.
After a heavy sleep, we woke to discover the ominous darkness of the night before had transformed into the spectacular beauty of the Dana Biosphere Reserve. A deep, rugged valley of wind-carved sandstone cliffs cut to the west, with its rich hues of pink illuminated in the morning sun.
We feasted on flat bread, falafel and hummous, washed down with strong, black Turkish coffee, and pulled on our trekking boots. A trail wound down the steep slope into the valley below, with rocks and sand sliding out beneath our feet as we descended precariously. A ute bumped past with a Jordanian family loaded into the trunk, then pulled up ahead on a rocky promontory to picnic amidst the glorious vista.
The track deteriorated rapidly until we were part-hiking, part-sliding down the rocks, eventually levelling out at the base of the valley where a trickle of water ran through. Dramatic cliff faces rose on all sides and the track undulated wildly ahead. With not another soul in sight, we followed it with the freedom of going nowhere and with no agenda.
The dogs saw us before we saw them, heralding our arrival with raucous barks. A bright red keffiyeh appeared from behind a rock, it’s owner checking to see who was approaching before summoning his dogs to hush. My partner spoke first, addressing the man with a “Salaam Aleikum” and handshake before continuing to explain who we were and where we had come from in Arabic.
Our Bedouin friend invited us to tea, surrounded by his grazing goats, complacent donkey and watchful dogs. Black tea was placed in a burnt-out kettle, with a little water from a jerry can, before he chased down a female goat with her udders full to milk her straight into the pot. Abdullah’s family lived in the nearby town of al-Qadisiyya, where most of Dana’s residents had now migrated in search of work, and he came to spend a week at a time grazing his goats in the fertile valley of Dana. He introduced us to each goat, with one disagreeable male named Bashar, “after al-Assad” he joked, the Syrian dictator who was causing turmoil over the border to the north.
Rejuvenated by the break and sweet, milky Jordanian tea, we set off again along the trail. Abdullah packed up his few belongings and loaded onto his donkey, with his caravan of animals following him into the distance. We watched as he side-saddled on the donkey with his flute in hand, sweet tunes ringing out through the valley well after he had disappeared.
Through the strong heat of the spring midday sun we ambled through the rocky valley, with juniper and acacia clinging to any exposed area of soil. The trail followed all the way to the Feynan Ecolodge at the western end, but rather than hike all the way and negotiate return transport, we had decided to return along the same route.
After a siesta in the sunshine and a sweet fix of local halva, we turned back the way we had come for the slow march back. The silence was again broken by the barking of dogs and we looked up to see Abdullah rock hopping with a jerry can part way up the valley slope. With our own water bottles close to empty we had been searching for water throughout the trek, but the spring source was far higher than we had anticipated and we didn’t have the energy for the detour.
Our legs had grown weary after six hours trekking and we dragged ourselves back up the cliff face we had slid down in the morning. With our bottles now bone dry and dehydration setting in, the sight of an irrigation channel up ahead was all the motivation we needed to continue. Gulping down the water and washing our dirt covered hands and faces, we turned back to look down towards the Dana Biosphere Reserve and listened for the last time as Abdullah’s flute soared up the valley walls.