Or: Jordan for adventurers

On two wheels, two and four legs through Jordan


Jordan is a perfect destination for the adventurous, as the country is best explored on foot or by mountain bike.

"If you are in a hurry, make a detour," is a Japanese wisdom. Of the most Jordan travelers who have straight from the capital Amman into the historic Petra, in the desert Wadi Rum as well as the dead or the Red Sea rushing, have not heard anything yet. I discover a small piece of Jordan on the slow path - from the saddle of a mountain bike, on my own legs and between the humps of a camel. Which is not conducive to rapid progress and the swift check-off of the must-sees. But the arrival. Arriving in the middle of a herd of sheep. Bedouin children hurrying out of their tents to give 'High Five' to an exotic cyclist. On a Beduinenweg in the direction of Petra. On all fours on Wadi Rum's sandstone cliffs. And with Ahmad in Aqaba.

A day in the capital

Most of the time a journey starts from the moment my plans break down, to get well. In Amman in the first minutes at the airport. The idea to call Uber for a cheap taxi fails when the driver informs me that he can not come because of police checks. It's late, I'm hungry, I want to go to the accommodation. An elderly man in the arrivals hall suspects that. "Taxi? Only 25 Jordanian dinars to the center! "Good 31 euros, great. That Jordan is not a cheap travel destination, I already understood in the travel preparation. As I grudgingly follow the old man, I remember Come-Rule Number One-never to be towed by a stranger pretending to be a taxi driver. Of course, the car has no taxi sign. But it shines clean-fresh and smells as if nobody had eaten in front of me. "Hungry?" The driver hands me an apple. He speaks just as much as I speak Arabic, like Arabic, about four words, but we talk wonderfully: he speaks in Arabic into an app that translates the text into English for me and my answer back to Arabic. At the end of the ride I know all the sights of Amman and a little about my driver Ali, a Bedouin. "I've lived in Amman for over ten years, but I do not like it. I like horses, sheep and camels. "

Me too, but find myself on this evening looking for something edible on the streets with 95% curious looking men and a few scattered women again. I feel weird - until the first curious look turns into a benevolent and I get a friendly "Welcome to Jordan" on the way. The welcome is followed by more, until hunger drives me into the tourist café Pasha, where smoking tourists sit together to the sounds of live music. "Volaaaaare", the singers roar, accompanied by drunken Italians, because yes - in Pasha, in contrast to the traditional Jordanian restaurants, alcohol is sold.

When I am new to a city, I prefer to look at it from above. When you look from above, a foreign place becomes more tangible, like the world from the plane. The next morning I start with the Roman Theater, probably from the reign of Antoninus Pius 138 to 161 AD, which does not appear very large from below, but from the top row of seats it becomes understandable that there can be room for around 6,000 people there.

On the hill opposite, over gray, Lego-like houses, the wall of the citadel meanders across the green Jebel el-Qala hill, fortress hill, one of the tallest in the city. The citadel promises the better vision and another history lesson, and curious I'm on my way. Soon leave the asphalt road, because a mud path seems to me a suitable shortcut. After a short struggle I stand in the midst of a herd of sheep below the Roman fortifications, around the 2nd century BC. The sheep and their shepherdess, an elderly woman wearing a headscarf, look at me as stunned as I do, but with a short smile and a nod, I am accepted.

I still miss a few boulders and stones to climb the citadel hill - while unintentionally I bypass the official entrance and cash register . Just as Roman as the walls is the great temple dedicated to Hercules, of which today only a few pillars stretch on a stone podium to the sky. From a 13-meter-high statue near the temple, only one fist remains, lost on the lawn.

The Omayyad Palace rises proudly behind the ruins, an Arab castle fortress. I enter the audience realm of the Caliphs, and although the walls are simply gray with elaborate columns and patterns, they convey an impression of grandeur.

A cold wind blows through the old walls, drives me back into the sun to a bank, from where old Amman stretches to my feet. The Amman of the souks, where colorful chicks are sold in cardboard boxes and children carry around the portrait of the king, the narrow streets where the cars squeeze through rows of little houses. Like a house desert from which minarets stalk, the buildings roll towards the horizon. Somewhere in the crowd of consumption and religion and cars, someone yells through a megaphone, it is honked, called to prayer. And yet - from up there, where I feel grass under my feet, where I do not want and have to decide, I like Amman really well.

The Jordan Bike Trail and the smallest hotel in the world

My journey into the rock and desert world of Jordan begins in Dana, a village about 500 years old in the heart of West Jordan, about halfway between Amman and Aqaba. Dana is also the namesake of a 310 square kilometer nature reserve, the largest ecological reserve in Jordan. The most beautiful part of the Jordan Trail opened in 2015, a 650-kilometer hiking trail across Jordan, from Umm Qais in the north to Aqaba on the Red Sea for 40 days, leads through this nature of rocks, boulders and a little tolerated green needs. There you partly step in the footsteps of the desert people of the Nabateans.

The view from the high Dana leads over the Araba valley, and I would like to run straight into it, into the thirsty landscape, which promises nothing, and yet is home to the Arabian wolf and the desert cat and turns so green in winter by the rain, that the Bedouins use the valley as pasture for their livestock. But I'm not on this day on foot in this seemingly hostile distance break, but on the mountain bike and another trail for active: the 730-kilometer Jordan Bike Trail, which also leads from north to south and a few sections with the Jordan hiking trail shares. It goes past the former Crusader castle Shobak, also known as 'Montreal', whose ruins are located on the pilgrimage and caravan route from Syria to Arabia - as well as 'the smallest hotel in the world': a Bedouin has an old, well-off VW Beetle prepared as a cozy room, which he leases for 60 JOD the night to visitors, including meals and guided tour through the valley. The sign $ 1 is misleading - that's for the photo, he explains laughing.

Who is used to good on the saddle and unpaved roads, can handle the trail in principle alone. However, it is more fun and safer with a local guide, such as 32-year-old Anas from local organizer Terhaal , who cycled in the Jordanian national team from 1998 to 2007, winning numerous races. Since 2011, he shows visitors from the bike or on foot his country and is passionate about it. "Watch what you say after the words' I am 'because that defines who you are,' is his motto.

This afternoon I am especially nervous, because my mountain bike experience on unpaved roads is manageable. The stretch above Wadi Araba - which means' Wadi 'means' - as far as Little Petra is rated as Difficulty 3 out of 5, but in recent weeks, the rain has turned the floor into an encrusted corrugated iron roof that craves for bicycle tires. "Yalla", Anas has to cheer on the small group again and again - go! Two years ago, the memory of a terrible head crash with a bike is still deep. The descents are more of a concern than any steep ascent. Below us, nature presents itself unvarnished in its yellow, brown and green tones.

And then, when I finally relax, I get my first Jordan tattoo, as Anas calls it: not on one of the fast descents where the bike flies so fast over the boulders that my heart gets stuck in my throat. Not even at a brook crossing. No. I descend with enthusiasm over the panorama on a slope, my foot searches in vain for the ground, and I fly with my bicycle on the stones. The pain shoots through my already rotten knee, for a few minutes I'm afraid I can not continue. But what worked two years ago - to cover more kilometers on the saddle despite the fall - also has to go with a damaged knee.

Back on the highway, the sun sets behind the mountains, accompanied by an illegal paraglider. "Nobody is allowed to fly here because of the border with Israel," explains Anas. This does not seem to bother the paraglider.

And we, we are grateful when we finally reach Little Petra, which was once a caravan resting place in a narrow gorge. There are still living caves and tombs from the time of the Nabataeans to see in the rock walls. But for us there are no rock caves, but tents that the Bedouin Abu Luai sets up for groups when needed. The Schlemm feast around the campfire consists of a soup and a huge plate full of rice with vegetables, chicken and lamb, which let us digest the efforts of the day quickly. While the others are still sitting around the fire, I walk in the direction of the stars. Or it seems to me, when I switch off the flashlight and step by step on the darkness, which is broken only by millions of tiny bright points. Joy is too small for this sense of gratitude and perfect existence in the here and now. Luck would be more likely to meet.

On the Beduinenweg to Petra

Petra. Meanwhile, Jordan is synonymous in the minds of many with the former capital of the Nabataeans, ancient nomad tribes and caravan traders from northwestern Arabia. Probably the Nabataeans inhabited the region around Petra around 550 BC and kept a watchful eye on the trade routes to South Arabia. In the 4th century BC, they gained economic and political power, and even gained influence as far as Syria, establishing the kingdom of Nabataea, which covers an area from the Sinai Peninsula to northern Arabia, between 150 BCE and 105 AD. Their independence crumbled in 106 AD under the Roman Emperor Trajan, when the Nabateans became part of the Roman Empire as the province of Arabia Petraea. Today, the elaborate, declared in 1985 as a UNESCO World Heritage Ruined City with its carved into the rocks treasury, the monastery, the monumental tombs and countless caves on the To-see list of most world travelers. Most of them make it easy, sit down at the main entrance and take a walk or roll in a horse-drawn carriage in the direction of the treasury, which has been photographed millions of times - through the 1.5-kilometer-long Siq, a gorge more than 70 meters deep. I have the privilege to do it differently.

With Anas and Tala from Terhaal we walk from our tent camp in Beida near Little Petra towards the Monastery of Petra, Ad Deir, which is less than three kilometers away. The Bedouin Trail, which is part of the Jordan Trail, leads up into the sandstone rock world, which leaves little green space. A mountain desert in front of the desert.

As soon as I have stones and rocks under my feet, I feel gratitude for this slow way of traveling. We want to go to Petra, yes, but that's what counts before that, with the views of the Great Rift Valley to the west, including the locals, who provide hikers with tea or small souvenirs. Like Mohammed, who cooks mint tea on a rock ledge in a stone oven, and sells it for a JOD. Rattling chairs are also available for weary hikers, and over the slope blows the Jordanian flag as if one had already achieved something great here. Perhaps it serves as a small food for thought for those who take for granted that one can wander longitudinally through a country in this troubled part of the world. Alone or with Bedouins trained by the Jordan Trail Association to become mountain guides. In a country that is trapped between Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and in which, like in an oasis surrounded by desert, different ethnic groups live side by side. With millions of Syrian refugees added.

One vantage point chases the next, one flag another, where this time an old woman is chasing a small souvenir table "Happy Hour". I watch Anas sitting motionless under his national flag for minutes, staring into the distance as if he were alone in this place. Whatever he probably is, as I later learn, he is a master of the, I-disappear-in-my-world 'art. "I slept outside tonight," he says after a night in Wadi Rum, which was already bitterly cold in the goat-hair tent. "When I sleep, I sleep, whether it's cold, hailing or raining."

When the sun peeks out, it reddens the yellowish-gray rocks and makes one think of the Grand Canyon. At some point, deep in the valley, Tala pauses. "What do you think, how far is it to Petra?" We have no idea, tap another one to two hours walk. She smiles. "In ten minutes we are there!" She points to the rocks in the distance, and now I see it too: A form rises from the rock. "This is the monastery, Ad Deir."

The last few hundred meters of the Beduinenweg we share with a shepherd boy and a herd of sheep, other tourists, there are hardly. For real? That should be the famous Petra? So deserted? Later, I understand why the monastery is not crowded: If you come from the main entrance, you have to climb steeply up many stairs to get to the monastery, which many do not. Luckily.

We sit on a ledge opposite this rock-cut building from the 1st century AD and listen to Tala sharing his story with us. A furry cat joins us and listens intently.

Like us, learn that Ad Deir was not intended as a monastery, not as a tomb like many of the other found buildings. Only in 2004, scientists exposed two stone benches on the walls of the hall, indicating that Ad Deir might have been the mausoleum of a ruler. I walk to the rocks opposite the monastery, come across several caves that were formerly used by hermits and today partly serve as a goat shed. Several animals look at me curiously about the makeshift raised metal fence.

Then we follow the long Nabataeans' processional path down, lined with souvenir stalls with vendors announcing "happy hour" all day long. In the past, the path through the rocks may have conveyed something devout, today it is an early warning of what is waiting below, in the heart of the ruined city: a large number of tourists who ruin hopping with cameras and selfie sticks, police officers on horses and Donkey with overweight tourists on the hump.

The buildings carved into the rocks are so numerous here that one does not know where to look first. There are caves and tombs, above all the 13 large royal tombs not far from the Roman Theater, which should have once offered space for 10,000 spectators. On the so-called pillared street, the former main street of Petra, it continues to the favorite cave of Tala, in the exception of nobody. The color formation of the rocks comes up with all the power tones of an Instagram-ripe sunset, which spread like waves over the rock. I imagine how people lived here, withdrawn from the blazing sun and the dusty earth outside.

And then it goes straight to the real highlight of Petra - the so-called treasure house in the Hellenistic style, Khazne al-Firaun, which may not be missing on any Petra photo. It is almost 40 meters high and 25 wide. The Bedouins called it the pharaoh's treasure house, but it was only one of many rock tombs. Whether it originated in the 1st or 2nd century AD, not even the researchers agree. If you look closely, you will notice round holes on six Corinthian columns and bullet holes on the top. Allegedly, Bedouins tried to blow up the 'treasure chest', but found that it was made of stone as well. The treasure trove is teeming with tourists, I'm tired, deliberately refraining from climbing like many others on the rocks illegally to shoot the best selfie with the treasure house in the background.

Instead, I sit in the café and marvel as Indiana Jones, who also staring at the wall in the third movie also speechless. Speechless about the work that humans achieved millennia before us, without the technological aids that we take for granted. And then there's the final stage, which is the first for most visitors - the way through the Siq to the main entrance. On which one must constantly jump aside so as not to be driven by one of the madly driven through the rocks horse-drawn carriages over the pile from which the tourists hoot. I practice Anas' art of the mental ego world, imagine the masses were gone, and I would be walking quite relaxed through the shady passageway that nature and man have made hand in hand. Past many aqueducts carved into the rocks, which assured Petra an optimal water supply already in antiquity.

The supply system also allegedly consisted of terracotta tubes and over 200 cisterns that drew water from all the water sources within a radius of 25 kilometers. After narrowly escaping the death of a horse-drawn carriage, I think of the legend that Moses struck with his staff at the exodus of the people of Israel and then a spring gushed out of the rocks. Which also explains why the area around Petra Wadi Musa is called Mosetal.

Biking through the desert

I have often wondered how you can actually drive through the desert on a mountain bike. Now I should get an answer. Shortly after Petra we drive over the King's Highway to Rafif at 1,565 meters, then down to the village of Delagha, where the off-road path begins in the desert-like landscape.

I do not feel like cycling in the group all the time, push ahead, let me fall behind. Breathe in the emptiness and silence as the dust settles on my face like a mask. From time to time stone huts or tents rise from the emptiness, sometimes black-clad bedouins with their same-colored sheep move through the debris. It is hard to imagine that there is something to feed the animals on the dry soil. One day I stop to take photos and children rush out of a Bedouin tent. They laugh, give me high five and admire my mountain bike as if it were a spaceship.

On and on it goes into the big, stony nothing, as far as Al Humaimah, an old resting place on the so-called spice route, which used caramel caravans in the past. There, in the Bedouin tent of the approximately seventy-year-old Abo Sabbah, a lunch buffet consisting of chicken, salad, hummus and bread awaits us.

The route was relatively easy as far as Al Humaimah, with few inclines or steep descents, and the desert floor under the wheels was rocky-hard. That changes now, and the fact that the tires always sink deep into the sand, is not only on our full bellies. "You have to look ahead and when a piece of sand comes in time switch and grip the handlebars firmly," instructs me Anas, but it does not work. Again and again I descend, push through the sand pits, climb up, descend a few meters further. No, biking and me, nothing will be on this trip.

At Salem, the camel spider fighter

I feel like most of the other visitors to Jordan - besides Petra I also want to go to Wadi Rum, a desert that looks so different from the dune-rich sand deserts that I know from Tunisia and Oman. I've seen countless photos of Wadi Rum's reddish sandstone and granite cliffs, and right at the entrance stand the 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' - named after the book of British officer Thomas Edward Lawrence, stationed there in 1917 and 1918 during the Arab Revolt and whose work served as the basis for the screenplay by 'Lawrence of Arabia'. TE Lawrence summed up Wadi Rum in three words: "spacious, lonely, and god-like." Directly behind the small village of Rum, it goes into this lonely world of stones, in our case, no longer on the bike, but on the back of camels, the graceful in rank and file in the infinity walk.

The Beduinencamp Rumshines, where we will spend the next two nights, lies 12 kilometers deep in the desert. For days, I am looking forward to the desert time, because ever since I entered a desert in Oman in 2012, I am drawn again and again into the world of emptiness and silence. At the camp, cozy black-and-white Bedouin tents made from goat hair await us, with simple beds and plenty of blankets announcing cold nights. There are even western toilets operated with collected rainwater, and simple showers whose water heats up in the sun.

On my first walk through the camp I meet Salem Geblan, who opened Rumshines in 2005. He laughs at my question about his age. "I am about 33 years old, but I feel like 22." He was born as one of six sisters and five brothers in a family of the approximately 2,500 -strong Zalabia tribe in Wadi Rum, on the border with Saudi Arabia, and spent the first six years of his life in the desert with his family. They bred camels, sheep and goats. "After that, I went to school in the village, but I was always in the desert." That's why he started the desert camp with a brother and learned English from the tourists. "Only between May and August is it too hot for tourists, then I search new ways with my friends, or we drive with our camels through the desert. In the summer you can also sleep well outside, there is a natural air conditioning. "He has no fear of snakes and scorpions. "We have a tradition. When a baby is small, the mother takes a scorpion and cooks it in oil, then we lubricate the oil on the baby's lips. "This should protect it from scorpion bites all its life. It worked for him, he had no problem with scorpions or snakes. "And this one is from my fight with a camel spider!" He shows me a small scar on his right hand, showing off how he punched the nasty spider that can crawl under the skin of a camel and kill it.

I ask Salem about his dreams. He laughs again. "I never look very high, because then I could break my neck. And I'm not going to look down too long either because I could fall on my face. "I let Salem's mind wander through my mind as we savor the delicious Bedouin meal - zarb of meat and vegetables cooked under the ashes of the camp fire becomes. Then we sit together in the community tent by the open fire, because it is too cold outside. The smoke rises into every pore of skin and clothes, it hisses and flares, and sweet mint tea trickles down my throat slowly. Time and again, I get to know people like Salem, who do not waste any thoughts on the future. Unlike in my world, where the next weeks, months and sometimes even years have to be planned. Where everything has to fit into a design that leaves no room for one - for life.

Hiking in the wadi

There is no better man than Salem to show us the ways and passages of his homeland. Real ways are not needed in Wadi Rum, because the sandstone rocks are so slip-resistant in dry weather that you can run them up almost vertically. After an early morning drive in an open jeep, our first hike will take us to the 1,700 meter high Jebel al Hash, one of the highest in Jordan, just five kilometers from the Saudi Arabian border. This means Jebel, mountain 'and hash, fragile'. Why the mountain is fragile, Salem points out to us: He picks up a large white-reddish chunk from the ground and slams it onto the ground - whereupon it disintegrates into a fine powder that looks like cocaine.

Salem knows the desert as we do the shelves in the favorite supermarket. Again and again he stops and points to plants or flowers that sprout up in this part of the wadi like a wildly overgrown garden. "We collect thyme and other plants and use them for medical purposes, such as stomach ache," he explains. A plant called 'shih', on the other hand, is great for health-promoting tea. And Salem also has Desert Trick 17 in stock: "If you're in the desert, look for a plant called 'tumer' and dig it out. It has potato-like roots down below, you can eat them. "It can be recognized by small purple flowers.

When we take a break, there is a freshly brewed tea for a snack. Salem and Anas ignite a small fire and Salem digs a teapot out of his backpack. "We often cook tea on coals called 'ghada'." "Sleeping on ghada coal is an Arabic proverb meaning you're in love," adds Tala. There is even a song about it, Salem immediately tunes. If we lose track of Salem on the hike, we can hear him, because he always has a melody on his lips.

Although the view over Wadi Rum is overcast on this day, the sun shining through again and again reveals the intense reddish hues of the sandstone cliffs, which harmonize with gray and yellow.

Before we set out on a second hike through goat paths into a ravine, Salem's boys cooked for us in the jeeps. An oversized picnic rug and seat cushions are available, along with sardines from the Dead Sea, tuna, cucumbers with cheese, hummus and a vegetable soup on the ceiling.

To crawl through the narrowest rocks and climb up and down with a full belly is difficult, and yet there is no better way to get close to this rugged, yet soon-familiar nature. Which deprives us of this last evening almost a last sunset behind the camp, but at the last minute a big hole in the cloud cover tears through which the sun ball sinks - a small preview of the next day, as the sun slowly wades in all its natural splendor illuminates.

On the last day, head up to the Burdah Rock Bridge, a daredevil climb that is reserved for those who are free of giddiness. But it's worth it - for the vision of a sea of ​​stones and rocks in the softest tones of the color palette. Partly we are hanging on rocky outcrops and have to feel with his foot for the one saving stone that allows the next step.

Then she rises in front of us - an elegant rock bridge high in the mountain, built by human hands. Some climb around the hips with safety rope, I'm satisfied with the sight from below. I've given up trying to climb to the highest summit, if it's nice a bit further down and I can just be there instead of doing it.

Once again, a desert has managed to win me over, to inject me with this nostalgia that makes me miss the desert when I'm still in their midst.

At Ahmad in Aqaba

In fact, my last days in Jordan are centered around conferences and meetings with Jordanian tour operators at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Aqaba, which opened in January 2019, and its rooms smell as fresh as if they were our first guests. After the days in the desert I feel overwhelmed by the luxury, the seemingly limitless availability of soap and water and thick bathrobes. As grateful as I am for a thick mattress and long shower - I miss the desert. The red earth of the wadis is not only in my shoes, but also in my heart.

Fortunately for me, I'll have a free afternoon and get out of the ghetto where the Hyatt is located, in the Ayla Complex, where rich Jordanians have their homes as well, separated from the rest of the city by a barrier and checkpoint. Es zieht mich ans Meer, und begleitet von meinem neuen Kumpel Bruno von der Jordanien-Tour, schwingen wir uns in ein Taxi zum South Beach am anderen Ende der Stadt. Ob ich an einem öffentlichen Strand überhaupt im Bikini baden kann? Die Antwort liegt in Form von mehreren Touristinnen in Badekleidung vor mir, nur, dass Polizisten in regelmäßigen Abständen den Strand abfahren und nach dem Rechten schauen.