Dana Jordan….The excitement surrounding any new destination inspires the pursuit of deeper understanding, enriching our connection with the world. The initial lure is often a physical attraction which again and again, proves to be a bridge. It almost seems inevitable the beauty of the place becomes rivalled by the beauty of the people of the place once you begin digging in. A wonderful example was making a journey to Jordan, where serendipity would lead to the small village of Dana.
Without the grandeur of Petra, I would have been mostly ignorant of Jordan, but this wonder proved to be the tip of an iceberg made from diamond. My initial research involved the Nabateans, ingenious Bedouin merchants who carved the marvellous rose-red city from the rock. Did I say ingenious? The glory of the Nabateans is proof that all humans possess equal brain power and it has nothing to do with ethnicity.
You will not have to invest much time to realize the Nabateans overcame their dry climate by devising a complex system to channel and store seasonal rains. Their designs included dimensioning pipes to maximize water flow: a concept only duplicated by ‘modern’ man within the last 150 years! Grasping this recalled how Frank Lloyd Wright expressed the Mayans were the ultimate architects — how can any of us claim our tribe is mentally superior when a survey of the past reveals such an enormous breadth of remarkable accomplishments? Anyone asserting their culture holds a monopoly on smarts only admits ignorance of history.
The architecture was destined to be the building block for serendipity in this adventure. My companion for this exploration would be Mark, a buddy living in Dubai who is an architect. Mark’s wife Samia is also an architect, so the Dana Guest House grabbed my attention while investigating possibilities for Jordan. The facility was acclaimed for how wonderfully it had been integrated into a cliff overlooking the gorge of Wadi Dana, and from here the dominos began falling.
You would be correct assuming my interest was driven by the architecture connection, but it had a deep foundation. I learned the Dana Guest House had been designed by a Muslim firm and Samia has the ability to make nominations for the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture. This honour is only bestowed once every three years to recognize installations in Muslim cultures where excellent construction has simultaneously preserved cultural heritage. Desiring to make Samia aware of a possible candidate, I began digging into Dana and struck gold.
The Dana Guest House is managed by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), a remarkable organization. The group was established in 1966 through patronage from King Hussein, with a mission to protect the country’s natural resources. In 1994 the RSCN entered the responsible tourism arena by launching a ‘protected area management plan’ for Dana. The remote village, perched on an overlook peering into the expansive gorge of Wadi Dana, began 6,000 years ago but became almost completely abandoned by the mid-1900s. The RSCN strove to restore economic opportunity in support of local inhabitants while encouraging preservation and opportunity to experience the beauty here.
Designating the broader area as the Dana Biosphere, this is the largest nature reserve in the country. The preserve encompasses four distinct bio-geographical regions and features a diverse collection of flora and fauna. There are plenty of hiking trails to enjoy and beyond several eco-camps, the splendid Dana Guest House was sponsored to offer to lodge for visitors. While the Guest House only offers nine rooms (and only one of these has an en suite bathroom), the structure is gorgeous and porches for the rooms afford jaw-dropping views of Wadi Dana gorge.
A reservation was made for two nights and a guided hike. Our room was Spartan, but lovely and fitting for the environment. In all honesty, I would have been content sitting on our porch for the entire stay to absorb the fantastic view it offered of the gorge. Indeed, this is the beginning of the Great Rift Valley which extends 3,700 miles (6,000 km) to Mozambique in southeast Africa!
There is a complimentary breakfast included with the room, but not served until 8:30AM. Arriving early, Mark and I decided to wait on the porch adjoining the dining room to revel in the sun washing over the gorge. Everyone we passed was toting a coffee cup as we made our way, but we couldn’t discover the source. Asking a guest revealed that you just had to walk into the kitchen, where a kettle of water sat on the stove with a lighter beside in case you needed to heat things up. Cups, a container of Nescafe and tea bags were all nearby, so we soon joined the ranks of the caffeinated.
After breakfast, it was off for a fantastic hike and I promise to share that experience here at Suja.
We returned to the Guest House for a late lunch and decided to venture into the village mid-afternoon. Sadly, most buildings in town were seriously dilapidated, but the spirit of the people who had returned was inspiring. Though few spoke any English, we were greeted and smiled upon, with one father laughingly thrusting his baby into my arms and gesturing for Mark to take a picture! It was a sweet moment and I played with the baby until he had a really good grip on my hat and daddy took him back.
The goal is to resurrect Dana, but I was stuck with a notion that whatever life support system had been installed was not ready to be switched off. We concluded our ramble with a stop at the gift shop back on the Guest House grounds, where I bought some jewelry for my wife that had been made by one of the villagers. If you ever get to Jordan, a visit to Dana will fortify your soul and provide a boost to these wonderful people who have returned.
After dinner, we strapped on headlamps and navigated a footpath back towards the village to stop by the only other lodging opportunity in town, Dana Tower Hotel, for a nightcap (of tea). Though pretty beat up, we found the place charming, especially its spacious majlis on the second floor. All of the college kids we had hiked with that morning were staying here, and it was fun to see them in the majlis too. Unfortunately, only sweet tea was served (I am diabetic), so we departed once Mark drank his serving and mine, but not before I bumped into the woman I had stood in line with at JFK airport in the USA at the beginning of the voyage. A small world after all.
Before going to sleep each night I would refill four water bottles and add purification tablets for the next day. Across the entire trip, I would hydrate solely on tap water without experiencing Montezuma’s revenge or buying bottled water (they do not recycle plastic in Jordan). But tonight both of the shared men’s rooms were locked. There is a shower in each bathroom, explaining why either was bolted shut. Returning ‘empty bottled’ to our room, Mark suggested I visit the kitchen. After all, our coffee discovery validated it was unlocked. Heading upstairs and bursting into the kitchen, I interrupted several guys washing dishes and naively stated I was seeking water. Before I could recall the word for “stop” (tawaqquf), they had filled three of my containers with bottled water used to serve guests! I cradled the one empty bottle in my arms and thanked them, indicating that was plenty.
At that moment I wished for a way to capture this generosity and share with folks from my culture who can only see these people as terrorists. Experiences such as these compel me to believe travel should be a mandate.