Installment 1 of my trip through the south of Jordan: Dana Nature Preserve
We arrived in Dana after winding our way through never ending stretches of flat desert dotted with brush and dust clouds. I am continuously astonished by how dry it is here yet somehow teeming with life. This was part of the founding region of some of the greatest and first civilizations the world has ever seen, birthed between these very same cracked and crumbling rocks. It is impossible to feel big here.
It seems sometimes that this country has more mosques than people, sprouting up out of the dirt, as cemented in the ground as the mountains that have stood here for eons. Religion has been here, in the air, the dust, the scarcity of water, the olive trees, the sand dunes for as long as there have been people. The echo of prayer is as familiar to them as the faces of their families, and more familiar than their own. As we drive along, I find myself more captivated by the small mosques, the makeshift minarets, the crescent moon shooting into the sky surrounded by nothing but half built homes and dusty roads.
And then we arrive in Dana. Some places just capture you. They grip you with sunshine and dust clouds and solitude. They take you in, drenched in history and simplicity and just when you thought you couldn’t become part of the rocks and brush anymore, you find yourself alone with the wind and the sound of silence. I sat on a rock perched over the edge of a canyon after a long hike down to the valley, scrambling over rocks and past prickly bushes and lush trees. The sun was warm against my face, making love to my ears, my nose, my cheeks. I could feel the layers of rock through my clothes as I watch the sunset over the hills, bleaching everything a combination of pale and vibrant oranges and yellows. The sunspots in my eyes bled together but I found myself unable to look away. Sunsets are one of my most favorite things, just behind sunrises, and in my stay in Dana I would get to see both spectacular affirmations of Mother Nature.
I made my way back to our bare-bones hotel for a hearty, home cooked meal and rooftop yoga with our nearly 70 year old park ranger/hotel owner/tour guide/baba. Sitting beneath the stars on the roof, overlooking the canyon and the old ruins of Dana, he tells me how life used to be. How Dana survived buried in this dry and rugged canyon for decades without electricity or running water. How the technology came and people left the canyon in droves, settling another white-washed, half-constructed town on the other side of the hill. How children now do not have the respect and the admiration for their country and their selves that they used to. When his stories ran out I curled up beneath the big dipper, shivering in the desert night and listened to the sounds of Dana sing me to sleep.
When my alarm woke me at 4 am I hiked through the darkness, past vicious sounding camel and goat herding dogs, to the top of a rocky outcropping. Scratching my legs on blackberry brambles and sending rock shards down into the darkness below me, my climbing partner Hannah and I relied on the nearly full moon and my head lamp to get us to the top. We hiked early, before the cock’s crow, before daylight breaks over the scraggly red rock, before the faithful Muslims wake to pray, to thank their god for another spectacular day. I woke early to give thanks to my own god of sorts, to sit back and watch as the Earth awoke around us. The sky lightened gradually as we climbed, hoping that with each bend in the road we would be closer to rounding the mountain and breaching the muted musty desert colors scattered across the sky. We eventually settled for a relatively flat rock about halfway up and waited in our half-asleep state for the new day to begin in the desert, the sun warming each rock across the ground.