Family Travel Diary: Feynan Ecolodge, Dana Biosphere

I don’t believe in the saying, “Save the best for last.” I’ve come to learn that life is short and that experiences should be enjoyed voraciously and immediately or they might just pass you by. Still somehow our trip to the Dana Biosphere was put on the back burner. It turned out to be a lucky save however, because friends were coming to visit and they made the perfect companions. I don’t know that they would say the same, from the back seats with our children, but they began some raucous games of “I Spy” and didn’t ever try to make a break for it at any service stations along our four hour ride.

Early-ish one Saturday morning in May we wove south, tracing a line along the entire eastern shore of the Dead Sea, where we turned left and the pavement turned into sand and stone. The road eventually gave way altogether, turning into a rocky path that ambled toward the hills beyond. We opted out of leaving our car in a central parking, lot like we had in Wadi Rum, in exchange for a truck to carry us the rest of the way, and instead decided to see what our Mazda CX-9 could do, just one last time before we left it with its new owners in Amman. We followed a fault line of pink, flower-clad bushes, sprung from a leaky, patched together pipeline that wove its way out of the wadi and into neighboring villages, bumping over sharp rocks and curving around ancient, broken settlements. As we neared our accommodations, the Feynan Ecolodge, we passed through a sparse village which was comprised of a school, a mosque and very few, simple houses. We would learn over tea that the school house brings nomadic people back to the area year after year to learn english and work at the nearby lodge.

We had done quite a bit of hiking in Jordan, so the lure of this particular trip was the solitude of the ecolodge itself. The Feynan Ecolodge is a 26 room lodge built at the end of the rugged trail through the mountains, at the southwest tip of the Dana Biosphere. It is a unique and extraordinarily special stay as it doesn’t just beckon you to visit and unplug (which it also very much does) but gently incorporates you into the culture and the habitat in your every movement. The open air lodge, by day, is a quiet resting place where nearby herds of Bedouin goats roam freely about the property and can be found sneaking into the lodge for a visit – though they are not permitted to stay long. By evening a completely candlelit resting place for the same weary hikers and a wonderland for stargazers.

Upon our afternoon arrival we met up with our guide Suleiman, who we followed just a short way into the mountains where we spent the afternoon with a bedouin family in their goat hair tent. There we learned to make Arabic coffee, how to properly drink it and the significance of coffee in the Arabic culture. We lounged on cushions and relaxed while chatting about their unique, nomadic lifestyle in the modern world. The whole family made an appearance throughout our stay, peeking in from the second room, including the baby goats from outside, which the kids and I had befriended on the walk up.

In the evening Suleiman walked us in the other direction, back through town and past his own family’s winter camp. Even pointing out the “rock and stick” near the well, where his “head hit the ground” upon arrival into this world. He explained that the family would be tying up loose ends in a few weeks time to move their tents and herds to a cooler location for the summer months. A few weeks later, on his Instagram stories, I watched as they drove their van, steeped high with folded tents down the highway, where I was able to wish them good luck via direct message. And herein lies the magic of the Feynan Ecolodge. We watched the sun set over the strangely green mineralized mountains, drank Beduin tea with hints of sage and rose and walked beside the kids on donkeys back to the lodge.

Upon our return, the cool corridors of the lodge had been washed in orange candlelight, transformed while we were watching the sun fall away. We ate a beautiful vegetarian dinner by the light of a giant, iron candlelit chandelier and headed straight to the roof for a bath of starlight. A friend had introduced me to SkyView for the trip, an app that lets you hold up your phone to the night sky to decipher constellations. We laid with our backs on soft mats and watched shooting stars pass by until well past bed time.

Our room had built in beds, swathed in yards of mosquito netting (although the window also had screens), a desk to record the days thoughts and a restroom and shower. At the head of each bed a mirrored niche with votives to light the room. The night was warm, but a cool breeze blew through the room, where I lay awake most of the night, on purpose, to simply enjoy the perfect silence.

A communal, traditional Arabic breakfast was served in the morning before guests headed out for various excursions for the day, including mountain biking, hikes to the nearby copper mines, Bedouin community experiences, cooking classes and more. We opted for a self guided mini hike in to the nearby Wadi Ghwayr, where the kids would march for hours with their feet in the water, catching and releasing tad poles and bouldering rocks here and there before returning for a hearty lunch before our long drive home.

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