After eight miles of steady descent in the remote Dana Valley, it’s a relief for my sore feet when we turn a corner and see a modern stone building not far ahead of us in the late afternoon light. We’re hiking a truncated version of the trail from Dana to Petra, considered to be one of the best multi-day hikes in the Middle East and even talked of as the region’s answer to the Inca Trail. The classic hike takes around six days and with the route climbing many mountains and passing through remote valleys, most nights involve camping under the stars.
An exception to this is the night at Feynan Eco Lodge. The lodge gets all its electricity from its solar panels, and the sun also heats the water in the lodge’s 26 rooms. But perhaps more impressive than its efforts to minimise its carbon footprint is the lodge’s determination to provide benefits to the local people. Every member of staff comes from the Bedouin community, who’ve lived in the valley for many generations.
I walk back from viewing the sunset on a nearby hill with Suleiman Hasaseen, a guide who works at the lodge. He waves to his father as we pass a tent and points out his family’s herd of over 100 goats. “Every member of staff is from the community,” he tells me. “We go out together, we raise goats together. When I’m not on duty, I look after the goats.”
We pass a small school, and Suleiman tells me about the decisions faced by his parents’ generation. The opportunity to provide free schooling to children was attractive, but involved families compromising, or even abandoning, their traditional nomadic lifestyle. “It was a choice of education or animals; for a Bedouin, a life without animals is very difficult to consider.”
A young boy of around 10 runs past us into the lodge, carrying bread for our dinner. It’s been baked by his mother; all the food, and even the 5,000 or so candles used by the hotel each month to light the guest rooms and corridors, are made locally.
After a substantial dinner (vegetarian only), there’s hot tea served by a roaring fire in the guest lounge. A little while later, along with a few other warmly-dressed guests, I meet Suleiman again on the lodge’s rooftop as he produces a large telescope and takes us on a tour of the night sky. He points out several constellations and, taking advantage of the abundant moonlight, we take it in turns to look at Jupiter’s moons and stripes before retiring for an early night.
It’s no small achievement to create a building with this level of ecological consideration in such a remote location. But my abiding memory of Feynan Lodge will not be of solar panels, local suppliers or even cosy candlelit rooms, it will be of the warm welcome of Suleiman and his colleagues, who reinforced my view that eco-tourism is more about the good effects it creates rather than the bad ones it avoids.
Follow Andy and Sam over the next two weeks as they travel around the Jordanian region of Aqaba, blogging and posting on social media as they go #NGTUKnomad