I came across Feynan Lodge over a year ago when I was still living in the States. I happened upon it from a random Google search while I was researching Jordan. Feynan popped up as one of National Geographic’s top 50 Ecolodges in the World, a place unlike any other here in Jordan. This was one of the few interesting things that I found in anticipation of our move. This “wilderness lodge” is located in Dana Nature Reserve (run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSNC), the same society who operates Wild Jordan (the organic restaurant that I love downtown)).
It took us about three hours to arrive at the ‘reception area’ where we were met and transported by a local Bedouin (the road to the lodge is accessible only by 4×4, which we have but don’t use–it’s only for show). The bumpy ride in the back of a circa 1970s Datsun pick-up truck (outfitted with fringed curtains) took us about thirty minutes. The route was rock strewn and inhospitable looking, yet there were plenty of families (with many children running about) that live here throughout the wadi. We were welcomed into the main lobby by staff with mint tea and towels and then given what Raj took as the sales pitch on the lodge’s history, mission, and our activity options (It wasn’t a sales pitch but he was prepared to say no to whatever it was he thought they were selling).
The lodge opened in 2005. There are 26 rooms (all with en-suite bathrooms (real toilets)–there’s no roughing it here) and it’s completely solar-powered (except for a small bathroom light in each room). Meals are vegetarian (to avoid refrigeration of meat) and are ordered in advance (due to the lodge’s remoteness). All of the staff are local Bedouin’s from the surrounding community (our guide lived a few tents down from the lodge, the bread is brought in by local women, there’s a leather and candle making shop on the property operated by local women who also supply all of the candles that illuminate the lodge each night). Best of all, the gift shop has fabulous teas, herbs, jams, jellies, jewelry and other handicrafts for sale–all made by locals (and yes I made a purchase supporting the local economy).
We arrived in the afternoon on our first night and opted not to go on the sunset hike (someone was too tired and needed a nap after the strenuous drive). By the time we left our room for dinner, it was dark outside and we were greeted by the sight of twinkling candles–lanterns and luminaries in alcoves, niches and on the steps throughout the lodge (they say the best time to arrive at the lodge is after sunset when it’s lit exclusively by candles). Dinner was buffet-style, but not in the trough sort of way that I normally despise (there were so few guests so it was more like a small dinner party except we all got to eat at our own table and weren’t forced to make small talk). As I mentioned before, all of the meals are vegetarian, inspired by traditional Arab cuisine using local and natural ingredients.
We finished dinner and didn’t really know what to do since it was still early (8:30 or so). What do people do without TV? Forced conversation? Gasp. Did I mention there’s no cell phone coverage. What do Bedouins do at night without computers, phones…? [My only word of warning–do not come here with anyone you mildly dislike because you will be forced to interact with them.] We got over our confusion long enough to guzzle down three more cups of tea while gazing at the night sky on the open rooftop terrace.
We awoke early to do a guided half-day hike to the Roman Copper mines. We were led by a local guide who took us to three copper mines (from the Copper and Iron Ages), the remains of a Roman Aqueduct, a crumbled Byzantine Church, and a Roman tower. In the midst of our hike (and in the company of an entertaining English couple and their grown son), our guide sat us down to make a pot of mint and sage tea. (The guide told us he drinks 30-40 glasses of this tea each day; Raj refers to this as ‘Bedouin whisky.’) This tea break gave all of us the opportunity to ask our guide pressing questions about his lifestyle. My questions focused on marriage and cooking. When do Bedouins get married? Do they get to choose their spouses? What do they eat and so forth. It was interesting conversation. Following this hike, and after resting for a couple of hours, we went on the sunset hike with the same guide and we watched the sun set while drinking still more tea (which was followed by even more tea after dinner).
We had a great experience at the lodge and met some really interesting people. Feynan is extremely well run and the staff are exceptional. This place is more of a retreat than anything else. The only thing the lodge is missing is an evening storyteller. This would have been a great venue to hear one of Herodotus’ stories.