Afana to Orjan

By Joey Marotta, Tour Operations and Marketing, Experience Jordan

Having moved to Amman from Los Angeles for a work opportunity in 2013, I knew I was facing some potentially drastic lifestyle changes.  But inside, I was also looking forward to shaking up my daily monotonous regimen that all too often accompanies the urban jungle that is corporate L.A.  Fortunately, I received an opportunity rather quickly to break free from the aforementioned U.S.-based routine following my 7,500 mile intercontinental flight to Jordan:  I joined a hike on a section and a side-route of the Abraham Path, running between the towns of Afana to Orjan, in the north of the country.

The hike was organized by Experience Jordan, which provided a guide for the walk, and a traditional Arabic meal with a local family.  This was a relatively new experience for me, as the closest I had come to hiking in Southern California was the daily trek from my 2ndstory Sherman Oaks apartment to my Honda Civic downstairs, followed up by the hour long safari traversing the 405 freeway, before finally embracing the sanctuary of my office chair in the financial district downtown.  Nonetheless, I was excited to engage in some uncharted territory in my life.

Our hiking group was comprised of about 12 people, with a wide range of backgrounds (professions and nationalities).  There was Lucy, an English university student studying Arabic in Jordan; Brian, a contractor; also hailing from the U.K.; Lisa and Craig, two Americans working with the Peace Corps; and Clémence, a French Embassy employee, just to name a few.  We were also accompanied by a local Jordanian, Ibrahim, who was our guide throughout the trail, and who I later discovered was the former mayor of an area we crossed – quite a treat!

The morning in Afana started off cool and cloudy (which I later deemed the perfect hiking weather), and Ibrahim explained to the group some basics about the trail, the schedule for the day, and some facts about the region (elevation, etc.).  Before I knew it, we were walking off the paved road and on our way to Orjan.  Almost straightaway, we were confronted with impressive Greco-Roman-era tombs–both carved above ground into 20-foot rock mounds, as well as some built in subterranean caves.  Ancient Greek inscriptions were carved into the rock-face, and were easily legible, unfortunately none of us were too skilled in reading ancient Greek.

The next portion of the trail was through varying terrains, including what I took as a seemingly atypical Jordanian forest, rocky (yet quite manageable) pathways, and some slight ascents up a not-too-daunting hillside.  I was genuinely surprised with the amount of greenery exhibited by the landscape, even though we were 1.) in November and 2.) in the Middle East.

We stopped for a water break once we had reached a hill-side clearing populated with several Neolithic dolmens – 5,000-7,000 year-old structures typically made of three monolithic stones piled on top of eachother (think Stonehenge, but perhaps ¼ the size).  These are most often thought to be tombs of some sort, though I understand the jury is still officially out on this assessment (it’s also been proposed that they were used as ancient meditative devices, where one would enter the dolmen, and utilize them to transcend and reach the heavens).  Whatever their primary function may have been, for us, they served their purpose for us as a nice and serene resting place where we could regroup and prep for the next half of the walk.

Continuing upward and along the trail through the forested hillside, we reached the peak which offered gorgeous views of some of the areas we had traveled, but perhaps more impressively the town of Rasoun, which was to be our final destination point.  15 minutes and several photo-ops later, we began to make our way down toward Orjan.

Passing through a still lush valley–which at times felt more like a jungle excursion opposed to a Jordanian hike–our guide Ibrahim made a couple stops to show us how locals collect fruits and nuts from the trees, which were providing a partial canopy over the trail.  This included physically scaling the tree trunks to gather gorgeously tasty figs, and even throwing rocks at walnuts on branches 10 feet in the air with a Robin Hood-esque archer’s precision – sending the nuts to the ground within one or two tries for us all to eat and enjoy.

Even though the trail was never too steep in its ups and downs, in the end it was 13 km.  So as we entered Orjan, we were ready to take a load off and enjoy our lunch with a local family.  Ibrahim led us to a home where we were able to wash up a bit from the hike, take off our shoes, and sit down in the family’s house.

Shortly after our entrance, the resident family members started bringing in plates of food, and they did not stop for a solid five minutes.  The room was filled with wonderfully presented, colorful, traditional Arab-Jordanian cuisine, including mansaf, roasted cherry tomatoes, a plethora of both rice and spinach dishes, fresh soup, green olives, mountains of warm pita bread, and too many others which I could never hope to do justice  describing them  on paper.

As we expected, and the aroma implied, the taste didn’t let down the elegant display in the least.  The only disappointment was that we were physically unable to consume everything that had been set before us.

While dining, we were introduced to the family, some of whom sat down and joined us, and we also spent time talking more with Ibrahim, enjoying some light-hearted stories and discussion.

Once we finished the meal, we were ready to head back down to Amman (except for the one or two hikers who passed out after the feast), and parted ways with the family and Ibrahim.  It is without a doubt one of the best days I’ve had in Jordan, and the memory alone will be enough of a souvenir once I return to the States.