Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Day 0: The Opening Ceremony: Jordan Trail Thru-Hike 2019

Karolina provides one more guest blog post about our adventures getting to the start the Jordan Trail! She'll make a few more guest blog posts before we finish the trail, but this will be the last guest blog post for awhile....


It rained hard the entire night and continued in the morning. We woke up to Amman covered by thick fog – yesterday we could see the city through the windows of our hotel, today there was nothing but whiteness.

At breakfast Ryan asked whether I knew what day today was.

“Err… Thursday? The day we leave for the Red Sea to start hiking the Jordan Trail?”

“Yes, but what else?”

I couldn’t think of anything so Ryan enlightened me that today was Tłusty Czwartek – Fat Thursday,
the Polish version of Mardi Gras, the last Thursday of Carnival on which the Poles stuff themselves
with doughnuts and angel wings. During our walk back to the hotel last night Ryan noticed a doughnut place nearby and he suggested we should grab some doughnuts to celebrate – which is what we did.

Karolina and I celebrate Tłusty Czwartek by getting donuts at the Donuts Factory!

Interestingly, the donut shop seemed to have an English-language library in the lobby. I'm not sure if people could check the books out or if they were meant to be read in-store, but it seemed like a weird place for a library in any case.

We arrived at the Abdoun bus station about an hour before the designated gathering time for the bus and headed to a nearby restaurant to escape the rain and have lunch. The hour passed by quickly and soon we were boarding one of the two buses arranged by the Jordan Trail Association (JTA) to take us to the Red Sea.

After the doughnuts we went looking for a grocery store where we could buy some snacks for the trail. Across the street Ryan noticed a store with quite an interesting name: Haboob, and he insisted we did our groceries there.*rolling eyes*

In the meantime the rain was becoming stronger and stronger – it was becoming a downpour. Initially, we were planning to walk from our hotel to the bus station where our bus to the Red Sea was leaving from which – according to Google Maps – would take about an hour. We collected our bags and hit the very wet road. Given the dreary weather, Ryan offered that whenever I got fed up with walking in the rain we could flag down a taxi and get ourselves a ride. It took me all about 5 minutes to decide I wanted a taxi – it was really raining cats and dogs!

We arrived at the Abdoun bus station about an hour before the designated gathering time for the bus and headed to a nearby restaurant to escape the rain and have lunch. The hour passed by quickly and soon we were boarding one of the two buses arranged by the Jordan Trail Association (JTA) to take us down to the Red Sea.

While JTA employees were checking our names on their lists and giving us some papers to sign, Ryan was looking around for someone. He expected someone he knew back in Seattle to be joining the hike – Joe, his friend from a Camino walking group. Ryan told me Joe was about 70 years old so I was quite surprised when he pointed a tanned-skin man with black her who was standing near the front of the bus and said that might be Joe. That man did not look 70 at all! In his mid-fifties maybe, but I wouldn’t give him 70! Ryan confirmed that Joe looked much younger than he really was. Unfortunately we couldn’t immediately verify whether the Joe-suspect was the real Joe because the man boarded the other bus. Never mind, sooner or later Ryan was going to meet him. I told Ryan that I wanted to be there when the two of them meet – I wanted to see the expression on Joe’s face upon seeing Ryan. Joe knew that Ryan had been planning to hike the Jordan trail in 2019 but not that he decided to join the JTA-supported thru-hike.

The 5.5 hour long drive to the Red Sea was rather boring. It was still foggy and raining hard which obscured the views along the way. At one point our bus stopped in the middle of nowhere to wait for the other bus to catch up. Later we heard from people who were on that other bus that their delay was caused by malfunctioning windshield wipers. They told us how the driver tried to fix the problem – he stopped the bus, got out and started banging the wipers hard against the windshield. When that didn’t help he just dismantled them and continued the drive without – an apparently harrowing and terrifying event for the rest of the passengers in the bus.

Halfway between Amman and the Red Sea we had a longer stop at a large souvenir store and restaurant so that everyone could use a toilet.

Walking off towards the ladies’ it occurred to me that there was a high chance of Ryan bumping into Joe in the men’s room - and I wouldn’t be there to witness it! Off course, that’s exactly what happened. Boo! Anyways, Ryan introduced me to Joe who wasn’t all that surprised to be meeting Ryan – he kind of expected to cross paths with him somewhere on the Jordan Trail. We also learned that Joe wasn’t thru-hiking the trail – he would only go as far as Petra, i.e. about two weeks or 213 km (132 miles).

The snack shop break at the mid-point of our bus ride.
There were also souvenirs for sale

After the break, everyone on the bus with the broken windshield wipers crowded onto the bus we were on. They weren't taking anymore chances on that bus!

We reached our home for the night – Tala Bay Resort on the Red Sea - well after dark. From the place we were staying at we could see the city lights of Aqaba – Jordan’s only coastal city. A little bit further away, right across the border, was the Israeli port of Eilat. In another direction – no more than 6 km (4 miles) southwards – we could see outlines of hills which we knew were in Saudi Arabia.

Tala Bay Resort was… very fancy. It was a 5 star hotel!!! I must admit I felt a little bit lost and overwhelmed by all the luxury. Swimming pools lit by colorful lights, palm trees, terraces, a beach – wow! I wished we had more time to experience and explore that place – unfortunately we had to leave very early the next morning and start hiking.

We entered the hotel through a security gate – just like one of those you have at airports where they scan your body for potentially dangerous items. Our luggage went a different way and underwent a thorough security check as well. Some people seemed a little nervous about such high level of security – if it is needed, does it mean that the danger level is high? I was rather cool, though, having read in guidebooks that security scans were normal in places popular with tourists around Jordan.

We only had enough time to take our luggage to our rooms and maybe pay a quick visit to the bathroom before we had to get on buses again. This time we were going to a nearby Berenice Beach Club where the Opening Ceremony for the Jordan Trail Thru-Hike 2019 under the Patronage of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Al Hussain bin Abdullah II was going to take place! (too bad the Crown Prince failed to show up :/)

Berenice Beach Club was another fancy place. There were tons of delicious food, a slide show of photos from the last year’s thru-hike, short speeches by people from JTA and a performance by a local folk music group. We were introduced to Lama, who would be our licensed guide on the Jordan Trail as well as Qussai, and two Mohammads who were going to be the support-guides. There was also George – the JTA field manager who would follow us in a 4x4 truck, arrange campsites, coordinate local support teams and deal with many other errands.

The dinner buffet was wonderful!
Yumm.... Dinner.... With live entertainment in the background!

Here I would like to make a little digression to mention the story of the two Mohammads – or Mohammadeen as the two of them are referred to in the Arabic way. They were the first Jordanians to have completed a thru-hike of the Jordan Trail. When you asked them how they did that, their reply would be “We walked a bit, then drank some tea, walked some more, drank tea, sleep and repeat”.

Mohammadeen used to be shepherds and when JTA was created they got hired as support guides (aka Jordan Trail Coordinators). You can read their success story From Shepherds to Jordan TrailCoordinators on the website of USAID BEST.

One more digression at the end: later we found out that Amman was severely flooded that day after
an abnormally enormous amount of rainfall. You can read about it in The Jordan Times and watch videos on YouTube. (It's quite dramatic!)

By the time we made it back to our fancy 5-star resort, it was much too late to enjoy the amenities. =( We pretty much went straight to sleep and woke up just in time for the start of the Jordan Trail early tomorrow morning.

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