Friday, June 7, 2019

Day 1: And the hike begins!

March 1: We woke up early--lounging around and sleeping in late would not be an option on this trail! I met Karolina in the hotel's restaurant for a buffet breakfast--a feast with a seemingly endless supply of options. We pigged out before heading back to our own rooms to brush our teeth and pack up our stuff.

Karolina has trouble deciding what to take from this enormous breakfast buffet!

Packing consisted of two separate bags: the backpack I'd carry all day with snacks, water, cameras, rain gear and anything else that I might need during the day and a duffel bag which held everything I wouldn't need during the day and would be ported by the support crew from camp to camp each day. In a sense, we were mostly doing day hikes each day--just one day hike after another after another until we reached the end of the trail.

I finished packing and headed up to the lobby where I dropped off my duffel bag along with the growing pile of bags from our group. Outside in front, the Jordan Trail truck was parked with drinking water to fill our water bottles, so I did that. They also passed out paper sacks with snacks: an apple, banana, mango juice in a box, a Snickers bar and a cookie-like thing.

I grabbed a snack bag and added it to my day pack. Karolina was still nowhere to be seen so I started walking in the direction of her room when I found her walking toward the lobby with her gear. I showed her where to drop off her bag, grab the snack sack and fill up with water.

The size of our group continued to grow as more and more people showed up and eventually everyone had arrived. Lama, our intrepid guide, gave us the first of the daily briefings:

Karolina and I at South Beach and the start of the Jordan Trail.

We'd be hiking about 18 kilometers today, 4 kilometers more than originally planned. The campsite they had planned to use is in a wadi and since the weather forecast suggested a chance of rain overnight, they felt it was better to camp higher up and out of the wadi. The trail would go up (she pointed to the mountains off to the side as she said this) and up and up... then go down to a wadi before going up and up to camp.

Then she called out, "Yella!" (at least that's how I hear it--no idea how it would be spelled in Arabic) which we quickly learned meant "Let's go!" or something to that effect.

But before we started hiking, we had to take a bus to the starting point at South Beach. So everyone boarded one of two buses and we drove for five or ten minutes completely almost an entire circle and winding up maybe a five minute walk from our hotel.

This kind of annoyed me. Really? Boarding the bus and driving around in almost a giant circle just to get off again? It would have been faster just to walk to the starting point from the hotel--it was that close. So that kind of annoyed me.

South Beach lies on the shores of the Red Sea which, in case you're wondering, looked blue to me. Very blue. The water was warm to the touch--no Pacific Ocean temperatures out there! I was a little disappointed we didn't have time to do any snorkeling or diving while we were in the area but oh well....

The Red Sea felt fairly warm to the touch. The mountains on the other side are either Israel or Egypt. (I wasn't entirely sure exactly where the border is--just that they're both on the other side. Israel to the north [right] and Egypt to the south [left].)

Karolina and I took photos of each other and had some other members of our group take photos of us at the start of the trail. We looked so clean. I had almost no facial hair--just a little stubble since my last shave before arriving in Jordan.

After five or ten minutes when everyone had a chance to get photos, we started walking. The trail followed a road a short ways and a police escort followed us. I wondered if they were there as a ceremonial grand send-off or to prevent terrorists from attacking a large group of tourists which would, undoubtedly, be bad business for Jordan and the Jordan Trail. Or maybe a little of both--a grand, ceremonial sendoff and--better safe than sorry--security built right into it!

Also tagging along were a couple of reporters who filmed us walking along. Not even a week in Jordan and I was already making the news! =) Not that we would ever see it....

Also joining us was a camel. He'd be with us for the next 10 days or so to carry extra drinking water for anyone who needed it. We didn't catch its name, but Karolina started calling it Jamal, which is Arabic for camel.

Our water-carrying camel

Karolina and I mostly stayed toward the back of the large group. As we walked, the large group of 50 or so people would spread out, and we were perfectly happy to stay near the back where we could get photos without being crowded by people coming up behind us.

The trail soon left the road. Every couple of hours, the group would stop and let everyone catch up for a short break, then we'd move out again.

A little way into our hike, a stunt plane started flying over us doing barrel rolls and streaming smoke. It was clearly meant for our benefit, and I enjoyed the unexpected aerial show!

Once we got out from the developed area of Aqaba, the trail became a lot more rugged. The trail was barely visible in places--more of a 'route' than an actual trail.

For hours, the trail climbed higher and higher providing a spectacular background behind us. The Red Sea spread out, and on the other side would have been Israel and Egypt. The mountains to the south, undoubtedly, were part of Saudi Arabia.

As the day wore on, temperatures rose and the wind picked up. I was quickly sweating from the exertion, but glad for the aggressive breeze! When we reached the high point of a mountain ridge, we got our last view of the Red Sea before descending to a wash where we took a lunch break for the day.

The support crew drove out to meet us with combo lunch boxes from Buffalo Wings & Rings. We were all surprised at this. If we were in the United States, it would have been like they drove to us with combo meals from Taco Bell. Really? It was fast food from a local chain that, if I understood it correctly, was a sponsor of the hike. I suspected the Jordan Trail Association got the meals for free or at a very good, discounted price. It would be the only day of the trail that we had fast food for lunch, and I sometimes looked back fondly on this day when I eventually grew a little tired of the monotony of the same lunch day after day. Don't get me wrong--the food was good, but it seemed like we ate the same thing almost every single day. It was always exciting when we got something new to eat. This meal would have been something to get excited about!

After lunch, we continued onward and resumed an upward trajectory. This time it wasn't as steep, but it was a continuous up until we reached camp near 4:00 in the afternoon. We were quite tired at this point and so happy to see camp! It was a long day. Hot, rugged terrain, and none of us were in shape. (Not yet, at least!)

Our campsite for the first night

The tents we'd be using were already set up--we just had to walk up and pick ours. Karolina and I picked two tents next to each other, then retrieved our duffel bags from the large pile of luggage that had been brought from the hotel. We also put the rainfly on our tents since there was a chance of rain overnight.

Karolina and I hung out in the common area, chatting and meeting other hikers from the group while waiting for dinner.

Dinner was served a couple of hours later, an elaborate feast laid out on a few tables buffet-style. It would, I would soon learn, be a typical dinner for us. Rice, chicken, vegetables, hummus, pita bread, and olives.... It tasted wonderful! A nice end to an exhausting day.

I called this the cactus tree because it looked like a tree, but had these giant thorns like a cactus! I have no idea what its real name is, but I like 'cactus tree.'
See our police escort near the front of the group?
Once we left civilization, the trail became a lot more rugged!

One last look back toward the Red Sea!

A surprise lunch! Lunch itself wasn't a surprise... what we had for lunch was a surprise!

A natural arch! Our first on the trail! Not a very big one, but still....

Hikers hanging out in the common area
Sunset was beautiful! But a chance of rain was in the forecast overnight....


Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

A slackpacking thru-hike! What a concept. Maybe we could get something like this set up for the PCT or the CDT.

Karolina said...

The camel’s name was Lehan (however it it might be spelled...) and from what I understood it means „the best”.

Mary said...

Everyone is so bundled up! How cold did it get in the evenings and nights?

Ryan said...

It got pretty close to freezing at night. *nodding*

Dee said...

What kind of prep did you have to do for this trail? (Maybe it was an earlier post i missed. Did you purchase a spot to go on this hike?)
Very beautiful! Thanks for sharing the journey.

Karolina said...

Yes, we signed up for spots on the annual thru-hike organizery by the Jordan Trail Association.