We turn our faces away to breathe, then blow again on the glowing tinder.
The call to prayer begins down below, from the one-room mosque by the tree in the valley.
Tendrils of smoke make me blink.
I’m here with my family, in Feynan, in the arid valleys of southern Jordan, because I wanted to show my kids the desert.
No group tour could bring me close, I knew that.
On a group tour, half your attention gets taken up with the group, not the destination.
That’s fine, if you want a quick taste of a place, without going in deep. Or if you’re in a big crowd of friends, when the destination is just a backdrop for banter.
But Jordan was going to be different, I knew that. We’d want to linger, at our own pace. We’d want to dive beneath the surface, to get a sense of how the place works, and how the people think.
And we’d want to spend quiet time in the desert.
Feynan is a long way from anywhere – more than two hours’ drive along empty desert roads, and then another half-hour off-road in a 4×4 to reach an isolated, monastic lodge that is lit by candles and solar panels. There are silk cushions on the beds and home-cooked food at every meal.
What an adventure. I’m not sure we would have found it on our own.
At the lodge door, Suleiman shook our hand, welcomed us in with a cool drink and a smile, and then led us out to see the sunset from a nearby hilltop.
That was when my young son said he wanted to make fire.
Suleiman grinned. He explained how it would work to my son, and then I watched them roam around gathering a few twigs of dry kindling.
So up on that hill, as the sky burns red above us and the fiery sun sinks, Suleiman lights the fluffy tinder, and then he and I bend, to blow the glow into flame.
And, of course, my son is blowing too.
I thought the sunset would be everything. But, in the end, it’s nothing.
Instead, we have fire – a tiny fire, no bigger than a small plate, hemmed in by rocks, on which Suleiman rests a battered, blackened pot, pre-filled with sweet tea.
My son is overjoyed.
And the water in my eyes is from the fire-smoke, of course.
Our experience at Feynan can be mirrored at special, out-of-the-way places all round Jordan. Lunch in the home of a local family. A walk to a hidden viewpoint. Exactly the right shop for the unique handmade item you didn’t know you were looking for.
You could find them – or some of them – by yourself, perhaps. But trusting in local contacts, and traveling with local guides, can open up aspects of the country that would inevitably otherwise pass any visitor by completely.
Customized Private Tours of Jordan
Customized private tours can be the most effective way to see Jordan, especially if you’re traveling with loved ones or people close to you. Private tours take the pressure off. They let you enjoy the trip of a lifetime knowing that you’re doing it right – reconnecting with those around you, connecting afresh with local communities, slowing down to travel at a pace that feels right, and opening yourself to new experiences and new perspectives on the world.
This is how Jordanians live. You meet one-to-one, connecting more deeply, and – thanks to your guide – more personally, than you ever could as independent travelers.
Touring in northern Jordan, I’ve walked unmarked countryside trails between remote hill-villages, resting in the shade of carob and fig trees, being welcomed into family homes for huge homecooked meals served on floor-rugs strewn with cushions, eating together from communal platters – all because of my trusted private guide.
Out in the stony wilderness of the east, a Jordanian nature specialist showed me fragile desert wildflowers and led me to herds of oryx, ethereally beautiful white antelope, horned against blue skies.
In the backstreets of Amman, my guide to the Jordanian capital led me this way and that, through a district far from the well-photographed antiquities and the upmarket malls, to quite literally the best hummus I have ever tasted in my life, from a tiny mom-and-pop (or, in this case, pop-and-son) diner where nobody spoke English.
Planning a private tour, with your own specialist guide, can change your impression of a country.
To give just one testimonial: “Jordan has been the most profound journey we have had to date,” one person told us.
“Perhaps because we were totally out of our comfort zone, we were living like locals, with locals and intermingling with them on a day to day basis. We got a complete inside scoop on the country and its people – and they are wonderful, warm, friendly and extremely hospitable. It would not have been possible to experience this [any other] way.”
Years later, you know what my son remembers as the best moment from that whole Jordan trip.
Not Petra. Not floating in the Dead Sea. Not amazing hummus or wonderful people or breathtaking views or a million stars in the sky or anything like that.
Not even camels.
It was making fire in the desert, of course.
But that would have been impossible without Suleiman, and all the other generous, big-hearted Jordanians we met, who guided us along the way.
Those twigs, that tiny fire, shaped an authentic cultural encounter.
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