When I stepped into the cool morning air outside Amman’s airport two weeks ago, I knew I was in for an interesting time. For the next seven weeks I would be staying at Feynan Ecolodge as a live-in writer and photographer, spending time with Bedouin locals, adventuring through the Dana Biosphere Reserve, which was established as a protected area in 1989 by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, and experiencing Feynan in a way few people are able to. I hope to become familiar with both the magnificently diverse geological and biological features of the area, as well as the Bedouin culture, which is as steeped in mystery to me as their chai is with sugar. Traditions and rituals, beliefs and taboos which seem impractical or unsophisticated to the Western world all have significance which might not be superficially visible.
Since it was constructed, Feynan Ecolodge’s objectives have changed little, although its modus operandi has evolved into a more sustainable one. Completely off the grid, the little electricity the lodge uses is solar – at night, rooms and common areas glow by candlelight. When the moon is out, candles become mostly redundant, but add warmth and color to the courtyards and halls. Because refrigerators and freezers use a great deal of electricity that can’t be provided sustainably, meat storage is impractical – as such, all meals served on property are vegetarian. Despite this fact (I eat meat), I can attest to the superb cooking, which is both diverse and delicious. Feynan’s objective? To demonstrate that sustainability isn’t a resource sink, and is an economic alternative to environmentally damaging practices such as copper mining. To this day, the lodge is a social, environmental, and economic success, and is an icon for sustainable tourism in Jordan and the Middle East.
Feynan Ecolodge is nestled in the mountains at 330 meters above sea level. During the spring, the heat of the sun is not penetrative – it is cool in the shade, and warm under the sun. At night, the temperature is cool but not uncomfortably cold. The geographical features are as varied as the plants and animals that inhabit them – sandstone, limestone, and granite make up the mountains, and flint stones are everywhere. Also common are blue-green stones – historically significant due to their high copper content (which turns blue when oxidized). There has been human presence in this area for around 11,000 years – some of the first Neolithic settlements are within walking distance of the lodge. So are copper mines and ruins from the Roman age – to say nothing of the dozens of beautiful canyons and valleys in the area. I will write about all of these locations, as well as the lodge’s activities relevant to them. The day doesn’t end here when the sun goes down – whether the moon is out or not, stargazing is possible on most nights, and by full moon it’s possible to walk outside without a flashlight. That said, the daily sunset hike offers some truly magnificent views.