The Feynan Ecolodge: Stargazing and Coffee with the Bedouin in the Desert in Jordan

By Abi King | Jordan

Oct 23

Feynan Ecolodge in Dana Nature Reserve

Beneath the light of the stars in the desert sands of Jordan, I discovered that some things always stay the same. Here’s my story of a night with the Bedouin in Jordan while staying at the groundbreaking Feynan Ecolodge. Read on for the full Feynan Ecolodge review.

Stargazing at Feynan Ecolodge in the Desert in Jordan

Sparks hissed from the fire where we clustered beneath the stars.

The group fell silent, waiting for Hussein to finish his story. He sat cross-legged, wearing the traditional thawb and keffiyeh, his deep eyes lined with kohl.

“My darling,” he said, fixing his eyes on the girl in front of him. “Forget the astronomer. Come with me. I’ll show you the stars in the day.”

She blushed before bursting out laughing; everyone else just joined in.

Related: 7 of the Best Things to Do in Jordan

Preparing Arabic coffee in the desert around a fire in Jordan at Feynan Ecolodge Dana Nature Reserve

Drinking Arabic Coffee Beneath the Stars

In the darkness of Jordan’s desert, our stargazing appointment slid further and further away as we turned our senses instead to the serious task of making Arabic coffee.

First the coffee beans are roast over an open fire in a glinting bronze mehmas. They’re then ground with a rhythmic, sombre beat inside a grinding cylinder.

“You hear this at weddings – and funerals too,” whispered the daytime astronomer, otherwise known as Hussein, the joke teller, and general manager at the Feynan Eco Lodge.

About the Feynan Ecolodge Review

A stay at the Feynan Ecolodge involves a dusty drive through the desert, with more than one or two bumps along the way. It’s an eco lodge that takes the eco part seriously, being one of 25 of the best in the world according to National Geographic. That does mean, though, that there’s no electricity at night, no hot tubs, no infinity pools.

Instead, rooms are simple and clean and the food is delicious.

Activities include drives and hikes around the historic Dana Nature Reserve, looking at history from the Roman age and beyond and learning how to use the plants the way that local Bedouin do.

With so little light pollution, it’s the perfect spot for stargazing and the sky seems to open up larger than before.

Related: Interesting facts about the Dead Sea in Jordan

How far is Feynan Ecolodge from Amman?

It’s around a three hour drive, with some stunning views of crumbling desert and dry roads.

Rooms at the Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan

About the Feynan Ecolodge and Its Philosophy

Feynan’s causing quite a stir in these parts, not only for its green credentials (which stretch beyond the ruse of saving money by not washing your towels every day) but also for its integration with local people. Both issues, while laudable, attract controversy from outside sources, not least of all from me.

The first person I meet in Feynan is Nabil Tarazi, the Managing Director based in Amman. Alas for him, he introduced the concept to a rather tired and cynical hack. Me. I’ve heard a lot of fluff – and dreary fluff at that – on the subject of sustainable ecotourism and I hadn’t realised just how jaded I’d become until now.

Yes, all their staff were local, other than he himself who hailed from Palestine.

No, the interactions with the locals weren’t staged. They wouldn’t ask for money, you couldn’t book them, and if they were busy then they’d say they didn’t have the time.

Why do they bother? Because it’s their project and their future, they want it to succeed.

Hmm. (From me, this time.)

This is Real Eco Tourism

Back to Nabil: “we can all see what happens now with short term projects. Short term gain. Money now, a place to live and an education lost forever.

“We want to develop something more than that.”

“We use candles for lighting, except for the bathrooms, which are powered by solar panels. We’re not connected to utilities.

Local women collect the leftover wax and create new candles in the morning.

Candlelit corridors at Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan

Staying Eco

“We don’t serve meat because the electricity required for refrigeration is too high – and it’s not a daily part of local diets. Also, eating meat isn’t environmentally efficient.

“We collect leftovers and compost them to use for fertiliser.

“You’ll find ceramic bottles for water in your room (created by the local women’s cooperative.) We’re working on creating plastic, sealable, refillable bottles for you to take away on hikes.”

I ease up a little. He continues.

“This site used to be a camp site for archaeologists* – that’s why we chose it. The infrastructure’s already here, the environment is already damaged. We’re trying to build something better, something sustainable.”

Related: Petra by Night: Is it worth it?

The Dana Nature Reserve – More Than 11 000 Years of History

As it turns out, humans have been on this patch of dry scrub desert (officially called the Dana Nature Reserve) for more than 11 000 years. The Romans used to mine copper here, and when Christianity swept across their empire, they responded by creating some of Christianity’s first martyrs through working them to death. Their graves remain here today.

So, too do the remnants of the mines – mossy coloured copper deposits clinging to exposed gnarly rock. Gaping deep holes in the ground where the mine shafts used to be.

Making Soap at Feynan Ecolodge

Besides the tunnels, a few plants grow. A scratchy acacia here, a minty coloured plant there. Mohammed, our guide, breaks some branches off, crushing them against a rock with a machine-gun action.

“Bedouin soap,” he says, reaching for some water. He rubs his palms together, turning not only plant mush into lather but my world weariness into childlike joy.

What does Bedouin Mean?

Later, we visit the Bedouin tents, a mile or so from the main lodge.

The term “Bedouin” I struggle to understand. It derives from the Arabic for people of the desert, referring to the tribes that roamed across the Middle East before today’s national boundaries were drawn in the 20th century.

Some are nomadic, some semi-settled, some permanently so.

It seems that you don’t call the cosmopolitan city folk of Amman by the name of Bedouin, so it’s not a widespread term. I ask a few questions, make little progress, worry that I’m veering too close into political incorrectness and withdraw a little. After all, does it matter that much?

Making Bread with Bedouin Beyond the Feynan Ecolodge

Huddled in what seems to me to be an impenetrable inky black darkness that only the others can navigate, the Bedouins, for want of a better word, invite us in. Three women stretch and pound dough between their hands, spinning it flat across the domed metal that rests on the fire to make bread for dinner.

The woman to my left hands me a piece.

I love the taste of this flat, stretchy bread, pockmarked with charcoal spots and smoothed at the edge to make a floppy, tasty circle. Children poke their heads around the door and then scurry off again, laughing, and we stroll back towards the lodge feeling nearly blind without the streetlights.

It’s Darker Here

By the time we sit down for coffee and stargazing, the vague hint of grey on the twilight stroll seems like a luxury compared to this empty, photonless existence. The Bedouins stride ahead on the loose shale, while I stumble around with anxiety.

I may not be able to see, but I can still hear. I can hear dogs barking and donkeys braying. I hear my feet stumble across the rocks and the pounding of my heart in my temples at the anticipation of a broken ankle. I feel blindfolded.

The Bedouins are fine. It has to make me stop and wonder. Just how much light pollution must seep into my normal life?

Traditional Arabic Coffee

Eventually we sit down, the fire lights, the coffee beans are roasted, and then ground, and then boiled with chopped cardamom.*

This Arabic coffee is sensuous yet thin, rich in spice and pulse-racingly strong. Apparently, the etiquette is for the host to take the first cupful to make sure it isn’t burnt. Then the guest to the right takes a turn. You’re allowed up to three cupfuls before you need to shake the cup in the air to signal that you’ve politely had enough.

The cup seems more like a thimble – and we’ve enough coffee to last us for hours.

Then again, the stars have been there for more than four billion years. It doesn’t seem rude to make them wait a few hours longer. It would seem rude to rush the coffee.

 

Disclosure: I visited Jordan as a guest of Visit Jordan. All words, pictures, video clips, ideas, ramblings, entertainment and whatever else you may find here are my own. As usual.
*The original article said archaeological site and pistachio at these points.

Have you ever shared coffee with the Bedouin? Or gazed up at the stars?

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About the Author

Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!

  • Angela says:

    Beautiful article, as usual, Abi. I wouldn’t mind at all living in such environments free of light and sound pollution, just to detox a little and increasing my awareness of what our body and senses can do.

  • Abi says:

    I wonder how long it would take to grow accustomed to the darkness…A few nights? A few weeks? Or is it too late unless you grow up like that?

  • Daniel says:

    Really enjoyed your post. Thanks for sharing and bringing us into your experience.

    Glad you had such a great time in Jordan.

    Daniel

    • Abi says:

      Thank you. Yes, I had a wonderful time there.

  • Lori Henry says:

    I was at Feynan last spring and absolutely loved it there. It is one of my favourite accommodations in the world! Thanks for the lovely story about your experience there.

    • Abi says:

      My pleasure. I found it a fascinating place…

  • Linda says:

    I have, as you can imagine, read several stories from Jordan over the last few months. They have all left me thinking, “Yeah, I’d like to go there one day.” But yours makes me want to jump on the next plane and yearn to go!

    • Abi says:

      I can imagine!! Thank you for your kind words here ;-)

  • I have never shared coffee with or stayed with a bedouin, but after reading this, it’s on my list! I’m fascinated by the bedouin soap though, so cool!

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