As Jordanian summers can be deadly hot, canyons with water running through them are often the only option to hike without suffering from heatstroke. Wanting to escape the congested capital, Fadi, Eva and I set off for Wadi Karak, a canyon just south of the Dead Sea.
Saved by the car whisperer’s magic touch
“Car registration, licence and passports,” a police officer commands when pulling us over for a routine check. “Where are you from?” he inquires through the passenger window. “Belgium.” “Welcome to Jordan and good morning.”
Looping around the car three times, he carefully considers his next question: “Do you have a fire extinguisher?” A frantic search operation yields no results, yet the officer continues rooting for us: “Search again. I am sure you have one somewhere!”
When a second search also turns out to be in vain, he ends up at my window again: “Where are you from?” “Still from Belgium, sir.” “That's in Italy, right?” “Sure.” “Good morning. No problem.” He puts his hands together and nods his head to indicate he will let us off the hook this time.
Near the dirt road by the wadi’s entrance, a herd of goats is grazing dust, while the pungent smell of their departed relatives permeates the air. “Wheeeere aaaare youuuu goiiiing?” a voice echoes through the canyon, stopping us in our tracks. “There is no more water there,” a friendly shepherd warns. “The engineers built a dam and took it all. You can drive up to the dam though.”
Another dirt road leads us further and further from the village until we reach a Danger: Forbidden Entry sign. “Let’s just see if the dam is around this corner,” Fadi suggests, ignoring my mumbled protests. But karma sure is known to be unkind: a few hundred metres further the car starts to sputter and breaks down. For lack of phone service, all we can do is sit and wait. “39° Celsius,” I read on the display, sweat gushing. “Good thing we have a fire extinguisher ... Oh wait.”
Luckily, you can always count on a lifesaver being just around the corner in Jordan and today is no different. A bearded man and his pick-up truck come speeding to our rescue. “Show me what the problem is,” he instructs, while placing his hand on the hood. Instantly, the engine comes back to life. “Are you the Messiah?” I utter, dumbfounded. Visibly pleased with his heroic act, the car whisperer invites us over for lunch, an offer we respectfully decline, as we are still hoping to hike today.
Wadi Numeira’s youthful Bedouin guide and his loyal mule
It is noon by the time we reach Wadi Numeira, our plan B canyon. As we start our hike, a 13-year-old also rides into the slot canyon on his donkey. “Wanna get on?” he gestures disarmingly. “What’s his name?” “Donkey,” the boy frowns, confused by such an outlandish question. “And yours?” “Zaid.”
The stream quickly cools off our feet and shins, as we wade through heaps of trash left behind by locals coming here to picnic: bottles, bags, cups, cans, slippers, diapers, you name it. A few men have driven their cars into the canyon and are unloading their waterpipes and barbecues.
Trying to ignore the rubbish by my feet, I look up and let my hand slide over the horizontal lines carved into the rock by the elements over time. The curvy walls look majestic, as the sunrays bring out the entire colour palette: from yellow to orange to deep red.
Our youthful guide comes to a halt by a little waterfall and grabs his funnel and bucket, both cut out from plastic bottles. Through a scarf that serves as a filter, Zaid starts pouring water into the barrels on Donkey’s back, a daily chore to provide his family with water. When the job is done, Donkey promptly makes a U-turn and heads home, while Zaid lingers shyly. “He knows the way,” he reassures us and continues with us on our hike.
As soon as we climb over the tiny waterfall, the litter disappears, the water is pristine and behind every turn, there is more to marvel at: “Look, a crab,” Zaid points out, spotting the little creature shuffling sideways into a crevice.
A big boulder creates a taller waterfall and blocks our passage, but a few metal handles allow us to climb it. Our little gentleman scouts up ahead, effortlessly hopping from one rock to the next. Along the way, his entire life story pours out: what growing up in a tent as the youngest of 12 is like, how he does not have electricity at home and that he aspires to become an Arabic teacher one day.
When the canyon leads to a wider valley, we have nowhere left to hide from the blistering sun and decide to turn back. Zaid does not leave our side until we reach the car safely. I hand him a granola bar, which he politely declines before accepting. Instinctively, he then breaks it in two and offers me the other half.
“If becoming an Arabic teacher does not work out, you have a great career as a tour guide awaiting you,” I assure him, eliciting a big smile and twinkly eyes. “Welcome anytime!” he calls out. “If you ever come back, just ask for Zaid. I will be waiting.”