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Jordan Trail: A trek through history via ancient villages and wild wadis

Cali's News Story

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Picture the Appalachian Trail in California, or the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Then draw a route through more than 10,000 years of history, covering Neolithic ruins, Biblical sites, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and russet landscapes that wouldn't look out of place on Mars.

That's the Jordan Trail, and only a slice of it.

The 650-kilometer trail takes about 40 days to complete, starting at the northern tip of Jordan in the city of Umm Qais and ending in Aqaba in the south, where hikers meet the country's only coastline.

    Jordan is more than just desert, and the cross-section of the nation that the Jordan Trail cuts through is a tour de force in diversity.

    The Jordan Trail traverses a rich diversity of landscapes in a 40-day trek.

    'Unique experience'

    Hikers move through four ecosystems, defined by lush and fertile valleys in the north, then on to rugged canyons along the Dead Sea, waterfalls and hot springs in the semi-arid central regions, and finally towards the famed Wadi Rum desert in the south.

    The trail takes old Roman and Ottoman roads through Petra, the Nabatean city that is as famed as it is mystical, and which dates back to about 300 BC. Today, it's the postcard picture of Jordan.

    Officially opened in February 2017, the Jordan Trail is being billed as a new tourism initiative pegged on inclusivity. The route features 52 local villages, which hikers use as points of lodging, providing business opportunities for towns newly introduced to the tourism trade.

    Trekker Olivia Mason, 25, from Glasgow, Scotland -- among the trail's first hikers -- says the route opens up new experiences.

    "We stayed with one family in Khirbet Al Souq and we were only their second guests," she tells CNN.

    "They gave us their whole house to sleep in and moved in with relatives nearby. We talked with the family about their lives and the area, and in the morning we watched the children go to school in their uniforms. It is these encounters that make the trail a really unique way to experience Jordan."

    The trail opens up parts of the country that have seen very little tourism in the past.

    New tourism

    Often classified as an adventure trail, the tour is more suitable for those in strong physical condition, but is still open to a large range of hikers.

    Mahmoud Bdoul, one of the guides along the Jordan Trail, has been taking tourists through Petra for 10 years, and says the trail offers a great escape from the trappings of modernity.

    "When you complete the trail and arrive in Aqaba, you realize the noise of cars has been absent from your life for a month," Mahmoud said last year after doing the first technical walk-through for the hike.

    Mahmoud was born in a cave in Petra and his Bedouin upbringing introduced him to the peace of the desert at an early age.

    "I spent two years living in the cave where I was born until 1985 when Petra became a UNESCO heritage site," he says. "The government made an agreement with my Bedouin clan and we moved out of the caves to a new village built on the north side of Petra."

    Mahmoud's village became one of the first beneficiaries of the tourism trade in Jordan.

    "The people in my village, as traditional Bedouins, used to depend on goat-herding and growing agricultural crops, such as parsley, wheat and olives," he adds.

    The route passes through historical sites such as Little Petra and the much-celebrated rock-hewn Petra itself.

    As a student of sustainable tourism, Mahmoud believes the most vivid memories hikers will take away will be of the people they meet.

    "Visitors will be surprised with the hospitality of Jordanians," says Mahmoud. "The trail really lets the trekkers enjoy dealing directly with locals in their Jordanian environment, seeing them in their villages and experiencing their daily lives."

    As Mason completes one of the first publicly open walk-throughs of the trail, she's living the experience first-hand.

    "There is so much history throughout the trail, of course including Petra, but also sites such as Ajloun Castle, Karak Castle and Iraq Al Amir," she says.

    "But the culture, too, shines, whether through the homestays where local food is always eaten or people that always welcome you into their home.

    "Everyone always says that if you stopped for everyone who offered a cup of tea on the trail, you'd never finish."

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