Intrigued and inspired are the right words to describe our response when Lien reached out to us and told us about her hiking experience. While living and working in Jordan, she discovered the beautiful and quite unknown Jordan Trail and her story is just inspiring. Although she wasn’t always the biggest fan of hiking, while travelling the world and getting to know the Jordan Trail she developed a real passion for it. And we are so excited and grateful that Lien was willing to share her experience of the Jordan Trail and Jordan in general with us in this interview.
As mentioned above, the Jordan Trail is still relatively unknown and very ‘young’ as the Trail Association was only established in 2015. The Jordan Trail connects the North and the South of the country over a length of 675km/ 420 miles, while passing through 75 villages and towns along the way. While the whole trail is beautiful and mesmerizing some of the fantastic highlights are Petra, Wadi Rum and the Red Sea. Let’s no longer postpone as Lien explains it so much better in the interview and the pictures she send us just speak a thousand words!
To start, would you be able to tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure! I’m a 31-year-old hiker from Belgium, but I spent the last couple of years working for NGOs in Jordan and the United Kingdom. When my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail fell through last year, I moved back to Belgium and have been exploring local trails ever since. I miss the wide, open spaces, but I am also happy to rediscover natural beauty close to home.
How did your passion for hiking and the outdoors start?
Despite my parents’ best efforts at getting me out on trails, I hated hiking as a kid. As a young adult, I started enjoying the outdoors more and hiked while traveling in Chile, the Balkans and Spain (Camino de Santiago), but it wasn’t until I was living in Jordan that I developed a passion for it.
You hiked the Jordan Trail, 675 km long; what a fantastic achievement! The trail is quite young and maybe not as well known yet, and we would love to hear how your experience was on the trail?
Thanks! I section-hiked the Jordan Trail over the course of 2018-2019, only a few years after the Jordan Trail Association was formed in 2015. As the trail was so young, there were some growing pains, so keeping an open mind was a must at times. But the excitement of hiking a new trail and having all this amazing scenery to ourselves, made the minor discomforts worth it.
Not only the Jordan Trail is new, hiking itself is a relatively unknown sport in Jordan. Wherever we went, locals seemed confused as to what we were doing. The minute we parked anywhere in the countryside to start a hike, people would offer help fixing our car, assuming it broke down. My favourite moment of confusion was when my partner Fadi and I were hitchhiking by a small desert road near Petra. The first driver passing by slammed on the breaks and popped his head out the window. When we greeted him in Arabic, he laughed: “Oh, you’re from here! I saw your big backpacks and assumed you were Israeli paratroopers that had just landed.” The fact that that seemed more likely to him than two people walking through the desert for fun speaks volumes on how new the concept still is.
How did you discover the Jordan Trail and what was the reason to hike this specific trail?
My friend Katy, who was also working in Amman, started hiking a different stretch of the trail every weekend. I would join her for day hikes every now and then and before I knew it, day trips turned into overnight camping trips that turned into section hikes. I soon got hooked on leaving the crowded capital behind on the weekends, so when Katy completed the trail and left the country, I kept going and started gathering groups of friends every weekend to join me.
Hiking the Jordan Trail provided me with a unique opportunity to really get to know the country, as I walked through areas and towns I otherwise never would have visited and got to meet people I never would have had the pleasure to meet. It made me feel even more at home in Jordan.
During the trail you cross different landscapes and many beautiful historical sites. How did you prepare for the hike?
The trail really shows the diversity of Jordan’s landscape. From the ruins of Umm Qays in the north, it passes through villages, rolling hills, arid valleys, Bedouin camps, small rivers, castles, UNESCO world heritage site Petra, the vast desert of Wadi Rum and eventually crosses the mountains and ends up on the beach near Aqaba, on the Red Sea.
To prepare for a hike, I would always read the trail description on the Jordan Trail Association’s website, as it talks you through what to expect in terms of resupply options and trail conditions. As most of the trail is not marked, I relied on the GPX-file from the website as well. I studied Google Maps to figure out where we could park and where we could reconnect to a road at the end of the day to hitchhike back to the car. It turned out to be quite a bit of work to coordinate everything, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat!
Even though you prepared well for the trail, did you come across any (major) challenges that you would never have thought of?
Well, there was that time when we buried our resupply box on the wrong side of a mountain. As the section between Petra and Humeimah is usually completely dry, we hired a driver with a 4X4 and dropped off water caches in two places close to the trail before departing. At the end of our second 30-kilometre day, it dawned on us that the trail ran on the opposite side of the mountain to where we had hidden our supply. Luckily, we found a way around it and recovered our stash quickly. Pro-tip: always make sure to bury your resupply on the right side of a hill. 😉
What is your best memory of the trail?
Meeting my partner on one of my hikes was pretty memorable, haha.
Honestly, there are too many great memories to pick one. Every time I went out was an adventure, as things in Jordan never work out exactly as you planned. While this can be frustrating at times, it also means that there is always something unexpected to marvel at. Whether it was shepherds proposing to us, finding edible plants or water wells in the desert, spotting a blue lizard and dancing caterpillars, suddenly being surrounded by tall reed after crossing arid mountains, being chased by barking dogs, running into a herd of camels, the old man who so desperately wanted us to stop by for tea that he invented a story about a fence blocking the trail or a donkey that disappeared without a trace and took half the group’s camping gear with her.
Although the most memorable moments were probably the many acts of kindness and hospitality we experienced. I can’t even begin to count the cups of tea I drank with locals along the trail or how many times they welcomed me to Jordan. The spontaneity with which complete strangers went out of their way to help us time and time again was heart-warming. There was that time, for example, when Khaled, a Bedouin man living in Rum village, kindly offered to let us sleep in his office when we arrived unannounced in the middle of the night. And when people saw us approach on the trail, they would sometimes rush out of their homes with water or coffee and offered us lunch. During the harvesting season in the north, I would always get a sugar rush from all the fruits that were handed to me along the way by generous farmers. The Jordanian hospitality is something we can learn a lot from in the West.
Before starting on the hike, you must have probably gone through your gear checklist a dozen times. In the end, did you take any gear with you that you eventually felt you could have done without? Or was there any specific gear that you wished you had with you on the trail?
As I rolled into it, I upgraded my gear as I went. By borrowing gear from friends in the beginning, I got to experiment with different items, which gave me a better idea as to what gear worked for me.
I would say a powerful powerbank is key, given that the GPX-file is all you can rely on for navigation. We didn’t have a Garmin inReach with us, but it might come in handy as you often do not have cell service. A water filter or other water purification tool is also a must for some of the more remote stretches.
After this amazing achievement and crossing the Jordan Trail off your bucket list, do you have any other trails on your bucket list which you plan to hike in the (near) future?
I will keep microadventuring for the foreseeable future and if the pandemic allows for it, I am hoping to section hike a European mountain trail over the summer. My thru-hiking aspirations are also far from over, so if the stars align in the future, I would still like to attempt a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail or the Via Alpina.
For all those inspired by your story and experience on the trail, what is the one tip you would like to give them?
I would recommend the Jordan Trail to anyone. It is a wonderful way to discover a beautiful, safe and hospitable country. The northern sections pass through many towns and are marked, so for beginners these might feel more comfortable, while experienced hikers will enjoy the vast desert stretches in the south. Given the extreme temperatures in summer and chance of flash floods in certain areas in winter, I would recommend hiking in spring (April-May) or fall (September-October). Knowing some Arabic helps, especially outside of Amman, but in general people will be more than happy to help you out when you are lost or in need of anything.
Lastly, when our hiking-lovers want to know more and follow your adventures, where can they find you on social media?
They are very welcome to follow me on Instagram (@liensantermans) or Facebook (@mailfromthetrail). I also have a personal blog with stories of previous adventures: www.mailfromthetrail.com. If anyone has questions about the Jordan Trail, I’m more than happy to help out, so your readers are welcome to contact me through my Facebook page.
Lien, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us, it was an absolute pleasure!
Do you have an amazing story about one of your trail adventures which you would like to share with the community? Please reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org as we would love to hear from you.
Jay & Maud