Feynan Eco-Lodge, Jordan’s First Eco-Accommodation
We stopped along the way to take photos of the glassy water of the Dead Sea, emerald green in the shallows, and the dramatic white rings of salt around the edge of the colossal bathtub.
As photogenic as the white markings were, contrasting sharply with the russet red rock above and aquamarine water below, sadly, we learned they were evidence of the Dead Sea’s dramatic loss of water that was being directed away for agricultural, manufacturing, and domestic use.
We drove along a rocky plain, dotted with ramshackle houses and diminutive mosques, and verdant farmlands. Everywhere there were watermelons!
Heading off the highway onto a gravelly track, our driver followed the directions we’d been given by Nabil Tarazi, founder of EcoHotels, who was managing a number of new eco-lodges and other environmentally-friendly projects in Jordan in partnership with the Royal Society for Conservation and Nature (RSCN) and their eco-tourism division, Wild Jordan.
A few dead ends and several phone calls later, our driver finally found our drop-off point where we were transferred to a sturdy Toyota Land Cruiser for a bumpy ride to Feynan Eco-Lodge, located in the 320 square-kilometre Dana Biosphere Reserve.
The transport service was out-sourced to some 40-odd local Bedouin farmers who used their rudimentary work vehicles to carry guests to and from the lodge, thereby reducing the property’s environmental footprint, while supplementing local incomes.
As we’d get to appreciate over the coming days, it was simple ideas like these – making do with existing transport instead of adding additional chauffeurs and fancy vehicles – that were making a real difference to the lives of the locals as much as the experience of the guests.
After a dusty drive through stony moonscapes, dotted with chocolate coloured Bedouin goat-hair tents and a smattering of Byzantine ruins, we arrived at Feynan Eco-Lodge, a squat, two storey, sand coloured concrete structure built upon a site at the mouth of Wadi Araba that had previously been used by archaeologists.
If it weren’t for the lodge’s shiny solar panels on the rooftops, the building would have blended in completely with the rocky mountain behind it.
We were welcomed to the 26-room lodge by Nabil, a Jordanian-Palestinian with a warm smile, who was inspired to start EcoHotels after a backpacking trip around Australia and Southeast Asia.
“In Northern Laos, I stayed in a tree-house surrounded by nature and spent time with locals, and in Myanmar I went on a trek with just seven people and two guides and learnt about Buddhism. It was so beautiful and so authentic,” Nabil told us as we toured the lodge.
“When I returned to Jordan, I was camping at Wadi Rum with friends and I realised that Jordan was really missing something… those kinds of experiences I had in Asia and Australia.”
Nabil prepared a business plan and soon after signed an agreement with the RSCN. Their aim is to develop eco-friendly, nature-based accommodation and authentic, educational experiences that give something back to the local community while having a minimal impact on the local environment.
Designed by Ammar Khammash, a Jordanian architect who melds traditional and modern techniques, Feynan Eco-Lodge is a superb model for eco-friendly accommodation. Khammash said he built the lodge on the exact footprint of the old campsite, so as not to extend the area of intervention.
Inspired by old caravanserai and Yemeni architecture, the exterior walls of Feynan Eco-Lodge boast perpendicular stone slabs to deflect the sun’s rays, while inside the lodge various terraces, stairwells and courtyards carry cooling breezes throughout the building.
The solar panels provide most of the lodge’s energy and hot water, while batteries store power for cloudy days.
There is no electricity. At an atelier on site, women make the candles that serve as the main source of lighting. Illuminated entirely by candlelight, the lodge is enchanting at night.
Water, used sparingly and strictly controlled, comes from a nearby natural spring. Clay urns store natural spring water in rooms, which guests drink from recycled glasses.
Waste created by the lodge is recycled or composted, serving as fertilizer for nearby farms, while waste from olive pressing is used to light fireplaces in the evenings during winter.
Local Bedouin women are paid to bake traditional bread served at the lodge each day, while at a nearby leather workshop we visited women were employed to make lampshades and other decorative objects for the lodge that are also sold as souvenirs. At another ecolodge, they produce the soap used at all the RSCN lodges.
And the men? When they’re not working their farms, they’re providing the transport as well as working as rangers and guides.
On a walk around the property we met neighbour Abu Abdullah, who invited us for tea in his goat-hair tent, where we sat cross-legged on mats on the dirt – the first of many similar invitations and encounters we had with Bedouin during our trip.
Abu Abdullah told us with intense pride that it was his responsibility to monitor the water levels at the spring, as well as coordinate donkeys and camels for treks.
We had a trek to look forward to the next day, so on that first afternoon at Feynan we took a short rest under the mosquito net in our surprisingly cool room, where a light breeze wafted in from the small balcony that was shaded by leather curtains. It was bliss.
As we were beginning to discover, one of the best things about treading lightly was foregoing the artificial luxuries of large hotels that we took for granted as travel writers, in favour of the rustic simplicity eco-lodges such as Feynan.
Read part three here.
We stayed at Feynan Eco-Lodge during a three-week trip to Jordan in November 2009 on assignments for magazines.