“Yalla, yalla!” Sari Husseini called out in Arabic. “Let’s go!” With 10 miles of trail ahead, we pedaled away from Jebel es Saffaha, a mountain in southern Jordan with a long narrow ridge leading to its summit. To the west, the Arabah Valley cut a swath next to the Israel-Jordan border. To the east, the Ard as Sawwan Desert unfolded into a shimmering haze toward Saudi Arabia. In the spring of 2022, photographer Kari Medig and I set off with our mountain bikes, a pickup truck, and our guide, Sari, to ride on sections of the Jordan Trail, a recently established 420-mile hiking route—with plenty of parallel biking paths—that traverses the length of the country. Sari, who owns the Amman-based company Cycling Jordan, rode with us, and a driver shuttled us between sections of the trail in his truck. We started our journey in the hilltop village of Umm Qais in the forested northwest and 10 days later ended in the Red Sea port city of Aqaba.
The Jordan Trail officially opened in 2017, after two years of work linking ancient trade routes and footpaths. The ambition is to support rural economies and encourage travelers to explore the nation’s diverse landscapes. “I love the fact that the Jordan Trail connects the country north to south, like a bridge or human highway, connecting villages, building relationships,” Wael Sabanekh, a Jordan Trail Association founding member, told me. “I see the trail as a way to preserve our nature and grow it instead of demolishing it to build another holiday residence or another highway or street.”
For thousands of years, the land now known as Jordan was the crucible of trade in the biblical world. The country is layered with the monuments of Islamic kings, Roman conquerors, Crusaders, Ottoman rulers, and others. Jordan gained independence from British colonial rule in 1946.
As we rode along the trail, what struck Kari and me most was the warmth and openness of Jordanians we encountered on the way. Close to Siq al-Barid, also known as Little Petra, we happened upon a group of men celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, and we made an impromptu stop.
The group included, among others, an imam who was quick to laugh. As if by magic, one of the men coaxed flames from a handful of twigs, arranged rocks around it, and put a kettle on for tea.
Tea led to a generous invitation for a late-afternoon lunch. Kari and I took off our bike helmets and joined the men on a red blanket spread on the ground next to two SUVs parked at angles to block the wind.
Two hours later, Sari rose from the ground where a dozen of us sat cross-legged. Light was fading.
“Shukran,” he said, holding his right hand to his heart, thanking our trailside hosts. Bellies—and hearts—full, we hopped back onto our mountain bikes and rode on through a rocky landscape glowing golden in the early evening light.