Green green grass

Pioneering guidebook writers Di Taylor and Tony Howard have done it again.

After their amazing work over almost thirty years in the Wadi Rum deserts of southern Jordan, and their expertise trailfinding long-distance paths in Palestine – and Tony’s record-breaking conquest of the Troll Wall, Europe’s tallest rock face, back in ’65 – plus countless more achievements in destinations from southwestern Morocco to northeastern India, this month sees the publication of their new guide to the Al Ayoun region of northern Jordan.

It’s another groundbreaking effort. No outsider (other than Taylor & Howard themselves, a few years ago) has explored this region in any detail – this is the first guide, in any language, to identify unwaymarked countryside routes known only to local shepherds and farmers.

Printed in Jordan – a nice boost for the local economy – the book is published by Vertebrate in the UK and is full colour throughout: the pictures of Al Ayoun’s amazingly lush, green and fertile countryside are gorgeous. 20 long-distance walking routes are covered in turn-by-turn detail, with GPS and maps. There are full accounts of rock climbing and, perhaps uniquely in Jordan, caving. Local knowledge is, of course, impeccable, with rural legends, archaeological history and deep understanding of Jordanian culture mixed with transport info and practical advice.

It’s a slender book – only 104 pages – but it signposts the way for how sustainable – and sustaining – tourism can develop, not only in Jordan but in any developing economy: not with one-off eco schemes or grand promotions, but by investing time, money and expertise in allowing pre-existing local knowledge to find expression, and by fostering the creation of outlets by which that knowledge can come to a wider audience, thereby stimulating economic (and emotional) investment from visitors.

If you’re even halfway interested in Middle East travel, buy the book.

The noble pursuit of travelling

For a flavour of what it’s like (the book, that is), here is the Dedication which Tony & Di print in full:

“There is much profit to be derived from seeing new lands and new houses, in seeing beautiful gardens and fields, in seeing different faces and coming across different languages and colours, and in witnessing the wonders of different countries.

The peace that one finds under the shade of large trees is unparalleled. Eating in the mosques, drinking from streams, and sleeping wherever one finds a place when night comes, these all instil affability and humbleness in a person. The traveller befriends all those whom he loves for God’s sake and he has no reason to flatter or to be artificial.

Add to these benefits all of the happiness that the traveller’s heart feels when he reaches his destination, and the thrill he experiences after having overcome all of the obstacles that were on his way.

If those who are averse to leaving their homelands knew all of this, they would learn that all of the individual pleasures of the world are combined in the noble pursuit of travelling. There is nothing more enjoyable to a traveller than the beautiful sights and the wonderful activities that are part of travelling through God’s wide earth.

And the non-traveller is deprived of all this.”

From ‘The Noble Scholar of Hadith’ by Ramhumuzi

Source: Don’t Be Sad, by Sheikh ‘Aaidh ibn Abdullah Al Qarni (2003)

Warning: rant follows

Now, pin back your ears for a rant – perhaps only of interest to those involved with Jordan. Feel free to stop reading now…

The book came about through Tony Howard & Di Taylor’s association with the Abraham’s Path Initiative (API), who have been working in Al Ayoun for several years to help local communities develop the Al Ayoun Trail (better coverage here), part of the wider Abraham’s Path running from Turkey and Syria through Jordan into Palestine.

API, Al Ayoun and all of these similar organisations or individuals are operating on shoestring budgets. I cannot imagine how much of their own time and resources Tony & Di have ploughed into Jordanian tourism over the decades – not the flashy promotional stuff, but solid, hardcore, tough work down at the grassroots, making connections, building bridges, raising consciousness, offering support, developing ideas. And yet, they told me, for want of a pittance they still struggled to get this book published.

It would not have appeared at all, so I understand, without the sponsorship of Jordanian entrepreneur Fadi Ghandour, founder of Amman-based global logistics firm Aramex. Tony mentioned to me that, after Fadi agreed to help, he demanded a unique form of payback: he asked Tony and Di to lead him on one – only one – walk through Al Ayoun, because he wanted to see the most beautiful parts of his own country – and there was no information, no map and no specialist guide able to take him out into the wilds.

That’s a special kind of sponsor. Fadi is to be congratulated for having the vision to back such a valuable project for Jordan.

His involvement puts to shame the entities and organisations further up the food chain who will benefit from this book, but who didn’t see fit to back it.