The sun was out in full force when I left the homestay this morning. It was quite cool so I was bundled up in my sweater. With my fully loaded bright blue backpack atop my shoulders I started the several kilometer trek to the city’s edge. Many people were outside on the patios or sitting in front of their house warming themselves in the morning sun.
“Saba al-kher!” I would say to them with a smile.
Without exception they would respond in kind: “Welcome”, “Saba al-noor”, “Salam Allah coom”, or some other pleasant comment.
Orjan is certainly not a tourist town and I have no idea what went through their heads when they saw me walk by, but their responses were uplifting and motivating as I made my way from the city center through the neighborhoods, then finally into the countryside.
As I walked down the country lanes, through olive groves and pastures I was suddenly startled at the sight of something I didn’t expect – a forest. The dirt roads turned into a trail that took me through a beautiful and well managed forest. It was very peaceful and for several miles I had the forest all to myself; I didn’t see another person. It’s spring here so the meadows were teaming with flowers and the hills covered in green.
Since I started this morning I had been climbing and probably gained a couple of thousand feet in elevation. When I finally crested a hill, I came across Mar Elias. It is the ruins of a church complex built in honor of the profit Elijah in the 7th century. He was born and had died in this area. They sure picked a spectacular spot to build a church. It was atop a mountain peak surrounded by a thick forest and had a refreshing cool breeze blowing through. The grounds had a small flat area with several old growth oak trees. The perfect place to contemplate and pray.
Nearby I was stopped at my first police checkpoint. The policeman had no idea of what to do with a foreigner who just popped out of the woods from nowhere. After I showed him the Arabic letter explaining what it was I was doing he became a genuinely friendly person. Since he spoke relatively good English I chatted with him and his buddies for the next hour while we sipped tea. He called his boss at my destination for the day and told him to expect me. I was to check in with his boss when I got there to make sure I was safe.
A few miles after the checkpoint I saw my destination for the day as Ajloun Castle. It was atop the highest mountain in the area and I could see this massive structure looming atop the mountain from quite a distance away. The castle was built by one of Saladin’s generals between 1184 and 1188 as part of a defensive chain against the Crusaders. After struggling up the mountain for a couple of hours I couldn’t imagine being a Crusader attacking this castle. I don’t think I would stand a chance.
You can find all my journal entries from hiking the Jordan Trail here: Jordan Trail