At the beginning of October I was asked back to Jordan to help with some tree work. Jordan’s not a country that most people think has much in the way of trees and forests – it does (and would have had more thousands of years ago before the impact of humans). One natural Aleppo forest in Jordan is the Dibeen Forest Reserve. It is situated just south of the Roman site of Jerash and covers an area of 8.5 square kilometres of rolling hills covered with pine/oak habitat. The area was protected as a nature reserve in 2004 by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. Another forest further north is in the Ajloun area and here’s a bit about that from Wiki:
“Ajloun Forest Reserve is in north Jordan, near Jerash and Ajloun, and close to the Ajloun Castle. The reserve consists of rolling hills in a Mediterranean-like environment, covered in evergreen oaks, as well as strawberry and pistachio trees, among others. Stone martens, jackals, red foxes, striped hyenas, Persian squirrels, porcupines, and wolves inhabit this area. Privately owned lands surrounding the reserve pose threats, including illegitimate access to the reserve, resulting in illegal hunting, woodcutting, and grazing. Cooperation with local inhabitants has resulted in increased awareness in the community regarding the preservation of the to the ancient Roman city of Jerash, is the newest reserve in Jordan, established in 2004. The forest is a pine-oak habitat, housing the Aleppo pine and marking the geographical limit of this type of forest. Animal inhabitants such as the Persian squirrel were main reasons for the establishment of the reserve and were considered top priority. Strawberry, pistachio, and wild olive trees also grow in the reserve. Trash, notably plastic, presents a major problem in the reserve, often the result of careless visitors.
Its range extends from Morocco and Spain north to southern France, Italy, and Croatia, and east to Greece, all over Malta and northern Tunisia, with an outlying population in Syria, Lebanon, southern Turkey, Jordan, Israel, and Palestinian territories. In Israel it is called Jerusalem pine. The resin of the Aleppo pine is used to flavor the Greek wine retsina. From the pine nuts of the Aleppo pine is made a pudding called asidet zgougou in the Tunisian dialect; it is served in bowls, covered with cream, and topped with almonds and small candies. Aleppo pine can be used to make excellent bonsai trees and is widely planted for its fine timber, making it one of the most important forestry trees in Algeria and Morocco.”
So, back to the pine we had to take down- near four foot in diameter at the butt. Counted the rings which amounted to 75 years worth of growth or thereabouts. Guess these were planted at the beginning of the second world war! This tree had huge ring growths in its first thirty years then, as usual, they became smaller but, for the last twenty years, they have become increasingly smaller.
The nice thing about working in Jordan is that you get a lovely Middle Eastern breakfast of hummus (in all flavours and tastes). This has long been a staple food, often served warm with bread, and can be served at lunch and dinner as well. All of the ingredients in hummus are easily found in gardens, farms and markets, thus adding to the availability and popularity of the dish. In Jordan hummus is usually garnished with olive oil, “nana” mint leaves, paprika, parsley or cumin. A related dish popular in the region of Palestine and Jordan is laban ma’ hummus (“yogurt and chickpeas”), which uses yogurt in the place of tahini and butter in the place of olive oil and is topped with pieces of toasted bread.
The other main dish for breakfast is Ful medames or simply fūl- it was originally an Egyptian dish of cooked fava beans served with vegetable oil, cumin, and optionally with chopped parsley, garlic, onion, lemon juice and chilli pepper; in Jordan the beans swim in tahini and olive oil completed with a hint of red pepper paste over the top (or in my case quite a bit of hot red pepper :-)). We also get flat bread to eat it with, some fresh raw vegetables and either the local cheese or eggs. This is washed down with chai which tends to be incredibly sweet, black tea.
Since I have been going to Jordan for nearly 25 years now I have seen Amman grow at a staggering rate mostly because of the conflicts in other areas that surround Jordan. In fact practically every country that adjoins the Jordanian border is at war with the consequence that Jordan is swamped by refugees both rich and poor. Many of the richer ones now invest their money into developing places like Amman and Aqaba hence the exponential growth rate of the two cities.
Another aspect of Jordan is its much freer society. Again, when I first went to Jordan there wasn’t multicultural mixing of West meets East but, as the years have gone by, it has become very noticeable that this mix has happened and one of those freedoms of expression introduced from the West is the graffiti, albeit in an Arabic style.
On our way to the bookcase near Rainbow street ( very much an up and coming area if not already there!) you will pass some of the embassies, notably for us the British embassy. Outside this are some blast walls which have been very pleasantly decorated with graffiti.
In fact there is a lot of graffiti everywhere- some very good, some not so, but all the same better to see this then some blank, dingy, grey concrete. Keep it up I say and paint the city in all the colours of the rainbow.
Every time we go to Jordan we leave a huge stack of timber and cord wood which these past few years have been turned into logs, bagged and stacked for winter fires. Winter fires? I hear you ask… Yes! Winter fires. It is a little known fact by many in the West that in what we think of as a desert, it snows! It snows up to four foot deep and temperatures can plunge below freezing. Last year was no exception, in fact it was the coldest in living memory apparently with a whopping -11c and four foot of snow. These temperatures tend to be most extreme on the high plateau where most of the people live.
Tariq the chief gardener took great pride in showing us the ten tons of logs that were logged and bagged after the last visit. We then went to the new pile which was about half the size as we still had loads of wood elsewhere. This year there seemed to be more wood and this was due to the abnormal summer heat which was both persistent and hot. It was probably the cause of the demise of quite a few of the trees we had to take down because they had died.
Having sort of finished in Amman it was off into the countryside to a special place, but first we had to travel down the King’s Highway and this is where you’ll see the landscape and geology change. This next bit is a section from Wiki about the geography of Jordan.
“The country consists mainly of a plateau between 700 metres (2,300 ft) and 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) meters high, divided into ridges by valleys and gorges, and a few mountainous areas. West of the plateau, land descents form the East Bank of the Jordan Rift Valley. The valley is part of the north-south Great Rift Valley, and its successive depressions are Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee; its bottom is about −258 metres (−846 ft)), Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea (its bottom is about −730 metres (−2,400 ft)), Arabah, and the Gulf of Aqaba at the Red Sea. Jordan’s western border follows the bottom of the rift. Although an earthquake-prone region, no severe shocks had been recorded for several centuries.
By far the greatest part of the East Bank is desert, displaying the land forms and other features associated with great aridity. Most of this land is part of the Syrian Desert and northern Arabian Desert. There are broad expanses of sand and dunes, particularly in the south and southeast, together with salt flats. Occasional jumbles of sandstone hills or low mountains support only meagre and stunted vegetation that thrives for a short period after the scanty winter rains. These areas support little life and are the least populated regions of Jordan.”
Finally, after quite a bit of driving we arrived at a place where you can see the region where the famous ancient city of Petra is. This is a view from the plateau and you can see the siqs/wadis that lead down to the Great Rift Valley where the Dead Sea is- what a view and there is nearly always a light, cool breeze up here.
Up here the flowers took on the most brilliant colours- so vivid, bright and sharp.
Hey! Wow, we found two chameleons in the trees. They look quite big in the photos but that’s because I gave them a prod which made both of them give a big hiss and puff themselves up to scare us off. Nahhhhhh! That didn’t work chameleon… I just wanted a photograph of you :-). Which brings me on to a list of mammals found in Jordan: Arabian Oryx, Caracal (Persian Lynx), Crested Porcupine, Desert Fox, Gazelle (Dorcas, Goitered, Mountain, and Persian varieties), Golden Jackal, Hare, Hedgehog, Hyrax, Jerboa, Lynx, Marbled Polecat, Mongoose, Mountain Hare, Nubian Ibex, Persian Onager, Persian Squirrel, Red Fox, Sand Rat, Stone Marten, Striped Hyena, Wild Boar, Wolf (Arabian and Indian varieties). Never seen any apart from the Asian Garden Dormouse which exists in a wide variety of habitats, from steppe and semi-desert to high mountains, and from rocky areas with very little vegetation to snow-covered areas in winter. I found two of them in a nest up a tree some years back. The rest are mostly very rare and shy however there are an awful lot of birds to see if you go at the right time of year and go to the right place to see them and there are quite a few easy to see reptiles too.