It was time to start climbing towards the Dana Reserve, an incredible drive up and down and up again an almost deserted desert road with geology switching from limestone to sandstone to granite and back. We overlooked the Dana valley – with buzzards, possibly an eagle or a kite bound for Eastern Europe. Another beautiful downhill walk included spotting Euphorbia ramonensis, only found here apparently, and hundreds of little purple iris, now open wide to catch the afternoon sun. Particularly special was Arabis alpina, a beautiful white clumped brassica on its only known Jordan plot. We found a bugloss (Alkanet), its roots used for red dyes, we saw a beautiful Juniperus phoenicea that only manages to put on a centimetre a year.
Another glorious afternoon, led by an expert. Almost the end of our trip, and now a day in the desert at Wadi Rum – something to dream about in our rocking chairs. Goodness, it was beautiful. (Is anyone still reading this by now?)
Just as no one can visit Jordan without visiting Petra, so they surely should not even contemplate missing out Wadi Rum. Here is the desert of our cinematic dreams (Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here in the very spot where we silently watched a glowing sunset and where he was reputed to live). Vast granite, basalt, sandstone rocks in contorted strange shapes up to 600ft high – pink, grey, black, white – every colour as the day wore on, sand and silence as far as the eye could see. As everyone is warned, going into the desert alone without a Bedouin guide who can read the landscape like the back of his hand is a sure suicide bid. And so we climbed into the Bedouin’s trucks (our drivers on their phones all the while) and headed out into the sandy dunes.
Only a fool believes there can be no wildlife in these eternal landscapes – after all, the Bedouin have made a living for millennia, tending their animals and hunting. Time and again Oron stopped the convoy and we jumped out to inspect plants he’d spotted nestling in the sand, particularly parasitic plants such as Cynomorium coccineum parasitic on Zygophyllum, a plant that the Bedouin use for soap. Take a look at Jorun’s pictures for a flavour. We learned too how some beetles survive: their habit each morning is to do a handstand and catch the dew dropping over their bodies. Many plants obviously have the same techniques.
My desert truck driver was 33 or so with one wife and three children, the son of a father who’d had three wives and 29 children (and died young). He claims to be looking for further wives, preferably at least one with a house in Miami. Sometimes he lives with his family in the village, other times he spends the night in the desert with his 300 sheep, ten camels and numerous dogs. His phone and internet access are perfect, he says. With his brother and cousins he runs a successful tourism and herding business. The briefest snapshot of a once nomadic life here in transition. But for how long will further generations of Bedouin understand their landscape and its life so intimately?
We were entertained to Bedouin coffee in sight of one of the T E Lawrence desert bridges and visited ‘his cave’. No time now to debate the accuracy of the Lawrence myths, but the stories do offer a kind of focus in this endless miraculous landscape.
We took a detour to Aqaba to reflect on its strategic position on the Red Sea, Israel and Egypt to the west, Saudi Arabia to the east. It’s a big tourist resort, noted for its bird watching centre and diving. Finally we drove north to the Dead Sea and a salty swim, which some loved, and others found somewhat underwhelming.
Jorun I think summed up what most of us felt when she wrote:
“You asked us all if we could mention one or a few plants that were particularly interesting, and there were many, so it is difficult to choose. Of the irises, especially the Iris bismarckiana (22 March), were stunning, a friend of mine said that one alone was worth the whole trip, and I loved the Cyclamen persicum at the same place, I suppose these are on most of peoples’ top list. But if I should choose something entirely different, it would be the beautiful Acanthus syriacus (21 March), and the white, genista-like Retama raetam, which we saw in many places, that is something I would very much like to have in my own garden in Greece.
“But more than anything I enjoyed the company, most of you I had met before, but there were some very nice new acquaintances as well, and most of all, meeting the Jordanians, besides some extremely handsome men, whom I couldn’t resist photographing, all the people I met were so friendly and open, I really felt we were wished welcome there.”
Indeed, a most wonderful and memorable week. Thank you everyone!
Photos: Becky Cross, Melvyn Jope, Jorun Tharaldsen, Lesley Whayman