Abu Jidda – A Bedouin Mountain Garden Retreat

Abu Jidda is a rock walled Bedouin garden hidden in a small granite basin above the main valleys in the center of the High Mountain Region of the Sinai Peninsula. It is secluded and off the beaten trek, yet it is close to all places of interest in the high mountains. It offers an alternative to strenuous trekking, for people who just want to get away and relax in a tranquil, peaceful environment and discover the surroundings at their own pace. There are many lookout points and small resting places right around the garden, rock shelters under massive boulders, an interconnected network of small basins with a surprisingly diverse vegetation and surrealistic rock formations, and open sandy plains with ruins of the Byzantine and Bedouin past. Venturing further, half or full day walks can be made to natural, cultural and historical places, such as the palace of Abbas Pasha, the black water pool of Galt el Azraq, the Byzantine monastic settlement and hermit cell in Wadi Mathar, the canyon of Wadi Sagar, the granite water pools of Kharazet el Shaq, and several beautiful Bedouin orchards and gardens. Mount Umm Loz or Ras el Jibal, “the head of the mountains”, is right next to Abu Jidda, and there are many other peaks with magnificent views a day’s walk away. You can actually see Egypt’s two highest peaks, Mt. Katherine and Mt. Abbas Basha, from the basin of Abu Jidda.

The garden itself lies above one of the main valleys, Wadi Jibal, in a granite basin which catches and retains some of the little annual rain fall. Where the granite cracked when the area was formed some 600 million years ago, more porous lava poured in forming a dyke that cuts across the basin. These dykes are called jidda in the local dialect and Abu Jidda could be translated as “father of all dykes”. Bedouins built their gardens at the lower part of the dykes where the water from the surrounding mountains gathered and where wells could be dug in the softer lava rock. Gardens were built right in the water’s course so they had to be protected by massive stone walls from the regular flash floods, and were designed to let the water go through the garden but retain the soil and as much of the water as possible. In Abu Jidda there are three stone walled wells, one of them is a working shadoof. Next to the shadoof there are two water tanks, now only used for irrigation and recreation, in the past also to provide drinking water for the animals. In the garden of Abu Jidda there are almond, apricot, apple, pear, pomegranate and fig trees, and vegetables and herbs grown organically. Buildings were always constructed at elevated points to avoid the floods, either right next to the garden and/or very close to it but a little bit further up some hill or wadi bank. At Abu Jidda there was a half finished stone room, started by the current owner, Farhan Mohammed’s father.

In the summer of 2007 St-Katherine.Net started supporting Farhan to finish the room and improve the garden. Farhan loves to be in the mountains and dreams of creating a place where he can stay and work, but since orchards and gardens are not a viable source of income anymore, he also wants to receive visitors. St-Katherine.Net, now after the room has been finished, is helping Farhan to build an open shady room – called arisha – and simple facilities as a shower and open kitchenette. Also some minor repairs will have to be done, equipment bought, a composting toilet built, and a functional Bedouin tent, as in the past, erected.

St-Katherine.Net has limited resources but is dedicated to help Farhan, who himself puts a little money and a lot of work into the project. The idea is to create a simple but adequate, environmentally conscious place in the Bedouin way but with simple western improvements, making it an ideal retreat for small groups, families and couples to stay for a week or two. It will provide Farhan with some modest income and encourage his sons to carry on with the old traditions, while at the same time it will support the wider community. According to local tribal and Egyptian laws all visitors to the high mountains have to have a guide at all times, provided by the tribal rotating system, thus supporting the whole tribe. Having a guide comes handy when visitors decide to take some walks – the guide at other times stays away and helps Farhan to look after the guests. Meals and daily fresh Bedouin bread, the fatir and libbe, are provided but visitors can cater for themselves if and when they decide so. Part of the money tourists pay will be used to help other gardens to make similar improvements, so others will benefit from Farhan’s success too.

According to Bedouin traditions in cases like this an initiation ceremony is held to pray for rain, to bless the garden and to protect it against bad intentions and the evil eye. It is usually held on the 15th of the Arabic month, on the day of the full moon. The ceremony is a private matter with only the Bedouin community, their leaders and elders, the family members and their friends present.

Abu Jidda is one of many beautiful garden retreats in the mountains – for details seewww.baraka-gardens.com.

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