I’ve met some great people through this blog, twitter and other social media outlets. One person in particular stands out as someone whom I feel especially lucky to have met, the talented creator behind For The Intolerants, JoAnna.
JoAnna and I have a lot of similar interests, as do many travel bloggers; exploring exotic lands, sampling global cuisine, merging into bizarro cultures, but ultimately we share a unique idiosyncrasy, a sort of fervor for the Middle East.
A keystone in my mission being to deflate nasty stereotypes revolving around the Arab world, I found it fitting when JoAnna approached me to write a guest post and mentioned the same enthusiasm to shed light on a more authentic and positive Middle East.
Since some of you may not have had the chance to read the post when it premiered on For The Intolerants I am reposting it here for your reading pleasure.
These are my reminiscings on Aqaba, the jewel of the Red Sea, neatly fitted between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel…
Uncovering the Shores of Aqaba
Working on an archaeological dig in Jordan, I found myself fleeing to Aqaba every weekend. Not only to dive into the cool waters of the Red Sea, but to merge into a city that borders modernity while retaining the flair of time-tested traditions. I would leave only to feel the call of al-Aqabah time and time again with the desire to explore more the following weekend. Exotic markets and exquisite cafes line the beach.
Just off the local bus I would work my way to the beach, grabbing a coffee from one of the various food carts along the main strip. It’s easy to get caught up in the relaxed culture as the locals have perfected hospitality. After running into the same group of Jordanians it wasn’t long before I was welcome in their ritual, grilling kebabs, smoking hookah, and playing on the beach late into the night, often until sunrise! Luxury resorts with private beaches are stamped across the shoreline just south of the city. This is where I would head for scuba diving, the Aqaba Marine Center, and a little pampering. Yet, I had a preference for the city beach in Aqaba proper. Where glass-bottom boats, camels, and a plethora of vendors to vie for your attention.
Within the city limits are two shopping districts to get lost in for hours. A bazaar with merchants selling anything from Arabian antiques to vintage cameras. And the garment district, where you can be fitted for any number of Arabian garments. I took the opportunity to buy a “thobe” or ankle-length tunic. In fact, my last trip through the city I roamed the town wearing my thobe and headscarf without turning a head! With a light heart and a little humor I shopped through the stretches of textiles, toying with locally mined silver, and haggling my way through teapots and Middle Eastern goods.
Across the city taxis call out- “Where you go?”, “Ah, my friend! Good price for you!”, all of which seem in good spirit, yet I became intolerant of their game early on. Due to their exorbitant fares, unreliable meters, and shady antics I utilized the local bus. Though admittedly, they’re less than comfortable and on several occasions I found myself waiting on a ride that would two hours late. As relaxed as I felt roaming Aqaba, travel by taxi or bus can be stressful. Whatever the case, due to Jordan’s size, getting around the country is a breeze. Once you figure out what mode of transport you can tolerate, a few hours in any direction will lead you to some of the world’s greatest wonders.
In retrospect, I find Aqaba to be an integral destination for the true Arabian experience. It’s clear why most of the region flocks to the port city every weekend. Treasure hunting through the souks will entice some while the beach calls to others. Either adventure is worth experiencing in Aqaba, where hospitality is second nature to the local people steeped in Islamic faith. Where modern architecture is juxtaposed against ancient mud-brick dwellings, the 21st century is emerging and they welcome it with a grin.