What an immense pleasure it was joining fellow author Maria Rochelle in what became quite a revealing conversation… A discussion on travel, literature, writing, life, love and losing oneself in the beautiful madness of all things.

Since reading Knausgaard i’ve determined to take several wide steps away from the ego (easier said than done, right!). Giving my literature room for accuracy, honesty. It’s too easy to dress yourself up with fancy words, credentials, achievements etc. but what I want to hear, what I need to hear, comes from the fabric of reality — the truth.

So, it’s my objective this year to be more honest, with myself as much as others. Learning to say “no” more, and feeling less obliged to the prophetic “yes.” And in turn, taking care of my very self — I have a tendency to overcompensate, to be “too nice,” as they say.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy our conversation and be sure to visit Maria’s work as well. As a multi-genre author, she’s covered some very impressive territory, including her tour de force children’s series, Jasmine Dreams.

Read the full interview here.

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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.

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Aqaba Proper. Vantage from one of the highest rooftops in town. View of Al-Hussein Bin Ali Mosque and Red Sea.
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At the bus stop. Just like every other bus stop.

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.

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Traditional Bedouin lodging options. Goat hair tent.

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.

 

For a few dinars you can trot along the beach. For even more you can catch a camel trek into the interior of Jordan
Bedouin with Camel. Offering rides/excursions into the Wadi Rum/Wadi Araba deserts.

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.

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The crystalline Red Sea serves as a natural barrier between Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. The Large ship in the distance represents the international border between Jordan and Israel.

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.

Yallah, bye!