Guest Post: Uncovering the Shores of Aqaba (Jordan)
As the seasons change I find myself catching whispers of the Middle East in the heart of Brooklyn. The sun may shine bright, nestled against a spotless blue sky, but there’s something on its way–I can feel it–and it rides on the wind. The wind. Sharp gusts and light breezes, gale force blasts and wispy tornadoes; this is how seasons arrive in certain parts of the world.
It is the way change dismounts.
In some places the wind not only brings dust and sand, but it ushers in a dawn that becomes day and then turns into night. Light. These winds bring all sorts of things: like absence and longing, digressions and angst.
Which is followed by more heartache. Yes, pain also rides on the wind.
I don’t know why but I’ve been pining for Egypt lately. For Lebanon. Jordan. Sudan. Syria. For endless late afternoons spent on terraces overlooking the Nile. Hookah in one hand and glass of scotch in the other. Keffiyeh wrapped around the shoulders. Warming. A welcome mummification. I miss dreaming deep of fall days that point to the cooler ones to come. The type of days that pinch the skin with their northerly winds but leave enough warmth along the edges of each current that you find yourself believing spring is just on the other side.
Pangs of longing for the Middle East don’t strike me all that often but when they do they take me down for the count. I’m left weak in the knees. It’s hard to find people I can commiserate with and get all gooey-eyed, talking about the spell that countries East of the middle can place on you. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to come across an adventuresome and jovial traveller who understands what it is like to moon for days by the Red Sea and ache for nights with a blanket of Arabian sands across your torso.
So without further ado, an Intolerant nod is given for this month’s guest author: Nicholas Andriani. American by birth, archaeologist by designation and constant wanderer by happenstance (or fate perhaps?), Nick is the lyric mind behind Yallah, Bye—a blog that recounts his travels around the world and focuses on the Middle East and North Africa. Nick kindly obliged after I made a request for a travel-related piece, and he wrote a most lovely post about a favourite Middle East haunt: the ever-alluring shores of Aqaba, Jordan.
I put on my keffiyeh, read his piece and smiled. I did this for several reasons, but primarily because the longing doesn’t feel so desperate anymore.
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 melt into a city that sits on the border modernity while retaining a flair for time-tested traditions. I would leave after a few days of respite to only feel the call of “al-Aqabah” time and time again, with the desire and anticipation to explore more the following weekend.
Hopping 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 the art of hospitality. After running into the same group of Jordanians it wasn’t long before I was made to feel welcome in their ritual of 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 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 type of Arabian clothing. 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 markets filled with textiles, toyed with locally mined silver and haggled my way through teapots and Middle Eastern goods.
“Where you go?”
A taxi driver calls out, and then another, and then one more. Across the city they reach out “Ah, my friend! I have good price for you!” They seem in good spirit, yet I become intolerant to their game early on. Due to their exorbitant fares, unreliable meters, and shady antics I instead find myself utilizing the local bus. A mode of transport that’s from comfortable and where, on several occasions, I found myself waiting on a ride that would show up two hours late. What to do? As relaxed as I felt roaming the streets of 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. Any adventure is worth experiencing in Aqaba where modern architecture is juxtaposed against ancient mud-brick dwellings, and where hospitality is second nature to locals who abide by their Islamic faith.
Where the 21st century is emerging and is being welcomed with a grin.
Nicholas Andriani has travel, food and the exotic always on his mind. His blog Yallah, Bye serves as a vehicle to reminisce about travels and expeditions past, and those to come. It’s also an online forum where Nick’s love for adventure, travel and gastronomy are passionately explored.