Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Aqaba: Exotic and friendly

Flying in toward Aqaba International Airport, you cross a seemingly endless expanse of desert and mountains, mountains and desert. Then you see the town by the water – once an important stop for pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

By guest writer Susanne Koch

In the summer time, it gets extremely hot here, but in December, it’s very comfortable: 25 degrees Celsius in the day 12 degrees in the evening, and the sea holds 22-24 degrees. It’s the perfect place to warm my chilly bones and to soak up some exotic impressions.

Aqaba is Jordan’s only port. The Jordanian coast line is not many kilometers long: From my hotel window, looking out on the Aqaba Gulf, I can see Israel and Egypt to my right and Saudi Arabia lies behind the hills to my left.

The Old Town

The New Town has hotels, shopping centers, restaurants and even an Irish pub. The New Town is worth a look, but the Old Town is the real attraction: After sunset, the narrow streets come to life.

Walking the narrow streets of the Old Town you pass little cafés and get a waft of the sweet, perfumed aroma from the water pipes (called hubbeli-bubbelies) or you are tempted by the sight of succulent chickens roasting outside one of the local diners.

Busy housewives come to shop – there is a wide variety of stores selling spices, nuts, coffee and tea. How about green Bedouin tea with cardamom? A special bazaar sells meat, fruit and vegetables, and an old man with a pavement stall sells tailor made perfumes, mixed from an arsenal of little bottles.

The Jordanians and their customs

Jordanians are very friendly and a bit curious about blond tourists, a novelty in this town. Smilingly, they will invite you into their shops and offer you sweet tea in tiny glasses. Offering tea is an important part of the hospitality that is so essential to Arab culture. Don’t be afraid to accept – it doesn’t mean you owe them anything. Sipping the tea and browsing the shop’s selection of goods, you have a great opportunity to chat with the shop keeper, tell him about your home and learn some facts about Jordan.

The people of Aqaba are mostly Muslim. This means all of the ladies will be wearing a hijab (a scarf covering all of their hair and in many cases much of their torso. Some will be dressed in wide black garbs from head to toe, some even wearing a niqab (a veil covering their face so all you see are the eyes). Dress code for the gentlemen is less strict, but it is not unusual to see them in long robes.

As a tourist you are free to dress how you like. Jordanians are extremely polite and they won’t let you know if you offend them. But they aren’t used to Europeans and our ways. Here are a few things to remember to make the right impression and avoid offence: Always wear clean clothes without tears or wrinkles. Ladies should not show too much of their décolletage. They should wear blouses with long sleeves and skirts or trousers that go well beneath the knees.

Impressions of Aqaba

What will I remember from Aqaba when I return to the almost arctic climes of December Oslo? Some sensory impressions that stand out and seem to hold essence of this very charming place: The strong aromas you catch walking past the hole-in-the-wall store selling 30 kinds of coffee beans, the sound of the call for prayer echoing off the mountains, and the mountains themselves – partly obscured by a mist rising from the Gulf – colored in every hue of blue just before sunset.

Susanne Koch is an Internet professional who works as an e-learning and web communication adviser at the University of Oslo. She blogs about search engines and search engine optimization at Susanne loves to travel and blogs about her journeys at Susi's Souvenirs. You may also want to have a look at Susanne Koch's homepage.

1 comment:

John said...

Thanks for sharing from your exotic trip! It was fascinating to read about the local perfumist - mixing tailor made perfumes.