Week 7: The Tropical Side of Jordan

And live from Amman, Jordan, it’s finals week! Writing this blog post is about the only thing that I’ll be doing besides studying, polishing up two essays, and crafting two stellar presentations. But before the stress of the week kicked, I decided I should try to relax a little bit down by the beach!

That said, ya boy can’t go to beach unless he’s looking fresh. So I took a massive risk and went for a haircut at the local barber. My barber Hassan was very friendly when greeting me. I sat down and attempted to explain what I wanted. I had to tell him to go shorter on the sides three times, but when it was all said and done, he did a pretty nice job on my hair. He preceeded to treat me to a washing and a seshoir(drying – yes they stole most hair words from the French). After paying only 5 JD for the haircut, he proceeded to ask if I drank coffee and prepared me a cup. He also asked if I wanted a smoke – a pretty common gesture of hospitality in the Middle East – but I passed on that. I found out that he had been a boxer for 10 years in the past. The other owner – Ayman – entered and joined us. We talked about getting haircuts in other parts of the world (he had been a barber in Denmark and Russia previously) and we both agreed that Americans don’t do a great job on haircuts. I unfortunately had to go catch my bus, but my gus sha’ar(قص شعر) was a pretty good experience!

My friends and I loaded up on the JETT bus from Amman for a weekend of fun, sun, and water (lots of water – big water guy here).  Jordan has a whopping total of 10 miles of Red Sea coastline in the south that the British basically gave to appease the country for the overload of desert that exists in the rest of the country. However, that one strip is the city of Aqaba – a historically significant, beautiful, tropical oasis in a land of dessert.

The Aqaba Castle (كرك العقبة) built by the Mamluks and used by the Ottomans

Aqaba dates back to the second or third century AD. The town was the port city at the end of a road connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Seas. Over time, the Byzantines, Mamluks, and Ottomans all found significance in this location. As a result, a number of fortifications were built – most notably the castle completed by the Mamluks that also doubled as the main barracks for the Ottomans. Aqaba also played a notable role in the shaping of modern Arab history: as the birthplace of the Arab revolt. A number of tribal leaders in the Arabian Peninsula sought to expel the Ottomans from the region during World War I. In order to facilitate the process, the British sent a man named Lawrence (known more commonly as Lawrence of Arabic) to help the tribes coordinate. Thanks to military cooperation, the Arabs successfully crossed a treacherous stretch of desert and attacked Aqaba by land: a feat thought to be impossible. The center of Aqaba’s corniche is Medaan al-Toura al-Arabya (ميدان الثورة العربية) or Arab Revolt Plaza which overlooks the castle and is home to an enormous flagpole that is a symbol of Aqaba. Sharif Hussein ben Ali – the father of the revolt – is memorialized in a beautiful mosque near the center of town.

Its ya boy scuba diving for the first time ever

As I mentioned earlier, Aqaba is a water town with serious tropical vibes. The best thing to do in Aqaba is to either go snorkeling or scuba diving. Thanks to some lenient regulations on the part of Jordanians, I was able to have my first ever dive! Our guide was named Mohind, and he picked us up bright and early at our hotel. When we arrived at the dive center – only about 7 kilometers from the Saudi border – we were greeted with tea and coffee (and the coffee was really good!). Mohind then gave us our safety briefing about what we needed to do in the water in order to remain safe. After gearing up we hit the beach and entered the water. The coral is incredibly close to the coast (I’d say less that 10 feet out) so it is incredibly easy to see the amazing flora and fauna of the sea. This included some incredible canyons of reefs and sunk planes and tanks used as an “artificial rock” on which the coral can grow. Because I am a beginner, I only dived about 7 meters down. However, I am now certified as a beginner diver, so inshah allah I will be able to dive again and gain a broader skill set!

Just a peak at the beautiful coral in the Gulf of Aqaba – Jordan’s tiny bit of the Red Sea

Once we finished up, we were greeted with more tea! After getting out of wet suits we geared up with snorkeling gear and hit the beach again with more time to relax. From the beach you can see four countries: Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. This is another part of the magic of Aqaba!


While on the beach, I was throwing a frisbee around when a shy looking Arab kid walked up near us. I asked him if he played frisbee and he responded yes. After having gone to two weeks of ultimate up at the park near my house I was surprised to meet a Jordanian who was a “disk guy” . His name was Ali, although I was having trouble understanding him so I couldn’t get much more info. However, it was super cool to be enjoying the beach with four countries, coral, and frisbee!

Finally, we finished up. We were thrilled to have been Mohind’s guests at the dive center, and we certainly got to feel a sense of Arab hospitality. While it is not uniform for hospitality to be a value in the Arab world, in the South of Jordan it certainly is.

When we got back to town, we took a siesta as all Aqaba residents do. No wonder why: the weather was 105 with about fifty percent humidity. The vibes because of the weather and geography are far more Saudi that Jordanian. That said, the culture is relatively liberal as many people wear shorts (haram in the north of the country).

When you stand in the right spot you can see four countries from Aqaba: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. Here is Egypt from a boat

After it cooled down a bit, we hopped on a glass bottom boat to see some more coral and catch the sunset go down over the Egyptian Sinai mountains. Although I have never been, Aqaba was reminiscent of what I would imagine Oman to look like: big mountains with a tropical city along the cost, dotted with picturesque white minarets.

View of Aqaba from the sea

Our great day was capped off with a fish dinner: pescatarian me was very very happy to see some fresh shrimp on the table!

While I am still not sure if I am ready for finals, it sure feels good to have gotten a little tropical vacation out of the deal. Wish me luck and I’ll see y’all on the other side!