Day 25: Aqaba
Aqaba Travel Blog› entry 46 of 54 › view all entries
10 hours of sleep does miracles to the human body: next morning I felt top fit again.
There wasn't much left of last night's bustle in the city. It seemed as if the all Jordanians had gone home after the bank holiday weekend, leaving behind a ghost town. Sure, there were still some people about, especially around the beach, but the shops and restaurants were all deserted.
Aqaba has several massive duty free malls. In one of these is the so-called Jordan Experience. A tacky, Disneyland-style trip through Jordan, seemingly created for those tourists who don't venture beyond Aqaba during their holiday. It starts with a walk through an artificial Siq, with in each corner and crevice a little bit of history.
The massive Jordan Experience can host 110 people per show, but we were walking here with just one American family consisting of 4 adults and 3 kids. It was almost pathetic.
It is always nice to go see a show or exposition about history with Americans of course. Especially when the relatively short history of the USA is mapped against the rest of the world. Halfway through the Siq we came across a huge panel depicting the hostory of mankind on a horizontal timeline. A vertical division had been made of four areas: Middle East, Europe, Egypt and the New World. So the history of the Middle East starts somewhere on the far left, with the Neanderthals that roamed the region some 40,000 years ago, the invention of the alphabet in 13,000 BC, the rise of the Egyptian empire, the exodus of the Jews, Moses, Christ, and so on.
The actual experience is a 40-minute film showing beautiful pictures of Jordan, filmed from the air. As an additional special effect the seats move as well, creating the illusion of sitting on a magic carpet. Interestingly enough, this is the world's largest motion-base cinema!
It was nice to see images of all the places we had seen in this country (and also a few we hadn't seen) though it was somewhat depressing to see these sights with clear weather, something we'd only had two days in our entire time in Jordan.
Apart from Shopping, Sun and Sea Aqaba doesn't have a whole lot to offer. There's an old Turkish fortress still standing and it was nice to walk around here and learn some more about the Arab Revolt and the conquest of Aqaba by TE Lawrence, which was the turning point after 400 years of Turkish occupation.
We also did that one thing I always try to do at least once when travelling: a haircut! Since there there isn't a whole lot that can go wrong with cutting my hair (what hair?) I always like to get a haircut from some local barber at least once every trip. We found a nice local barbershop where I doubt any other non-Arab has ever set foot. The two barbers said they were honoured by our presence, and what would have been a simple haircut back home turned into an extended social experience involving the ubiquitous tea.
The barber was Palestinian, just like about 80% of the population in this country. Although he had lived in Jordan for more than 40 years, and he called this country his home, he still didn't see himself as Jordanian. He was Palestinian and still had hopes to be able to return to his own country one day. It struck me how little grudge he had towards Israel. He lives here in Aqaba, less than 10 kilometres from the Israeli border, but that doesn't bother him all that much. He doesn't care much about politics, but he simply hopes for a peaceful resolution for Israel and the Palestinian territories to exist as separate nations.
He told us of his relatives still living in West Bank, who he hasn't seen for 40 years. While he has a Jordanian passport and he is able to travel wherever he wants to, West Bank is off limits for him. His relatives on the other hand are living in an occupied country and are deprived of having a nationality at all. They are not allowed to assume the Israeli nationality, the Palestinian nationality isn't recognised internationally and without a passport they are unable to leave the land they live on. Not to mention the fact that most of the West Bank has been fenced off by Israel, for 'protection'. That latter is a known and well-publicised fact, but this was the first time I spoke to someone who had (more or less) first hand experience with it. With modern improved communications technologies and Internet the barber is able to contact his relatives from time to time, and he told me how they have literally no rights at all. A prisoner in their own country so to speak.
The irony of the Jews targeting a specific demographic and depriving them of basic human rights and building a wall around them has of course been well publicised (and criticised). But talking to this barber about it, and hearing him vent his opinions so openly and freely made me once again realise that the large majority of people in this region are all for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, which continues to exist as long as each individual action is retaliated by military actions (of which the recent bombings in Gaza are a good example). It should be clear by now that imprisoning innocent people, or throwing bombs on them, usually doesn't contribute to getting them to co-operate.
Heads clean shaven, and an important lesson in life richer, we walked out into the hot afternoon sun, wondering what to do next. Neither Derk nor myself are particularly interested in lying on the beach all day, and Aqaba has little else to do. Or has it? As I said before, Aqaba is a special economical zone, so under the motto 'do as the Jordans do' we went shopping.
Aqaba was more or less the end of our trip, so we didn't really need to worry about saving space in our luggage or anything.
The many malls in the city were as deserted as the rest of the city, but in most of the stores we were greeted by a bored shop-assistant all too happy to assist us with whatever we needed.
Nobody was able to explain to us just why this city was so deserted all of a sudden. End of season seemed the most common excuse, even though that was contradicted by some people as well. Plus that seemed a little odd to us as we were at the start of the European holiday season (as was evident in Petra and Wadi Rum).
It also proved difficult to find a diving centre that was open. I really wanted to do some diving while in Aqaba, and it took us several hours to make a reservation for a diving tour for tomorrow. (again, the kindness of strangers came as a pleasant surprise here. When we arrived at the umpteenth closed dive shop a passer-by lent us his mobile phone to call the owner and make a reservation for tomorrow). Diving is the biggest business here in Aqaba, but apparently not big enough to keep the dive shops open during the day.