Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jordan Challenge 12.3: Petra Comes Full Circle

The first time I visited Petra was in June 2010, on an extremely memorable visit with Siham and Connor.  That time we saw the Siq, the Treasury, the Monastery and all the other sites that have made Petra world-famous.  On that visit we also spent an unforgettable night in a desert cave, hosted by our new friends, Khalid and Ibrahim.

My all-time favorite photo: Siham and our friend Khalid from two years ago, and our first trip to Petra.

Ibrahim, Siham and Connor at Little Petra -- also two years ago.
 Last year, I was lucky to return to Petra with my friends and former students, Kate and Alexsis, when the three of us were in Jordan and the West Bank, doing research on the Millennium Development Goals in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Alexsis and Kate from our Petra visit that was almost exactly a year ago.

Given that I knew I'd be living in Jordan for ten months, and hoped that I'd have multiple visitors, this year one of the Challenges on my list was to try to see Petra in three different ways.  Earlier this year I did two of them; Petra by Night with Chris, and Petra for Morning People with Paul. And last week I completed that challenge with my Petra Full Circle visit.  The visit earned the name in two senses; first, in going there with Siham, we were able to go back to the place that we had discovered for the first time almost exactly two years ago.  And second, in visiting with Siham and Leah, we were able to take the entire project encompassed by first 52 New Things and then the series of challenges of the last two years back to the beginning in a sense. And of course, as is always the case when the three of us embark on an adventure, we had a lot of fun!
As my colleague Amy pointed out, wasn't it clever of me to dress in matching stripes?

Siham and Leah enjoying the fact that the tour buses had totally cleared out of the Siq, leaving it all for us.

A shot of the Monastery taken by Leah -- the reward for climbing the 850 steps to get there.

The best jump shot of the trip award went to Leah this time, posing in front of the Treasury.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jordan Challenge 34: Go Snorkeling in the Red Sea

Despite the brief nature of Leah and Siham's visit, we managed to get in what I like to think of as the Triple Crown of visiting Jordan: Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba.  Aqaba's claim to fame is that it sits on the very small bit of coast that Jordan has, which borders the Red Sea.  This makes Aqaba important commercially as the country's only port, and for tourism as it's only seaside city. But what is most spectacular about Aqaba is what lies beneath in the form of a vibrant coral reef just begging to be explored.

The beaches south of Aqaba are beautiful, and who wouldn't want the occasional camel adding to the scenery?  But the best part is what you can't see: the incredible coral reef just a few meters out from the shore.

Since we only had a day to spend, we headed pretty directly to an area known as South Beach and got fitted out pretty quickly with our snorkeling gear.  Siham wasn't feeling well, so did some sunbathing while Leah and I followed our aptly-nicknamed guide, Shark, through a reef called the Japanese Garden.  It was spectacular! There were corals in all kinds of shapes, sea anemones, starfish, pipefish, jellyfish, and brightly colored tropical fish. 

A dried-up version of the sea urchins we were swimming with.  Our guide, Shark, plucked off a spine and ate it, claiming it was full of minerals.Siham tried one and said it tasted like the ocean.
It really did feel as if I'd been shrunk and was swimming in the most exotic fish tank I'd ever seen. If time allows, I would love to go back and do a "try dive" with oxygen to be able to go deeper.  But for now I'm just grateful to have been able to see this unexpected side of the desert kingdom of Jordan.

Taking in the sun after we did our snorkeling.  I wish there would have been a way to capture the reef in pictures.  The fish were so beautifully colored, and there was a bright purple coral that I wish I could captured on film.

Shark insisted that try on the sea urchin as an accessory back at the dive shop where we rented out equipment.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sometimes Life Comes Full Circle

So, last week I got about as lucky as a person possibly can when my friends Siham and Leah came for a visit.  It was only a bit more than a week, but we managed to pack it with all sorts of activities, including meeting all the students in both my classes as well as many of my Fulbright friends.  We also went to Petra (completing my goal of Visiting Petra Three Ways), Wadi Rum and Aqaba (where I was able to cross snorkeling in the Red Sea off my list). 

With the women of my Pressure Groups class during our end of the year dinner: Feda'a, Amani, Leah, Siham, Rola, Heba and Areej (Abdulazeez missed the photo op by thoughtfully rushing to the pharmacy for medicine for an emergency burned hand)

Enjoying the excellent night view at Books@ Cafe with Fulbrighter friends: Grace, Christina, Leah, Elizabeth, Siham, Jayme, Cooper and Kelsey

At Al-Quds restaurant sampling mensaf: Cooper, Mike, Leah and Siham

Posing with my Health, Environment and Human Rights class students after they completed their presentations: Siham, Mary, Noura and Leah
I plan to do some separate posts on some of these activities, but I also just wanted to take a minute to reflect on the fact that it was Leah and Siham who co-originated the idea of 52 New Things that started this blog and Siham who came with me to Jordan two years on my first trip here. (And while I'm thanking people, I should also point out that another close friend of all three of us, Jamila, set up our original connections here in Jordan for us, and would have been here too, had she not been racing a deadline to complete her PhD at Oxford.) As my adventure in Jordan draws closer to its conclusion -- I have less than a month left here now -- I'm so grateful to them both for helping me to create the path that led me here for this year, and for coming to explore the results of my time in Jordan together.
Siham and Leah (hiding out here in Wadi Rum): hard to imagine a better pair of travellers, explorers or all-around friends!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jordan Challenge 33: Be Part of a Winning Trivia Team in the Middle East

So, life suddenly got very busy in a hurry here.  The coming week is finals here at UJ, Leah and Siham are in town for the week, and my love-hate relationship with my oven took a turn for the worst yesterday when it exploded in a giant ball of fire that that left me with a burn on my left hand and singed off my eyebrows and a lot of the hair around my face.  I'll do separate posts on most of that, but realized that I haven't been keeping track of Jordan Challenges very well lately, when in actuality, I just helped achieved a small victory for Fulbrighters everywhere last week during a short trip to Jerusalem.

The trip to Jerusalem was actually very serious, and will be the subject of its own post at a later time.  Last week I was fortunate to be able to participate with my excellent fellow Fulbright friends Mike, Luke and Cooper in a tour of the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank.  The tours are conducted by Breaking the Silence a group founded by former Israeli soldiers to share the realities of the occupation with civilian Israelis and ex-pats like us.  It was sobering, to say the least, and I will write about it on its own in a serious post that I sincerely hope my friends, family and students will read about and discuss. 

But on a lighter note, I am happy to report that I can now add "Trivia Night Champion in Jerusalem" to my CV.  The guys, who the rest of the Fulbright group collectively refer to as the Carpetlanders (because you cannot help but notice the carpet as a particularly salient feature of their very spacious apartment) are my close neighbors.  This has been an enormous stroke of luck for me, because they are tremendous people who I love hanging out with (as well as being awesome and generous cooks).  The facts that they like to cook pad thai and other complicated dishes and I like to bake cookies and we all love to discuss current events  have paved the way for a symbiotic relationship that a biologist might point out as exemplary.

The Carpetlanders: Cooper, Mike and Luke.
When we checked to the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem, they asked if we might be interested in participating in a Trivia Night competition, and the answer was an obvious yes.  The Carpetlanders are also resourceful and inventive, and had recently created a new dish, the Shwomelette.  A Shwomelette is an omelette filled with shwarma meat and chopped tomatoes and onions, preferably procured from Reem, the best shwarma stand in Amman.  So, our team became the Shwomelettes, to which the guys insisted on making my participation also clear, so we became the Shwomelettes Featuring Trish (SFT).

I am pleased to say that we dominated the competition.  We knew, among other things, the capitol of Uzbekistan (Tashkent), the first pair to successfully summit Mount Everest (Hilary and Norgay), and the country that recently had a law proposed to allow a man to have sex with his wife in the hours immediately after her death (it was not passed, but it was Egypt).  Clearly, we Fulbrighters are veritable fonts of useful information.  Among the other teams only one, the Three Hamasketeers, matched our score, and we failed to break the tie in two elimination rounds.  So, we did the only logical thing and declared both teams as Trivia Night Champs and split our enormous earnings, which just covered a single drink for each us for a mutual toast in honor of our worthy competition and the importance of Trivia Nights among travellers.

Team Shwomelette Featuring Trish and the Three Hamaskateers pose for a victory photo.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jordan Challenge 32: Visit a Nature Reserve

One of the worst things about realizing that my Jordan adventure is getting closer to the end is accepting the fact that there is not enough time left to do all the things I had hoped to.  So, my new strategy for getting the most out of the time I have left is to try to automatically say "yes" to opportunities that come my way on without much notice.  So when my friend Grace told me that she and her apartment were going to Dana Nature Reserve for the weekend and asked me if I wanted to come I didn't hesitate.  I just said yes. And it was great.
The sign at the "Towers" at the base of the Reserve.

Sadly, Jennifer got sick and had to back out of the trip, but the group picked up Aaron, who just arrived in Amman after a semester studying in Dubai.  He'll be travelling in some other parts of the Middle East soon, but also accepted Grace's invitation to check out the Dana Nature Reserve.

Our awesome campsite.  Lovely roomy tents, food and bathroom facilities, and best of all, a Bedouin tent for tea and socializing.

Grace, Hannah and I as Happy Campers!  Always wanted to be able to put that in a caption.

When you arrive at the Reserve, you check in at the Main Office, and then, if you are like us, and staying at the Camp Site, you get shuttled down in a truck.  From there, you get assigned a tent and depending on your time frame, can pick any of a number of hikes to do.  If you do an unaccompanied hike, a guide will give you instructions on how to take the trail, which is usually marked not by signs but by piles of rocks at crucial points.  We did two short hikes.  Our first day we did the "Cave Trail" before dinner and on the second we did "The Mountain" after breakfast.  Although both turned out to be shorter than we expected, both had a few stretches of scrambling sufficiently challenging enough to cut our chatter short and get us panting in the sun a little.  The camp site is in a spectacular setting, and one of my favorite things was just climbing around the nearby rocks and looking at the mountains of the area in the early morning before breakfast.

Hannah, Grace, Aaron and I at the mouth of the big cave on your Cave Hike.

Aaron and Grace taking a breather before tackling another level of the cave.

Aaron and Hannah sitting on the rocks in the early morning before breakfast.
Our drive back including a stretch along the Dead Sea, which afforded Aaron the opportunity to take a quick dip and be able to experience the amazing buoyancy that always surprises everyone who goes in the water -- although he paid for the experience of roadside (i.e. no-shower) bathing with itchy skin all the way back to Amman.
In the Dead Sea everything and everyone floats, as Aaron demonstrates here.

Once a long trip enters its home stretch (I've been here eight months, with a little over seven weeks left to go), I think there is the tendency to start mentally disengaging, and I would hate to do that, since there are still so many things I want to do, and people I want to spend time with.  Going to Dana helped to remind me of that, besides being a spectacular site in its own right.  Definitely a great way to spend a weekend!