I’ve not posted for a bit and forgot the second instalment of the trip to Jordan. After Rajif we carried along the King’s Highway to Aqaba. Many years ago, during the first Gulf War, I remember travelling along this (then potholed) highway along with literally thousands upon thousands of lorries transporting goods to Iraq. Iraq has no sea ports to speak of so they used Aqaba. As you travel southwards the scenery changes from low desert hills to desert with monstrous sandstone monoliths sticking out of the sand. This area is close to the well known valley of Wadi Rum. Must go back to ride a horse from Petra to Wadi Rum.
Eventually we passed the last mountains through a valley running towards the sea and Aqaba. The first time I went to Aqaba around twenty years ago it was a sleepy backwater and Eilat was a sprawling metropolis. Now Aqaba has grown up as a duty free area to which the Jordanians go for their holidays. Once it was full of Westerners but, with so much conflict in the Middle East, they have become a rare sight.
Well, no holiday for us, we had to explore the upper canopies in the beach garden (a rather large beach garden). The trees here are totally different from those in Amman mostly because of the climate- it’s always warm here and was a rather cool 38 degrees in November. Blimey! I don’t think I could cope with the summer heat.
The first trees we had to deal with were the Royal Poinciana, Delonix Regia , ‘which is native to Madagascar’s dry, deciduous forests. In the wild it is endangered, but it is widely cultivated elsewhere including Jordan.
In addition to its ornamental value, it is also a useful shade tree in tropical conditions, because it usually grows to a modest height (mostly 5 meters, but it can reach a maximum height of 12 meters) but has a wide-spreading canopy, and its dense foliage provides full shade. In areas with a marked dry season, it sheds its leaves during the drought, but in other areas it is virtually evergreen as in Jordan . Flowers appear in panicle along and at the ends of branches. Pods are green and flaccid when young and turn dark-brown and woody. The flowers are large, with four spreading scarlet or orange-red petals up to 8 cm long, and a fifth upright petal called the standard, which is slightly larger and spotted with yellow and white.’ (Wiki)
Other trees to do were the Eucalyptus and Albizia which is a genus of about 150 species of mostly fast-growing subtropical and tropical trees and shrubs. The genus is pantropical, occurring in Asia, Africa, Madagascar, America and Australia, but mostly in the Old World tropics. In some locations, some species are considered weeds and they certainly are in Aqaba! ‘The common names are silk plants, silk trees, or sirises. The obsolete spelling of the generic name – with double ‘z’ – is still common, so the plants may be called albizzias. The generic name honors the Italian nobleman Filippo degli Albizzi, who introduced Albizia julibrissin to Europe in the mid-18th century. Some species are commonly called mimosa, which more accurately refers to plants of genus Mimosa. Species from southeast Asia used for timber are sometime termed East Indian walnut’.
Now for a little gallery of the graffiti from around the concrete walls in Aqaba:
Of course there was the local cuisine too – very Arabic and so delicious that it was hard not to overeat and then struggle to climb the trees! Breakfast varied every day (although yoghurt and hummus were the mainstay) sometimes with traditional dishes and other times just a quick Arabic takeaway.
We even got treated to a BBQ and, considering the evening temperature was still 36 degrees and with a roaring fire, it was definitely hot and so were the chillies!
Not that we had to do them this time but date palms were also numerous and one has to be very careful not to get poked by their extremely sharp spines on the end of each leaflet. Sometimes we get treated to the palm pollen which grows in huge amounts in the pods. Add sugar and you get a very tasty morsel. The only downside … we were not allowed to swim during work time- oh how that warm Red Sea beckoned us!
Not to worry because on our day off we went down the coast to a place where we could snorkel and dive on the reef. Hadn’t done this for years.
My God there were more fish than I could wave a stick at. In fact thousands of them in a multitude of colours . We even went and dived on a sunken ship and, having dived in England where the waters are cold and murky, this was absolutely delightful.
If you click on this link you’ll find the fish you can see on the reefs in the Red Sea here
My favourite fish was the Anemone Clown fish which were usually seen in pairs associated with certain Anemones. Certainly well worth a visit to the Red Sea coast.