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Red Sea/Aqaba

Red Sea/Aqaba

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Our Jordan journey landed us on the banks of the Red Sea as the locals were celebrating Eid. We had just completed the longest day of riding and earned some time to ourselves. Rachel, Kamal, and I decided to go exploring. A short walk through moderately busy streets led us to the beach. The sun hung low in the sky. Glass bottom boats lined the shoreline, and people mingled around their hookahs.

We were in the north, where the sea is accessed from the Middle Eastern countries via the Gulf of Aqaba (Gulf of Eilat). It was Thursday, September 24, a holiday, Eid-al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice. The feast marks the end of the pilgrimage season when Muslims of sufficient means are required to sacrifice livestock in remembrance of Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail to God. I had seen shepherds on hillsides with their flocks as we drove from place to place in the van. I later heard they were fattening them up for this holiday. We had no idea that this was the preferred place for vacationers during Eid. In fact, we knew very little about the holiday.

We walked along the beach, which was bordered by a brick wall. When I looked across the street, I saw the white steeple of a building peaking above the tree line. It caught my attention and curiosity. I turned to Rachel and Kamal and asked them to explore it with me. As we neared the courtyard, something spectacular burst upon our eyes. This is Aqaba’s most prominent and main mosque, Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque. I was built in 1975 during the reign of the late King Hussein, the great-grandfather of King Abdullah II. It was renovated and enlarged in 2011.

Rachel and I were required to wear hajib and burka to enter a small room in the back of the mosque that was reserved for women. I stood outside, wishing I could enter under the arches of the main entrance and walk the marble floors. Needless to say, I have no pictures of that. I wasn’t allowed in.

The next day, we took a boat to the reef where we would snorkel on the Red Sea. From the boat I looked back at the shrinking shoreline. There stood a 130 meter Aqaba flagpole, one of the tallest freestanding flagpoles in the world. We had lunch on the boat as a glass bottom boat sped by us. We returned from our snorkeling trip and had dinner in Aqaba with a view of the night lights of Israel in the distance.

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