zondag 13 september 2015

Jordan: looking back now..

After a quick visit to downtown Amman this morning and a really hectic taxi ride back to our hostel, it is now really time to leave Jordan and head back to normal life. Looking back on my week in Jordan, I can honestly say that it has been an amazing week and that Jordan really surprised me. Before coming here, I was quite nervous about the termoil in the region and the cultural differences between us tourists and the locals. It was during my first hours in Amman that I already realized how friendly  and welcoming the Jordanian people are. Besides some staring men and honking cars in the streets, everybody was very kind, asking us where we are from and why we visit Jordan. I was amazed by the beauty of the country, gazing upon all the impressive sites we have seen. I gazed upon the locals, and the locals gazed upon us.

View of Amman
John Urry (1991) has described the tourist gaze as a way in which tourists are characterized. According to him, tourists have a desire to gaze upon what is different and unusual to escape their daily lives. They travel to local communities to gaze upon the people, their culture, landscapes and historic locations. The things they gaze upon are usually interpreted according to symbolic frameworks and stereotypes. Tourists also try to capture these places through photography. I do recognize myself in this description, having a stereotypical mindset about Jordan before I visited the country and trying to capture all the beautiful sites we saw on camera.

Before I left for Jordan, I was interested in the Western influence in Jordan and whether the conflict in the region has affected the country. I was surprised by the lack of Western influence in places like downtown Amman, still being traditional and untouched by Western culture. I was also relieved that the conflict in the region has not made Jordan a dangerous country, although many people do think this is the case. Tourism has dropped significantly the last few years and this is really sad, because Jordan is a beautiful country that definitely deserves a visit. For me this is not a goodbye, it is a see you later!

Reference: Urry, J. (2002). The Tourist Gaze (2nd edn.). London: Sage. Wood, R. (1998). Tourist ethnicity: A brief itinerary. Ethnic and Racial Studies 21, 218--241.

zaterdag 12 september 2015

Jordan: souvenir shops and power differences

It is the last day of our program and after an exciting morning in Wadi Rum we leave for Aqaba, a large coastal city in the south of Jordan near the Red Sea. We don’t have much free time so we quickly start our quest for souvenirs. It is in one of souvenir shops in Aqaba that I first notice the power difference between tourists and locals. According to Williams (2009), tourism is often characterized by inqualities between tourists and locals. Tourists are, due to their material wealth, often said to be superior to the local communities they visit. However, tourists do not always hold the power advantage. They might possess economic power, but cultural power usually resides with the locals. Tourists often find themselves in unfamiliar environments, unable to speak local languages and understand cultural norms. This leaves them in a position of insecurity.

Mosaic souvenirs
As I mentioned, I first notice this power difference in a souvenir shop, when I am trying to buy some colourful bowls for my parents and myself. I look around the shop and notice that nothing is priced, which means that I am dependent on the owner of the shop and the price he offers me.  He, of course, sees that I am a tourist, unaware of the local prices and thus an easy target. After some negotiations I eventually buy to bowls, although I feel like I am still overpaying him. Still happy with my bowls, we head to the Romero Royal Yacht Club for a luxurious lunch. At 3:00 P.M. it’s time to leave, since we still have a four hour drive ahead us before we are back in Amman. I realize my time in Jordan is coming to an end, even though I still have a few hours to spend in downtown Amman tomorrow morning. On Sunday we will fly back to Amsterdam and my trip to Jordan will really be over. But for now I won’t think about this and just enjoy my last hours in this beautiful country!

Reference: Williams, S. (2009). Tourism geography: A new synthasis. New York, NY: Routledge.

vrijdag 11 september 2015

Jordan: another Bedouin experience?

A lonely camel
After a long day in beautiful Petra we head to the Wadi Rum desert, where we will spend the night. We enter Wadi Rum, sometimes called The Valley of the Moon, and pass several camps before we arrive at our destination for the night: Hillawi Camp. It amazes me how well-organized the camp is, with ‘tents’ that have their own bathroom and even wifi connection. Before arriving at the camp, I thought our toilet would be a hole in the ground but I could not have been more wrong. On the one hand, this is a relief, but it also makes the experience feel a bit too luxurious and less authentic. We watch the sunset and then head back to the camp for a delicious dinner. What follows is an evening of laughing, dancing and drinking Amstel (which is sold for around 7 Euros per can, so I stick with just one haha). I decide to sleep outside, and although we cannot see much stars due to the full moon, I have an amazing night. The next morning we have a jeep tour through the desert, drink tea with some more Bedouins and even ride camels.
During our jeep tour
For me, this has been the best experience of our trip to Jordan, although I question the authenticity of it all. The Hillawi Camp was beautiful but clearly lacked authenticity, with its wifi connection and private bathrooms. In Williams (2009) ‘Tourism geography: A new synthasis’ MacCannell talks about staged authenticity, stating that tourists search for authentic experiences to escape their superficial daily lives. However, tourists are usually confronted with staged versions of this authenticity and are satisfied with this as well. Another example of this staged authenticity is our stop at the Bedouin tents during our jeep tour. We stay in their tent for a while, drinking tea and enjoying the incredible view, but after a while the Bedouins try to sell us several souvenirs that are exposed in their tent as well. Even though we might have experienced the staged Bedouin experience instead of the real one, I really enjoyed my time in Wadi Rum. These are memories I will cherish forever!
Waiting for some tea

Reference:

Williams, S. (2009). Tourism geography: A new synthasis. New York, NY: Routlegde.


Jordan: finally visiting the Treasury

Today is finally the long-expected day that we will visit one of the most popular sites in Jordan: Petra, famous for its appearances in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Petra is a historical and archeological site located in the south of Jordan and has been one the New 7 Wonders of the World since 2007. It is a long drive to Jordan so we leave our hostel at 7:00 A.M. Four hours and one bus stop later we arrive in Petra. Our guide Omar warns us for Jack Sparrow-like locals that lure tourists into their caves by offering them ‘the real Bedouin experience’ and after that being said, we are ready to go.
We enter the site and walk through a narrow passage called the Siq that leads to one of the most famous temples in Petra, the Treasury. Carved completely out of sandstone rock, it is really incredible to see this site with my one eyes. Acting like real tourists we take some pictures of ourselves in front of the Treasury, and it surprises me how few other tourists are there. I expected thousands of other tourists, but it looks more like there are only a few hundred. This once again shows that tourism in Jordan is really affected by the turmoil in the region.
In front of the Treasury
The locals in Petra try to make money off the tourist that still visits Petra. They do so by transforming goods and services, as well as ideas and other entities that are normally not considered goods, into commodities (Williams, 2009). This concept is called commodification, and a clear example of this is the Bedouin experience I just described, with locals trying to sell this experience as if it were an actual good (which of course it isn’t). Besides this experience, tourists are also offered camel and donkeys rides and many other goods, such as scarfs and jewelery. I think it’s sad that the locals are becoming more and more dependent upon these commodities, and unfortunately it also makes the whole Petra experience feel a little artificial. That being said, I did really enjoy my time in Petra and I would not have missed it for the world!


Reference:
Williams, S. (2009). Tourism geography: A new synthasis. New York, NY: Routlegde.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodification

Jordan: closest to heaven

Baptismal site
After two exciting (but exhausting) days, we have a more relaxed program today with a visit to the Baptismal site in the morning and an afternoon of floating at the Dead Sea. Overwhelming evidence shows that the Baptismal site is the actual spot of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. We are welcomed by the most passionate guide I have ever met. He shows us the cave where John the Baptist lived and where Jesus visited him, and the river Jordan in which Jesus was baptized. It is endearing to see how much the site means tour our lovely guide. He tells us: ‘This is the lowest archeological site on earth, but the closest you will be to heaven’ and encourages us to spread the language of love & peace, hopefully making the world a better place!
The cave of John the Baptist
The river Jordan
It is extremely hot today, so I am glad when we head back to our bus (with air conditioning), which takes us to a luxuryy resort for  an afternoon of floating, playing with mud and relaxing by the pool. I feel like I am an ultimate tourist this afterrnoon, but unlike McCabe (2005), who is quite negative about tourists, this doesn’t bother me. People associate tourist activities with being fatuous, lazy and dumb and as Michael Palin, a member of Monty Python, states: ‘A tourist wears a knotted hanky, goes on about jacuzzis, faints at calamari and goes nowhere without an English-speaking guide (and only then to the tourist places)’. Being a tourists becomes a negative thing and it seems like everybody wants to be a traveller these days, going of the beaten track, interacting with locals and eating local food. To me, we are a group of tourists our entire week in Jordan, with our English-speaking tour guide Omar and our private bus with personal driver that takes us everywhere we want to go. This afternoon in the Dead Sea only emphasizes this, but if that is what being a tourist is all about, then I don’t mind at all! 
Our amazing guide
Church of St. John the Baptist
Border with Israel

Refererence:
McCabe, S. (2005). Who is a tourist? Tourist Studies, 5 (1), 85-106.



woensdag 9 september 2015

Jordan: in search of the Holy Land

Visitor center in Umm ar-Rasas

It is our second day in Jordan and yet another archeological site awaits us. We start the day in Umm ar-Rasas, a site that contains ruins from Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim civilizations. The site is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. Yet, Umm ar-Rasas does not remind me of the archeological sites such as the Roman theatre and Jerash we visited yesterday. After entering through the visitor centre, we walk into a landscape where very little buildings are still standing. I am not sure what I am looking at, and although I recognize some houses, I only start to understand the beauty of the site once we arrive at the Church of St. Stephen. In this church we find the most important discovery of the site, the largest mosaic floor of Jordan, made already in 785. And this is not the only mosaic we will see today.

Mosaic floor in the Church of St. Stephen

Umm ar-Rasas

After our visit to Umm ar-Rasas, we continue our tour with a visit to St. George’s Church in Madaba. Madaba and its church are famous for the 6th century mosaic map that is found in the church, the oldest extant map of the Holy Land. We finish our day at Mount Nebo, mentioned in the bible as the place where Mozes had a view of the Promised Land and died at the age of 120. Religious sites such as Mount Nebo and the St. George’s Church are important not only to Christians, but to Muslims and Jews as well.

Mosaic map in St. George's Church

Description of the mosaic map

Jordan attracts pilgrims from all kinds of religions and this reminds me of the concept cultural (dis)similarity, because tourists all visit the same sites but do so with different motives and cultural backgrounds. It can be difficult to describe the relations between tourism and culture, because tourists visit countries and encounter with local communities, bringing with them their own culture. Cultural similarity between tourists and local people can reduce the effect tourism has on cultures and society (Williams, 2009). However, cultural similarities should not only influence tourism but societies all around the world. Recognizing the similarities between various cultures and religions can hopefully lead to a more open-minded and understanding attitude towards others, making the world a more peaceful place!  
View over the Promised Land

Mount Nebo


Reference: 
Williams, S. (2009). Tourism geography: A new synthesis. New York, NY: Routlegde


maandag 7 september 2015

Jordan: touring Amman

Tuesday morning, August 24th. It’s 9:00 A.M. and we leave for the city of Amman by bus. We start our first official day in Jordan with a visit to the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and after that continue our program by visiting a mosque and then driving to downtown Amman. In the bus, our tour guide Omar enthusiastically starts telling us all sorts of facts about Jordan, for example about king Abdullah ǁ and the royal family. Story-telling is an important part of human life, because stories inform people about their identities and their behaviours and goals in life. Stories also help people understand the world around them. Story-telling is therefore especially important to tourist experiences (McCabe & Foster, 2006). And we are lucky, because Omar sure knows how to tell a good story. As a licensed tour guide, he has years of experience in showing Jordan to tourists and will stays with us the entire week.

It is only a short ride from the Mosque to downtown Amman, and once we arrive we first visit the 6000 seat Roman theatre. At the top of the theatre, portraits of the king, his son (the future king) and his father (the former king) immediately catch your eye. Their faces can be found almost everywhere, as we also saw them at the mosque and even at McDonald’s the night before. We stay at the theatre for a while and then continue to the Citadel of the city, another national historical site, which can already be seen from the Roman theatre. We finish our day at Jerash, a city known as one of the best preserved Roman archeological sites outside of Rome, located in the northern part of Jordan and about 45 kilometers from Amman. The site is beautiful and reminds me of my visits to Rome, but Jerash hasn’t been flooded by tourists like the Italian capital has. Fortunately for us, because this gave us the opportunity to take some great pictures!

At the mosque

At the mosque

Roman theatre

Amman citadel

Amman citadel


Jerash

Reference:
McCabe, S. & Foster, C. (2006). The role and function of narrative in tourist interaction. Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 4 (3), 194-215.