Monday, September 14, 2015

A truly memorable trip to Jordan – concluding thoughts

    In conclusion I would like to wrap up this blog with a few last thoughts about the trip to Jordan.         
As I have made clear in my first blog entry, I was a bit worried initially to travel to Jordan and then my fears vanished totally through the most positive and warm welcome I have ever experienced anywhere. While Jordan might be located in a region that is unfortunately struck by a continuous turmoil, I felt very safe in this country. Not only with regard to the dangers from the Syrian border for instance but also as a tourist when getting in touch with locals, as I never felt that the locals were pushy or overly nice when talking to us, on the contrary, they made us all feel very welcomed and at ease. I actually felt like I was in a little oasis of peace in the middle of a tense area. Moreover, while numerous impressions I gathered were from things and encounters that were unfamiliar or unknown to me, I never felt that I was lost or trapped in a culture that I do not understand. I had the feeling that our tour guide as well as everyone that we met tried to make us understand the culture while also accepting and understanding the cultural difference between us. I strongly believe this mostly open attitude towards tourists and their cultures and trying to stay true to their own Jordanian traditions and culture is a remarkable virtue, which can be of a big advantage for tourism but also serve as an example for other countries all over the world. For myself, I hope to be able to take some of this open attitude with me. I feel very blessed that I had the chance to visit Jordan and experience a country that has surprised me a little bit more every day I was there, which made this trip truly memorable. 

Jordan's flag in Amman

Welcome to Jordan – A glance at our trip

A short video of my visual impressions in Jordan
make sure to watch in HD
Music: Jihad Akl - A Violin Affair

     As our lives become increasingly fast paced and as we are all more and more present on the World Wide Web, the media have gained influence on tourism and destinations all over the world. The variety of ways in which images of a certain places are spread out in the world are greater than ever before, posing opportunities but at the same time dangers to touristic places. Photographs and video material of a place that is shown on TV, in newspapers, travel books, etc. allow future visitors to have expectations and images that distances them from the actual reality way before their visit. This ‘danger’ is now even more present as private pictures are increasingly available online when uploaded on various social media. Thus they do not constitute the mere capturing of a moment to frame and hang up in the living room to show family and friends, but have the ability to reach a global audience.
While I do not intend to reach a global audience with this video, I did want to capture moments on my trip to Jordan to share the visual experience I had with family, friends and readers of my blog. I chose the title ‘Welcome to Jordan’ as this phrase resounded everywhere I went and made me feel very welcomed in the country. Furthermore it reminds me of the most memorable tourist encounter I had.

Tim Edenson, ‘Tourism’ International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (2009), p. 310.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wadi Rum – A sunset in the desert

     Critiques on the touristic gaze by newer theories mention the fact that people perceive their surroundings according to certain values and as a consequence also sense (with all the senses) their environment subjectively. More adventurous activities such as skateboarding or bungee jumping for instance, do not mainly pursue the visual, but involve other sense as well. Embodiment and the More-than-representational theory regard nature, body and other elements as interdependent. Moreover, the fact that even staged performances, where it is usually very clear who is the performer and the spectator, increasingly try to engage the spectator in the staged performance or provoke certain feelings through a more dramatic representation of the facts. This draws more attention to an experience involving more senses than the visual as well as steps away from the idea of only conveying knowledge. Additionally, the ‘synesthesia’ of the ‘touch with the visual, the aural and the olfactory’ can have a significant influence in how one’s body experiences and feels a certain place.
In relation to the abovementioned theory and interrelation between senses, I fully agree that what we smell, feel, touch in the nearest proximity to our bodies, adds a lot to our tourist experience, in addition to what we see. While I find this applicable to the entire trip in Jordan, spending a night in the desert comprised the most of these feelings in one place and one moment.
After visiting Petra, we drove to Wadi Rum where we headed to the mountains in the desert to watch the sunset. As the sand was slowly rippling into our shoes we took them off and walked barefoot. Naturally, feeling the hot sand on our feet added to the experience of being in the desert and seeing it. While the sun was setting, we all took numerous pictures but as the batteries of our cameras grew tired of taking pictures, we had to stop and enjoy. The heat of the last sunbeams, the golden light and the feel of the warm rocks that we climbed in order to see the sunset made this experience even more memorable. Looking at the pictures I had taken up there on the desert mountain, I realized that the feel of the sunbeams, the warm rock and the light as it was there in that particular moment are feelings that we can talk about but are not something that we can capture and take with us to experience at home, far away from Wadi Rum.      

Tim Edenson, ‘Tourism’ International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (2009), 308-309. Dorina Maria Buda, Affective Tourism Dark routes in conflict (Routledge, 2015), 29-30.

Found a great spot on a desert mountain in Wadi Rum.

No picture can describe the feel of the heat of the last sunbeams, the golden
light and warm rock as it was there in that particular moment.  
Trying to capture the last sunbeams before the sun set.

Petra – A WOW .... [and then silence]

The Oxford Dictionaries define to gaze or the gaze as ‘look(ing) steadily and intently, especially in admiration, surprise, or thought’; and as a ‘particular perspective considered as embodying certain aspects of the relationship between observer and observed’. John Urry defines gazing as the peoples’ ‘desire to gaze upon that, which is different and unusual, and can be distinguished from the everyday’. He further describes a sociocultural development where the gazing upon people, landscapes, etc., thus the visual has become very central to tourism and proliferated due to the increasing amount of things one can gaze upon. Additionally, he suggests that we learn how to see, however, often through a mind preset by a certain socio-cultural idea. This frames the way in which we see according to certain ‘filters’ we use, such as ideas, skills, personal experiences, memories and desires, rather then our gaze reflecting reality. Thus according to Urry, we gaze upon the unfamiliar and interesting through ‘filters’ applied by ourselves and therefore tourism mainly revolves around the visual, as opposed to other senses.           
As we prepared for the probably most awaited day of our trip to Jordan, namely visiting the ancient city of Petra, we all made sure the batteries of our cameras were fully charged. For some of us it was maybe the checking off another modern wonder of the world from the list, for others a long desired dream come true. For me it was the latter, ever since I had seen pictures of Petra I wanted to visit one day, but also because this site was located in a country very different from the many sites in Italy or even Europe where I come from. Hence I can already confirm part of Urry’s argument that we as tourists seek the different and unusual. As we were walking down the Siq, which is the main entrance to the ancient city of Petra, no one could hide the anticipation to see the Treasury. When we stepped out of the small rock crevice that gave us access to the treasury, I remember us stopping, standing steadily on both of our feet and saying wow.... and nothing else but silence followed. I guess this was the gaze we had been reading and talking about in class. Everyone was just taking in and enjoying the sight of the treasury without speaking their minds. I remember thinking that this place is even more beautiful than I had expected, but could not find the words to describe how impressive, and breathtaking I found this place.
As we wanted to see the Monastery further away from the Treasury, we continued the hike. The anticipation was building up again and as we walked down the last steps and turned around, to experience the gaze again. This time however, I found myself comparing the architectural style to the ones of buildings and monuments I had seen before. I realized that I probably gazed upon the Treasury and Monastery in Petra much differently than I would upon a building that is more familiar to me, even if I see it for the first time. The fact that I had a strong desire to visit these sites in Petra, surely contributed to the gaze as well. This allowed me to draw a parallel to the filters that Urry mentioned, due to the comparison I made between what was known and familiar to me and the unfamiliar and interesting. Before, I was trying to remember moments where I had gazed but could not really identify any specific place. Now that I experienced the gaze, I know that once before, I did have this feeling of being breathless, namely when I walked up a trail in the woods leading to the rim of the Bryce Canyon National Park, where the nature’s range of colors was something I had never seen before. Gazing at the Monastery and Treasury in Petra gave me the same feeling of breathlessness.

Tim Edenson, 'Tourism' International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (2009), 307.
John Urry and Jonas Larsen, The Tourist Gaze (3, Los Angeles: SAGE 2011), ch 1, 1-3.

Walking down the Siq to see the Treasury.

The Monastery of the ancient city of Petra.

The Monastery

The camels, ready to take tourists for a ride.

Gazing at the Treasury in Petra.

I did gaze before, at the rim of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (2014)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

And we found ourselves in a tourist bubble floating in the Dead Sea...

     Amongst the very early attempts to explain tourism, is the ‘pseudo-event’ by Daniel Boorstin. The tourists perceive these events as ‘real’, however, in reality they are only staged for them and cause the actual ‘real’ surroundings such as the local people and environment to be fully disregarded. The image of the staged ‘reality’ distances tourists from locals to an even larger extent and allowed by the media, also to create unreal images on the basis of which certain destinations are chosen. Consequently, Boorstin believes that tourism does not provide the opportunity to encounter and experience a local culture in an ‘unmediated fashion’. On the contrary, tourists experience and meet the culture in an isolated ‘tourist bubble’ as it is staged for them in an unrealistic manner, yet they perceive these events as ‘real’ and ‘authentic’.  Furthermore, it should however be noted that such bubbles often allow tourists to visit places, which they would otherwise not be able to see or experience at all.
Leaving the Baptism site, we headed to one of the many European and American resort chains on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea. Stepping into the air conditioned, rather modern and familiar looking lobby, I immediately felt like I was stepping into any European or American hotel. Hence, there we were in THE tourist bubble. Already prior to our arrival we were told that accessing the Dead Sea through a hotel was the only chance we had, especially for us females wanting to wear a bikini. Furthermore, being in this hotel meant that we were given an image of a hotel, which is different from local hotels (if there were any) and were thus isolated from the ‘real’ environment. Moreover, I observed my co-travellers but even more myself that we all felt more accustomed to the place and acted much more unconcerned when being in this tourist bubble compared to our behavior when visiting other places. Hence, the isolation, the appearance of the hotel suited for European and American visitors and finally the possibility that the tourist bubble gave us to access the Dead Sea ‘the way we are used to’ confirms Daniel Boorstin’s theory. 

Johannes Novy and Sandra Huning, ‘New tourism (areas) in the “New Berlin”’ in Robert Maitland and Peter Newman (eds), World Tourism Cities Developing tourism off the beaten track (Routledge, 2009), 7-10.
Tim Edenson, ‘Tourism’ International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (2009), 304-305.

A resort to suit the 'Western' visitors' eye

At the shore of the Dead Sea