Ajloun - nature and history

I’m rarely enticed to revisit a place, Ajloun in Jordan is one of the exceptions. And so last summer, I revisited it not once but twice. On the second trip, I coupled the Ajloun forest hike with a visit to the Ajloun Castle , a must if you haven’t been. If you set early from Amman , you should easily be able to do both in a day or less if you take the short ( no more than 3 hour) hikes .

The cabins available for overnight rentals

The Hike

In recent years , hiking has picked immensely up in Jordan. There are many trails that can be taken around its many tourist sites like Wadi Al Mujib, Petra and Dana. For the avid hikers ,check one of the Hiking in Jordan pages.  For the more laid back like yours truly, a mini hike at Ajloun will allow you to boast that you took one without breaking a sweat or hearing complaints from the young ones.

Ajloun has the added bonus of being a short 90 minute drive away from Amman, depending when / where in Amman you head off.  Weekends are optimal for lighter traffic but you might find the reserve to be busier. Starting early is best, The route opens no earlier than 9 ; however the small restaurant at the visitor center where you will get your entrances opens at 8. The breakfast is lovely with a great view and a very reasonable price.

Once there, a center setup by Wild Jordan has an information center , a restaurant, restrooms and a small gift shop. There are different hike trails you can chose from . The one hour hike does not need to be prebooked and is great if you’re going with little ones. The 3 and 5 hour ones need to be pre booked as a guide must be present ; usually a day or two prior to your hike should be enough if they’re not busy .

Once you head out, you will notice the cabins which are available for rent overnight. The scenery is beautiful and therefore it looks to be worth a try if you have time .


The terrain is typical of Jordan’s green areas , red fertile rocky earth. Beautiful evergreen oak trees are the feature , though you will see some Carob, Pine and Wild Pistachio trees. If you go in the spring, there will be many wild flowers. If you’re lucky, you might come across a Roe deer which the Royal Society of the Conservation of Nature have been releasing into the reserve. I felt quiet nostalgic during the walk, reminded of the trips we took growing up in Jordan. The children were delighted at the sight of lizards crossing the trail at random;  so I skipped mentioning what we did to those when younger. They also immensely enjoyed scraping off the dry outer bark of a tree which after digging around, I found was called the strawberry tree, a native of the Mediterranean.

 

On the way back , we stopped at the adjacent soap, biscuit and calligraphy center also set up and run by Wild Jordan. There you can see , sample and purchase handmade items by the locals. Also available is a café/ restaurant with amazing views called Balloota.


The soap, biscuit and calligraphy center close to the reserve. I was impressed with the building and the products on offer, all made by local artisans.

 The Castle

The famous Ajloun Castle is a mere 20 minute drive from the reserve. I’ll start by saying, please do get a guide while taking the tour especially if you have little ones who might not have read about its history. It just makes the experience more memorable, with stories of what and how things were. Most are bilingual, veterans , ex army officers and locals who are passionate about the heritage.  The Ajloun Castle or Al Rabad Castle was built in the Ayyubids era on the remains of a monastery said to be dated to the Byzantine era.  It has been built to defend against the crusader incursions.

The minute I entered , my eyes were searching for those tiny slits in stone that the archers / guardsmen used for lookout. I had remembered hearing a recount of how they were used as a child, standing there imagining being that soldier waiting in anticipation.  In no time, I see my girl, Tamara, crouching from one window to the other.

The Castle is complete with its moat , catapult, prisons, food storage and meeting room. The castle also has a museum exhibition with many interesting artifacts from the various time periods of the region. It still is in good shape, having withstood two earthquakes. Onnce you head to the roof you will be able to see just how strategic the location has been. There’s no wonder that it has been used to get words across between Jordan , Syria, Palestine and Iraq.


After an easy hike in nature, we found the trip to the castle and its history a perfect way to end the day.

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Night under the Stars: Wadi Rum

A trip to Jordan is incomplete without spending a night or two at Wadi Rum. Some believe that you have be a brave camper to want to do this, I disagree. First of all, you don’t have to rough it up, use outdoor toilets and get sand in pretty much everything anymore. Alongside the traditional camping, there are many glamping spots available at Wadi Rum at the moment. So you’re technically neither roughing it up nor camping but that’ll be our secret. More importantly, who wants to miss out on gazing at millions of stars surrounded by comforting silence?

taken at camp, courtesy of Memories Aicha Camp

In fact I’ll start with this, the highlight of it all. I have seen a few clear night skies with a blanket of stars, but nothing came close to what I saw on that night. If you’re going, try to pick a non- full moon night for a better experience. The famous Wadi Rum Mars like terrain, chosen as the set location for a number of movies such as The Martian, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story , Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and others, will not disappoint.

Our campsite

The stars will be seen wherever you’re staying but most camps will arrange for group walks where there’s no light in sight for a more magical experience. This is one of these moments that old and young will remember.

Back to the start. The trip to amman is around a 4 hour drive give or take. After much deliberation we chose to hire a bus and driver, a great choice given that we were 3 families of 12 with little ones in tow. The bigger bus gave them space during the long hours as apart from snacking / playing there isn’t much to do en-route.

The drive is a fairly easy one if you prefer to rent you own car, but for a group trip; I think you’ll miss out on the fun of being together. Some companies, like Jett, offer bus transport but again, I think this will confine you with times of pick up drop off whereas we had the leisure of chosing when to start / leave. For a bit extra, the driver indulged us in taking the hour or so drive to Aqaba on our way back ; a decision we took on the go.

There are many camps to chose from; from the basic tent facility all the way to 5 star accommodation complete with AC and ensuite bathrooms. We opted for the latter , just for the kids sake :) 

The trip to camp starts after you park your transport at the wadi rum parking. You will ride in the iconic ”jeeps”; trucks fitted with makeshift steel benches. Needless to say, the kids and us had a great time riding the dunes in these. No belts being the bonus here. Drivers are native Wadi Rum bedouins.

We stayed at Memories Aycha Camp , a fairly new luxury camp nestled between 2 mountains. The rooms, staff and services were amazing. After settling in, the usual would be taking the jeep rides once again. Depending on the time you have, this will include many stopovers around the reserve. Make sure you agree with your driver on where to be once the sun sets, many chose the Valley of the Moon. The pristine sandy mountains that kids like to roll over at, the rocky cliffs to climb , the Valley of the Moon could all be done in a few hours. If you have more time, a trip to Burdah Rock Bridge, the highest in Wadi Rum, via the Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a full day by car or an overnight trip by camel. 

For the adventurous mountain climbers there are a few options to choose from, the vistors center on site will be able to assist you. Horse and camel riding, hot air balloon rides are also available but these are all best arranged beforehand especially if you want to trek/ ride for hours. For more on what you can do check their page.

 Once retired, dinner is served at camps and most provide the Arabic zarb, meet cooked underground eaten around campfire or in our case served along with a dinner buffet.

the restaurant dome at camp

 Nighttime, you can either just relax around the fire ( if weather allows ) , go stargazing , or  both. Next day, we opted to head early after breakfast  as it was hot to do more around . Aqaba with its beautiful beaches seemed more tempting. Many usually couple Wadi Rum with Aqaba or Petra, either is less than an hour away. However, once there , unless you’re short on time ; it’ll be good to spend another night or more at either site.

We have taken this trip in summer, but I think that spring and fall would make it an even greater experience since the weather would be just perfect for huddling around a fire and spending more time around.

If there’s one word to describe Wadi Rum for me it would be, timeless. It really is one of the few places I’ve been where only nature, not mankind, has worked havoc and beauty.

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Tribe Vibe's Pop Culture Monthly Roundup

Movies, Books, Magazines, Podcasts and more! The three of us at Tribe Vibe spend a lot of time discussing over coffee what is making us happy on the pop culture scene. Here are a few things that entertained us in September.



Instagram, Facebook, Twitter…

Social media exploded in the final days of September with images in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Blasey Ford has revealed her account of the sexual assault done to her by Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court judge nominee. Support for her bravery in coming forward was lighting up on all social media platforms. One word, HERO.

Film

RBG Film. Inspirational movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Is there anyone cooler than Ruth Bader Ginsburg right now? Seriously, at 80+ years old she is a total legend. Her new film, RBG, showcases her life from a young girl, through law school, marriage, motherhood, career, illness and Judge on the American Supreme Court. This is a must see film for anyone, but especially for young girls envisioning themselves as change makers of the present and future. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a boss. And if a book and film weren’t enough, she even has super cool merch available.


Book

Andre Agassi's boook, Open

Ok, so this book is not exactly current pop culture material but what can I say, I’m very late to the party on this one-like twenty years late. But hear me out, even twenty years later, it is really, really good. The book is filled with blasts from the past of high profile names of sports stars and celebs, the unforgettable fashion sense of the time (think mullet and lots of neon), as well as memorable big brand campaigns of the time (Canon Rebel). There is a dark side to the book as well. Aggasi’s complicated relationship with his father, his loneliness as an adolescent at tennis school, an unhappy marriage to Brooke Shields, and a short reckless period with drugs and alcohol. As the book comes closer to its final chapter you will find yourself rooting for Andre Aggasi on the court as well as in life. Definitely worth a read.


Podcast

Sandra. Current Podcast.

This is a podcast mini series on the voice behind the A.I. technology, Sandra (think equivalent to Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa.) When “Sandra” builds a friendship with one of her clients the story takes a very dark twisted turn. It’s definitely not an anticipated ending.


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Giant Puppet Parade

Every few weeks my boys read over Tribe Vibe, commenting on photos, reminiscing about things we have done or dreaming of future trips we might take, such as the Tanzania holiday. Last week, my eldest asked me why I had written about the carnival in Switzerland and not the Giant Puppet Parade in Siem Reap, an annual event in the spirit of carnival, we were lucky enough to participate in three years running. 

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The Giant Puppet Project is a community based arts project involving various local organizations. The puppets are made from rattan and paper, and the event is used as a platform to make people aware of Cambodia’s endangered and indigenous species. 

It creates an important sense of community building, establishes team work, gives hope, offers pride and commendation. The disadvantaged Cambodian children and expat kids thrive in the two full day workshop as they work hand in hand to create these pieces of art. One could not ask for a more beautiful setting of the workshop. A gorgeous pagoda in the middle of Siem Reap!

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The puppets range in size (10 to 30 meters) and are prepared in the ancient style of Chinese dragon puppets. Each puppet conveys strong cultural or environmental themes. 

Two weeks later, one is treated to a beautiful parade, a magical night of recognition by the town and tourists as the glowing puppets dance down Pub Street and through the town in the hands of their creators. Along the way, donations are collected for next year’s parade and you will see children eagerly dropping 100 riel notes into the collectors baskets, which perhaps is the best evidence that it is an event cherished by the local community as much as the tourists and expats. 

We feel blessed to have been part of it!

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Pin and save!

Fishing in Fujairah, UAE

Choosing a Sportfishing Charter in the UAE

Are you looking for a unique "Dubai" experience to try? Or maybe a special "day-out-with-dad" activity? Why not have a go at deep sea fishing on our beautiful Arabian Sea? On land, the weather is getting hotter by the day but the temperature at sea is still quite bearable. 

I thought this would be a super fun adventure for my husband and three boys but I had no idea how to execute it. With limited knowledge in the sport fishing arena, I went straight to the expert...Google. Not a lot came up on the internet to fill my criteria in Dubai so I broadened my search to a recommendation in Fujairah.  The most recommended company was Soolyman Sportfishing Charters. They offered two charters per day, boats carrying up to eight passengers, and they sold me on their water safety precautions. We would happily recommend this company to others.

The captains for the afternoon

The cost for the charter is by boat, not by person. So regardless if the boat is empty or full, it will be the same flat fee. The boat we used could hold up to eight passengers so my husband and boys joined with another family of four to minimize the cost and add to the fun of spending the afternoon together. This brought the price per person down to 300 AED each. A decent price for 4-5 hours of fishing on the sea.

What can you catch?

When booking the tour, my kids looked on the website to see what kinds of fish could be caught. Glorious photos of colorful fish were displayed, but the boys thought that these were probably  "one in a million catches." Boy were they wrong!  Each of them got a chance to reel in a fighting fish of various sizes. They also quickly learned how tiring it is to get the fish in the boat!

The guides were by the boys side from the moment a fish hit their line. Even, at times, physically holding the boys down so they didn't pop overboard trying to land their catch. They did a great job with the kids and made sure the entire day went smoothly.

All the kids left with a catch ranging from big to small (small only in size, not in fight.) The large fish were a little freaky to look at -  the kids thought they looked like prehistoric fish.

 One strange looking fish

One strange looking fish

To some degree, the kids had a few mixed feelings about catching and keeping the fish. They kept going to the cooler at the back of the boat to look at what they were bringing home. On one hand, it was super fun to try and reel in these huge fish but on the other it made them think about a creature dying. It was a good life lesson to learn about appreciating and understanding where your food comes from and the importance of not wasting it. Note: We ate all the fish that was caught (even though, near the end, none of us wanted anymore fish tacos.)

 Thinking about the fish they caught

Thinking about the fish they caught

What About Sea Sickness?

Was there a problem with sea sickness? Nope, not at all. The water was very calm and everyone seemed to have their sea legs with them. A good tip to help with queasiness and possible boredom is to bring a cooler of snacks with you. When there wasn't much action with the fish, the kids were looking for food and loving the soft drinks that were provided by Soolyman. And don't worry, the boat is equipped with bathroom facilities, which seemed to fascinate my youngest.

 Look! This boat has a bathroom!

Look! This boat has a bathroom!

More Than Fishing

Although the fishing was the obvious attraction, seeing the huge freight boats close up was something they didn't expect. Identifying where each ship was from, hearing how long it has been stationed near Fujairah, and waving at the crewmen way up on deck all sparked a lot of conversation.

Perhaps the true highlight from the sea was spotting a massive sea turtle swim by. Everyone was so lucky to see this rare sight and were so caught up in the moment they forgot to take a photo until it was almost too late. Spotting this turtle would have been worth the trip alone! (sorry for the horrible photo-use your imagination to picture the impressiveness of this creature.)

 Massive sea turtle

Massive sea turtle

Beautiful Sunsets at Sea

One of the many perks of living in the UAE is witnessing spectacular sunsets. Watching the sky turn a fiery orange and then transforming into night while being reflected on the glassy water, is a breathtaking image. When its time to leave Dubai, we will be thankful we took time for all these moments.

Breathtaking Arabian sunsets

Note:

  1. The drive from Dubai to Fujairah took about one and a half hours.
  2. All the fish caught were eaten. Nothing was wasted.
  3. Life vests were our own although the boat had their own on board.
  4. We brought our own food but drinks were provided.
  5. The fish were cleaned and filleted for us by the Soolyman guides

 

 

 

Cooking Club DXB volume 2

A Taste of Tanzania

My family recently traveled to Tanzania and loved every minute of it. One thing we all liked was the cuisine. So when my friend Hope (who is from Arusha) offered to show us how to make Makande and Mtori, I jumped at the chance.

(If you have ever thought about going to Tanzania or to Africa on safari, I cannot recommend Tanzania enough. Take a look at our safari blog post on Kilimanjaro, The Serengeti, The Nagorno Crater, and Tarangire National Park for inspiration.)

Cooking With a View

 Looking out onto the Arabian Sea. What a view!

Looking out onto the Arabian Sea. What a view!

Ok I admit it. We are spoiled with sunshine and unbelievable sea views living in the UAE. Our friend Hope is lucky to have this view as hers - every, single, day. I'll insert the "groan" here for everyone (and I was one for many many years) battling the winter far too long into what should be spring. But  "Khalas" this is the UAE."

 A beautiful pot of ginger tea was waiting for us

A beautiful pot of ginger tea was waiting for us

 

Making Makande

Makande is a very traditional Tanzanian dish consisting predominantly of maize (dried corn) and kidney beans. It is a hearty dish that clearly falls into the category of "soul food." When we were in Tanzania, our guide encouraged us to try Makande as it was one of his favourites and our three boys could not get enough.

Here's what to do.  First, all the beans and maize need to be sifted in order to discard the ones not worthy of this fabulous dish. Fully rinse them and leave them to soak overnight. We did not soak the beans and instead used a pressure cooker to rapid cook.  Because the pressure cooker is a little scary for many of us (me included), I suggest the soaking method. 

Now onto the painful job of preparing the vegetables.  This includes chopping onions and peppers as well as peeling, seeding, and dicing tomatoes. Once everything was ready, we put the tomatoes and onions in the frying pan with olive oil until tender.

With the tomatoes and onions now ready, we added the spices and coconut milk and mixed together with a hand blender until fairly smooth.

The tomato mixture was added to the beans and corn to simmer on low heat until the beans and corn were tender- approximately 45 mins. Just before the beans are ready, stir in the peppers and continue to simmer for a few minutes. Et voila, Makande! It can be served alone or over rice. Delicious!

Makande, traditional Tanzanian dish.

Recipe for Makande

  • 1 1/2 cup dried kidney beans
  • 1 1/2 cup maize
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1 hot chili pepper, chopped fine
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk

Instructions

  1. Soak dried beans and corn in water overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse the beans and corn.
  3. Saute onions until tender.
  4. Add diced tomatoes and continue to cook until tender.
  5. Add the spices and remaining ingredients (except the salt)
  6. Blend with a hand blender until fairly smooth.
  7. Put beans and corn into a large heavy bottom pot and cover with water.
  8. Add blended tomatoes and onions.
  9. Simmer over low to medium heat until beans and maize are soft.
  10. A few minutes before serving, add the peppers. cook slightly, they should remain slightly crunchy.
  11. Add salt to taste.
  12. Serve as is or with rice and ENJOY!

Mtori

When visiting Tanzania, you will quickly find out, that bananas are a foundational food staple for many in the country.  Mtori is a banana based soup that I first tried in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. When I learned we would be eating "banana soup" I got a little nervous. Overripe, sweet bananas came to mind and I had no idea how I was going to be able to stomach this taste in oder to not offend anyone. My ignorance towards the different types of bananas and their preparation quickly became apparent when we tasted this delicious soup. Bananas used in Mtori are extremely unripe and taste more like potatoes. The soup was served with freshly squeezed limes and its deliciousness was obvious by the number of bowls our boys had. 

Above photos of bananas and Mtori we had in Tanzania.

The unripe bananas needed for Mtori are next to impossible to find in Dubai so it was a real treat to make and sample this dish with Hope (her friend who was visiting brought the bananas in her suitcase from Tanzania!)

First, small pieces of chicken (with bones) are boiled in a pot of water with salt and pepper. Use enough water that it allows you to have the needed broth to use as stock of the soup. Every once in awhile the froth from the pot is skimmed and discarded. Boil chicken until fully cooked.

Lots of chicken to make a perfect stock

Next came the lesson in peeling unripe bananas. No joke, this is a skill. Before you start, you must lather your hands in oil to prevent the banana from sticking to you. The bananas are then sliced down one of their seams so you can begin pulling back the peel. It doesn't give way easily and almost feels like you are peeling bark from a tree. Once finished, all the extra bits left on the bananas are then scraped off so that it is fully cleaned for use in the soup. Peeling those bananas is a real labour of love!

Hope fixing our bananas to make them not so "ugly" :-)

The next step was to remove the cooked chicken pieces from the broth so that the remaining liquid can be reduced with further boiling.  Chop the bananas and add them to the chicken stock. Add one chicken bullion cube and bring to a low boil. Simmer until the bananas are tender. With a hand blender, puree the soup. Add the chicken pieces back to the soup for serving. Ladle into bowls and serve as is or with freshly squeezed lime juice. Delicious!!

 Mtori soup does not taste like bananas at all

Mtori soup does not taste like bananas at all

Recipe for Mtori

Ingredients

  • 1 kg of chicken pieces with bones in (legs and wings are best)
  • Raw (unripe) Plantain bananas
  • Chicken bullion cube
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Put chicken pieces in a pot of water (enough water to cover all the chicken) and boil until cooked.
  2. Remove chicken from water.
  3. Continue to boil water chicken cooked in until reduced to a nice chicken broth.
  4. Peel bananas and chop
  5. Put bananas in chicken stock along with chicken bullion cube and continue to boil until bananas are tender.
  6. With a hand blender, blender soup until smooth.
  7. Add more water until the desired consistency.
  8. Add chicken pieces back to soup.
  9. erve with lime wedges.

 

The Best Part, Enjoying the Fruits of Our Labour

 Friends who eat together stay together!

Friends who eat together stay together!

More Than Cooking

Tanzania is famous for all of its vibrant colours. These colours shine through in the environment, food, clothing, and (what I loved) their artwork. One of the most well known forms is Tingatinga art. The name Tingatinga comes from the original painter of this style, Edward Said Tingatinga. The amateur style uses highly saturated pigments and is geared towards the tourist market, often representing tribal groups like the Maasai and the big five. While enjoying our delicious cuisine and endless conversation, we were also indulged with being surrounded by Hope's collection of Tingatinga art! What a great afternoon.