We are fortunate to live so close to Aqaba – a place of warmth and refuge from the chill that settles over Amman in the winter. I carefully and purposefully use the word “chill,” which is meant to occupy the semantic middle ground between “cool” and “cold.” “Cool” is what winter brings to southern California: temperatures dipping way down into the 60s and necessitating long sleeves and socks. “Cold” brings snow, rosy cheeks, and the woolly-smelling, static-charged hair you get when you remove your beanie after an hour or two. For the sake of completeness, “dang cold” is what you get in places like Yellowknife and Vostok, where nobody ever really talks because your sound waves freeze before anybody hears them. Then they fall to the ground, break, and are eaten later by cute penguins. You don’t really buy all the “March of the Penguins” and “Happy Feet” propaganda claiming that male penguins of certain species go all winter without eating, do you? What do you think goes on in the middle of those big, warm penguin-huddles? They’re eating frozen sound waves. Duh.

So... back to Aqaba. Knowing that my mother appreciates warmth, sandy beaches, and crystalline water, we made Aqaba our first destination after her arrival earlier this month. Most everything about our jaunt was marvelous, with the exception of a few European tourists – among many more aptly clad – exposing too much skin that should have been carefully tucked away in age- or body type-appropriate swimsuits. This is something I cannot comprehend, regardless of the impossible angle to which I twist my meager little brain. Why, if one is well and clearly past one’s aesthetic prime, would one choose to voluntarily exhibit one’s conclusively and unquestionably pocked, flabby, and/or generally disgraceful midriff and derriere in a bathing suit very arguably intended for someone 30-40 years one’s junior? I understand that the causes of various body conditions are often beyond control; I make no value judgments here. Just, please, exercise judgment when selecting a swimsuit, regardless of the continent upon which you reside. Think of the children.

While Shannon enjoyed the shade of a quaintly-thatched beach umbrella and chatted with friends, mom and I took the kids closer to the water, so that most of the unsightly butts would be behind us. We feared that viewing them – however unintentionally – too often would sear the loathsome images into our minds to the point that our dreams would be haunted.

I roamed the waterfront, snapping pictures of the kids playing happily in the sand. They paused only to argue and slap one another over particular beach toys. Halen, who had slept poorly the night before, played deliriously with a small dump truck, filling it and emptying it over and over and over again with unseeing eyes as he mumbled softly to himself. Later, he tried in vain for 45 minutes to fill the moat of a large sandcastle an older child had built. He trekked back and forth from the castle to the water, filling up a small bucket and dumping it into the moat, not seeming to notice that the sandy moat absorbed the water the instant he dumped it. The whole time he repeated the phrase: “Get da water... get da water... get da water...” We’re getting him evaluated soon.

We rounded out our idyllic day by visiting Aqaba’s small castle and driving south to the Saudi border, just to say we’d been there. The castle was mildly interesting; for the kids, it was just another place to run wild, as seen in the photo above. Halen isn’t wearing any pants, and lest anyone think me hypocritical for lampooning under-clothed beachgoers and yet allowing my son to scoot around sans knickers, he had soiled himself earlier in the day and I – relying on Arab honor – had left his pants on the roof our car to dry while we lunched. Well, needless to say, someone horked his pants and my faith in Arab honor has been shattered.

Near the Saudi border, we stopped to watch the sunset. The instant after the sun disappeared behind the mountains on the Egyptian side of the Gulf of Aqaba, the temperature dropped 20 degrees, so we ducked inside for the night.

On the way home to Amman the next day, we stopped to see Lot’s Cave, the rocky cavity in which the biblical Abraham’s nephew Lot took refuge with his daughters following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. I was surprised that, given the fact that the cave is a fairly popular tourist destination, the locals in the nearest town couldn’t agree on how to get there. In a comical moment, I asked a small pod of young Arab loiterers where we could find Lot’s Cave, and each one – I’m not exaggerating – pointed in a different direction. There were five or six loiterers. Some evidently wanted us to drive our SUV through their living room. For the record, the cave was fairly uninteresting, although the view out over the fertile plains was great, but not as romantic as Lot’s daughters seemed to think it was.