Dutch native Theo van de Laar exposes the eco secrets and paradise he entertains through The Aqaba House, an eco-friendly guest house he runs in Jordan.
A while back Tafline featured the eco-cool guest house The Aqaba House, near the Read Sea port of Aqaba, Jordan. Today we feature a short interview with Theo, the handsome Dutchman who is running the eco outpost in the middle of the desert.
Tell us a little more about you, and your interest in promoting the Aqaba House: I am a historian from the south of The Netherlands, and after my studies and working for a year and a half in marketing and communications, I decided that that was not what I liked. I applied for a job as a tourleader, got hired and was sent to Egypt for 3 months. The year was 1999, and I basically never came back.
In 2002, I moved to Beirut because, after three years working in the Middle East I wanted to experience how it felt to really live in the region. Lebanon was a wonderful, if sometimes very difficult experience, and with that country as a base, I kept working as a tourguide and operator, from Sri Lanka to Morocco and everything in between.
Then I was asked to write a travel guide to Jordan (yet to be published, project is on hold for now), and I was hired by a company as an expert on Jordan to guide academic tours to the country. That’s how I met Florentine Visser, the architect of The House, who turned out to be from my hometown in Holland.
At one point she asked me if I would be interested in running the house, and I answered yes. I have, as a dutchie, always had a healthy interest in being eco-friendly. I’ve never before owned a car, think I was the only one in Lebanon who recycled paper and glass (oh, yes, that is possible there!), so promoting a special project like this is a challenge to me. Especially as I don’t look at it from the technical side.
To me, this house that I run currently as a guesthouse and cultural centre, is about turning tourism around. Look at the riads in Morocco, the boutique hotels in, let’s say, Damascus and Aleppo, and you’ll understand what I mean.
Here, we don’t play ‘hotel-hotel’, but we want our guests to be ‘at home,’ as a friend of mine once put it: you rent a room, you get the house.
Shared, but beautiful bathroom facilities, eco-friendly furniture and the most outstanding views of Aqaba, Eilat and even Taba and the mountains of Saudi, that’s what we offer.
Why Jordan, why Aqaba and what approach did the architect take? For this I can do nothing better then let you take another look at article recently published in Green Prophet on The Aqaba House.
What are the special challenges of building green, and living green, in Jordan? – what special techniques and technologies are applied in The Aqaba House? There are two major challenges here:
1. The temperatures here in Aqaba, that can reach 50 degrees Celsius in summer
2. The fact that people have yet to become aware of the whole concept of being eco-friendly. When it comes to techniques and technologies applied in The House, I would like to direct you towards our website (still under construction – sorry for that) where you can find a couple of PDF-files which explain just that.
But, in short:
· Orientation of the building has been very important
· Shading, so that the sun doesn’t reach the house
· Evaporation cooling
· Thermal walls
· Landscaping and plants (all desert-varieties that are very water-friendly) for shading
· Improved isolation for roofs and walls
· Energy efficient lighting and appliances
· Grey water system to water the garden
· Adsorption Solar Cooling
· Eco-friendly, locally produced furniture
Are there any other eco lodgings like this in the area? Yes, although eco-tourism is still at the beginning in Jordan, and the Middle East in general:
The RSCN (Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature) is running a couple of eco-lodges, the Feynan-eco-lodge is a beautiful example of an eco-project that, as we do, aims at empowering the local community too, and I would like to also include the Ecovillage in the Choufmountains in Lebanon, a unique and very friendly project that deserves support.
Who is coming to stay at the Aqaba House? Until now, all sorts of people have stayed with us. People from Europe, people from Jordan, people who work for NGO’s in the region, families, who realize that we provide a nice and homey atmosphere suitable for them, and very different from the big 5-star hotels.
Bader Mahasneh’s “Sculpting the Water” (below) on exhibit at The Aqaba House
In short: all kinds of guests who are searching for a comfortable place to stay with an extra-special-touch, and who do realize that bathrooms, except for the top-floor-suite, are shared (not a problem if one family is on the first floor – then they have their own bathroom, and their own rooftop garden.
Can you recommend some eco-adventures in the region? Jordan is a beautiful country, and very diverse. Both RSCN and the Feynan Ecolodge organise walks and treks in several wadis. These are very often beautiful valleys, that reach from around 1000 meters altitude to -400 (Dead Sea-level) and thus have many different eco-systems in them.
Or a camel-tour in Wadi Rum is an eco-friendly option (take all rubbish out!), walk from Wadi Dana to Petra, or even to Rum or Aqaba.
Snorkel the reefs of Aqaba, do a clean-up dive.
Cycling is another way of an eco-friendly activity, rock-climbing in Wadi Rum is too.
Of course, The Aqaba House can always help to organize all kinds of eco-friendly activities.
Are there any other similar projects or architects from the region we should know about? I’ve mentioned RSCN, Feynan and the Ecovillage in Lebanon. Furthermore, Entity Green, one of our local partners, might be of interest to you. They promote recycling and all kinds of other eco-friendly things.
Faisal Abu Sondos is working to promote the Green Key-program here in Jordan (links to PDF), especially in Aqaba.
Another partner, of which we are very proud, is local wine-producer Zumot. They have recently been certified as an organic agricultural company by the German organisation IMO.
Furthermore, please note that the new Dutch Embassy here in Jordan is also an eco-friendly building. Dutch architect Rudy Uytenhaak together with the Aqaba House’s architect Florentine Visser created a beautiful building that is LEED-certified and shares many ideas and philosophies with The Aqaba House.
The opening on the 28th of April this year, was in the middle of the Dutch week in Jordan, with its theme ‘recycling.’ For more info see the Jordan Embassy website.
Thank you Theo!
Read more on eco tourism in Jordan:
Green Prophet’s eco tourism guide to Jordan
Jordanian Airspace to Get Green Eco Tourism Boost
Reflections on a Day Hiking Through Jordan’s Wadi Qelt
Images credited to Joseph Zacharian.