Jordan (9 – 14 August 2008)
We were in Dahab, Egypt and wanted to go to St Katherine’s to climb Mt. Sinai. When we arrived at the bus station, there was no bus to St Katherine’s that day and no one could tell us when there would be a bus. So we decided to go to Jordan and took a bus to Nuweiba from where we could take the ferry into Jordan. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing.
We arrived in the dusty little port town of Nuweiba and after asking several people for directions, we finally found the ferry ticket office. We bought the already expensive tickets and opted for the ‘fast ferry’ for an additional $10. After all the customs checks, we entered the waiting area – a disgustingly dirty hall with wooden benches. It looked more like a concentration camp than a waiting area – complete with flies, dirty kids with flies crawling on their faces, people sleeping on the floor and trash scattered all over. And then we waited…and waited….and waited…The ferry was delayed by two hours.
The ferry was in no better condition and we were really grossed out. The dirt in between the seats was about three cm thick, most of the seats were broken, stained and torn and the place smelled funny. I did not want to touch anything, let alone have dinner. All of this would have been acceptable if we did not pay so much for the tickets. Two hours later, we arrived in Aqaba, Jordan. From the moment we arrived in Jordan, it was apparent that things were far more expensive here than in Egypt. So we bargained very hard for a taxi into town (only 6km) and still paid about 10 times more than one would pay in Egypt!
Due to the long ferry delay, we decided to spend the night in Aqaba and make our way to Wadi Musa the following morning. After a good night’s sleep in the cheapest place we could find, we took a minibus to Wadi Musa. Wadi Musa is a small town famous for one of the new Seven Wonders of the World – Petra. We stayed in Rose City Hotel – the manager proudly boasted about the cable TV and its 700 channels. Turned out more than half of them were porn channels and the only non-Arabic channel was BBC :) So much for the modesty of the Arabic community.
To assure we beat the influx of tourist busses to Petra, we got up early and watched the sunrise over the mountains as we walked to the ancient Rose City. Petra is an ancient ruined city, hewn from towering rock walls. It is a city complex in itself with temples, theatres and tombs. And its vastness is incomprehensible. We entered through the Siq – a 1.2km long hallway that leads to the city. The Siq often narrows to only 2 meters in width and the walls tower up to 200 meters overhead.
As we made our way through the Siq, the anticipation built up as we looked around every corner for a glimpse of the Treasury. And finally there it was, peeping out from behind the enormous rocks. From here we made our way to the Theatre and then to the City Centre of Petra. We used our last energy to climb up to the Monastery, tucked away behind a mountain. And that was it for day one. We had no more water, no more energy and no more tolerance against the heat and the persistent camel touts.
The next day we returned to visit the Royal Tombs. These tombs were cut from solid rock in the mountains and we had to climb up the side of the cliff to start this exploration. We decided to take an alternative route back, rather than returning through the Siq (seeing that we’ve walked through it three times already). We walked around the mountain through which the Siq ran, and came across the most amazing scenery. The dried up river bed lead to a path eroded from the mountain. At places we had to climb over 2 meter high boulders and slide in between the rocks to make our way to the other side. The path was very narrow and the walls extremely high. We felt like children playing in a wonderland of mazes.
It is a pity that Petra is so big, because it is impossible to visit all the outskirts of the site. We had two days of exploration and managed to cover only a small bit of it. But it was still impressive and a memorable experience.
To try and stay within budget, we decide not to spend too much time in Jordan. But a visit to this area of the world would not be complete without a swim, or should I say float, in the Dead Sea. To get to the Dead Sea was another story. There were no direct buses and we had to go north to the capital, Amman, and then back south again to the Dead Sea.
For a ‘well developed’ country like Jordan, we were really disappointed in their public transport system. The bus to Amman was supposed to leave at 8:30. We arrived at the bus station at 8:00, by 9:00 a bus arrived and demanded an extra 2 Euro per piece of luggage from each tourist. When we refused, the driver chased all of us off the bus (locals included) and left without any passengers. The next bus arrived about half an hour later. By this time there were way too many people to fit onto the bus. After pushing and shoving, we did not make it on to the bus. As we waited on the sidewalk, all the passengers were chased off the bus (again!) and then they were all invited to get back on (again!). We jumped at the opportunity and this time had a successful scrum session and made it onto the bus. Three hours later, we arrived in Amman.
We had a cheap and quick lunch at the bus station and continued the long journey to the Dead Sea. This time we were on a real chicken bus with some locals. They dropped us off next to the highway and we had to walk another kilometre or so to get to the “Free Beach” – the only place where normal plebs can enjoy the strange phenomenon of floating on the Dead Sea for “FREE” (well, not really – they charged 7 Euro entrance). The rest of the coastline was covered with expensive resorts.
The Dead Sea (the lowest place on earth) was worth every bit of frustration of getting there. The beach itself is downright ugly with soil rather than sand and when I first walked into the water, I cringed at the lukewarm murky water. But then I went down and lifted my feet to get into the floating position and what happened next went beyond all logic! I popped up onto the surface with no effort. It was like being in outer space! I giggled like a little girl at the experience. When Eon finally put his camera away, he joined me in the craziness of it all. We just had to sample what the salty water (30% salt in the water) tastes like: I just licked a bit of water from my finger…and o my word!!! What a shock for the system – it really felt like an electric shock that shot through my body. And as they say… “when in Rome…” so we made our way to the muddy shore and lathered on the mineral rich mud. We have not had a spa treatment since we started travelling, so we were indulging in this luxury. It is predicted that the Dead Sea would be totally dried up in about 50 years – quite sad indeed!
After properly relaxing our muscles and minds, we had to make our way back to Amman. And the only way was to hitch hike – something I have never done before. I must have had beginners luck, because after about five minutes an SUV stopped to give us a lift. There were four young men in the car, and with my experience with Arabic men thus far, I was a bit apprehensive to get in. It was a toss up between a lift back to Amman and a little banter from the guys…Eon sat next to the two guys on the back seat and then I squeezed in next to Eon.
The four guys turned out to be very nice – three of them were from Saudi Arabia and the driver (who also seemed to be the only English speaker out of the lot) was from Kuwait. They were in Jordan for a couple of days on a short holiday and they stayed about 15km north of Amman. They invited us to their holiday home for tea and seeing that we had nothing better to do, we gladly accepted. And so it happened that we spent our evening with four Arabic guys. They were very interested in our travels, so we took them through all our pictures of the last year. After a nice dinner of bread, dips and cheeses, we bid our friends goodbye and took a taxi back to Amman. It just goes to show that sometimes, you need to submit and just go with the flow. This was a strange, unexpected and lovely experience.
The next morning, we started to make our way back to Egypt. We took a taxi to the bus station and had to wait for two hours until departure. We left Amman at 13:00 and arrived in Aqaba at 18:00. We were determined to find another way to get back to Egypt without taking that horrible ferry again. The planned route was to go north from Aqaba and drive through Israel (only about 15 km) and enter Egypt at Taba. If only it was as simple as it sounded!
We took a taxi from Aqaba to Eilat, the border town between Israel en Jordan. Have you ever heard about African time? Well, what we experienced in the Middle East was far worse? The taxi dropped us at the border where we exited Jordan after a series of queues to pay departure tax and have our passports stamped. Then we crossed into Israel…if you have been following our blog, you would know how many bad incidents we’ve had with this nationality. Okay, first up was the customs check. I put my bags through the scanner and walked through the metal detector, no problems. The bag check took a while because there was new staff in training. And then the nightmare began…I was asked to be searched in the little room in the back. They had absolutely no reason to search me, but they explained that it was for training purposes and that they were sorry for the inconvenience. Okay, so the girl (thanks goodness it was a girl!!) frisked me and then scanned the metal detector over my body. It beeped at my short’s zipper and my bra’s wire, so I had to strip down. How embarrassing!! I guess this is payback for all the nasty things I have said about the Israelis :)
Okay, after playing Springbok Nude Girl with the Israelis we went through another series of queues for stamps and searches and departure tax. Would you believe that we had to pay a huge amount for Israel departure tax even though we did not spend any time in the country?! Anyway – they made some more money off us with the super expensive taxi ride to the Egyptian border. And just when we thought we could relax on Egyptian soil, we had another setback…Eon had some Indian beadies in his bag and the Egyptian security guard thought it was some weird drug. We have been travelling with these harmless banana leaf cigarettes for months, to take home as souvenirs. Just about every guard on duty got involved. We kept telling them that it wasn’t drugs, but they stayed suspicious. Eventually, we told them to light one and taste that it has absolutely no effect. After they destroyed four of the six beadies, they finally let us go. By this time it was after 21:00 and we were exhausted. The last stretch was to get from Taba to Nuweiba, about a half an hour drive. We had to take a taxi to Nuweiba because there were no busses until the following morning. And we could not sleep in Taba; the only accommodation there started at $100 per night!
The taxi driver took us to his preferred hotel in Nuweiba, but we could not care less – all we wanted was a bed! In hindsight, we should rather have taken the dirty ferry!
Click on the image below to view the gallery for Jordan: