We mentally wished our son Douglas a happy 25th
birthday as we boarded the small bus for Aqaba.
But first it had to drive round each street of the village
of Wadi Rum. People walked out from their houses,
hailed the driver and told him to wait for five minutes
while they collected their bags and then returned to
clamber into the bus. At JD1.5 each for the trip,
we were not about to complain. Instead, we admired the
Fort for the Desert Patrol, who were sadly
not in evidence this morning.
As we set off for Aqaba, we noticed surprisingly, that
the bus was mostly filled with Bedouin women. Most of
them were veiled because of Guy's presence. The bus trip
took an hour, straight down the Desert Highway.
road was new and in excellent condition but had
us confused. It appeared to be a dual carriageway
but traffic was using the two sides of the carriageway
to go both ways simultaneously. Nor was one for
fast traffic and the other for slow, as we thought
might be the case, for heavy trucks were on both
sides and small zippy sedans were overtaking them
at breakneck speed.
Our minibus made frequent stops to pick up or set
down passengers as we passed through small villages
set amongst the dour countryside. More and more
Bedouin women greeted their friends as they climbed
onto the bus. It must have been a special day's
outing for them, we surmised.
We gazed at the passing landscape which appeared
almost lunar. Everything was colourless - even the
sky. The mountains were literally falling apart
- loose scree pouring down their sides into the
valleys. Stunted thorn trees dotted the landscape
and the occasional black of a bedouin tent was half
hidden in the morning shadows.
Aqaba is in a special Economic Zone where industries
can import goods duty free which are required for manufacturing
purposes. This is to encourage investment in manufacturing
and industrial plant in Jordan. Pulling
into the town of Aqaba, we discovered the reason
for the large amount of women on the bus. They all disembarked
at a Women's Institute.
we stay one day in Aqaba or not? Being winter,
it did not seem an attractive option. Apart from the
Aqaba Castle, there did not appear to be much
to see and the cold, breezy beaches were not an option.
If we did stay, it would be an overnight thing, as we
had to be in Dahab, Egypt by the night of the
first thing we had to do was get some money. After our
ATM debacle in Petra,
we had changed some US$ but were now very short of cash
again. Luckily, we found a "hole in the wall"
fairly quickly and this time our credit cards worked.
We were solvent again.
the way, don't ask a Jordanian for an ATM - they call
them Cash Machines.
at the Visitors Centre, we found tickets to Nuweiba
in Sinai were US$45. It was quite hot
in Aqaba so I borrowed the unisex toilet to change
from the heavy winter clothing I had been wearing in
Wadi Rum. The kind gentleman in the Visitors
Centre then suggested we catch a minibus at the
Corniche to get to the Passenger Terminal.
This turned out to be a disaster. First of all, the
driver refused to leave until the minibus was full.
After 45 minutes, people were getting off rather than
getting on and when we threatened to leave also, he
succumbed and started the engine. He had obviously had
a bad morning for he tried to drop us off about 2km
from the terminal, suggesting we walk through the Container
Port to get there. We refused to leave the van and his
other passengers shouted derisive advice. Finally he
grudgingly took us another 1km but this still left us
1km to walk to the terminal, fully laden. It might have
only cost us JD1.5 but in retrospect, we would
have been better with a taxi - for this was just the
start of our problems!
Planet says arrive 2 hours before the ferry departs!
We thought this was just because it might
be busy and overbooked but we soon found out the
The Jordanian Tourist Bureau has fallen
down rather badly here and needs to talk some
into the Jordanian Immigration Dept. I
don't think I've ever seen such a schemozzle!
started off with the requisite two hours in hand.
arrived at the Passenger Terminal and tried to
get in the door labelled "Departures"
but it was closed. Going downstairs, we found
ourselves at a gate to the left of the building
- but were not allowed to enter and were directed
about half a kilometre to the other side of the
complex. After passing through the police guarded
gate on this side, we approached a booth marked
"Information". Sadly, the occupant couldn't
speak a word of English and was no help at all.
What a disaster! Eventually, with a crowd of frustrated
foreigners lining up at his window, (he couldn't
speak French, Italian or Spanish either) a bus
driver took pity on us and directed us up a flight
of stairs on the side of the building.
Now the fun really started! At the counter marked
"Ferry Tickets" we were told we couldn't
buy tickets until we had paid Departure Tax and
gone through Immigration. But the Departure Tax
official had gone home. After several misdirections,
Guy found his replacement.
Pay attention: You go outside and downstairs,
inside the building , behind the Customs counter,
through a door and turn right. There a man in
a tiny office will received your JD5 each
and issue you with a receipt.
Upstairs again in a hurry (the ferry was close
to leaving by now) to the Immigration counter.
Queue up with passports and departure tax tickets.
Just as I place our passports on the counter,
the official stands up and leaves - without a
what about me?" I yell, but he keeps
walking. Sensing a full Ozzie dummy spit, the
nice guy on the "Jordanians Only" counter
offers to stamp our passports. Thanks mate!
Back to the "Ferry Tickets" counter.
No: his job is solely to point you across the
room to another queue. Here you show your passport
with departure tax stamp and immigration clearance.
They keep your passport, give you a coupon and
direct you (surprise!) across the room again to
pay for the tickets at another window. With a
stamped coupon to indicate you have paid your
money, you walk back to the first counter to redeem
your passport and receive a ferry ticket.
one and three-quarter hours after we arrived at
we went downstairs and got on a bus to the ferry
for a 12 noon departure.
the ferry, we left our backpacks downstairs in
a corner of the vehicle deck and went upstairs
to the main deck. We had chosen the fast ferry
which takes approximately one hour to do the crossing.
The slow ferry is cheaper at US$22 but
takes up to three hours - and some days doesn't
do the trip. Beautifully appointed and fully enclosed,
on the fast ferry there was duty free shopping,
a cafe, comfortable seating and two types of toilets
- blocked or locked. I think the
Egyptians and Jordanians screamed louder about
this than we did!
We chilled with a Mars Bar and a coffee for the
uneventful one hour crossing. The mountains of
Saudi Arabia were to our left and the mountains
of Sinai to our right as we headed into
the Red Sea and towards Nuweiba.
During the crossing we were able to change some
money into Egyptian Pounds at the Cafe. The official
rate was US$1 = EP6.2 but the cafe owner
was doing excellent business at a cash rate of
EP6.4. Officials on board took our completed
forms for Egyptian Visas and our passports.
would Egypt be better than Jordan, immigration-wise?
Hahahaha. Dream on........