Aqaba

22nd December
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.
The 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.
Should 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 23rd December.
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.

By the way, don't ask a Jordanian for an ATM - they call them Cash Machines.

Checking 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!

Lonely 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 real reason.
The Jordanian Tourist Bureau has fallen down rather badly here and needs to talk some commonsense
into the Jordanian Immigration Dept. I don't think I've ever seen such a schemozzle!

We started off with the requisite two hours in hand.

We 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 word.
"Hey, 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!
Whew! 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.

Only one and three-quarter hours after we arrived at the terminal,
we went downstairs and got on a bus to the ferry for a 12 noon departure.

On 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.

So would Egypt be better than Jordan, immigration-wise? Hahahaha. Dream on........