I didn’t know anything about Aqaba, let alone Jordan before I left, except that it was that place that ultra-awesome basket-baller of the Chicago Bulls was born. But it might interest you to know something else about the place as well. Lawrence of Arabia forced the Ottoman Turks out of here in 1917 for a start, this helped an Arab, British alliance open up supply lines. It’s also right up at the top of the Red Sea, looks across at Israel on the other side and is the only beach resort for Jordanians given their narrow Red Sea coastline.
We left early on the van to the Egyptian port at Nuweiba. As if saying goodbye to our friend and leader Mohammed wasn’t bad enough, we were ushered through to the ‘waiting room’ at the port to which we would spend 2 or so hours before boarding the ferry. I’ve enclosed ‘waiting room’ in inverted commas because it really should have been called ‘roasting hot, under ventilated, **** stained place of utter hopelessness’. I couldn’t have imagined anything worse but then I really understood when one of our group, battling with an upset stomach made several impromptu visits to the station bathrooms. Hell is better than that.
After an eternity we were separated from the natives and ushered through the docklands to the ferry. No-one really knew what to do with us, put your bags here.. no bring them inside. Line-up behind the arabs, no, come with me to the front of the line. We did manage to get onboard this beautiful ship, with it’s rows and rows of leather seats in air-conditioned cabins complete with duty-free shopping. But it was here we sat for another 3 hours before eventually getting underway. This meant that our group became somewhat of a novelty for the local men on the ferry and so they formed a sort of ogling procession. It was near dark as our boat set off on the beautiful Red Sea. The lights of Egypt on one side, Saudi Arabia on the other, then eventually Israel and Jordan as we pulled into the dock at Aqaba some two or so hours later.
We were to be met by another Intrepid guide. He had big shoes to fill given our comeradery with Mohammed in Egypt. He wasn’t even there when we arrived in the dock. To add to the stress, some retarded baggage porter encouraged me and Alex, a real good chap on our tour, to enter the cargo/trucking dock to look for our bags. We squished between trucks and covered our mouths and noses at the exhaust, searching for the container which held our bags. Trucks began to move out of the dock. This wasn’t right, it wasn’t safe, how did this happen? Eventually some dopey ferry-hand came past with a whistle and staff and waved us out of the loading dock. By that time Faizal, our Jordanian guide shows up. He’s a man in his forties I guess with some wonderful spectacles and a dashing eastern-European fashion tendency. He talks with the oozy creepiness of a mad scientist and strikes an immediate discord with some of the members of our group. There’s rolling eyes and rather abrupt ‘I’m sorry..?’ and ‘What?’ But he didn’t bother me, I love quirks and weird psychopaths. Faizal leads us on a path of ‘new procedure’ through Jordanian immigration which involves taking us through the Departures hall, an area secured against new arrivals. He seems to cop an earful from Jordanian police however the matter is quickly resolved and we’re soon where we should be. Packing our luggage onto a mini-van. Ahhh, the luxuries of group travel. No more sussing out local transport options and safety advice.
It’s immediately noticeable that Aqaba is a far more polished port city than it’s Egyptian counter-part. Considering it doubles as a bit of a luxury resort for Jordanians it’s fashioned in a lot of marble and palm trees and plenty of boutiques. The Jordanians do that arab thing pretty well. The headscarves are of beautiful fabric, rich in red patterns and held aloft by dual black rings. Then theres the gowns, broad in the shoulders but generally figure hugging and of the finest tailoring. There may be a kind of camel coloured over-gown to finish it off for those cooler winter nights. Either way, I feel ridiculously under-dressed.
As some of us.. i.e: those more tolerable to Faizals enthusiasm after the whole ferry ordeal.. take a wander to find a shwarma. The Jordanian young, as described above, cruise in their matte black urban trucks with music blaring and dancing arms flailing from the windows. There’s a greater prevalence of liquor shops as well.
And that’s about as much time as we got in Aqaba. The next morning we were back in the van and desert bound, to visit the Bedouins who lurked about in the mysterious hills of Wadi Rum.