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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Aqaba on to Egypt…

Waiting for someone to take us to Aqaba

Ali dropped us off on the highway, as he said he would and again, thank God, I was with the guys.  Seriously, I would have freaked out if I was dropped off at the highway by myself; at least we had each other.  The owner, who was driving in front of us, was also taking his cook, who was Egyptian and who was also trying to make it to Aqaba so that he could take the ferry over to Egypt. So, Ali told us that he would help us get to Aqaba.  We waited in the hot sun for a while and there were a few buses that passed us but none of them stopped.  Finally a taxi stopped and we were able to get the 4 of us in.

I still didn’t know where I was staying but decided I would just go with the guys. I was tempted to find my own accommodations in the city center but thought that it would make things difficult to meet up again.  The place that the guys had booked for two nights was about 7km away from the city and was right across the street from the beach.  We paid the driver 5 JD each; it was more than we should have paid but much more convenient.

As we got into the city, the cook got out of the taxi and said something to the driver….I watched him as he got out to make sure he paid.  I didn’t see him pay but he had been saying that the driver was his friend so maybe the driver wasn’t charging him.  When we finally got dropped off, the driver told us that we needed to pay for the cook and we told him that we made no such arrangement and would not pay him.  I still don’t know if it was the cook or the driver who was the real crook. 

We got into the place and tried to see if I could bargain our way with the hostels.  The first hostel said that they would give us an air-conditioned dorm room for 8JD each. I told him we would think about it and come back.  Then we went to the place that they guys had actually booked and I was able to negotiate a rate for 7JD for the rooftop which the guys had actually booked for 12JD a night.  For 1JD more, the other place was clearly a better option so I decided to go back and ask for 20JD for all of us. The staff at the booked hostel, realized that we were thinking about going to the other place, then threatened the guys and said that they would still have to pay for one night even if they decide not to stay.  I told the guys that I didn’t think they would charge them because they don’t even get the money for the cancellation, the booking website does…I went back to the other hostel anyway and the guy told me that the room wasn’t available anymore…Maybe my bargaining had gone too far…I was pissed that they just pulled the offer like that.  So in the end, we stayed at the place that the guys had already booked.  I decided to only book for one night though because I couldn’t really see myself sleeping out on the rooftop and wanted to keep my options open.  I tried to persuade the guys to just book for one night as well but they decided to go for two.

It was sooooo bloody hot in Aqaba! 104F (40C) degrees! The last time I experienced heat like that were my summers in Beijing.  But in Beijing at least I had air-conditioning…here, we were constantly exposed to the sun.  On the rooftop, we had absolutely no shade and nowhere to keep our bags out of the sun either.  What can we say though, it was the cheapest accommodations we could find.

The view from our rooftop; courtesy of LMH:

We ended up spending three days there, and one half day at the beach.  We got lucky too because we had met another couple who were coming back to the hostel as we were heading out and let us use their snorkeling gear that they had rented.  It was nice of them to let us use it because it made our time at the beach a lot more fun.  We ended up swimming for about an hour, not as much time as we would have wanted to but I was trying to get to the Egyptian Consulate.  While we were at the beach, I realized that I wanted to try and get my visa for Egypt since I had read that it was easier to have beforehand than trying to get it on the ferry; Lee already had his so I didn’t want to slow him down on my account.

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Lee was able to negotiate a taxi for us for 3JD! Yeah! We were told that on average, we should pay about 5JD; 3JD was the local price.  The guy had no idea where the Egyptian Consulate was though so he just dropped us in the city center.  I read that the Consulate closed at 4:00PM and it was 3:20PM and so I needed to get there quick.  Usually, it would take at least a day to acquire a visa but my book said that it only took a few minutes and because it said that it closed at 4:00PM, I figured as long as I got in before 4:00PM, they’d do it.

Not knowing where I was and where I needed to go, I asked some people who pointed me in the right direction.  I ran and tried to follow their instructions but could not find the place! I stopped at another official looking building but it wasn’t it…it was now 3:30PM!  The lady gave me directions again and I finally found the consulate, located at least a mile and a half away from the city center.  The guard outside told me that it was closed and to use the side door.  I went to the side and didn’t know which door as nothing was labeled.  I knocked anyway and a few moments later, a guy opened the door.  I said visa and walked right pass him, giving him no time to speak.  I went into the office with a room full of men and told them that I needed my visa. It was 3:45PM.  They said, “no, it is too late.”  I said, “but it’s only 3:45PM, there’s still 15 minutes!”  They said “no” again and began yelling at the guy who opened the door for me, I assumed they were upset with him for letting me in.  I pleaded and then got annoyed because they weren’t helping me when I was there during their operating hours. They told me to come back tomorrow. I told them that I couldn’t and stormed out of there.  In hindsight, that was really bad form because I would later go back the next day to try again for my visa! How embarrassing!

So, after I couldn’t get my visa, I went back to the city center to try and find the guys.  We had split up rather abruptly.  The guys were looking for a place to exchange Lee’s traveler’s checks - a constant challenge throughout our trip - and the banks were also closing at 4:00PM.  I waited for the guys for about 10 minutes and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find them and may have to take a taxi back on my own; I didn’t have Lee to negotiate the price for me!

Eventually, I found them and we decided to have an early dinner…at Popeye’s!  I had been craving fried chicken for a while…my hunger wasn’t satiated back in Johannesburg!  So I convinced the guys to eat at Popeye’s.  It didn’t taste like the Popeye’s back home, or at least it seemed different, but it still hit the spot!  Later we walked around and went to our first Jordanian mall which was weird and deserted; reminded me of malls in China 10 years ago before they started to grow so rapidly.

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After the mall, we walked around and then decided to make our way back to our hostel after stopping at a liquor store.  I bought a couple of beers and the guys bought Lord knows what and we decided to drink back at the hostel.  Although Jordan is an Islamic country, here in Aqaba, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA)**, it was not only relatively easy to obtain alcohol but it was also significantly cheaper, as it was sold duty free. 

On the ride back to our hostel, we couldn’t bargain the 3JD and ended up paying 5JD! Later that night, we started with the couple who lent us their snorkeling equipment and also met another French Canadian.  The Canadian was actually renting a car so later the, Canadian, the couple and Lee decided to go back into the city for dinner.  Trying to conserve money, I opted out and decided to try to get some writing done…Peter and I ended up meeting three Danish guys…I think they were Danes….and we played again ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’…this was a popular International Game!  Peter later passed out cold on the sofa and I couldn’t wake him up.  In the end, after numerous attempts to wake him up, I left him in the lounge area and I went to the rooftop to get some sleep.  A few minutes later, he got up and came up to the rooftop.
Lee decided to sleep at the beach that night…

The following day, I was up at exactly 6:30AM.  Not because I had my set my alarm but because the flies, out of nowhere, came to attack me!  Every morning, the flies were constantly IN YOUR FACE! Literally.  With a complete disregard for your personal space, these flies were on your eyes, in your nose, on your lips! Not only was it disgusting but it was so irritating!  And somehow the flies must have woken up at 6:30AM too because they’d come straight for you!  It was peaceful at night, with no flies around but once 6:30AM came, you couldn’t sleep even if you wanted; well that and the sun was shining down on you!

Peter, wasn’t feeling well the next day and I assumed that it was a hangover since we only had a light breakfast from the hostel and Popeye’s the day before.  He kept insisting that it wasn’t the alcohol.  In the meantime, Lee and I had found out that we needed to purchase our ferry tickets in the city center; had we known that the day before, we could have done it when we were there but we only found out back at the hostel.  So we were trying to make our way back into town.  I had Lee ask the French Canadian if we could hitch a ride with him into the city since he was leaving to go to Wadi Rum.  It worked out that the couple was able to hitch a ride with him to Wadi Rum too. Since Peter wasn’t feeling well, he decided to stay back and rest; we told him we’d be back around lunch time…

They dropped us off at the Consulate and we took a few quick photos before they left.  Then we headed over to the Consulate and I had to apply for my visa.  It was embarrassing because of they way I conducted myself the day before but it was only then that I realized that the Consulate was actually closed and the part that I barged into, was the back offices of the Consulate compound.  Anyway, I’m sure they remembered me and I tried to keep quiet and get my visa so that I could leave quickly.  Didn’t work out that way.  In the end, we waited there for about 2 hours, the first 1/2 hour not knowing what was going on.  I don’t know if they made us wait intentionally but it was getting ridiculous! At one point I also needed to use the bathroom and there were no toilets around! I don’t have a problem peeing anywhere but the Consulate was located in a residential area.  The Consulate was also not helpful and told me that they had no toilets available.  FINALLY, after pestering them, asking how long more it will take for my visa because I needed to use the toilet, one of the higher ups, who may not have been there the day before, agreed to let me use the toilet, overruling the decision of the other guy who was there the day before.  I went back through the back side, as I did the day before, and quickly used the toilet.  RELIEF!

After finally getting my visa, we were on our way.  And we decided to try to find the ferry office.  We kept losing our way and Lee was getting tired. Finally, we received the correct information (no one really knew where it was), found the place and purchased our tickets.  The ferry ticket wasn’t cheap either.  For a one way from Aqaba to Nuweiba, Egypt was $60.  For a return, you saved about 7% and so I paid about $112.  There were actually two options for us, either riding the slow ferry (which was $10 less each way) which they say took about 3 hours but was notoriously late so it was actually a longer ride, or the fast ferry which left on time and took about two hours. In an attempt to save money, I asked Lee if we could take the slower ferry which left at midnight so that we could not only save on accommodations for the night, hoping they would leave late and we would be able to get a proper sleep, and because I liked the times for the return.  The slow ferry left Nuweiba in the late afternoon whereas the fast ferry left midday.  And because we had spent so long in the Consulate getting my visa, we had already missed the fast ferry anyway.  This way, we still had the rest of the day before our departure.

We decided to find a place to eat and based on the recommendation of the guy at the Ferry company, we found a local place to eat.  We ended up getting the Mansef which is meat (we got lamb) served atop rice flavored with pine nuts and other spices.  For JD8, we also got a salad and some pita and hummus as well as soup which I didn’t care for too much….the soup was yogurt and lamb drippings I think. It had the distinct aroma of lamb with a hint of sourness from the yogurt and a very oily consistency. Over lunch, Lee and I got to know more about each other and ended up spending about two hours having lunch!


After finishing lunch, we were so full and we decided to make our way back to the hostel since we had left Peter earlier that day.  Of course, we couldn’t get  a ride for any less than 5JD!  We were trying to see if the driver we had would be able to come and pick us up to take us to the ferry port located 3km away, later that night. He wanted to charge us 5JD and I didn’t want to pay that amount so we told him it was okay.  The only tricky part with not making taxi arrangements is that you have to try to flag a taxi on a road that is not frequently traveled by taxis.  But we were willing to take our chances.

We rested for the remaining hours and Peter seemed to be feeling a lot better.  We took showers and got ready for our ferry ride. We decided, we should try to leave the hostel around 9:30PM in case it took us longer than expected to find a taxi.  Of course, we didn’t leave on time and we didn’t get out of there until 10:00PM.  But, just as we walked to the road, literally, not even a minute, a car was driving towards us and who would have guessed, it was a taxi!  And, Lee was able to bargain it down to 3JD!

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We arrived at the port and didn’t really know where to go.  We were told to come around two hours prior to departure and we were there shortly after 10:00PM so we were good on time.  We found out that we needed to go through exit procedures, Immigration and Customs, and there was also a 8JD departure tax.  We had no idea what the process was but the police were very helpful and kind to me; not sure if it was because I was the only female or because I was a foreigner.  After we were cleared for departure, we stepped out of the terminal but had no idea where to go.  We asked around but no one really knew either. We started to follow some guys but it didn’t look like the right direction and so I told Lee that we should turn around.  Just when we did that, a bus pulled up and we realized that was the bus we needed to be on!  So we quickly filed in, again, I was the only female and so I felt out of place.  We got onto the bus and we were driven to our boat which was only 200m or so away.

We got onto the bus and just sat around the common lounge area.  We were getting really sleepy and were trying to figure out where we could go so that we could lie down and sleep.  We were also worried about our things though.  We were afraid that if we fell asleep, we couldn’t guarantee that our things would be safe.  Besides that, there were just too many men around and because we were in an Islamic society, it really wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go and try to sleep right next to them!  We later went to inquire about cabins and found out that for $10, we could get a cabin.  At first, we thought we would only pay for 1 person and sneak the other person in but then we found out that the cabin had two beds so Lee and I could split the costs.  The whole point of taking the slow ferry was to save on sleeping accommodations and even though we decided to get a cabin, we still ended up saving money.

We decided to come up with a story that Lee and I were ‘together’ to make things easier for us as we traveled.  Egypt, like Jordan was an Islamic country so a man and woman traveling together who were not married (dating was better than just being friends), was looked down upon.  From then on, throughout our time in Egypt, Lee and I would be ‘together’ and depending on our mood, we would either be: married, engaged or dating.

After we got into our cabin I urged Lee that we should try to get to sleep right away because if the ferry was only 3 hours, we would only have 3 hours of sleep.  Since it was already late and because we had a long day, we had no problems falling asleep.  I am not sure what time we finally left but I didn’t get up until 6AM, when Lee said that we had arrived.  I was really happy that we had decided to get a cabin and have a solid 6 hours of sleep….and thank goodness the slow ferry was slow!
We were finally in Egypt!

** If you come through ASEZA (Eilat, Israel or Nuweiba, Egypt or the Aqaba airport) you can enter the country visa-free (10JD).  If you arrive through Amman but can make it down to Aqaba within 2 days, you can skip getting the visa in Amman and tell them you are going to Aqaba. You need to validate your passport in Aqaba within 48 hours though (5-6 hour by car from Amman). 

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