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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Journey Out of Egypt

October  16-17, 2010

Days 140-141

Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to have two early days, especially following a long day – waking up at 4:45AM to walk a mile or so to the train station to take a 3 hour train ride to Alexandria…A full day of walking – roughly 8 hours – was demanding.

Is it a surprise to anyone that I didn’t get up to catch my 6AM bus?  Well the retarded part was that I was up until 3AM, sorting my bag and playing on my phone. STUPID, STUPID, STUPID! I had planned to wake up at 4:30AM anyway so I am not sure why I didn’t stay up at that point; I mean I could have slept on the 8 hour bus ride.

I woke up at 9AM and barged out of my room.  Mustafa who was supposed to have woken me up was sleeping and said that he did try to wake me up but that I didn’t answer the door. He said he knocked several times and then thought that maybe I just left…though that wouldn’t be right because the door would have been open and I would have vacated the room.

Anyway, so I woke up and then decided since I had already missed the bus that I was in no hurry so I would eat my breakfast and then go. I left the hostel shortly after 10:00AM. When I arrived at the bus station, I learned that there was a 10:00AM bus that I could have caught otherwise, the only other direct buses to Nuweiba were at night.

My options were to enjoy the day in Cairo (though I had my bags with me) and take the night but and arrive the next day OR to try and race down to Nuweiba.  I had 5 hours until my ferry supposedly departed and I was on the ‘slow boat’ which is notoriously late so I thought I should just make my way down there and find an alternative way to get there.

I opted to take the next bus out to Suez and from there, connect on a bus to Nuweiba; I was told that there would be connecting buses from Suez.  I had to rebuy my ticket since the other one was void and took the 10:30AM bus out to the Suez. 

It was a good thing that I had already gone through the Suez once before so the area was familiar to me and I had met some of the people that helped us the first time we went through.  When I arrived shortly before 12:30PM, I was told that there were no more buses to Nuweiba and that I would need to wait until the next day. Noooooooo!  We had already looked at options in Suez because our Greek friend stayed here, and the choices weren’t nice.   Just then, a driver came up to me and at first I didn’t want to talk to him but he asked where I was going and suggested that I could ride a minibus to Nuweiba.  I wanted to leave straight away because I could maybe still make it!  He took his time and he said that it didn’t matter, the buses leave when they are full so even if I don’t catch this one, there will be another one waiting for me….but I wanted to be the last one in rather than the first one in!

We finally left and about midway, my driver Osama got a phone call that a couple wanted to be driven to Cairo; apparently there were no more buses from Suez for them either.  So we had to pull over on the side of the road (c’mon I thought!) and wait for another taxi to bring them to us. The couple was from Saudi Arabia and the young woman was really friendly and thought it was so hilarious that I, the American, was being driven by Osama…she reassured me that he was not THE Osama…I guess you had to be there…He pulled over to the side of the road where there was a minibus almost full. The driver didn’t really want to take me at first and I had to negotiate for my ride.  I knew I was paying more than everyone else but managed to get them to drive me for 35EGP rather than 40EGP that he previously quoted.


It was a long drive and we all rode in silence for the most part. We must have had stop at least 8 times for the police and each time they would ask me to show my passport.  At one of the last stops, they took my passport for a good 10 minutes. Later when I inspected my passport, it looked as if someone tried to take it apart, trying to separate the plastic laminate from the book. 

The whole time we rode in the minibus, I thought to myself, the ferry is still waiting for me, it is still waiting for me! Please let the ferry wait for me! The main reason why I was so adamant about getting out then was that my friend Scott would be flying into town that day and I was trying to be back in Amman by the time he landed.

The drive, I was told, was supposed to be 4 hours but with all the stops it was taking so much longer!  There was even a point where a father had to get off the minibus leaving his two young sons on the bus…I think he was wanted for something or didn’t have appropriate documentation; that’s my guess.  He had the other people in the minibus look after them and explained to his older son to look after the younger brother. We drove off and finally pulled in to Nuweiba a little after 6:30PM; the ride took us 5.5 hours!  I was still hopeful but the area did not look very familiar at all from the time I came in with Lee; I couldn’t even really see water.  I later found out that this town I was in was only 200m away from the spot where Lee and I came in from Jordan; but we had no idea where the town was and the people that we asked made like it was miles away. Turned out that it was right there!

Another passenger on the bus was helpful and tried to tell me that I have to go on the ferry tomorrow because it had left already. Are you sure??  Maybe it’s still here?!  One of the things that I try to avoid is walking around at night WITH my big bags but this is what happened. I tried to pretend like I knew where I was going but it was obvious I was a tourist with no clue! Some people tried to point me in the direction where I could find hotels.  There was no internet connection, again.

I finally came across a place that looked okay.  I only had 55EGP left on me. I didn’t want to give him all my money…what if I needed to buy something? Food?  I could have easily taken out more money but I didn’t want to have too much.  If I had only woken up on time, I would not be in this predicament!

The guy at the place I found told me that the cost was 70EGP for a night. I showed him that I only have 55EGP so he said okay.  But I told him, I wanted to pay 40EGP because I need to eat and motioned my hand to my mouth.  He said okay then he took the 50EGP. Um, sir, will you give me change back?  I figured I shouldn’t push the issue. I will make my 5EGP stretch.

Luckily I have my ‘kitchen’ on me where I carry soups, instant ramen, shoyu, sesame seed oil, I have some rice too! I also happened to have some bread and cheese on me too. It’s nice when you need it but this is why my bag is so heavy!  So, since I didn’t have much money, I decided I would just buy water and eat the food that I already had.  Luckily the man at the hotel allowed me to heat up water and I was able to cook my ramen noodles.  The only gross part was when I was cleaning my dishes after I was done, I saw a big ‘ole roach! Ewwww….it was a good thing I ate already!

With the 5EGP that I had left, I purchased a big bottle of water and a small cookie snack and I had a little money left over that I decided I would use it to buy a stamp to send out a postcard the following day…I suppose it was a good thing I got delayed because the post office was closed on Saturday but would be open the following day, Sunday.** I had just enough money to get me out of the country…

Here’s the video from my room:

I slept rather well, considering and was up the next morning at 7AM. I had received conflicting information the night before that the ferry left at 11AM though I had been told 4PM when I purchased the ticket in Jordan. When I asked what time I should go, I was told around 9AM. So, I decided to wake up, have my instant coffee (from my kitchen), more of my bread inventory then walk over to the post office down the street.  Somehow I had just enough money to buy one more bottle of water too! I made that 5EGP stretch!

I made my way to the port at around 9AM.  Some guys there (I think they were some kind of guards or officials at the port) were nice to me and encouraged me to get in front of the big group of people. So I took their advice and walked through with my big bags as if I was some sort of VIP. It was mass chaos on the other side of the wall and I didn’t really know where to go.  Somehow I didn’t go the right way and had bypassed immigration.  I saw a bunch of tourists walking past and I didn’t really know where to go. When I asked an officer where to go he asked if I went through immigration when I told him ‘no’ he showed me where to go; I think he thought I was with the big tour group.


There is an Egyptian exit tax that I was aware of but didn’t know if and where I needed to pay it. When I asked a guy from the tour group if he had to pay an exit tax he said ‘yes’ and told me that it would have been before we even entered the building.  I think I must have paid for it when I purchased my round trip ticket in Aqaba weeks before so I didn’t worry about it (good thing because I had no more EGP left!).  I got through Immigration with no problem.  There was a lot of confusion and the officers directed me to go to where the group was. I followed but realized that they were an overland tour (kind of like my African trip) and so it wasn’t like I could hang out with them because they were in their big truck.  So I went back inside and waited in the waiting area.

IMG_3718   IMG_3719

I waited and waited and waited. The waiting hall was full of people; there must have been at least a thousand people (mostly men) waiting. In the meantime, some guys next to me were friendly and bought me shai and shared with me some of their snacks.  It was nice to be able to pass the time because in the end, I waited for 3.5 hours! I was getting so impatient (because I was told I needed to be there at 9AM) that I went out to try to talk to someone.  They told me to wait and then some big shot walked in and the guy that I had spoke to exchanged some words with the big shot.  The big shot then told me to get me on the bus.  I told him that I needed to get my bag so I went back and told my new friends that I was going in now and that I would see them inside.  I went back to where the big shot was and I was shown on to the minibus. It looked like they were transporting women and children (and their husbands) to the ferry. 


I finally got on and because I was with the first run, I was able to choose a really good seat for myself.  I got to wait more comfortably inside the ferry but I never did see my friends again; I suppose there were too many people.  I did make two new friends instead though who found seats near me (I later learned that they just met each other that day too!).  They were extremely entertaining and helped to pass the 6 hour journey back. They bought me drinks (coffee, no beer it’s a Muslim country) and shared snacks and I did the same.  Another lady seated next to us was also kind to us and sent snacks over our way.  Everyone was so nice and I was so glad that I didn’t have to be alone; I didn’t have to worry about my things when I went to the restroom, etc.


Finally we pulled in to Aqaba around 10:00PM. I didn’t have my passport though; it was taken from me when I boarded and I was given a slip and told to pick it up when I arrived at the port.  One of the guys I was with, Finkly, also had his passport taken so we waited together. The crew tried to get us off the ferry and asked why we were still hanging around.  We explained to him that we were waiting for our passports and he asked if we had our slips. I said I did so he told me to go on ahead down. But Finky never asked for a slip so he had to stay behind. 

I went down with the other guy, Faroud, but he went on ahead of me because I didn’t know where I was supposed to get my passport.  In the waiting hall I saw the overland tour again and was told to wait with them. Again, I think they thought I was with them. I kept trying to inquire about my passport and I was sent to different offices but no one seemed to be around. Finally, someone called to another officer sitting outside and when I went up to him, I asked if he had my passport.  He joked that I needed to pay him again and then pulled my passport from out of his pant’s pocket. Oh gee, thanks! I was waiting for 30 minutes frantically trying to find my passport and you had it in your pant’s pocket the whole time! So official!

I was finally on my way out and it was close to 11:00PM. I didn’t want to stay in Aqaba - no more roof top sleeps! It would be weird too to be there anyway without Lee and Peter…so I decided to go back to Amman.  On the ferry, Scott had also called me and wanted me to come back and go with him to Petra the next day because he was alone in Jordan which wasn’t the original plan (his travel buddy missed the flight).  He didn’t want to go to Petra alone and asked me to join him. From Aqaba, I was only 2 hours away but he wanted me to drive down with him from Amman.  So, I tried to find a bus that would take me back.

Everyone was harassing me trying to get me to go with them.  Luckily my friend, Faroud found me outside and helped me. He chased away all the touts and found me a bus that would take me there for 5.5JD which was a steal - that’s more or less the price I’d pay, minimum, just to go to a hostel down the street. The bus driver said that they would leave around midnight and that the ride would be about 5 hours. Perfect I thought because Scott had a driver booked at 5AM to take him to Petra so I would just make it.

Of course, we didn’t get that at 5AM…Throughout my bus ride Scott called to find out where I was.  I asked Scott to have his driver get me from the bus station but his driver refused.  After I found out how much Scott paid this guy, I was furious! To have picked me up from the station was along the way but he was just lazy.  Because I didn’t arrive into Amman until 6:00AM, Scott had to reschedule the tour for 8AM. When the bus pulled into the bus stop, I had to find a taxi that would take me to Scott’s hotel.  My bus driver and his co-pilot were really  nice and made sure that I would get into a taxi that would take me there safely and not rip me off. They found me a taxi that agreed to use his meter but I’m not sure why there was someone else in the car with me the whole time. Whatever, as long as I got there safely and I wasn’t being ripped off.

I made it to Scott’s hotel within 10 minutes and went straight up to his room. It was nice to relax and take a shower.  Scott was even nice enough to bring me TWO bags of cheetos, by request!  We decided to go downstairs for breakfast even though we were both extremely exhausted due to lack of sleep.

At 8:00AM the driver came and took us to Petra. When I got there, I tried to contact my Bedouin friend, Ahmed, to see if he would get me in for free.  Ahmed was the guy who had helped me the last time I went through that traumatic experience at Petra but when I called, he didn’t offer to get me in for free even though he said that the next time I come, he would.  When I ended up going in to meet him too, he said he didn’t remember me even though I spoke to him just before entering.  I was really annoyed by his two-sided personality which I wasn’t sure was an act or if he was just really a jerk. I was more annoyed because almost the whole time I was in Aqaba and even when I was in Egypt he would send me messages asking if I was coming back to the Bedouin Village to work and when he would see me again. Grrrr. After that experience (my third), I felt like all the Bedouin men I had met were not honest and only wanted to tell me lies to get what they wanted.

Anyway, my main goal at Petra the second time around was to climb up the rocks so that I could see the Treasury from above.  When I tried to ask the local Bedouin which way to go, they all refused and said it wasn’t possible to go.  Bollocks! I know it’s possible to go because I know people who did! In the end, we couldn’t figure it out and so went up walking over some other rocks.  Scott’s driver only gave us 5 hours in Petra; and that was only after I told him that we needed more time, he was only going to give us 4! Side note: I really think you need at least 8 to see everything.  Because we only had 5 hours, I didn’t have enough time to take Scott to the Monastery which is about 3 more miles back, 5 miles from the entrance.  We definitely took a lot of great photos though and just enjoyed each other’s company.

We returned to Amman that evening around 7:00PM and discovered a nice, new shopping area near his hotel.  We also found a Starbuck’s where we got connected to free internet! His hotel was charging a ridiculous fee.  We had dinner together and decided to call it an early night because we were going to try and go to the Dead Sea the following day. I also called Mohammad to let him know that I was back in town and asked him to have his driver, Khaled, come to pick us up and take us back to Bdeiwi.

Khaled came to pick us up at 8:30AM but we never made it to the Dead Sea after all because Scott felt really ill a few hours later; he ended up staying at Bdeiwi sick to his stomach for the next two days.  Since he was immobile, I ended up going back to work and trying to organize my journey out of Jordan too.  After having a fabulous time in Egypt with Lee, I really didn’t want to be in Jordan anymore, the Middle East just wasn’t the same.  There were still so many sites I wanted to see though as I only saw Petra and Wadi Rum before going to Egypt…I never even made it to the Citadel right down the street! So I started planning my final days in Jordan and my flight out of the country….

** The week for many Muslim countries start on Sunday and end on Thursday. Friday is their Saturday and Saturday is their Sunday.

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