Wanderlust souls, I hope this entry on my lesson in patience in getting to Egypt doesn’t turn you off from traveling. It is not really that challenging but you just need to learn to roll with the punches and find a way to cheer yourself up.
One Night In Aqaba
So everything in Aqaba, Jordan starts on a wonderful note. On my way from the abandoned Bedouin camp, I make a reservation at the Lacosta Hotel in downtown Aqaba. Upon check-in I meet Hussam the evening front desk clerk. A wonderful man who helped me immeasurably throughout the stay. Great food recommendations and most importantly a friendly smile and kind word when I was feeling a bit hung out to dry. Nicely enough Hussam upgraded my room selection from regular king to premium King. Not really a big change but he had no reason to do so, which was very kind of him.
Then it was time to find some dinner so I turned to my trusty Larry Bot (otherwise known as Google) to look at some reviews and ratings. I find a nice seaside seafood restaurant at the Movenpick hotel just a handful of minutes walk away.
Now I have the AC jammin’ in my room so when I step outside at 9pm and get hit with 90 degree heat still, I am reminded where I am 🙂 But there is a pleasant breeze blowing and a short walk later I arrive at the beautiful Movenpick hotel with manicured gardens and gorgeous pools. I’m seated at a waterside balcony table and the feast shall begin.
As with almost every meal there is fabulous pita bread brought out with fresh garlic hummous and a yogurt cheese like dish almost like cream cheese called Labneh, it is wonderful. I’m starving so I dig in. And then I realize that a wonderful wine list for the first time has been laid in front of me.
I cannot resist the white Bordeaux as you just don’t see it on many wine lists at home. It comes and it is subtle and citrus and fruty and COLD which is awesome. I order my main dish of Fish Sayadiah (Jordanian style). Thi sis a baked whole fish served over rice cooked with crispy onions, toasted almond slivers a tasty Sayadiah sauce which is essentially the juice of the fish that is left over after you cook it. O-M-G it was absolutely spectacular and such a large portion I couldn’t even finish all my rice.
It was so good that I couldn’t bring myself to taste the wonderful Swiss chocolate ice cream that was on the menu. Now if you know me, passing up chocolate ice cream is not something I do that often so it tells you how great that meal was.
I head back to the hotel, buy a 1L diet coke (I’m jonesin’ after days without again) and head to the room, watch some TV on my tablet via Plex and rack out for the evening. The next day is a chill day.
In the morning I think I skipped breakfast in trade for time to pack leisurely as I am supposed to leave on what I’ve tipple checked is the 11pm ferry from Aqaba to Nuweibaa, Egypt. So for the day I am going to chill at the Berenice Beach Club. For about $18USD you get entrance to the club, transportation to and from, a towel, showers and changing rooms, snack bar (extra) and chairs and umbrellas. Perfect.
First issue is that I show up at 11:30 when the bus is supposed to leave and the front desk clerk (NOT Hussam) tells me that the bus has left even though it is 11:25… she snotily tells me “I told you to be here 10 minutes early” to which I couldn’t help but reply “and I told you twice I was going on the 11:30 shuttle”. Anyway, she called the bus and it came back to pick me up.. or so I thought. Turns out it hadn’t even come by yet as there were 15 other people still waiting.. why couldn’t she just say that.
Well the day at the beach is mostly uneventful except for when I logged on to the Wi-Fi at the club to pay for my deposit on my upcoming dives in Egypt. They only take Visa.. no problem… my Visa is declined… problem. So I call Visa (probably a fortune from overseas) and they start asking me questions about my other Chase card that I don’t have with me. All the while there is the great OOONCA-OONCA-OOONCA deep base techno Arabic music blaring in my ear.
Well I work it all out after twenty minutes of.. huh? what? Can you repeat?.. I felt like I was back home 😉 Other than that the rest of the day goes swimmingly.. literally!
To The Boat… I Think
Finally back at the hotel, I pack up and shower and get ready for the ferry to Nuweibaa which the Tour Guide called and confirmed, I looked at the website and the day front desk clerk called and all said yes it’s at 11pm.
I’m picked up by my driver from Eco-Tours, right on time. I’m feeling good. Then he drops me off at the port which is about 30 minutes outside of town. For some reason when he is dropping me off I have a weird feeling. I guess by now I should know to trust that feeling.
In through the security, scrutinized by the port guard, in I go to pay a departure tax. Well they only take cash.. I had none.. I get the first realization that I might be getting screwed here. So I figure what the hell I will see if there is an ATM around. Problem #1 nobody speaks English so I can’t ask and problem #2 there isn’t one. I discover this after finally being directed to a rather disinterested and gruff dock worker looking manager. He tells me no, they run the company there and yes the boat definitely leaves at 10pm instead of 11pm and two there is no cash machine except back in town. It is now 9:15!!
So I run out and head to get out the doors. Well there are people coming in and the port guard despite the fact that he just checked the only 6′ American weating a bright yellow hat 10 minutes earlier has to slowly go through every page of my passport before allowing me to exit. Fortunately there is a taxi driver there who speaks English and he agrees to try and run me to the ATM.
We are in a beat up old Toyota minivan and he is pulling his best AJ Foyt impersonation trying to get me there and back in time. So we’re hauling butt and the nearest ATM.. you guessed.. doesn’t work for me. So then we have to go all the way to downtown through terrible evening traffic (remember everyone surfaces at night for the cooler temps). Finally get some cash at an ATM and it’s now speed racer time back to the port.
We roll up at 9:50 and everything is shut up for the evening. The boat hasn’t gone but they have closed entry. So crap, I need to spend another night. I’m envisioning waiting again all day tomorrow for the evening ferry and not relishing the thought. Berenice was nice but not that nice to do twice and there really is not that much to see in Aqaba that I’d want to spend a whole day wandering.
Two Nights In Aqaba
Well I head back to the Lacosta and have to explain to Hussam why I’m back and he is VERY sympathetic. He points me to a wonderful cheap and authentic Jordanian restaurant for some eats. Five kabobs, fries, pita and hummous and a beer for about $8 or $9. Once I get back to the hotel it’s sleepy time but as I’m falling asleep I have the grand idea that I will go overland in the morning rather than by Ferry.
Three Countries, Two Borders, Six Hours
6 am I do a little research, food that I can get a taxi from the town of Tabs on the Egyptian border to Sharm El Sheikh, my first dive destination, for only $115 USD. This combined with the 8 km teach across Israel and the entry and exit fees work out to only about $20 more than the ferry route and I get to stay a whole 12 hours earlier.
Taxi to the Israel border, no problem
Finding taxi in Israel, problem.. It’s Friday this is the weekend for them. Finally got the border guard to call one and he is incredibly nice and charges me local rates for the ride. I’m feeling good.
Walk through the border at Egypt. Israel check points no problem. Egyptian check points, pain in the ass. I ended up literally emptying my entire backpack and having to repack everything, 45 minutes gone.
Eventually I make it through and am taken for about $2 by someone I thought was an official but just some schmoe who authoritatively tells you he had to fill in your entry card then asks for money after.
Finally through and I’m accosted by the taxi mafia of Egypt. The concept that I have a ride coming for me seems completely foreign to them. But my ride isn’t showing… 1 hour no show. The company I arranged from finally picks up and we realize the problem. First I was early, second I didn’t account for time zone changes. So I’m an hour and a half early.
By this time of course I’ll thirsty so I head into the beautiful Movenpick hotel.. Guess what? I have to clear security screening as tough as the border although I didn’t have to completely empty my pack. But in I get and I have my first beer in Egypt and let me tell you it was DAMN tasty.
Finally time my driver arrives and off we go. This is a three hour ride with twenty or so check points along the way with police and military carrying machine guns and sitting in armored carriers. One quick stop for ice cream and diet coke and finally (several more checkpoints later) at the hotel.
Let me tell you, I’ve been looking forward to this fancy Renaissance hotel for days. I’m disappointed. Despite being upgraded to a suite, my view is mostly of mechanical equipment on roofs and the furniture is quite beat up.
I did complain after dinner and to their credit they said they would move me the next day. So u make the best of the evening with a beer, a pizza and Dionne episodes of Chuck. The new room is fabulous but more on that tomorrow.