Aqaba doesn’t have the historical draw of much of the region. History happenned here, but it’s left relatively little trace. However, there is excellent diving, in the limited available coastline between the port and the Saudi border.
So we went scuba diving today. It was something we’d intended to do in Dahab, but kind of missed out on. I haven’t gone in a long time (probably close to 8 years, shortly after I learned to dive), and Kathy had never gone before, so we just did a shallow dive from the shore. There was still some amazing coral to be seen, and lots of colourful fishes. My only other diving experience has been in the Jasper lakes (where there is almost no life), and among the Gulf Islands off of Vancouver, where there is tons of life, but it’s all ugly and dull colours. So the tropical view was a pleasant change. Kathy saw a couple of octopi that I missed, but there were fish everywhere, as we saw a few eels as well. There was also a fair bit of coral around.
We’re off to Wadi Rum tomorrow morning, 10 am, so we’ll be out of touch for a few days, until we get to Petra.
We have arrived safely in Aqaba, Jordan, and so far we have noticed quite a difference from Egypt. The cab driver that brought us to our hotel took us straight there, without trying to sell us on a different hotel, and he was quite adamant that Jordan is different than Egypt. He appeared to be quite proud of his country, something that we noted was lacking in Egypt.
Immigration was remarkably easy, hassle free, and the agents were quite friendly. So far our experience has been, “Canadian? Ok, you go.” A smile and a wave, and barely a glance at our documents or bags. They had us unlock and open our bags at the port, to ask about my shampoo and then send us on our way. (A mere formality, I suspect)
Internet is more expensive here, so we will try to limit it a bit, at least until we can find something a bit cheaper.
We are in Aqaba for 3 nights (including last night), as we plan our route through Jordan. We’ll post the plans once we have something figured out. Today we are heading to Aqaba Castle and the tourist office, to get some information (hopefully it’s better than Egypt, where the tourist offices simply pointed you in the direction of their favoured travel agency, or so we were told – we didn’t actually investigate for ourselves).
Stay tuned for more from Jordan!
Now that the original shock has worn off slightly, we have decided to try and catch the bus to Nuweiba, and then the ferry to Aqaba, Jordan as soon as we can. We’ve asked the hotel to try and get us tickets for the first bus tomorrow morning, but it seems there is quite the exodus happening here today, so we’re not sure yet if we will be able to catch that bus. We suspect that most people are heading back to Cairo, so hopefully there won’t be a problem. the schedules seem to have changed since our guide book was published, so we may or may not make the ferry connection the same day, which would mean a night in Nuweiba.
We’ve been told that some of the hotels have arranged mini-buses for their guests as obviously there are not enough regular buses running to get everyone out who wants to leave. There appear to be a number of people still hanging around the resorts, and the hotelier did try to get us to stay, as the worst has almost surely passed, but I would feel more comfortable to get to a quieter place. Not that Aqaba itself is necessarily quiet, but it’s more of a trade port than a tourist town.
So it means that we have decided not to do the trek to St. Katherine’s, or Mount Sinai, which is a shame, but not a huge deal for us. The biggest shame is really not being able to stay in Dahab. It’s such a API Call Errorbeautiful town, most certainly a tourist resort, but still quainter than the other tourist places we’ve been. API Call ErrorBeautiful clean clear ocean, nice sea breeze, not too hot… It also means we will have to wait until Turkey to do any diving, but again, not a big deal.
I think the worst is over, and we will try to get back on the trail as quickly as possible. Stay tuned in the next day or two, we will let you know when we arrive in Aqaba.
Just a quick note to everyone to let you know that we’re alright. We were on the overnight bus to Dahab when 3 bombs went off at our destination. We were wondering why they started having passport checks every half hour or so, but no one provided any explanation, so we were quite shocked to arrive here and find out.
We’ll post further once we’ve decided what we’re going to do from here.
We’re leaving Luxor this afternoon for Dahab. An extra-fun 14 hour bus ride. Very much looking forward to the Sinai, as we’re getting a little tired of the hassle that is everywhere in Upper Egypt.
Luxor has some amazing API Call ErrorPharonic monuments. API Call ErrorKarnak temple in particular is quite the complex. It’s actually several temples built over a period of about 2000 years, with even the newer bits being over 3000 years old (or possibly API Call Errorstill under construction). The other very famous site here, the API Call ErrorValley of the Kings wasn’t so great. The tombs, while vaguely interesting, are extremely uncomfortable to enter (too many tourists & no ventilation), and, since we can’t read ancient Egyptian, after a while all the writing & drawings are just kind of the same.
Luxor has also been the worst stop for beggars & touts. More pushy than most of Egypt, and the beggars are more insistant. Outside of Karnak, there appeared to be a whole family begging/selling useless junk, but no parents. Stewart, a guy on our tour who’s been living in Kenya and has traveled extensively in Africa, made the comment that Egypt’s not even particularly poor in the grand scheme of things, and many poorer countries still don’t have people begging the way they do here.
It’s been a bit hectic lately. Our time in Aswan seemed to have lots of spare time built in, but it all disappeared fast. We took our first trip to a souq, and it was certainly an experience not to be forgotten. The first time out we really had no idea of prices, so ended up getting gouged. It’s hard when the prices start out as less than we’d pay for something similar at home, and then you find people afterwards who paid 1/3 of what you did for the same thing. We’re starting to get a better idea of prices now, but it’s still difficult, and tiring, to go to the market.
Our time in Aswan also included visits to API Call ErrorPhilae Temple, the API Call ErrorHigh Dam and a long drive out to visit API Call ErrorAbu Simbel.
We’ve just returned to Cairo after a three night, four day stint in API Call ErrorBahariya Oasis. The trip out to the oasis was a API Call Errorbus ride about 5 hours long. It’s only 350km, but the amount of time it took to get from downtown Cairo to the open road was extraordinarily long.
As soon as we got there, we were served a quick lunch, and then told to quickly repack our small bags, as the desert excursion we were expecting to do the next day had been moved up. There were six of us – API Call ErrorKathy and API Call Errormyself, Heather and Marcus from the UK and Georges and his daughter API Call ErrorApaulina from France – who then quickly rearranged our daypacks for a night in the desert and set out in a beaten up Toyota Landcruiser that appeared to be on its last legs. Once we were actually out in the desert, we were happy to be there, as it was API Call Errorincredibly beautiful. Unfortunately not quite as isolated as we would have liked though, as the area between Bahariya and Farafra is a really popular area for tourist excursions, so there were a number of other 4x4s around. On the way to our camp area, our driver stopped to help an older couple (possibly German) who had rented a 4×4 camper, and had gotten stuck in the sand. We all pitched in to push them free, much like pushing someone out of a snow drift, except that it’s everywhere, there’s no road, and you just have to get onto less soft sand. Still, spending the night in the white desert – a part of the western desert where there are a number of API Call Errorwhite coloured rock formations that appear to be made of chalk – was an unforgettable experience and well worth the effort.
Today was certainly a packed day. We got up earlyish (okay, so around 8 am) to head out and see the pyramids. Our first stop was API Call ErrorSaqqara, where some of the earlier step pyramids are (instead of the smooth walls of the “newer” pyramids, they have several levels to them, kind of like giant steps…I guess a little closer to Mayan designs, than what most people view as Egyptian. A couple of them had not stood well to the tests of time, and from the outside look more like piles of rubble than anything else, but one, Zosa’s pyramid, is still quite intact.
We’ve now finished our first day in Cairo. It is definitely different from anywhere I’ve been before. Somewhat intimidating, and yet also very interesting. We’re staying in the downtown area, just a couple of blocks from Midan Tahrir, where the Egyptian Museum is, and there is a huge variety of people around. We didn’t wander too far from the hostel today, and in the same blocks you could see people living in extreme poverty, and people who would qualify as middle class doing their shopping. On one corner, one side of the street was a restaurant which was as sterile and modern as any western fast food chain, and on the other side of the street, the building was crumbling, the sidewalk was covered in rubble.
There are three kinds of Egyptians when it comes to tourism. The majority, who are friendly to you if you ask for directions or look lost, but generally don’t much care about you; those who make an honest living in the tourism industry and want to make sure you have a good time; and the third, who seem to think you came here so that they could try to get your money without any service of value in return. Unfortunately, the last group is large enough to make walking around the streets a tiring game. On our first trip out, we were talked into a perfume shop, but after getting the hard sell, we were left alone when it became apparent that we were not going to buy anything. Having been caught once, you catch onto the pitch quickly, and become better at ignoring it. The downside is that sometimes you end up shrugging off people who are honestly trying to be helpful, which creates kind of a guilty feeling.
Kathy has already covered some of the annoyances of Malta (mainly the traffic), but I must admit that I rather like this country. Everything’s quite close together, the whole country being only about the size of a large city, and the buildings are just amazing. The one downside to the buildings is that almost all make use of an API Call Erroridentical colour of stone on the outside – even API Call Errorrelics from the stone age – but once you get inside them, they are something to behold.
The picture is of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which Kathy touched on. The interior is almost entirely done up in marble and very colourful paintings.