Dinars on us!

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[Now that we've been back for more than a week, maybe I should get cracking on these last few trip updates.]

The view from breakfast, Dahab, Egypt Wednesday, May 28, was another travel day, though we did get to enjoy another fine hotel buffet for breakfast and some more relaxation on the Dahab shore before the next van came calling for us. We loaded up at 11:00 am, then rushed north up the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba to Taba.

Our ferry was supposed to leave for Aqaba, Jordan, at 2:00 pm. At the appointed hour, however, it hadn't yet arrived, so our guide and driver Hassan suggested we retire to a nearby cafe and have some coffee while we waited. From the open-air cafe, we had a perfect view of the ferry's long approach, so we were back to the dock in plenty of time to get run through customs and have our Egyptian exit visas stamped in our passports.

In the process, an X-ray machine detected the presence in my suitcase of a fancy multi-tool pocketknife, and I discovered that the word "Leatherman" is one of the unexpected words in the lexicon of Egyptian immigration officers. As in, "Your Leatherman must stay with the captain of the ferry during your transit."

I never did get it back.

Even from out in the middle of it, the Red Sea has water of the most incredible, pure, deep, inky blue that I have ever seen. Still, I don't like water very much, so by the time over an hour and a half later when what we had been told would be a voyage of forty minutes or so was over, I was more than ready to put that incredible color behind me. The trip was not without its excitement, though. At one point Laura and I were staring aft from the passenger deck (otherwise crowded with a Brazilian tour group) when suddenly a flapping Egyptian flag went rocketing into the water from the deck above. Obviously you can't sail into a foreign port without your colors flying, so the ferry circled around so a young hand could try to fish the flag out of the sea with a boathook. Unfortunately, the flag became waterlogged and sank before it could be retrieved. No worries, though. There was a spare flag belowdecks, and soon we were on our way again.

Giant Jordanian flag over Aqaba A lot of countries are clustered there around the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba. Egypt has the western coast and Saudi Arabia the eastern. In between, both Israel and Jordan have a few miles of coastline. For Jordan, Aqaba is its only port city, and it's not hard to make out which port it is, not with a giant Jordanian flag larger than some ships flying from a towering pole on the shore. If that flag had gotten loose and landed on our ferry, we would have been in serious trouble.

Our Jordanian guide and driver, Ra'ed, met us at the port, helped us clear immigration, and then took us for falafel sandwiches at a sidewalk cafe in the city. The first thing you notice about Aqaba is how much cleaner and more entirely modern it seems than any city in Egypt. You can spot the poverty if you look a little closer though; most of the menial workers, kitchen help and the like, are Egyptian.

We had a tense few minutes when the first and second ATMs I tried in Aqaba refused to give me any dinars. Laura and I were afraid our bank had finally gotten sick of seeing all these Middle Eastern transactions and cut us off. Then I realized that the error message I was getting said "Invalid amount." So instead of trying to withdraw 150 dinars at a pop, I withdrew 50 dinars twice and 100 dinars once. So glad transaction limits are in place.

As evening fell, Ra'ed drove us north through the Wadi Rum, the spectacular desert valley where Lawrence of Arabia based his operations during the Arab Revolt (and where David Lean filmed the movie). We saw many Bedouin encampments as we wended our way into the mountains. (Certain Bedouin tribes are allowed to wander at will across the Jordanian–Saudi Arabian border.) Many fancy Bedouin pickup trucks, too.

At last we reached the city of Petra, where we were installed in the Petra Palace Hotel. After settling in, Laura and I descended to the bar for a couple of pints of the locally brewed Petra lager, and a couple of games of foozball. We struck up an acquaintance with a local named Ibrahim, a horse-handler at the ruins who regaled us with the tale of how he met and wooed his British tour-guide wife as he kicked my ass at foozball.

As excited as we were to see the famous ruins the next day, it wasn't difficult to get to sleep that night.

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/459643.html ]

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on June 10, 2008 12:41 PM.

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