I’ve Read you should See the Red Sea

Aqaba Travel Blog

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We flipped over Aqaba!

Slept in Friday morning, which was no big deal since Bait Ali doesn’t roll out their buffet breakfast until 8AM.  A common complaint throughout my Jordanian adventure was a failure to communicate, and Bait Ali is a prime example.  It took over a month to get  a response to repeated e-mails attempting to reserve a tent, and all they eventually conveyed was that we were ‘penciled in’.  After receiving this encouraging response I replied to inquire about hiking / camel trekking opportunities and only received the reply “we’ll take care of you”.  When we checked in the introduction to accommodations was zero beyond being shown the location of our tent, so we inquired again about potential activities last night.  The reply was to ask the bartender the next morning, lol.


The bartender’s response this morning was only “two or three hour jeep tour?”   No sharing what else might be available, no description of the tour, no hint at the cost.

  But of course this was no longer any surprise, so we replied “three hours” and put things in motion.  The bartender got on his cell phone to the small village next door and informed us to be ready to depart in fifteen minutes.   By now we were similarly accustomed with ‘Jordan time’ and anticipated a wait well in excess of fifteen minutes, but our driver was surprisingly prompt.


Picked up right on schedule, we climbed aboard into the ‘jeep’ (actually a 4WD that had a truck bed outfitted with benches) and introduced ourselves to Mohammad, our young Bedouin driver.  Mark and I jumped into the bed, an older gentleman climbed into the cab with Mohammad and away we went.  Well, sort of.


Mohammad drove back to the village and stopped at a rather run down abode where the fuel tank was topped off with gas from a two-liter water bottle!  Here the older gentleman left and then we drove to another house.

Looking towards Eilat, Israel from Aqaba
  This one was very new and colorful, definitely upscale for the neighborhood.  Mohammad dashed inside and after a few minutes returned to finally steer our tour into the open desert.


At first we made slow progress on the sand, but soon fell into some grooves worn by countless jeep tours before us and sped into the desert.  Our first stop was a large dune of rich, red sand where there were some spectacular views of mesas still shimmering with early morning light.  Continuing on, we would occasionally stop and Mohammad would exit, beckoning us to follow.  Mohammad spoke no English, so we would follow him like puppies until he pointed, usually at a rock wall.  The first several times his finger led our sight to fanciful figures etched into the rock.


At first I was skeptical - the figures looked like they could have been carved very recently.

No Roadway Inns at Aqaba!
  Suddenly it dawned on me that this was the inspiration for the splendid ‘Rum Art’ I had been so attracted to yesterday!  We enjoyed further sightings and the cool air whizzing by our ears as the tour continued until we reached some of the famed rock arches of Wadi Rum.  The first arch we stopped at was unassailable (though I tried), but the next one was a cakewalk which Mark and I both scaled.  Mohammad also led us to some Nabatean cisterns marked by the narrow, etched channels we were familiar with from hiking Shaq Ar-resh.


Not surprisingly, we returned to Bait Ali precisely three hours later and decided to visit the village of Rum.  This was a few kilometers beyond the Visitors Center and required us to lay down 2JD apiece to proceed (I think we were supposed to have paid yesterday).  We tarried at the Visitors Center for a bit, however, visiting their museum to try and learn about the Rum Art pictographs.  The museum revealed these were Thamudic inscriptions, but offered no further information (something to research when I get back home).


The town of Rum is yet another tiny village in Jordan.  We sat down for lunch at the tourist eatery in town, the Rum Rest House, just before the tour buses rolled in and left quickly because the place was suffocating with humanity.  The plan had been to hike a bit around Jebel Rum, but the heat was stifling, so we spontaneously decided to drive down to Aqaba and go swimming in the Red Sea.  It’s nice to have options.


We drove back to the camp and grabbed swim trunks and our map, before steering south to Aqaba.  Our inspiration for this journey was overhearing a lot of other guests at Bait Ali making daytrips there because it was apparently only a 45 minute drive away on the Desert Highway.  The Desert Highway is the only real highway in southern Jordan, the only option for covering distances quickly, but we had avoided it because you don’t see much along this byway.


Almost immediately after jumping on the divided four-land highway we saw ‘Detour’ signs and it looked like they were re-constructing the two south bound lanes.  Sure enough, we narrowed to one lane and I was right behind a large truck as we crossed over to share the two lanes on the other side.  But right after we crossed over, the truck veered back again and of course I followed (I couldn’t see around him).  This second crossover was unpaved, but after we made it back there were two lanes of brand new blacktop.  But then the truck pulled off of the road and it became clear that this was one of the construction trucks working on the new lanes --- we were the only vehicle on the south bound side!


I looked across and could see the north bound side was indeed being shared by two-way traffic and we were cruising alone.  But not for long as I soon began overtaking a Jordanian police cruiser!  The speed limit on the Desert Highway is 110kmh and I was doing only 90 or so, but rapidly catching the cops who were idling at perhaps 50-60kmh.  So I turn to Mark who lives over here after all, and ask what he would do if he were illegally driving on a road and about to illegally pass an officer (he was in the passing lane).  Mark responded that it was the Middle East, so just act like nothing is wrong.


So I roll on and blow past the cruiser, expecting the sirens to wail.  But as I quickly place distance between myself and the police, the cruiser continues to slowly patter on, not even noticing me!  I amend the mantra --- “that which does not kill me, or get me arrested, makes for a helluva story afterwards”.  A mile or two later we found a place to get back to the proper side of the road, and almost instantly got steered back over as the new construction had ended.


Aqaba is a resort town, Jordan’s only presence on the Red Sea and fabled as a snorkeling and diving hot spot.  Of course the volume it draws pales in comparison with Eilat, just a few kilometers away across the Israeli border.  To promote Aqaba, the government has made this a special “enterprise free zone” with vastly reduced tariffs.  Thus you get stopped before entering so they can make sure you aren’t smuggling anything in so you can fly away and avoid paying duties.


At the gate, we had only to utter the magic words “United States” and show our passports to quickly get beyond the machine-gun toting guards.  Then it was into the town, jam packed because Friday is akin to a Sunday in the our culture.  Our first stop was the public beach, and when I say packed, I mean there didn’t appear any spot in the water that was unoccupied, let alone on the shoreline!  So back to the car and downtown a ways to locate a private beach.


By private beach, I only mean the shoreline in front of a hotel where you pay to get in.  We found one that charged us 5JD and hit the water.  The ‘beach’ was actually a concrete pier, but not crowded and the water refreshing.  The Red Sea was a marvelous shade of blue and we could see quite a few fish.  I have no doubt the snorkeling would be terrific here.  It was a needed respite where we could enjoy looking off to Israel and Egypt in the distance and peace out.  Around 6PM we packed it in and headed back to Wadi Rum.  This time there was a delay getting back through the gate, because we had arrived during the evening call to prayer and all the attendants were tending to their devotions.


Back at Bait Ali, we ate dinner and sat with the English-Irish hiking gang.  This was their last night like ours and they were sharing experiences from a week of trekking Jordan.  It was touching and you could tell some serious bonding had occurred, so we drifted away so as not to interrupt the reverie.  We broke out the cards and I went to the bar to order some shi-sha.  This is flavored tobacco smoked with a water pipe which I had missed doing when I visited Mark in Dubai several years ago.  I’m not a smoker, but wanted to experience this because it is a popular pastime here.


Had I known shi-sha was a good luck charm, I would have tried it sooner.  I smoked Mark three straight games while puffing away and tied up the Wadi Rum tournament.  We agreed to one last match to decide the champion before turning in, but the wind picked up and made it impossible to play.  At least I hadn’t been skunked the whole way across Jordan.


nush675 says:
More of the interesting road signs - No Sleeping!
Posted on: Dec 10, 2007
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We flipped over Aqaba!
We flipped over Aqaba!
Looking towards Eilat, Israel from…
Looking towards Eilat, Israel fro…
No Roadway Inns at Aqaba!
No Roadway Inns at Aqaba!
photo by: vances