After arriving in Dahab, I decided to leave immediately to take a side trip to Jordan. On an impulse I decided to join Clare, whom I’d met on the way from Hurgada to Dahab. She was traveling with her family after visiting her brother who was attempting a kayak trip down the entire length of the Blue Nile. She only had a few days left of her vacation, and it seemed a perfect opportunity to see Petra with a fun companion.
We started our journey by taking a high speed ferry from the Sinai to the port city of Aquaba. There was some confusion about the time of the ferry which led to our being dropped off at the Egyptian port a good five hours before the ship’s scheduled departure time. It was frustrating at first, especially since we were both hung over from the night before, but it didn’t take us long to realize that this was going to provide a great opportunity for people watching. Watching the locals interact with each other was fascinating; there was a complete mixture of every part of Arabic culture. We saw everything from women in full burqas watching their children, to Bedouin men arguing with each other over any number of topics. Eventually another American discovered us, and starting babbling at us about how he was on a mission to the middle-east to spread the word that George Bush was about to be indicted by the world criminal court on charges of crimes about humanity. We listened politely for a while, and it didn’t take us long to realize the guy was completely crazy. He showed me a ratty bundle of papers that he claimed was a brief that he had submitted to US Supreme court, and in it he rambled on about everything from the state of his divorce, to why drugs should be legalized, to his reasons for converting to Islam. After a while we got tired of listening to him babble, and ditched him for another room in the waiting area.
Eventually we got to Aquaba around 9pm, and luckily the guy that was supposed to drive us to Petra was still there. He took us to our hotel where we crashed hard for the evening, knowing that we had to be up early the next morning. When our guide showed up the next morning we were surprised to find out that our hotel was only about a 5 minute walk to Petra’s entrance. Once you pay your entrance fee, you walk down an extremely narrow canyon for about a mile and a half. During the walk you’ll see examples of Nabatean art on the sides of the walls, as well as the ruins of an irrigation system that was carved into the wall of the canyon. Eventually you come to the end, and it’s almost mandatory that you take the classic photo of the Treasury building framed by the end of the canyon.
Our guide told us that he’d take us around to a few of the sites on the lower levels, and then he was going to take off after a couple of hours. We were a little surprised by his definition of a “half day” tour, but he was so un-informative that it wasn’t really a loss. Honestly, we were just happy to have the entire complex nearly to ourselves. During the high tourist season its apparently not unusual to have three or four thousand people per day visiting, but on the day that we were there there were only about two hundred people in the entire complex! Clare and I wandered all over the place just exploring the sites, clambering thru old buildings, and checking out the museum. After a while we hiked up to some of the higher areas where there were some amazing views of the entire site, plus the surrounding desert.
That evening we decided to go check out a bar we’d heard about that was actually built in a Nabathean temple. It was attached to one of the local luxury hotels for upscale tourists, and the prices matched! I think with the exchange rate, we paid the equivalent of about five US dollars per beer. The room was amazing though, decorated very sparsely with just enough illumination to show off the walls, and allow for conversation. It was a fantastic experience to drink a beer and smoke a sheesha pipe in a thousand year old room. It was also nice that there were only a couple of other patrons in the bar, so we ended up chatting to the local bartender for a while about life in general.
The next day we were headed back to Egypt, but we were going to go thru the desert for a while. We drove down to Wadi Rum, and were surprised to see snow on some of the passes that we drove thru. When we got to Wadi Rum and headed off road, it was amazing to see how colorful the rock formations were. We explored some of the sites for a bit, and then our driver built a little fire so we could have some tea. The warmth was very much appreciated as it was quite chilly in the desert! After a couple of hours of driving around we finally headed back to Aquaba and then back on the ferry to Dahab. Clare left the next day, and I resumed my chilled out lifestyle of hanging out and diving for another week.