Friday, May 12, 2006

Aqaba, Jordan

The first "real" blog entry:

We are now in Aqaba Jordan, we arrived from Nuweiba Egypt on Monday night after a very long day.

We started at 6:30 packing and getting everything ready. We got on the road and headed to the ferry terminal, which was a short 15 minutes ride away.

Standing in line for a while we got our tickets to Aqaba for a hefty 760 Egyptian Pounds. (37$ per person and 20$ per motorcycle, and an additional 100 Egyptian pounds as an exit tax)

For anyone headed this way, the ticket office is the building on the right as you face the entrance to the port. There are no signs in English! The office is only open in the morning, although unconfirmed reports say that it should be open as long as the ferries are in port. Also, note that the FAST ferry does NOT take vehicles so you are forced to go on the slow ferry if you have anything bigger than a bicycle.

After getting the tickets we parked our bikes near the entrance to the port and waited. There was a huge line of trucks parked here and one indicated we could park in front of the line so why not. An hour or so later (9:15am) we were approached by a tourist policeman who took all our paperwork and asked us to follow him into the port area. An so it began.
An hour and a half later everything was finished. Basically, the tourist police took care of everything for us, he returned the license and license plates, got the carnet de passage stamped, organized the exit document (?), we got our passports stamped out ourselves, and that was it. Sounds pretty simple, but we ended up following the policeman back and forth between half dozen various offices. The charges where minimal, it cost 40 Egyptian Pounds per carnet to get everything done, including copies apparently, or it might have been 40 pounds for the copies, we didn't quite get that clear.

With all our paperwork done, we were shuttled off to the departure lounge with the rest of the people who where to go on the ferry. We were the only "foreigners", or rather make that European foreigners, as a lot of the people waiting were Jordanian, or Kuwaiti, also foreigners.

Shortly thereafter we were told to go to the ferry. Once there, they made us wait (there were no other vehicles), until all the passengers where on board and then we rode the bikes into the ferry and parked on the third vehicle deck.

The ferry turned out to be an older Danish ferry, which still had the signs for Fredrikshavn exit on the door. All signs were in three languages, English, German, and danish, with a piece of paper written or printed in Arabic taped up next to the other signs.

It was now around 11:15am and we spent the rest of the time just sitting around and reading, the ferry ended up leaving at 15:00 (3pm), and got to Aqaba at 19:30 (7:30pm), for some unknown reason we weren't (everyone) allowed to disembark for a further 40 minutes. Also note that the Jordanian immigration officials will take your passport on the ferry and return it to you in Aqaba at the ferry terminal. In return for your passport you will get a stamped piece of paper with your name and passport number. The visa is free but is limited to 30 days (you have to ask explicitly) and can only be renewed in Aqaba. The normal visa costs 10JD (Jordanian Dinar), and can be extended anywhere in the country. If you require such a visa, tell the immigration officer when giving him your passport.

There was a bit of confusion at the terminal, as we ended up going in the back way because we had vehicles. The person who met us at the door was the person responsible for selling us the compulsory vehicle insurance, and he then sent us up to see the police in order to get our passports before selling us the insurance. With a bit of a run-around we got them and the rest of the procedure was fairly painless. The cost for motorcycle insurance for 30 days is 21.50JD per bike, and an additional 11JD per bike for the handling of the Carnet de Passage. All in all much more efficient than anything we have encountered in North Africa with the exception of Morocco which was simpler, quicker and cheaper! (read about it in

The accommodations we were heading for was 3km south of the port (according to my GPS), unfortunately we got on the wrong road after getting out of the port area, and nearly ended up in Saudi Arabia which is just a few kilometers further down the road. There simply wasn't anywhere else to turn around!

Once on the right road, we found the accomodations and to our surprise there was a newer one right across the road. After a little haggling back and forth we settled for the new one as it turned out to be 4JD cheaper for a little room (we were to tired to camp, and the grounds of both places did not look very inviting). The cost was still seriously expensive for our tastes (16JD per night for a little room with bath and ac), considering we had paid the equivalent of 2.5JD in Egypt for similar accomodations (ok, no bath, but still). We unpacked and cooked some noodles on our front door step before crashing for the night. We don't quite know why but we were really dead. The day had been long and very tiring, although we had not really "done" much.

The next day we explored Aqaba, and to our surprise found it a totally charming "little" town. Very quiet, clean, and much more "westernized" than anything we had previously encountered. You are still in an Arabic country, but there is no hassel, no haggling, traffic is almost comprehendible (only the cabs like to split lanes). So for us it was a real nice change of pace.
We even found a very competent tourist office, with plenty of literature and valuable information both on Aqaba and Jordan in general.

The following day we decided to move down to the beach, where we had found out that there is "free" camping, in zones specially reserved for foreign tourists. Excellent. We also ran into a couple from Tessin (Switzerland) whom we had previously met in St. Katherina in the Sinai. We informed them of our plans, and they also joined us down at the beach.

Camping on the beach turned out to be heaven, with the exception of the wind. Ever since we had gotten here the wind had been blowing pretty fiercely. But once we go away from the campground we noticed how strong it really was, around 30-50kmh. The temperature around 37C feels really confortable with so much wind, but it is pretty cold to get in the water. Water temperature is 22C which is nice for anyone from Europe.

The beach is very busy with lots and lots of locals enjoying a brief outing and swim. Women by the way, get in the water fully clothed, not something you will see in Malibu. Also at night, women will never go to the restroom alone! They are always either escorted by a man or with other women.

Everybody fighting with the wind makes for some excellent entertainment, and every once in a while an empty can or bottle will literaly fly by our tent as we are sitting with out friends Manuela and Francesco (the couple from Tessin), discussing our experience in North Africa. In out in the water, nearly once an hour an un-accompanied blanket, plastic bag, or childrens blowup water toy flies by and is well on it's way to Saudi Arabia before anyone can do anything about it.

Tomorrow we head to Wadi Rum and the 7 pillars, we are looking forward to some quiet desert again, although we have really enjoyed Aqaba.

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