Suitcase and World: Goodbye Egypt, Hello Jordan!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Goodbye Egypt, Hello Jordan!

It's day 12 and we're headed for Aqaba, Jordan. Though I was excited about finally getting to Jordan, I was sad to be leaving Egypt. Really sad because I had such a wonderful time there - I would like to return some day.

The day started with breakfast on the beach. Then, I packed my pack, cleared my room bill and passed out tips to all the staff who had served us so well for the time we were at the beach camp.

Some of the group headed for one last morning of sun on the beach but I had had enough of the sun so I retreated to the lounge. With book in hand, I tried to do some reading but instead, I found myself just looking at the waves and simply daydreaming. It had been such a carefree day and a half at the beach that I just wanted to savor the feeling for as long as I could.

Daniel had told us that we would not be getting lunch that day so to ward off hunger in advance, several of us shared three large plates of french fries.....or chips as our Aussie and Kiwi travel companions called them. I have never eaten so many fries in one sitting but somehow, they tasted really good - not sure what it was but they were indeed very satisfying.

We gathered for a group photo before we left.

From left to right -bottom row: me, Laura, Kirsten and Zdena; middle row: Lei, Dora, Alex, Bridget and Sandy and at the top: Daniel S. and Daniel M.

Soon, it was time to say goodbye and we headed down the road. No sooner had we left that I realized I had left my fleece jacket behind. Daniel called the owner of the beach camp, we doublebacked and I got my jacket. Thank God because I really did need it I would come to find out!

We were headed for the boat dock at Nuweiba where we would be catching a ferry to cross the Red Sea to arrive in Aqaba. One thing about our travel days - especially if public transportation is involved - there's a lot of waiting and in this part of the world, there's no guarantee that the transport will either arrive on time or arrive at all. So, you simply have to be patient. We passed the time by chatting and people watching.

At some point, Daniel led us in groups to go through Egyptian Immigration where we got our passports stamped with departure stamps.

Then, we headed for a shuttle bus that would take us to the ferry itself. We loaded our packs into the storage compartment of the bus and boarded. I must say it wasn't like any bus I've ever been on - only about 4-5 rows of seats and then the rest was standing space. We crowded on board with the locals.

Lei, Alex with water bottle tucked under her arm, Zdena with her papyrus tube, Sandy with her head bowed and Bridget leaning over for a glance.

We were crammed in like sardines and it was hot. Daniel popped open the hatch for air. It was still hot until the bus started moving and air began to circulate inside.

A short distance later and we arrived at the ferry. We boarded along with a car or two. We set our packs on the deck and then queued up with the rest of the crowd to head up to the passenger lounge. On the way up, we had to turn in our passports which made me a bit uncomfortable but apparently, this was the procedure. The passenger lounge was open seating so we found some comfortable spots and settled in for the hour or so long ride to Aqaba.

Alex and Lei enjoying the moment.

This was the first time in two days that I had to put on my sling. It helped to carry the weight of the cast as I was walking though I had forgotten how much strain it added on my neck.

By the time we arrived in Jordan, it was early evening. We exited the passenger lounge, retrieved our packs from the deck and headed to the arrival terminal. We had to wait a bit as Jordanian Immigration processed our passports. A short while later, we were called up and each handed our passports stamped with entry stamps. We then passed through Customs and headed out of the terminal where we caught taxis that would take us to the hotel.

Our taxi driver was really friendly and spoke good English. We had a wonderful time chatting with him. The drive to the hotel was....well, let's just put it this way, the traffic in Jordan is far less chaotic than in Egypt. There are stop lights, pedestrian crosswalks and the drivers obey simple rules of driving etiquette like "stay in your lane". When I got out of the taxi, I didn't feel the need to kiss the ground and thank God that I had arrived safely!

Once at the hotel, Daniel did his usual needful and got us checked in. Right next door to the hotel was a 24x7 bakery that has a huge storefront window that displays its baked goods and a front door that remains open so the sweet smells waft out on to the street. There was a pile of different types of donuts that enticed both Lei and Alex to go inside and buy some. While Lei was at the bakery, I hit the shower. I could feel the salt of the Red Sea being wash off my body.

After everyone had had a chance to get cleaned up, we left the hotel in search of dinner. Daniel recommended a couple of places but when he said the words "mixed grill"and "cheap" in the same sentence, it was pretty much a unanimous decision on where we would go. Following our fearless leader, we soon found ourselves sitting around tables on a narrow balcony, above a street in Aqaba. Daniel placed the order and soon, plate after plate after plate of different types of mezze (hummus, baba ghanouj, tabouleh, etc.) were placed on the table. That was followed by individual plates of grilled kabobs (lamb, chicken and kefta) and rice and a basket of warm ayish (pita) to be shared. We gorged ourselves and all for 5 JD - about $7!

By this time, I had gotten pretty deft with using my right hand to tear off pieces of bread and either dip them into the mezze or wrap them around kabobs. I never went hungry despite my "handicap"!

After dinner, Lei went in search of an Internet cafe and Alex and I did some souvenir shopping.

On the way back to the hotel, Alex and I were peering into the bakery window - looking at a conveyor belt that brought freshly baked ayish from the ovens upstairs. The next thing I know, there's a guy leaning over me asking me if we wanted a tour of the bakery. I said sure. Alex hesitated for a second but I convinced her to come along with me. Timeout for one second. Under normal circumstances, I would never follow a strange man to an unknown destination.....but somehow, I had felt really safe and never thought twice. We followed the guy up the stairs and found ourselves at the start of the conveyor line - where the dough is placed into a hopper that extrudes out perfectly formed pieces of dough and drops them onto the conveyor belt. The guy was having a bit of fun with Alex - having her drop the dough into the hopper. He showed us each stage of the process ending with the dough going into the oven.....a very hot oven. A few seconds later, a freshly baked piece of ayish would come out of the oven. He picked up a loaf, broke it into pieces and gave them to Alex and I. It was wonderful. Sweet aroma. Crusty on the outside and warm and tender on the inside - nothing at all like the hard, dry pita we get here in the US.

We headed back downstairs and said goodbye to our host. He told us the Jordanian custom was to exchange two kisses on each cheek except that this fella did not intend on landing his lips on our cheeks....somehow, he managed to land at least two kisses on the lips no matter how far I turned my head. Same thing happened to Alex. Argh. I hate feeling like I've been violated even though nothing really harmful happened. Later on we found out that Kirsten and Laura also went on the "tour of the bakery"and were given the same treatment. Fortunately, this guy was NOT indicative of the other Jordanian men that we would meet along our way.

I went back to the room and did some laundry while waiting for Lei to return.

It had been a long travel day so as with many a previous night, I was sound asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Read about Lei's first impressions of Jordan.