Aqaba - Rosco of Arabia
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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That, coupled with the fact that the Fuji guy in Dahab couldn't fix either technical problem with my camera, made me bite the bullet and head for Jordan to gain some time. After all, Sharm is the most accessible part of Egypt after Cairo so I can see myself getting back there within a few years to do it properly, with the ability to take light-balanced underwater photos that will do the seascape some justice. Sometimes patience is a virtue.
So early Sunday morning I found myself heading to Nuweiba to take the ferry to Aqaba, accompanied by Maria from Brazil who was on her own maniacal travel timeframe (trying to do Jordan and Israel in seven days). The ticketing was expensive ($US60) but straight-forward enough, however I'd heard some horror stories about this one and we weren't to be pleasantly surprised.
Taking The Princess across the gulf of Aqaba should only take a maximum of 90 minutes. Unfortunately no-one outside the port knows when in the early afternoon it will depart so you get there early. Scheduled departure slid from 2.30pm due to a crazy boarding procedure and the need for Jordanian customs to process visas before setting sail. Finally at 4pm we were away - almost five hours after buying tickets.
The ride was pleasant enough but getting off was another matter. Apparently someone named Mohammed was wanted by the authorities for questioning about something or another, meaning half the passenger list was under suspicion. Everyone had to wait for a couple of hours while names were called and people taken away. Eventually things were cleared up and after a scrum of people trying to wedge themselves through small boat doors subsided, a number of new friends and I got off around 7.30pm. To ice the cake, Jordanian customs searched our bags before releasing us to the rabid taxi drivers. Welcome to Jordan!
No wonder new Dutch mate Martin had to ask the priest emerging from a liquor store where we could find the nearest bar! He gave us a couple of options and detailed directions too! At least we could get a beer (we'd also heard bad things about no beer here) to revive us from 8 hours of the least productive travelling I've done this trip. Cheers Martin for a pleasant evening discussing the meaning of life.
On to Aqaba though. This part of the world has been made famous by the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia in World War 1. Aqaba was a strategic asset in the area and he passed through here after joining the Arab revolt to destroy Turkish railway lines nearby.
Now this tip of the Gulf of Aqaba is the boundary of four countries - Egypt, Israel, Jordan and 20km down the coast, Saudi Arabia. The town of Taba (Egypt) faces off with Israel's Eilat and Eilat in turn faces Aqaba. No doubt a place of great tension in years past, if not still today.
There's not much to see in Aqaba except a huge Jordanian flag and the remains of an old Mamluk castle built in the 14th century. That the castle is reasonably intact is surprising since it had the hell bombed out of it by British, French and Italian warships in the First World War. Equally interesting is that trunks of palm trees were built into the structure to support and strengthen it - some of which are now exposed making this architectural irregularity obvious.
It would have been pretty imposing in its time but the monumental doors are about the most impressive aspect today. There is also a partially completed museum in the complex which entertains for about ten minutes, containing a variety of pottery from different era starting round 500BC. The pieces influenced by Chinese design, imported along central Asian trade routes is an interesting twist on this particular story.
Apart from that all I can say is Aqaba is a modern and clean city these days, probably far removed from the Aqaba Lawrence of Arabia would have been familiar with. A large number of Mercedes ply its spotless streets, police on 'Chips' style motorbikes keep orderly and civilised traffic that way, and a young King Abdullah looks down benignly upon it all from above. Also, it's much more expensive than in Egypt, so it looks like I'll limit my stay in the country to about a week and a half.
I did take a taxi out to the tourist camps about 10km south of town, but paying the equivalent of $US7.50 for a tent on a pretty crappy beach negated any clean water and good snorkelling benefits I could foresee. Will just have to spend a little more time in Petra then, if God wills it.
Next entry - Petra majestic
Words from the Wise #46
These are the first four paragraphs from Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Pretty heavy stuff to wrap your head around, but it sums up the trials and tribulations of his time at war in the deserts of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi and eventually Syria.
Much of the rest of the book is actually an old school travel blog about daily life and movements in the region. It's an epic slog, but his command of the English language has rarely been paralled.
"Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances. For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars. We were a self-centred army without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom, the second of man's creeds, a purpose so ravenous that it devoured all our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded in its glare.
"As time went by our need to fight for the ideal increased to an unquestioning possession, riding with spur and rein over our doubts. Willy-nilly it became a faith. We had sold ourselves into its slavery, manacled ourselves together in its chain-gang, bowed ourselves to serve its holiness with all our good and ill content. The mentality of ordinary human slaves is terrible--they have lost the world--and we had surrendered, not body alone, but soul to the overmastering greed of victory. By our own act we were drained of morality, of volition, of
responsibility, like dead leaves in the wind.
"The everlasting battle stripped from us care of our own lives or of others'. We had ropes about our necks, and on our heads prices which showed that the enemy intended hideous tortures for us if we were caught. Each day some of us passed; and the living knew themselves just sentient puppets on God's stage: indeed, our taskmaster was merciless, merciless, so long as our bruised feet could stagger forward on the road. The weak envied those tired enough to die; for success looked so remote, and failure a near and certain, if sharp, release from toil. We lived always in the stretch or sag of nerves, either on the crest or in the trough of waves of feeling. This impotency was bitter to us, and made us live only for the seen horizon, reckless what spite we inflicted or endured, since physical sensation showed itself meanly transient. Gusts of cruelty, perversions, lusts ran lightly over the surface without troubling us; for the moral laws which had seemed to hedge about these silly accidents must be yet fainter words. We had learned that there were pangs too sharp, griefs too deep, ecstasies too high for our finite selves to register. When emotion reached this pitch the mind choked; and memory went white till the circumstances were humdrum once more.
"Such exaltation of thought, while it let adrift the spirit, and gave it licence in strange airs, lost it the old patient rule over the body. The body was too coarse to feel the utmost of our sorrows and of our joys. Therefore, we abandoned it as rubbish: we left it below us to march forward, a breathing simulacrum, on its own unaided level, subject to influences from which in normal times our instincts would have shrunk. The men were young and sturdy; and hot flesh and blood unconsciously claimed a right in them and tormented their bellies with strange longings. Our privations and dangers fanned this virile heat, in a climate as racking as can be conceived. We had no shut places to be alone in, no thick clothes to hide our nature. Man in all things lived candidly with man."