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Michael’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 06 Apr 2006

Location: Medaba, Jordan

MapEntry 19 - Dahab to Petra

Firstly, I will clear a couple thing sup. There was a mix-up on the page and a post that I thought was lost actually appeared, and then the replcement post appeared twice. Why? I don't know, but it looks sorted not. In any case, I have labelled the entries now so that no-one out there misses anything! This is actually the 21st entry, but the two I wrote in Aust are considered pre-ludes. I have also added a title to describe what I'm crapping on about.

Okay, so more drama in the diary updates with another couple hours lost (but I'm sure I wasn't signed in for 2 hours) as I was side-tracked by the bantering on thebear.com.au forums (Vic Gridiron League) and catching up on the pre-season trash talking I was missing out on. Anyway, lost the post, so here I am typing again.

Finally, before I get onto the real stuff, thank-you all for getting me into 3rd for the most viewed wedbsite on Planetranger.com in the last month... I hope you're not looking on it at every computer at school mum!


Dahab to Petra

In order to get to Petra from Egypt, there are two primary modes, neglecting flying, rowing, hiking or swimming, that are usually referred to as by land or by sea. My decision for land was based solely on money (hey, you know me!) in that the ferry from Newuiba to Aqaba is $60US, and gets in after the last bus for Petra (3JD) leaves at 330pm (apparently avo busses in Jordan are almost non-existant) resulting in a 30JD ($60US) taxi ride.

By going overland, I was subject to a more expensive bus ride (about $3AUS) and a taxi ride thru Israel from one border (Egypt) to the other (Jordan) that was about 20 minutes long. But the major advantage is avoiding the cab ride at the end, as I was due to arrive around 230pm. Th eonly real down fall being that with an Israeli stamp in my passport, I cannot go to Syria ever on that passport... Cos I had every plan of visiting Syria in the near future and all!

Well, things got off to a great start with the bus arriving about fifteen minutes late, really chewing into my one hour buffer. But to make matters worse, the Egyptian have a strange ticketing policy... they don't sell tickets till the bus is there! Weather it is becuase the schedule is so vague that even the workers don't know if a buss will turn up, or some other absurd reason, I don't know. Whatever the case, I walked away from the ticket window paniced I'd miss the bus as I didn't have a ticket and hovered till I saw a couple other locals walk away without tickets. Well, when the bus arrived, the crush was on! Everyone wanted a ticket, and quickly. Ticket finally in hand I head for the bus. A quick suggestion for the Egyptian bus system, sell tickets BEFORE the bus arrives and actually risk having a bus run on time.

So the trip was a most enjoyable one, with Achmed and the Whalers playing over the bus speakers as if it was Gino in his Commodore, with the stereo worth more than the car, cruising Chappel on a Friday night with doof doof music. I mean it was loud. And in the case of the bus, the stereo probably was worth more than the vehicle, which is saying more about the state of the bus than the state-of-the-art stereo. Even with my headphones in and the music at full volume I could still hear Achmed and his crooners coming thru the speakers... a new meaning of torture.

After Newuiba, most of the bus emptied, presumably for the ferrie (suckers), and there was more room on the bus and people moved about a bit - oh yeah, and the 'music' was gone. I found myself with the entire backseat to myself, and no-one in the second last row, with an Israeli and a Polish bloke in the 3rd last row. Everyone else was further towards the front. At some point, fidgeting around, I kicked a 'package' that was under the seat. Looking down, it was a rather non-descript large and heavy brown cardboard box, taped closed, and more importantly ABANDONDED..... BOMB!

Okay, so a little curiosity starts playing in my head, and I think, nah, couldn't be. But there was someone on this seat before we stopped at Newuiba, and we are headed to Israel, definitely not uncommon for bombs to go off on the Israel border. To compound matters, the bus was driving into the driveways of just about every 5-star sea-side resort along the Red Sea, a man would run out, and then run back. Needless to say, it seemed suspicious, and a 5-star resort is exactly the usual attack point. Okay, so at this stage I'm getting pretty nervous (obviously it doesnn't explode or I wouldn't be writing this, so don't get too worked up reading this - mum!)

Well, I wonder if it's ticking... can't hear anything, but it under the seat. I'm guessing it isn't motion sensitive, cos I gave it a pretty good kick, and nothing happened. So I lie down on the back row and move my head closer to the box.... still no ticking... but whats this? I turn the box and see a sticker on it. Not one you want to see.... A "flammable solids" placcard written in English... ahhhhhhh.

Examining the box, nothing else could be seen, and I start wondering what to do? Tell the bus driver? He doesn't speak English, and what am I going to do? Gestue a bomb? And be accused of trying to blow the bus up? Plus my fingerprints are on it now! Oh well, if my time comes, my time comes. And what would be the odds of being on "That Bus" that blew up. I pick up the box, figuring if it under my feet or on my lap, I've probably got the same fate if it explodes. Peeling back the tape I peer in and see a stack of books.... phew. Anyway, when we arrived at Taba, the owner of the package returned to the back of the bus to collect his books..... NEXT TIME TAKE THEM WITH YOU. Besides that, the bus ride was mostly mundane, staring out the window at the Red Sea, and all of the semi-built (and often abandoned) sea-side resorts ruining the beautiful coast line.

So, in Taba at 130pm, about half an hour later than imagined, but having read that the border crossings shouldn't take longer than an hour and a half total. Being a novice at border crossings in any form other than by air, I figured that the extra half hour up my sleeve would come in handy. Remember, I had to be at the bus station by 330pm, 5 minutes in a taxi from the Israeli/Jordan border crossing.

Well, getting out of Egypt was a no-sweat scenario, and after handing over the exit tax of $0.50AUD, I wandered toward Israel. For the first time in I don't know how long, I saw a local woman working.. heaps of them in fact. And no, an Egyptian woman trying to sell me beads on the street is not a local woman working. Anyway, getting into Israel, and the security is on. For the first time on the trip, I was asked to open my bag for customs, and it was thoroughly gone through. Clothes, electronics, books, everything scruitinised. Eventually I was given the all clear and proceeded on to the cash exchange.

I had enough in Egyptian to get me to Petra (I thought) and was only going to change just enough into Israeli Sheckles (1 NIS = $0.30 AUD) to get through Israel, rather than change it all, and cop an exchange fee twice. The only costs in Israel were the taxi ride and the exit tax. I had read the exit tax was 66NIS and the taxi should cost around 50 NIS, and not knowing how old the info was, I changed 130NIS to be sure.

Well, the first part proved wrong very quickly, with the 20 minute cab ride costing me 60NIS ($18 AUD), and leaving 70NIS for the exit fee. However, I was happy to actually be in a nice taxi for a change, a 2003 Camy, rather than a pick-up, jeep, or 1975 Peugot in Cairo. The town of Eliat, the border town, is actually quite nice, and very westernised. I was really comfortable driving thru there, and thought I could stay there a while, but had no doubt it was probably rather expensive being a coastal resort town.

I arrived at the Arava crossing (Israel/Jordan border) at about 245pm. With Jordan in sight, I headed to thru the Israeli border control, and to the cashier to pay the exit tax... 74NIS. DAMN. And there was no budging her either. I later found out the exit tax is actually $15US, but must be paid in NIS, so changes daily. So the exit tax went on the Mastercard, and I was holding 70NIS that would cop a second excahnge charge. Walking to the border I was asked to show my passport one last time in Israel (about the 20th time in an hour) and the girl politely smiled, haned it back and waved me on. I barely took any notice.

During the trip I have seen my share of guns, rifles and pistols, but nothing looked very threatening. The Egyptians had guns that looked older than me, and I hadn't seen a pistol out of it's holster yet. But that all changed at the border crossing. Next to the chick checking my passport (and I will add I was the only non-worker there on either side of the border... the place was desolate) was a guy, who co-incidentally looked remarkebly like Ian Thorpe, wearing a crisp pair of Oakleys', carrying the biggest shiniest rifle and scope I had seen. He need the glasses just to keep the shine from the gun out of his eyes. I had no doubts he could have taken a rabbits head off a mile away with the gun, and I only had a 250 meter walk...

And what a walk. The area is about 250m long, and maybe 40m wide. Either side is 8ft high chicken wire fence, with more barbed wire than a WW II movie. I wanted to take a picture, but was too scared to change stride to get my camera out, let alone actually take a photo, for fear of feeling the hot lead pierce my neck (or sclap).

Finally made it to Jordan, and look ahead of me to the barren mountains, then back again at the tourist visa of Israel and ask myself what am I doing here? A quicker bag check, although I was asked to show my sun-glasses case, apparently the cylinder shape could be confused as a pipe bomb.

Onto the exchange beaureu, and my 70NIS and 150LE got me a grand total of 23.5 JD (1 Jordanian Dinnar = $2 AUD). I know I got a raw deal on the exchange rate, but had no choice, needing a taxi to the bus station, and no ATM in sight. They kind of have you over a barrel in this case. Either way, it was 315pm, and I was in great shape for the bus to Petra, as long as there was a taxi driver.

I didn't even need to find him, he came and seeked me out - with a rather happy smile on his face. He asked where I was headed, and I told him the bus station, and he looked at me as if to say, 'yeah, but where'. I said, take me to bus station, and I'll catch the bus to Petra. He replied, "I think you've missed that bus", to which I basically said, stop hustling me, I know there's a 330pm bus, if you get off your ass and take me to the bus station I'll make it (of course I said it more politely than this but that's teh way I felt, each minute ticking away, figuring he was stalling till I did miss the bus).

Suddenly the taxi driver and two security guards start laughing, and the taxi drivers smile grew wider, and there was no mistaking my look of confusion until one security guard said "you're gonna need a time machine to catch that bus". Even more confused, I looked at my watch, 317pm. The taxi driver offered his watch.... and I can see it scarred in my head still - 416pm. WHAT? Well, apparently Jordan had switched to Daylight Saving Time 1 day earlier, and Egypt still had a few weeks before they would. For a few weeks, there would be a one hour difference in the times of the countries, and there I was shafted with a 30JD cab ride.

Now, all in all the cab ride was actually good value. It took almost 2 and a half hours, and the taxi driver bought me a pepsi and chocolate bar at a road house along the way. Plus he was also rather talkative, and had no hesitation on playing 'tour guide', all be it not a very good one, but more than he had to do none the less. But tell me anywhere you can catch a taxi for 2.5 hours and anything near $60AUD? It costs more to get home from the city to my place...

In the end, got to Petra just before 7pm, and found my hostel (the cheapest I could find, and I know why now, but I did get a private room at dorm room prices..). A bit of running around, and planning the next couple days, heading into the lost city of Petra, the Rose-Red City. I know my words wont do it justice, and the photos will only capture the smallest part of wonder that this place has to offer... but I will try..

Next Time: Issue 20 - Exploring Petra