14 hours of traveling day…4 hours of actual moving time, 10 hours of waiting, processing, and more waiting. There were ferry’s, visas, dusty ports, shady taxi drivers and flat tires. Here’s my experience of getting from Dahab Egypt to Petra Jordan in seven not-so-easy steps.
Luckily at the end of the journey – Petra. I had wanted to see this landmark ever since I discovered there was actually this place, in real life, not just in the Indiana Jones and Last Crusade movie.
In Dahab, I awoke early enough to hear the air conditioner die…the power went out in my hotel, in all of Dahab. I walked the streets looking for breakfast. The grocery store was dark and I had to feel for the fig bread I wanted. The German coffee shop was closed, no electricity for coffee. I went to a tea stand that I had visited before, and they heated my tea over propane. While sitting there, several shopowners came and joined my table, including one who could read energies and told me I had a blocked throat chakra and “a lot of problems.” Had he been an attuned salesman, he would have shown me several turquoise necklaces to unblock my clogged wind pipe at his jewelry store.
I said good by to adorable Mohammed, the desk clerk at my hotel. He had woken up for a very late/early/6 a.m. rockstar evening to send me off and I gave him a hug, we had hit it off all week and he even carried my bags to the taxi. I bought my ticket at the bus station – 11 LE, or about 2 dollars. The ride to Nuwieba was 1 hour, just north of Dahab.
1. Go to the Bus Station and Get a Ticket to Nuwieba
While waiting, I noticed two women slowly getting out of their taxi, they pulled suitcases and carried plastic bags. They must be going to Sharm El Sheik – the packaged resort paradise and land of wheeled suitcases. But they didn’t get on that bus, instead they sat the same length of time as me. One was young, the other old. I asked the young one, “Nuwieba?” She replied yes. I was suprised, no backpacks, but still going to Jordan. We talked for a bit, they were going to hotel it in Aqaba, the Jordanian port city after the ferry ride and I was going to taxi it onto Wadi Musa, the city nearest Petra. On the bus, they changed their plans, agreeing to split a taxi with me and saving us all money.
2. Buy a Ferry ticket to Jordan and Wait
The Nuwieba port was dusty and dirty, a view seen after an hour driving through desert mountains. The bus let us off 3 blocks from the entrance, and then after the guard asked for a ticket with our passport, we had to walk another 3 blocks around the building to the ticket office. Egyptians crowded around the tiny window. Behind the lattice work ‘bars’ was a walrus of a man…and he was shouting at them and tossed their passports at them, right threw the window. The people cowered. I did not want to go next and buy tickets from this man. An expensive $70 USD to cross into Jordan via ferry. I timidly asked the time of the ferry, 3:30 he barked back. The timetable in Dahab said 2:30, it was 11:45 at that time. Travel days are about patience, so the three of us wheeled/carried our bags back around the gated port and into the waiting hall to get our passports stamped.
The waiting hall was a white, clean open hall with windows near the high ceilings to let the heat out. Opposite the doors were four border control booths. We waited near them…a guard in white said, “five minutes” we waited. Another man in white came, held his hands to his ears, looked upward and said, “My God.” I thought he meant, “my God what are you doing here?” but I realized he meant prayers. It was Friday, the Muslim equivalant of Sunday Morning. We would wait while the entire staff of the border crossing prayed. For two hours.
Finally, the guards returned from prayers and stamped us through. We left the clean waiting room for a…waiting room where refugees go to await their illegal boat departure. The room was dirty, full of flies, children, cats, and benches where the wood was spaced just far enough apart to be completely uncomfortable. Some tour groups arrived and I felt comforted by their appearance. When they would leave, we would leave. Mariana made a funny comment, surveying the other passengers…”well, at least we are all in the same boat.” True that sister, figuratively and literally.The port master/waiting room managers directions were not that clear, except the Ferry was now scheduled to leave at 4:00 p.m. But it didn’t. It was an exercise in massive patience because we did not leave that room for three hours, until 5:15 p.m.
3. Get on the Ferry and Get Your Passport Stamped
The westerners, including myself, were dependent on each other in an aloof and childlike way. When we left the waiting area, there were buses, but we, including myself, went back and forth between two buses, not knowing where to go, waiting to be told excatly what to do. On the ferry, we needed extra attention to place our bags in one area, line up in another for entry and passport review, and then seat directions. The ferry was luxurious and like an Eden after the waiting room. Comfortable, cushioned seats, clean bathrooms, carpeting…I was ready to move in. I lined up with the other tourists and handed my passport to a ferry official and received a receipt in return, I was to turn this in at Aqaba for a visa-stamped passport. I felt OK handing my papers over to the stranger because I had read about it in Lonely Planet beforehand. A Brazilian couple had not and I could see the exasperation and worry on their face as they gripped the white slip of a receipt.
Everyone on board had to go through the baggage stacking and two lines, so we waited 1 hour before departure of the large ferry and 1 1/2 hour journey across the Red Sea to Aqaba. On board, I changed money, again reminded how expensive Jordan is going to be – 1.4 USD per Jordan Dinar. Departing was more lines, all the tourists in the back of the ship and some having their names called like roll call at school. The non-group tourists shared tips about taxis to Wadi Musa. Mariana, Olga and I were happy we had arranged it beforehand and knew the going price.
4. On Arrival in Jordan, Get Your Jordanian Visa and Wait
After departure, another bus to the arrivals hall, where we waited another 1/2 hour to get my visa. The Argentinians had already gotten theres and patience on top of patience waited with me to share the taxi. The immigration/visa office is actually a guys office, I sat across from him and his desk like a student waiting for a punishment from the principal. When he handed me my passport I leapt into the waiting room like I was just awarded US citizenship. Olga and Mariana were relieved as well. One final bag and passport check and then we excited. Mariana and I looked at each other, I said, “ready?” “Yes,” She replied. The wall of taxi drivers was just outside.
5. Hire a Taxi to Wadi Musa
Two men came out of the pack and started arguing for our business. There was a boundary that they had to stay behind and Mariana reminded me to stay on the other. Back and forth, 40, 35 was their price, 25, 30 was ours. The two men started to fight with each other about who got to us first. The older one agreed with our price of 30 so we said Ok to him, but then the younger man said, 25. 25, we said? 25. We started to follow him to his taxi. He kept shouting back to the other man, Yalla, yalla I said, let’s go, let’s go. My patience was now a thin strip of light disappearing as the sun went down.
At the car, he changed his tune back to 30, no, 25 we insisted and finally he agreed. About 5 minutes outside the port, he said, I live in Aqaba, that’s my friend (referring to a man and his taxi on the side of the road), he lives in Wadi Musa, he will take you there. He pulled over the car, grabbed our suitcases and placed them in our new taxi. Mariana made sure that the new driver knew the price was 25…25 she said over and over, with a slight nod he agreed. This driver had longer, greasy hair and a growly voice. Immediately into the drive, he brought up a hotel we could stay at, the Sunset, in Petra. There are no hotels in Petra, they are all in Wadi Musa, but this one was “so close.” No, no thank you I kept saying, we have reservations at the Orient Gate. What’s Orient Gate, I don’t know, he played dumb. Then we assured him we had to stay there, we had reservations. That one so far, 100 KM from Petra. If that was the case, it’d be in Aqaba. He asked how much we were paying. I said 15 JD per person. And then he got more annoying and my patience dissolved like a puff. “15 per person?” he asked repeatedly. Finally, yes, yes. HALLAS. Enough I said as we pulled into a gas station. He stopped the car and looked at me and I had the first glimpse of our driver. Very bad energy, empty eyes, snake smile and an overall patina of no good and slime. No good, no good indeed.
He said, he can only take us to Wadi Musa for 25, not the hotel. The taxi drivers earn commission for bringing guests to hotels and we were not going to make any for him tonight and he was retracting his offer to drive like the snake retracts into a hole. I got upset and made a face, come on, you have to. He mimiced my face. I realized I was dealing with a child. He then asked me my name, I ignored him and went inside to the gas station for water. Like a child, he needed attention and validation, so when we drove off and he asked me my name again, I said, “My name is the Orient Gate Hotel.” Ok Ok he said, no problem, no problem. Good, but I did not leave my guard down and was only polite in order to string him along and have him drop us off at our hotel.
6. Deal with Shady Taxi Drivers and Survive a Flat Tire
The landscape of Jordan is dramatic, huge wavy cliffs abutt the highway and the desert reveals the black night sky, complete with more stars than an highly populated area should be able to boast. Midway into the trip, THUNK and then thump, thump, thump. Our tire had blown. Shady McDealy, the driver, pulled over, checked over the situation, and directed us out of the car. He unloaded our suitcases and found the spare. In the dark, he changed the tire. Semi trucks raced by, moving over slightly, diverted by our emergency lights. Mariana found her flashlight and gave it to him to assist. When he was finished, he wouldn’t give it back, instead holding it out of our reach like that toddler we knew he was. He brought it into the car, stowed it on his side. Luckily during one of his many cell phone calls, Olga reached over, got it and passed it to Mariana.
The ride into Wadi Musa was desolate and over large hills. The driver was on both lanes of the road and narrowly avoided an oncoming car. Now on my trip, I have said many prayers of gratitude and intention in the morning, but now was my first pleading prayer. Please God, please let us arrive to the hotel safe and sound. And we did. Wadi Musa is a town on a hill, clean and light colored to deflect the desert sun. When we arrived at Orient Gate, we all applauded. The Toddler Driver more than us… and still he tried to say, 30, 30 for the ride.
The Orient Gate was up a flight of stairs, a budget hotel. There were two women in the waiting room, Spaniards, who looked like they were part of the group and regarded us as interlopers. The man behind the desk regarded us very slowly, he also had blank eyes. He had a younger man carry my pack up to my room. The room was four white cement walls, a single bed and…a bathroom in the hallway. This is not what I reserved, I am not high maintenance about most stuff, but I need my own bathroom. The guy and I argued, he was attempting to convince me that in fact, this was my own private bathroom. Out in the hallway. His eyes had no distinguishable pupil, he looked like a Peanuts Cartoon character, only two brown dots in the white eyes. I had him take me downstairs and when he grabbed my bag, he called me a bitch, or some Arabic word that sounded like “bitch.”
7. Argue with Hotel Operator about Lost Reservation
I sat down in the lobby and the desk guy admonished me for arriving so late, that the reservations were all confirmed earlier. I said, I made a reservation, I expect to get the room I need. He compromised, stay in this room tonight and we will move you to a room with your bathroom tomorrow. How much? I said. He asked if I had the reservation sheet, which showed 15 JD a night. I didn’t have a printout, so he offered 10 JD for tonight and then 12 JD for tomorrow, all with breakfast. Fair enough. I had already put a deposit down of 3 JD, so my savings would be 5 JD total and two breakfasts. I wrote it up on the business card and he signed. He said, what? why? I’ll be here all day and remember. There’s no trust, less so of any country I’ve arrived in and I couldn’t take any chances.
Bonus Step: Wake Up and go to Petra
I typed up half this blog before bed, awaking at 3:45 when the first call to prayer went off. I was so glad to wash that driver out of my system with the writing and a good shower. I’m hoping I meet some non-tourism Jordanians to sway my opinion of the people in this country. I’m here a week and want to feel the same hospitality as in Egypt (wow, there’s some rose-city colored glasses). Anyway, it’s 6:46 in the morning, day 1 and today I’m going to PETRA!!!!!!