Published: January 31st 2012January 28th 2012
January: We didn’t play tennis as it was a warmer day than usual so we decided to get some sun down by the beach. There was a bit of a surprise when we arrived at the beach as the tide level had dropped by about 4 feet leaving the pontoons high and dry and a large expanse of coral exposed. I took the opportunity to head off along the exposed beach towards a nearby headland to see what lay beyond, and to have a look at the pools left behind by the receding tide. We had an early dinner and were in bed by 9pm on account of having to get up at 1.30am on the Tuesday morning as we were due to be picked up at 2.15 am for the bus journey to Nuweiba and the ferry to Aqaba.
January: Having requested a 1.30am wake-up call at Reception, and setting the alarms on both of our mobile phones for 1.30 am, in the event only one alarm went off and we didn’t get the wake-up call. Nevertheless we made it to reception by 2.10am, picked up our pre-ordered breakfasts (much smaller this time than the gargantuan
Coral at low tide
Tiran Island on the horizon
portions that were given to us for our Cairo excursion) and were conducted on to a minibus. This bus then headed off down the coast road towards Nuweiba stopping at two more hotels to collect 4 more travellers before reversing direction and heading back to Sharm el SheikhAirport (10 minutes from our hotel) where we transferred to a large bus and were joined by another dozen travellers. The time by now was around 3.30am and we two had basically spent an hour of our journey getting further away from Nuweiba than we had been at our hotel. Nevertheless we then had a comfortable two hour drive to Nuweiba, stopping just once to pick up a few more passengers near a resort called Dahab about halfway to Nuweiba.
We arrived at Nuweiba around 5am in good time to clear immigration and board the high speed ferry Queen Nefertiti. The ferry to Aqaba took two hours and was quite comfortable although too cold and windy to spend much time on deck.
At Aqaba we were met by a very efficient tour guide called Abdul who got us (English speakers) loaded on to a large comfortable bus for the two hour
drive to Petra. The road is called the Desert Highway and links Amman with Aqaba, Jordan’s only seaport. After an hour on this very busy road we turned off on to a mountain road known as the King’s Highway which was the original road linking the towns between Aqaba and Amman, and which is very scenic. I travelled this same road in 2002 when I drove home to Cardiff from the UAE: an epic journey which I plan to recount sometime in another travelblog. The big difference this time was snow along the higher sections of the road, and when we stopped for a break the outside temperature was very cool.
We arrived in Wadi Musa, the town outside Petra, around 11am and Abdul arranged our tickets for the entry to Petra. Then we headed off on foot down the Siq (pronounced Seek) which is a canyon that leads down the hillside into Petra. The Siq is quite long, 1200 meters according to Abdul, and gets progressively deeper until its about 400 feet from direct sunlight yet only between 4 and 12 meters wide. Abdul provided an interesting commentary on the way down the Siq and in Petra itself
Queen Nefertiti at Aqaba
High speed ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba
then left us to explore by ourselves for an hour. As we had arranged to stay overnight we didn’t exert ourselves too much and enjoyed a cup of tea in the sun on the main street looking at the spectacular Royal tombs which have been carved out of the mountainside. Then it was back up the Siq for a late lunch and then we were dropped off at our hotel which was located near the top of the mountain overlooking Wadi Musa and the hills that conceal Petra itself. As we were well tired after our long day so we had an early dinner and headed off to bed as we wanted to get up early the next day in order to see a lot more of Petra but at our own pace.
Next morning, Wednesday, we took a taxi down the entrance to Petra, walked down the Siq a lot quicker than on the previous day then headed off through the ruins for the climb up to the Monastery: one of the iconic sites of Petra and the place that usually features in the tourist brochures. The climb took us around 45 minutes but was completely worth it
Road to Petra
The King's Highway: almost snowed up
as the path provides stunning views back over Petra, and the Monastery itself is stunning. An additional bonus was that there’s a café up at the Monastery site where we had a welcome cup of Turkish coffee (Jane) and mint tea (me). Then we had a short walk across the ridge to “the view over the world”, where the mountains we were on drop steeply down several thousand feet into the Wadi Arabia, which is the beginning of the Great Rift Valley, and then on to the Negev Desert in Israel. Another “Wow” view, along with the Treasury and the Monastery; and in fact most of Petra.
Afterwards we headed slowly and carefully back down the path back to Petra and had a quick look around the museum, quite disappointing, and a Byzantine church before heading back up the Siq and a rendevouz with another British couple who had also remained in Petra overnight, and with whom we were sharing a ride back to the ferry at Aqaba. We managed a quick sandwich lunch at 3pm before heading off back to Aqaba in a minibus. We arrived in Aqaba 2 hours before the scheduled departure time for the ferry
Entrance to the Siq
On the way to Petra
and our driver took us to a very nice open air restaurant in Aqaba town. Then off to the ferry port for the 7pm sailing back to Nuweiba in Egypt. At the ferry port we were introduced to Saleh the representative who would take care of our party from Aqaba back to Sharm el Sheikh……or so we thought.
When we arrived in Nuweiba Saleh guided us through Immigration then rather unsettlingly we were walked out of the ferry port, unlike three coachloads of other tourists who boarded their buses next to the Immigration office. Our small party of two British couples and 3 French couples were escorted on to 2 minibuses, one for the Brits and the other for the French. We drove out of Nuweiba and I noticed that we were headed north instead of south and when I asked the driver what was going on he replied that he needed to report to the Tourist Police. I was becoming quite alarmed by this turn of events, with thoughts of a possible hijacking, and was very relieved when we pulled at a Tourist Police office. The problem was not properly explained to us and we were
The original Roman paving stones are still visible, and used.
allowed to leave after half an hour. This delay meant that we didn’t get back to our hotel in Sharm el Sheikh until half past midnight: very tired by this time after the hiking through Petra and long journey back.
January. The last day.
Despite the sleep deprivation of the previous two days we managed to get to breakfast and even had a game of tennis before a last lunch beside the sea in the warm sun. Then we got packed and headed for the airport at 5.15pm for our 7.30 pm flight. The airport was jammed with departing tourists, mostly British, and after checking-in we settled down to wait for our flight to be called. We didn’t hear any calls for our flight number or for Birmingham our destination and when I checked the gate at 7pm the sign still said that the flight was scheduled for 7.25 but there was no queue or any signs of departure. When we checked a little later the sign said that the flight had departed. After some frantic calls on their radios by the airport staff we were hustled on to a bus and taken to our plane
which already had its doors closed. Some steps were wheeled up one of the ground staff knocked on the door of the plane and we were allowed in. I asked one of the stewardesses if they had compared the headcount against the passengers who had checked in and she said that they had and there was a discrepancy but that their captain had agreed to take off despite the discrepancy. So much for security. The flight back to Birmingham took nearly 6 hours and was quite unpleasant as the area where we were sitting was freezing cold and the crew apparently could do nothing about it, saying it was a design fault with the plane. So the lessons here are: (1) if flying from Sharm el Sheikh don’t rely on the public address announcements but stay very close to the gate once you’re checked in, (2) if flying with Thomson Airways on one of their Boeing 757-200s don’t sit in rows 12 to 15 unless you’re wearing Arctic survival gear.
We arrived in Birmingham at 11.30pm local time without any further drama, collected the car and then after a quick, 1hour 40 minute, drive home to Cardiff we
Actually it's the tomb of some unknown but prominent Nabatean
got to bed by 2.30am on Friday.
A good holiday and despite the relatively cool weather in Sharm el Sheikh we still managed to get plenty of sunshine. Our hotel was excellent and our two excursions, to Cairo and Petra, exceeded all expectations. Luxor and a cruise up the Nile next? Could be.
ps If you want to see a larger image of any of the pictures then double click on the picture.
Ps When I uploaded the text for Blog 1, the Cairo trip, the upload didn’t work and I wasn’t aware of the absence until I returned home. So if you want to read my musings/ravings about our Cairo excursion then check Blog 1 again.
There are more photos below