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Published: June 26th 2017
Temp: 86F 30C
Distance travelled: 3059 nautical miles
Aquaba is the only port of Jordan. It lies at the end of the Gulf of Aqaba. This is the smaller of the Gulfs that flank either side of the Sinai Peninsula that flow in to the Red Sea. Jordan only has a coast line of 26km (approx. 17 miles) flanked by Israel to the West and Saudi Arabia to the East. From the port you can clearly see the Israeli resort of Eilat or if you look the other way, the nothingness of the Saudi Arabian peninsula!!
From the ship's deck, the most prominent land mark that is visible is the tall flag mast. This has claim to be the tallest free standing flag pole in the world, along with the one in Abu Dhabi and about half a dozen other places in the world. I'm not going to get drawn in to this argument. That's how wars start!!
The flag stands in Arab Revolt Plaza which was the scene of a great Arab victory against the Ottoman Empire in 1916.
One of the most iconic sites in the world and is the top of most travellers
bucket list is situated in Jordan. This is the historic site of Petra; the hidden city where buildings have been carved out of solid rock and a hike through a narrow ravine is the only accessible route in and out of this unofficial Wonder of the World. Just like last time, Roisin and I have no desire to visit this marvel just yet. The journey to the site is about 2 ½ hours from the port so that's 5 hours travelling and perhaps 2 hours at the site. Bearing in mind it takes between 30-40 minutes walk before the site opens up to reveal the famous 'Treasury' building, it doesn't give a lot of time to appreciate the phenomenon of this ancient world. No, Roisin and I have plans to visit Petra in our own time and on our terms…watch this space!!!
Nevertheless, Petra is still the No 1 tourist attraction from the ship. The 29 coach load of sightseers from the ship confirm this. Apart from Petra, there are also excursions to Wadi Rhum made famous by Peter O'Toole and a camel and for those who just want a bit of relaxation but are fed up with the
‘free' amenities on board there is a trip to a hotel complex on Aqaba's North Beach!!
Roisin and I took the organised shuttle in to the town to explore this resort that we never had a chance to see last time due to the tour to Wadi Rhum taking up all our time. Although our pre-holiday research indicated that the walk into the centre of Aqaba from the port is only about 15 minutes, we were not sure of the route and together with the heat factor, we decided to pay the €9 each for the official bus. The bus ticket could be retained and used for the whole day. This idea should have been extended to other ports we have visited instead of dropping guests at the port gate, often left to the mercy of the taxi drivers!! Aqaba is not a restricted port and the public are free to walk within the dock complex.
The 10 minute ride to Aqaba dropped us at a car park near the North Beach. As soon as we pulled in, we noticed the army of taxi drivers all waiting to offer their services to Petra. We overheard one driver quoting
€60. This is a very reasonable price for 4 persons. However, being so far from the port, there are so many things that could go wrong; the taxi could break down; there could be an accident on the road causing a traffic jam; the €60 may just be one-way and the return is an additional €200!! Whatever the reason, if you are not on an official tour, the ship won't wait for you if you are delayed.
We managed to dodge the main swarm but some stragglers were hiding around the corner. We crossed the busy road and left the last of the local tour guides standing, clutching their grubby maps. We were soon forgotten, though, as the taxi drivers turned their attention to the next shuttle bus that had just turned in to the car park.
We turned in to what looked like an archaeological site. This still seemed to be a working site as there were still cords marking out areas yet to be excavated. This was the ancient Islamic city of Ayla. Although the gate to this site was only ajar so not quite the invitation to take a look t
hat we would expect, signs
were dotted around the site in both English and Arabic so I guess it was open to the public!!
We carried on heading toward the marina. No sooner had we ventured back on to the pavement than Roisin dragged me out of the way. Seconds later a man riding a camel came rushing by. He wasn't even in the road. He was riding on the pavement. After the spectacle had passed, I turned and looked at Roisin. All I could think of saying is: ‘Now there's something you don't see every day!!!'
We headed straight down King Hussein bin Talal Street where someone had parked their camel under a tree being very considerate in affording some shade to the animal. There is nothing like coming back to your camel that has been sitting in the sun all morning!! Further on down a local man was standing next to his camel who was kneeling on all fours (the camel, not the man!!). He asked me if I wanted to stroke his camel. On the off chance that this was a euphemism straight out of the ‘Carry-on book of double-entendres'
I didn't make eye contact as we turned down some
steps to what passed for a promenade. This was a very busy thoroughfare with many children running, cycling and generally getting in my way!! (Sorry I mean having fun!!). Some were with their mothers and taking the opportunity to paddle in the clear blue sea. Roisin stopped and sat on a low wall for a few minutes watching the locals enjoy themselves. A few young teens passed us and several politely said ‘Hi' and ‘Good morning'. We had suddenly become the local novelty. We had wandered to a part of the shore that hadn't probably seen many westerners in a long time. More and more young kids and teens greeted us as they passed by. One young teen stopped and asked: ‘Where are you from?'
Roisin replied: ‘Liverpool'
The teen said: ‘Wycombe?'
I then said ‘No, Liverpool!'
the teen continued, ‘Wycombe to Jordan'.
The young lady had obviously welcomed me to her country and I was questioning her on her dodgy knowledge of UK geography!!!
So far we had walked down the ring road to the waterfront so we decided to walk further in to the town to what was labelled as the town
centre. We wheedled our way through some back streets. There were narrow, uneven roads. Many of these roads saw lots of activity and trade. These souks were quite evidently for locals selling everything from fruit and veg to furniture. Many of the tradesmen gave us a friendly ‘Welcome' or just smiled.
No city worth its weight in gold would be complete without a mosque around which everything else is centred. Cutting through the veg and meat souk, the road opened out to reveal Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque, small by comparison to some of the mosques we have witnessed on this trip but still a magnificent sight. The white mosque had a single dome and one minaret. Ornate patterns, as with all mosques adorned the outer upper walls each series of patterns specific to that mosque giving it its own individuality.
It was during our brief refreshment stop (ensuring free Wi-Fi was available) that we became conscious of the number of flies swarming around. This didn't seem to be an issue for the locals who seemed mildly amused at our obvious discomfort!! The arrival of a man who parked his camel in the road, it knelt down and
he jumped off. The owner then nipped in to an adjacent store and appeared a few minutes later with a bag of groceries, got back on his camel and trotted away. It just seemed to be the most natural thing in the world; right here, right now!!
Our next mission was to find a shop that sold fridge magnets. Our Aussie friends had all gone to Petra and asked us if we could pick up a fridge magnet with ‘Aqaba' inscribed thereon. We duly obliged and quickly found a souvenir shop with many interesting trinkets and bric-a-brac. Ready with my haggling head on I asked how much the magnets were.
‘All magnets 1 dinar',
came the reply.
That's about 85p. He should have started at about 15 dinar. I would have haggled him down to about 3 dinar and everyone's a winner!! As it happens I gave him 5 dinar for 2 magnets and he gave me 3 dinar change. For one brief moment, I thought I noticed an expression of disappointment on the shop keeper's face and a look of: ‘Can we start again!!?'
He definitely doesn't have the hang of this haggling thing yet. Either
that or he is not used to tourists!!
We could see the ship from where we stood and gauged that we had already walked half way back to the port. We could turn back and walk to the shuttle bus or carry on walking and head back to the ship on foot. I wanted to visit the fort and heritage museum, both on the water front and not too far from the port entrance.
Aqaba fort, otherwise known as Aqaba Castle or Mamluk fort was originally built by the Mamluk sultan Qansweh Al Ghuri in the 14th century. We could see from the raised roadside that only the foundations still stand so we by passed this monument to the past and headed to the heritage museum. This free attraction reflects the history and culture of the area by using locally collected materials and old photographs.
Aqaba is exactly how I'd imagined it but not quite what I expected!! Down by the water front there were many stalls selling buckets, spades, rubber inflatables, fishing nets, flip-flops all associated with any holiday resort in the UK and probably around the world. However, all the revellers enjoying the delights of
this resort were either Jordanian or of Arabic descent and remained moderately dressed despite the temperature. When all's said and done, this city is on the edge of a desert and has a desert climate just like its nearest town Eilat in Israel and the Saudi Arabian border. Many of the buildings and walkways were crumbling from constant erosion. Rosin says it's as if they have started building stuff and not finished it before starting something else.
We were back on board shortly after 2pm and decided to dip in the pool before the hordes returned. This is the 1st
time I have been in the main swimming pool of a cruise ship in' 11 attempts!! I didn't realise the water used is salt water!! It didn't matter though. It was still a welcome respite after a morning of strolling along Jordan's dusty coast line.
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