Aqaba is the only port in Jordan’s otherwise landlocked territory, and shares its tiny corner of the Red Sea with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. We arrived late, having spent the morning waiting for a few members of our group to complete a hot air balloon ride at Wadi Rum, and so it was a rushed affair to check into the hotel, shower, and jump back in the minivan to head down to the pier where our boat for the afternoon awaited.
We were greeted by Mohammed, our extremely hospitable host for the afternoon, the rest of his crewmates from Deep Blue Diving Centre and an English girl who had met them on a similar tour to ours several months earlier and had decided to return to spend a week with them, who led us onto the boat and settled us in with cold drinks. We set off out into the Red Sea, where we were served a buffet, before gearing up for an afternoon of scuba diving, snorkelling and sunbathing. I opted for snorkelling – a first time for me (so I figured scuba diving might be a bit of a stretch) – and jumped in at our first pit stop: a coral reef. The surface of the sea was choppy and uninviting, but below the waves was a tranquil turquoise paradise, full of fish and coral. We paddled around, avoiding too many stings from the coral and soon came across a turtle making his way across the seabed. Cue much excitement from us all as we splashed after the majestic creature, swimming into each other as we tried to maintain our view. Eventually, we swam back to the boat, where we moved further into the sea before jumping back in again, this time seeking a sunken container ship.
It was eerie, bobbing around in the middle of the Red Sea, waves splashing over our snorkels, looking down at the decaying shell of the ship. I explored its length from above, completely clueless as to how far below me it was – it can’t have been far, but my depth perception was non-existent. Eventually, I looked around and realised I was the only one still in the vicinity (save the scuba divers below me, thankfully), and with the waves crashing around me I set off in the direction of the boat, which was suddenly further away than I remembered it. Obviously, I was fine, and it probably wasn’t that far, but it’s funny what runs through your head at moments like that.
Back on the boat, it was sit-down-and-enjoy-the-sunset time, and it did not disappoint, as no good sunset ever does. Cue sunbathing, photographs, and ‘don’t let go Jack’ moments at the front of the boat. Reluctantly, we then returned to shore to get ready for dinner. Now, after such a great afternoon I was ready to finish it off with a great dinner, and we all splurged way too much on cocktails, beers and local delicacies at a pretty fancy restaurant. Worth it? Probably not, if I’m still bringing it up five months later. That being said, Jordan needs our tourist dollars, so from that perspective I was happy to spend. In short, however, that meal was not worth £40…
Our tour guide then insisted upon taking us to a shisha bar, and in all honesty got pretty antsy when some of us said that we’d prefer to go and get ice cream (he then lost it completely when someone said they wanted a McFlurry, but I can understand that). A few people went with him for shisha, others went to bed, and four of us went to a fab little ice cream parlour that we had spotted earlier where we sat and discussed the pros and cons of seeing a country through the lens of a tour. I won’t discuss them now, but I may do a blog post on that topic in future. Watch this space. We then found a bar round the corner with live music where we sat on the balcony and watched the world go by. And go by it did, in this small port city – the streets were rammed with people and cars and noise and children (it’s currently about 1am) and the vibrant atmosphere wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Aqaba has faced huge funding losses in the wake of conflicts in the Middle East, with shells of incomplete mega-hotels scattered around the city, but it has the potential to become quite impressive should the funding to turn the city into a commerce, leisure and tourism hub return. It is the ambition of Jordan that one day Aqaba will be a competitor to the likes of Dubai, so watch this space too.
The following day, we drove the three hours back to Amman with a quick stop at the Dead Sea en route to take photos with the supposed salt pillar of Lot’s Wife (a story in Genesis, wherein God turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah). Once we were back in Amman we were free to roam, so a few of us grabbed some shawarma from a stall across the road from our hotel and then we headed out for coffee and cake on Rainbow Street. After some more wandering around, I opted for a nap at the hotel before dinner. Dinner that night involved camel burger – which was nothing special – and much discussion about a night out later that night.
Our tour guide was insistent that we experience a night out in Amman. He wanted us to shake off any lingering perceptions about drinking or women in Muslim cultures, and to go home and spread the news that we’d had a night out in Jordan. So, I now have a new excuse for a night out (not that I’ve ever needed one): a cultural learning experience! I’ll admit that after the bottle of cheap whiskey that myself and Rhea, a girl on the tour, tanked in the hotel before we went out we were probably incapable of cultural learning, but several shots (and the rest) later we were dancing with the locals. All in all, a great night, although hangovers in 30 degree sunshine are never fun, particularly when you have to walk two miles to move hotels at 10am …
The final day was a bit of a write-off, but it still involved good chats in the hostel and some great shawarma, and I’m glad to have experienced a night out in Jordan so I’ll accept the hangover. So, that’s a wrap on the Jordan trip! It’s a trip that, as you can see, I absolutely loved, a trip that has continued to shape my way of thinking and my choices for months since, and a trip which has opened up a whole new network of fantastic people from around the world, as well as being hugely beneficial to my Masters degree. I absolutely could not recommend Jordan more, so if you have the chance to go, take it – you won’t regret it!