While I hate the idea of myself in a bikini and have an odd fear of drowning, I have had a long time dream to experience the wonders of the sea. Aqaba and the Red Sea seemed the obvious possibility to try out my dream.
Firstly, Jordan is a Muslim country and Aqaba is a rather conservative city where tiny bikinis are only the norm in the southern resorts. Thus, I could show off my very conservative bathing outfit.
Secondly, the Red sea is not muddy green and cold as the Baltic, but rather crystal blue and clear – not to mention warm, making me feel a little safer from the fear that Jörmungand or the Loch Ness Monster were to grab me from below.
With the intent on exploring the Red Sea we had pre-booked a tour on Layla One, where we could try out snorkelling around the coral reefs.
Going to Jordan
The day before we had taken the Egged bus 444 from Jerusalem to Eilat. From there we took a taxi to the border and spent a half hour eating our Israeli food and drinking our water before walking the distance across no man’s land. In Jordan we were met with open arms and lots of humour from the border guards. It was surprisingly easy to cross.
I had read a lot about the Taxi Mafia which had monopoly of driving you from the border and how you had to take a taxi for which they charged more than double the regulated price. While the first part held true, since other tourists crossing were denied to walk the distance to Aqaba on their own, the price charged was the regulated 11JD. The taxi ride proved quite adventurous.
The driver was young and liked to drive fast and furiously. Moreover, the back storage couldn’t close and every time – which was often – that we hit a bump it smacked open.
I was, to say the least, a bit afraid that our bag-packs would fall out. Every time a bump hit, I would turn around to check that they were not lying on the road behind us. That would make our young driver laugh merrily. My boyfriend was more concerned with the lack of seatbelts, which seems to be an invention which has not yet reached Jordan. But we arrived – luggage and people intact.
Snorkelling in the Red Sea
We showed up at DiveAqaba at 9 AM in the morning worried we would be late. We could have slept another 2 hours, if we had had the gift of foresight.
Together with four girls we spent ages waiting for a group of Israelis who were having problems at the border. When they finally arrived, they proved to be rowdy middle-aged men, who liked to sing loud Hebrew songs.
Though the leader of the group seemed on good terms with the natives and while the diving crew were pretty laid back, I found it a bit tactless for a bunch of Israelis to so blatantly show off in a country where many are caught in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No matter what one might think of the conflict, their behaviour seemed provoking. Partly also because they were loud and rowdy.
It really didn’t help when they undressed on the boat – one of them showing off speedos and a rather large beer stomach. With that pretty sight, we sat sail for Cedar Pride Wreck – a Lebanese general cargo vessel which was sunk for the benefit of creating the basis of a marine habitat and diving spot in Aqaba in 1982.
‘Spit in the goggles, you have to spit in the goggles‘ – what? Yakk. Apparently in order to clean the salt off the goggles, you have to absolve it in your spit. Fascinating.
The first ten minutes were scary and I had major problems with getting used to breathing through my mouth. Moreover, my spit hadn’t done much good and I couldn’t see a thing under water.
However, after getting another pair of goggles and forcing myself to stop breathing through my nose, it was absolutely amazing. Far below us lay the cargo ship and divers from our boat could be seen there. I had imagined it would be scary to be at 20 meters depth, but the wetsuit and swim feet made it almost impossible to sink below the surface.
Our second stop was at First Bay North where the coral reef was only a short meter below the surface. Much more confident in snorkelling and breathing through the mouth, we had an amazing hour enjoying the rich and wondrous life beneath the surface, where colourful fish swam between large corals.
It is by all means one of the most amazing experiences I have had travelling, and I can’t believe I haven’t snorkelled before. We will definitely jump into snorkelling gear every time we get a chance in the future.
The day ended with a large and fulfilling lunch and yet another Hebrew song on the way back.
Not unlike cities I have visited in Morocco or Azerbaijan, Aqaba is a dirty and smelly city. But at the same time, as Fez and Ganja, Aqaba is alive and a fascinating place to enjoy.
The streets are full of people shopping, haggling, smoking, picnicking … etc. – something I had missed in the Old City of Jerusalem. Everyday life en masse.
In the evening, the public beach became filled with families from near and afar, enjoying the sunset and a cop of Lipton tea with mint leaves.
You couldn’t move for people. Kids playing. Couples talking. People selling tea, coffee, large swim toys in the form of ducks.
At first we laughed at the guy who tried to sell the swimming ducks, but then we noticed how many families had one. It pretty much seem the standard, and there are no other kind of swim toys than the duck. It must make for excellent business.
It would be hard for anyone to outdo the Jordanian in regards to hospitality. From crossing the border we have only met open and enthusiastic people, who generally wish to welcome us. If the rest of our trip will be anything like our reception in Aqaba, I think we will come to love Jordan very much.