Petra, Jordan: History on the Rocks

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I first went to Petra, Jordan back in 1998 on a day trip from Sharm-el-Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.  If you know the lay of the land, that may sound impossible.  Well, not if you take a flight from Sharm-el-Sheikh to Aqaba, Jordan and then hop on a bus.  That’s exactly what I did.  I did not have the luxury of time so it was an either do it on a day trip or not do it.  Since I could not predict the future, I had to go for it to be sure I got to see Petra in case I didn’t get to come back.

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel

Headed to Petra

Petra, Jordan, roads, travel

Great vistas along the way

Return to Petra

Fast forward 15 years and I return to this necropolis-turned-town-turned-movie-setting-turned-massive-tourist-site.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to return and explore it on more depth.  You see, in my first visit, I decided to walk my way in which is great in many ways but it eats away precious time for someone on a day trip there from Sharm-el-Sheikh.  The second time, while I did walk in, I walked faster knowing time was precious and I rented a donkey to take me up to save time.  That was a great idea except that the donkey preferred the edge of the path on the way up rather than risk hitting itself against the rocks at the other side of the path, making this rider a little bit worried about the way down!

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Donkey in the shade – smart!

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel

Giddy up!

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Look Ma, no hands!

Thanks, Nabateans

Petra is amazing due to how it has evolved over time but it was the Nabateans who deserve the credit (after God, of course) for this place.  Certainly, the landscape and topography are thanks to the Maker but what happened after that really starts with the Nabateans who carved a necropolis out of these beautiful rocks.  Others, like the Romans, continued to develop the site to what we know now.

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Some of the tombs around Petra that later peoples used for other purposes – like commerce

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The Romans put Petra to good use

More than the Treasury

You can see evidence of amazing early engineering when you see the channels that were carved into the rock to capture the rare rainfall that rolled down canyon walls and take it into a natural “holding tank.”

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Channel that collected rainwater from the canyon walls and directed to a well

Also impressive are the facades of the tombs built into the rocks such as the Royal Tombs and other areas like the Monastery and the very famous Treasury, which many think to be what the Indiana Jones movie showed.  In reality the Treasury is more of a facade.  Be sure to get a guide who explains to you what you are looking at as the Treasury, for example, shows evidence of how it was carved out of the stone.  And be sure to go all over!

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The Royal Tombs from a distance

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, Royal Tombs

Some of the Royal Tombs

My advice if you are visiting Petra and don’t have but a day or two is to use a donkey for some of the climbs (unless you want or need the exercise) and then walk and explore – this way, you will maximize what you will see from this one-of-a-kind place and there is PLENTY to see and admire about this unique site.

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My family “came along” with me to Petra!

 

During my second visit to Petra, I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board.  That notwithstanding, the stories I share were my real experiences and nothing else.  As they always are!

From Suite to Tent: What Made Accommodations Memorable in Jordan

sunset, Jordan, Dead Sea, birds, palm tree, golden, travel, photo, Olympus

Throughout all my travels, I have experienced different types of accommodations.  A rented apartment in Tuscany, Krakow, Paris and SofiaNo-frills basic hotels in Stone Town, Moshi, Aswan and Brasov.  Bed & breakfasts in Sonoma, the Dordogne, and Tavistock.  Middle-of-the-road hotels in Reston, Stellenbosch and Venice.  Top-of-the-line in Santiago de Chile, Mykonos, Boca Raton, and Washington D.C.  And a camping tent in Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The type of place I stay at is not happenstance – though staying at a youth hostel in my very late 30s in Oslo was due to no hotels being available for my business trip…  quite the experience!   I select the type of place I stay at based on many factors, such as:

  • am I going solo or with others
  • nature of the trip (business or personal)
  • am I staying in one place for the most part or roaming
  • what I want to spend,
  • what am I looking to experience in this vacation (I may only need a bed or I may want to enjoy a royal experience in my lodging).

But seldom do I experience many types of lodging in one trip.  And that’s exactly what I did in my recent trip to Jordan.  My trip to Jordan confirmed for me that that special something is what makes accommodations truly enjoyable and memorable (which is just as important as enjoying them at the moment!) regardless of the type of accommodation.

Here are the places I stayed at and why they each became as memorable a part of my trip as the many of the sights and sites I got to see in awesome Jordan.

Standard nice hotel

I got to continue my Marriott stays quite accidentally (as I did not have a hand in choosing this time), in both Amman and Petra.  Marriotts give you that standard feel that provides continuity for the very frequent traveler who moves around towns and hotels.  I can count on standard amenities, service and comfort in these.

The Amman Marriott first surprises because it feels like it is in the middle of a neighborhood.  Then you have to go through security – and odd thing but one that I am sure they do to keep me safe and unconcerned.  I felt both.  The restaurant offers a great breakfast buffet.  The outdoor pool area is spacious enough but there is ALSO an indoor pool and and jacuzzi so something for everyone’s water preferences.  The hallways in the room floors feel very luxurious and the rooms are nicer than the regular Marriott I have experienced and I separate this from the room I actually got which was an upgrade due to my Platinum Elite status with the chain:  I got quite a nice suite!!!

Marriott Amman Jordan lobby photo Canon EOS Rebel

Amman Marriott: A great lobby to hang out and read your paper

The Petra Marriott is a smaller hotel than the one in Amman – but what it lacks in size (no executive lounge, for example) it makes up for in the view.  The hotel faces the mountains around Petra from a high vantage point which makes it a great place to watch sunset as well!  The breakfast buffet was also smaller when compared to the Amman one and the staff not as “going out of their way” but it was still a good breakfast.

Lobby of Petra Marriott in Jordan

Lobby area

Atrium in the Petra Marriott in Jordan Olympus

Atrium

Beautiful sunset looking towards the mountains by Petra

Sunset view towards Petra and the hotel’s pool area

Clearly the view from the Petra Marriott made it most memorable but that feeling of arriving at a “second home”-type of place was also pretty darn cool.

Roughing it in a camp

One night we actually “roughed” it at Camp Rummana in the Dana Biosphere Reserve where one can see nature at its best is this part of Jordan.  I put rough in quote because, though sleeping in a tent and using a common bathroom facility are not high-styling it, these tents beat the tent I slept in while climbing Kilimanjaro for sure.  The tents were spacious and they had mattresses on the ground.  There was a common bathroom facility (a hike away if you woke up in the middle of the night and “had to go”) with showers and also a dining area where we had our meals.  Closer to the sleeping tents, was a set of large tents to hang out after dinner before bedtime – true to the Bedouin way.

Inside of a tent in Camp Rummana in the Dana Biosphere Reserve Olympus

A mattress and the basics

tents, Rummana camp, Jordan, Dana Biosphere Reserve

The sleeping tent area of the Rummana camp

Dining area in Camp Rummana in Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan

The dining area. No, he is not a giant.

Nothing like being so close to nature to make a place memorable and the Rummana Camp definitely connected me with the great setting.

An ecolodge

After the hike through the Dana-Feynan canyon, we arrived exhausted at the Feynan Ecolodge, right in the heart of the Dana Biosphere Reserve.  It has been rated one of the world’s top 50 ecolodges by National Geographic’s Adventure magazine. A partnership between the Royal Conservation Society of Jordan and EcoHotels, this lodge seeks to fit in not only with the terrain but also by respecting the local traditions and culture and providing the opportunity for an economic livelihood for the locals of the area.  There is a LOT that is done right by this ecolodge, so remote from main roads and anything urban yet surrounded by some incredible landscapes and skies as well as by the welcoming Bedouins of the area.

Feynan ecolodge, Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan, desert, lodge Olympus

The ecolodge as one approaches it – unassuming!

Feynan is an ecolodge which means little or no electricity available (you can re-charge your device on one of two power outlets in the lobby) which is tough but, at the same time, we are too connected some times so maybe this is a good break?  It also means it only offers vegetarian fare as meat would require refrigeration.  But the food was delicious and quite diverse much to my surprise!  The rooms are very nice; no frills but nice.  Each has its own bathroom.  Oh and water is free – straight from a mineral spring so it is safe to drink!  Now, if it is a hot time of the year, know that the rooms have no fans or A/C (of course) – but you are here for the adventure, right?  Finally, it also has a rooftop telescope – a great place to explore the skies at night.

Room at Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan's Dana Biosphere Reserve Olympus

Room at the ecolodge

Earthen jar or pitcher in the Feynan Ecolodge - mineral watier

Earthen pitcher of mineral water awaits in the room

The ability to get close to the locals without being taken to a “shop” definitely made the Feynan Ecolodge quite memorable to me as was the interesting sunset I got to watch.

A place with an experience

After exploring the Wadi Rum by pick-up truck well into the evening, we arrived at a Captain’s Desert Private Camp to spend the night.  But it was not just to have dinner and spend the night.  There was to be music and more of a soirée experience.  The tents were different than the Rummana Camp‘s but no worse, no better.  There was a nice area to have dinner and hang out, and, in fact, some folks opted to sleep there under the stars.  What was really cool about this place was that it was nested in canyon walls and it was beautiful in the morning.

Captain desert camp in the Wadi Rum, Jordan

Tents in Captain’s Desert Camp

Captain desert camp in the Wadi Rum, Jordan

Hanging out at the camp

The Bedouin experience and the setting made the Captain’s Desert Camp quite a memorable place to stay.  I wish I had been feeling 100% that night to enjoy it more!

A hideaway

We got to stay at this hideaway two times each for one night.  The Evason Ma’in Six Senses hotel may have some details to work out, mainly in its managerial/front office efforts, but the place is in an idyllic and very secluded setting.  Further, it provides great comfort in its rooms, offers great views, and is around hot springs that offer great relaxation.

Room at the Evason Ma'in Six Senses hotel in Jordan

Room. Really like the wooden shutter doors and spacious comfort

Lobby of the Evason Ma'in Six Senses hotel in Jordan

Lobby area

Lobby of the Evason Ma'in Six Senses hotel in Jordan

Detail of the lobby area

The uniqueness of the setting and the proximity and relative isolation of the hot springs as well as the inviting rooms made this place a memorable part of my trip.

And the “living-it-up” resort

My last night in Jordan was by the Dead Sea, where great resorts are located.  I stayed at the Mövenpick, a 5-star resort with a great view, a great offering in terms of food and fun, and an interesting design whether in architectural details or in the concept itself.

Movepick resort Dead Sea Jordan luxury comfort

Incredible details in the decorations at the main entrance

The room was not as luxurious as I would have expected but it was comfortable and spacious for sure.

 

The hotel grounds had several pools including one only for adults (closest to the Dead Sea).

Pools Movenpick hotel resort Dead Sea Jordan Olympus

One of the all-ages pool overlooking the Dead Sea

The main hotel building had many different areas to lounge in with very nice decorations and details.  The restaurant was outstanding in the diversity and quality of the buffet it offered for dinner and breakfast.

Room at Movenpick resort Dead Sea Jordan Olympus

Room

Lounge Movenpick resort by the Dead Sea in Jordan Olympus

One of the many sitting areas

At night there was an area that offered music and belly dancing without the corniness typically associated with belly dancing in the U.S. (where there HAS to be audience participation); you could just really appreciate the art form here without worrying you were going to be called upon to make a fool of yourself…

Movenpick Dead Sea Jordan resort outdoor Olympus

Outdoor area for drinks and entertainment in the evening

What made this place the most memorable was the amazing sunset I got to live through and watch…

Sunset Dead Sea pool Movenpick resort Jordan amazing awesome infinity Olympus photo

The lowest of the pools, closest to the Dead Sea during a GREAT sunset

Glorious, eh?

Sunset Dead Sea birds tree Jordan Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Is this a sunset scene or what??!!

Nuff said!

 

During this trip, I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board.  That notwithstanding, the stories I share were my real experiences and nothing else.  As they always are!

Photo Essay – Colors of Jordan

Desert road Jordan

Before my trip to Jordan, I had this mental image that Jordan was mostly a desert. I knew Jordan faced the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea and I recalled from my quick visit to Petra (on a day trip from Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt), that Petra would have some reddish color to it. But it’s like, if I thought how Jordan would look like, I would have said “fairly mono-chromatic”.

OK, I exaggerate a little.  But the range of vivid colors I encountered during my visit became quite apparent once I was home walking through each of the 3,000+ pictures I took during my 9 days there (yes, quite a few were duplicates as I tried different settings and angles for a given “scene”; so far I am down to around 2,000).  What I found out is that that desert color was a perfect background for all the others colors to pop.  And pop they did!

So, I have decided to share where I found color that caught my eye that will, hopefully, give you a glimpse into Jordan!  When you are done, I would love to hear back from you on which of these photos you like the most (photos are numbered for ease of reference!).

I found color in the landscapes in Jordan…

Much as I had experienced back in 1998, I got to see the colors typically associated with deserts.  But on this trip, I also saw the color of canyons and gorges.  White, sand, red – all colors represented in the landscape around me as I hope the following pictures show…

Desert road Jordan

1. On the way to Mt. Nebo from Mardaba – sand color everywhere except the asphalt

Sand dune Wadi Rum Jordan

2. Shifting sands in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan

Wadi between Dana and Feynan, Jordan Olympus

3. Canyon we hiked through from Dana to Feynan – great mix of white and red with specks of green on the mountains around us

Canyon walls in Petra Jordan with Canon Rebel

4. Colorful canyon walls in Petra, Jordan!

Colorful canyon walls in Petra, Jordan Canon Rebel

5. More colorful canyon walls in Petra, Jordan

Colorful rocks in Wadi Mujib, Jordan Olympus camera

6. Colorful rocks in the waters of Wadi Mujib, Jordan

Colorful rocks in Wadi Mujib, Jordan Olympus camera

7. Colorful rocks in the walls Wadi Mujib, Jordan

I found color in the markets of Jordan…

Jewelry sold by folks around Petra, Jordan

8. Jewelry sold by folks around Petra

Camels with color in Jordan

9. Who knew camels would be so colorful!

Arab headscarves in Jordan Canon Rebel

10. Headscarves in the traditional colors worn by many around Jordan

Fruits in the fruit stands in the market in Amman, Jordan Canon Rebel

11. Fruits in the fruit stands in the market in Amman, Jordan

Colorful market roof in the Amman, Jordan market Canon Rebel

12. Colorful market roof in the Amman, Jordan market

I found color in the architecture – old and new – in Jordan…

Ruins column Jerash Roman Jordan

13.  Color of old ruins in the Greco-Roman town of Jerash, Jordan

Ruins Jerash column blue sky Jordan

14.  A still-standing column in Jerash makes a great contrast with the perfectly blue sky

King Abdullah Mosque blue Amman, Jordan

15.  The blues of the dome of King Abdullah’s Mosque (the Blue Mosque) of Amman and the blue of the sky

Inside view of the dome of King Abdullah's Mosque in Amman, Jordan (blue mosque)

16.  Inside view of the dome of King Abdullah’s Mosque (built in the 1980s)

Petra's Treasury in Jordan

17.  The unforgettable Treasury at Petra, Jordan

I found great blues in the waters around Jordan…

Blue sky and Dead Sea

18. A sea and a sky both drapped in great blue!

Beautiful blues in the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba, Olympus

19.  Beautiful blues in the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba

I found color in sunsets over the Dead Sea…

Sunset over the Dead Sea in Jordan, Canon EOS Rebel

20.  Sunset over the Dead Sea in Jordan

Sunset over the Dead Sea in Jordan, Olympus

21.  Double sunset over the Dead Sea in Jordan

Sunset over the Dead Sea in Jordan, Canon EOS Rebel

22.  Sunset over the Dead Sea in Jordan

I found color in Jordanian artisans’ art…

Raw material for creation of mosaic art in workshop in Jordan

23.  The raw materials that will create beautiful mosaics are colorful on their own…

Mosaic art Jordan

24. Mosaic art: not only the great colors but also the shapes draw me

Art handicraft craft Jordan

25.  Beautiful art in this colorful vase

And I found a colorful people in Jordan!

Schoolchildren in Jerash, Jordan

26.  Schoolchildren visiting the ruins of Jerash – singing and showing their pride in their country – a colorful bunch!

———————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Thank you to the Jordan Tourism Board for showing me all the colors in Jordan.

Can’t a Guy Just Get Out of the Sinai Peninsula? Please?

Moses was not the only one trying to get out of Egypt…  There are three travel stories of mine that family and friends greatly enjoy, remind me of, and ask to re-tell.  One is easier to tell than the other and it involved a monkey and me in Tanzania.  But that is for another day…  The second one is about a public restroom in a French train station and getting locked in.  Also for another day.  I almost forget these stories until out of nowhere, in some group gathering, someone will bring them up.  The third and longer story is the one I will tell you here.  It is not that it is ROFL-funny, nor I-was-in-serious-danger-scary.  But it has a little bit of many things…

Picture this:  Sharm-el-Sheikh, the Sinai Peninsula, 1998 

I’d gone to Egypt with 4 friends on a whim.  They had planned the trip a few weeks in advance (planning meaning they had a plane ticket and knew the parts of Egypt they wanted to hit).  I suddenly had availability to take off from work and planned on joining them like 2 weeks before the trip.  I love that stuff.  But, because I joined them later, my travel differed from them.  On top of that, I had decided to go see a friend in Istanbul afterwards.

We get to the Sinai Peninsula by flying from Luxor after exploring Nile-hugging Egypt.  Well, 4 of us, the 5th took a bus to Hurghada and then I-don’t-know-what.  (He told us he severely regretted taking the long painful bus ride…)  Sharm-el-Sheikh, to be more precise, was our destination.  Sharm is a popular resort town that many foreigners come to sun and scuba in; some don’t even hit Cairo when they come from Europe to vacation in Sharm.

The others in my group were scuba divers and I wasn’t so after a day of snorkeling, I was ready to explore other things.  So I went to the St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai from Moses, burning bush and 10 commandment fame.  We also did some off-road fun roading in a Hummer through red canyons in the area.  And, I took a flight to Aqaba, Jordan from which I would take a 2 hour bus to see Petra.  Phenomenal day trip but long.  And with implications…

It’s the Little Glitches…

There was one little glitch in my independent travel.  Specifically, the one to Jordan.  You see, the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt is surrounded by extra security that you are told it’s “because of the Israelis” except that seaside towns on the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula are flooded by Israeli tourists so clearly their military are not about to invade.  It is probably more because of the Bedouin who live in the remote areas of the peninsula and who do not get along with the central government from Cairo or its representatives on the peninsula (trust me, this matters to my story!).  So, the area around Sharm-el-Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula is actually a special zone.  Special for military, special for foreigners.  Europeans are a big market for this resort town and come in charter flights from everywhere in Europe.  To attract them and make things easier, the visa requirement to get to Egypt doesn’t apply to get to Sharm-el-Sheikh.  But if tourists who enter Egypt DIRECTLY by flying to Sharm want to go elsewhere in Egypt, they need to get a normal Egyptian tourist visa to cross through the checkpoints around this special security/tourism zone.

A Stereotype Helps Me

When I boarded the little plane to Jordan, I invalidated my entry visa into Egypt (I had entered through Cairo).  No problem, I was returning to Sharm where I did not need a visa to get in (it was not that I had had one already for Egypt; that one was now invalidated when I left the country).  Except no one told me as I cleared immigration at Sharm’s airport that there was this thing and that if I were going to Cairo, I would need a new visa to enter “mainland” Egypt which I could get right then and there.  So, with this background, you can understand the setup and where this is headed.

I had to return to Cairo to catch my flight to Istanbul.  So, I get instructions from the hotel on where the bus stop is, they hail me a taxi and I wait at the stop with other tourists and locals.  I get on the bus, happily and ready to get back to Cairo.  Not 10 minutes later we hit the first military/security checkpoint.  They come on board and want to see everyone’s papers so I provide my passport.  A few minutes later, I am made to get off the bus with my things.  I am a little shocked but don’t want to challenge anyone with big guns.  They explain to me I need a visa to “enter” Egypt.  I say that I have one but they tell me that was voided when I left the country (they could see my Jordan entry/exit stamps – such efficiency I am sure is rare in Egyptian bureaucracy, except at this checkpoint!).  So I ask if I can get the visa there but it is just a checkpoint on the road so I am told I need to go back to Sharm to the port (or the airport) to get the visa.  They proceed to stop the next car coming the OTHER way and tell the guy he has to take me to Sharm, to the port.  I have no idea what they literally said as I don’t speak Arabic.  All I know is I am being told to get in this stranger’s car and that does not please me.  Stereotypes can be valuable:  this guy had a few dry cleaning items hanging from the backseat oh-shit handle so I took some measure of reassurance that maybe this guy was not a serial killer.

Re-Directed at the Port

He didn’t speak English so he just drove on with me in the car (I guess they do what they are told) and dropped me off at the port’s entrance (I offered him money which he refused – talk about setting me straight!) where two 18-year old guards with big guns greet me.  They don’t understand me much but one takes me to the office building but only if I leave my large backpack and shoulder bag (with my more important valuables!) at the gate.  Well, no choice but to comply.  Off I go to the office, where I am told I need a stamp.  I reply questioningly of the official:  isn’t that what I am there for, to get the visa?  The official says yes but the visa requires a stamp be bought from the bank; the stamp indicates that I paid for the visa so he can then stamp the passport.  They don’t sell the stamps at the port so I am told to head into town to go to the bank and get the stamp and come back.  Off I go, to claim my belongings hoping they are still all there.  They are.  The entrance to the port is on this little circle of a street off the main road in the middle of nowhere beyond the west end of Sharm, and not close to the main road.  But providentially a taxi with a passenger is passing right by and I stop it.

The passenger is one of the many expats who live in Sharm who work in tourism.  In her case in the boats that take people out to scuba.  She is Italian and tells me she is trying to get to the drugstore intown and for some reason they went through this side road (it still makes no sense why as it is only a half-circle with nothing else but the port entrance).  So we head intown and they drop me off at the bank.

Sorry, No Cigar at the Bank

I go to the big dark door and it is locked.  I knock and eventually someone opens up and tells me they are closed for the rest of the day.  I beg and plead that I just need this one stamp and would they please.  No way.  So I stand there going “what the heck” and he tells me to try at the airport where the bank’s branch there is likely open (I can’t remember if it was a Friday or just lunch hour break).

So, the airport is at the OPPOSITE end of Sharm-el-Sheikh.  And I am running low on Egyptian pounds.  Remember I was supposed to leave Egypt the next morning and my only expected expense after getting to Cairo would be dinner and hotel which I could pay with credit card so I was trying to not withdraw more local money.  I hail a cab who takes me to the airport where, if I need to, I will withdraw more money thinking I will have a lot left over if I get money…  At the airport, I face what looks like two tourist buses about to offload into the little security area to enter the terminal so I forget about the money question.  I am itching to get back to catch the bus to Cairo before it gets too late.  The taxi drops me right in front of the buses so I manage to avoid most people getting off and their drama.

Victory.  I buy the darn stamp no problem and get another taxi to take me back to the port.  I get to the port and my, by now, good friends at the gate are waving at me and smiling as they see me get off the taxi, as if seeing an old friend (I wonder what they were really thinking!).  I know the routine so I drop the backpack but manage to take my shoulder bag with me to the office accompanied by one of the friendly soldiers.  A clerk tells me his boss, the official I had spoken to earlier, had left for a few hours and that I should go and try later.  At that point, I am taken over by a mix of outrage and acting skills.

Acting up at the Port

I huff, sit down on a chair and say I would wait as I need to make it to Cairo that night to catch my flight the next day at the crack of dawn.  The clerk seems taken aback by my reaction and insists I need to leave and come back later.  To me, that is the stupidest thing for many reasons.  Where would I go with luggage and little cash (I had not withdrawn money at the airport)?  What if I missed the official again when he came back? etc.  So I said I was intending to wait and that was that.  Immediately, I pull out my book (“History of the Arab Peoples”!) and plop down even further into my chair which clearly exasperates him.  He goes off to his little desk and gets on the phone and starts what sounds like yelling and gesticulating.  In Egypt that could be he is angry or just that he is telling his wife he loves her.  It is hard to tell the difference.  Time passes and I am flipping the book’s pages furiously as if I am actually reading it (I am not as I can’t focus at this point) and as if the book’s pages are to blame for this little chaos in my day.  I wasn’t angry – but I was close to tears not for fear but for sheer frustration at what I could not control and at being in this situation because I didn’t research and because immigration at the Sharm airport had not offered information I could have needed…

What seems forever-later but probably was just 45 minutes, the official comes back not quite in his full uniform (official may make him sound too mundane a goverment person; he seemed to have a position of power in the port).  He talks to the clerk and calls me into his office where he reviews my passport.  He asks me “Did you give him money?” referring to the clerk. I realize I am at a critical juncture here.  So I go with the truth and a twist.  “No, should I have?”  He shakes his head no, stamps the visa on the passport, and waves me off.  I start walking out of the building faster with each step before anyone thinks of anything else for me to comply with.  I smile at the guards, they are smiling at me, I pick up my stuff and wave these friendly guys goodbye.

Success Breeds the Need for a Plan to Get Out

Now to find a taxi with my luggage in this remote corner of Sharm.  Nothing in sight.  Not the random luck of the first time leaving the port.  I start walking towards the main road when, around the bend and behind this massive rock, there in the shade is a taxi parked.  Its driver is off to the side by the rock, with a pail of water cleansing his face and arms.  I can’t believe my eyes (and I wish so badly I had taken a picture of this).  But there he is and he is willing to take me back into town!!

I don’t quite know if the bus stop is the best place to go as it is barely a stop.  I need to know when is the next bus to Cairo though I begin contemplating heading back to the airport and catching a flight and be done with the military checkpoints on the road – I don’t want to give bad luck a chance!  But a flight would set me back money-wise a good bit.  I decide it would be best to head back to the hotel (the Sanafir) since they were so helpful.  They immediately get on the phone, make a few calls, and tell me a bus to Cairo is about to be at the bus stop in less than 10 minutes!!  So they run outside with me, hail a cab, tell him where to take me, and tell him to do it fast.   I like how they took ownership of helping me out!

I make it to the stop and get on the bus.  Praying nothing else comes up at the checkpoint.  It doesn’t.  I am on my way to freaking Cairo to leave Egypt almost like Moses and his people.  The main story ends here but let me drive it all the way home until I am at my hotel in Heliopolis.

The Bus Ride and the Finish Line

Since this stop is after the intown stop(s), the bus is pretty full.   The bus was mostly Egyptians with a smattering of tourists (funnily, mostly towards the front).  I sit near the back next to a fellow maybe my age that spoke some English.  We speak a little bit until the movie started to play in the little overhead TVs:  Speed.  Let me tell you, that is not the movie you want to see while your bus is careening up the Sinai with ever-so-slight movements side-to-side…  It eventually gets dark and I miss seeing the Suez Canal with any clarity so I can’t say I’ve seen it.  But I don’t care at this moment.  The guy and I pick up talking as we approach Cairo and I ask him how far my hotel is from the bus station.  He tells me not far and that he will get his brother, who is picking him up, to drop me off on their way home.  I cringe at getting into another stranger’s car but besides being close to out of money, I just don’t care anymore.  I’ve had a long and action-packed day and I don’t care.  I ask him for his address to send him a post card from Atlanta (which I did send) and proceed to take the ride to my hotel.  I say my goodbyes and happily enter my hotel for a nice shower and bedtime as I have an early flight out.

So ends the story of my leaving the Sinai Peninsula.  Had my friends been with me, it would have been a little more fun for sure.  But I am glad I am tenacious and able to think things through on the spot.  I just don’t like HAVING to do it like I did that day!!

One observation:  I did not meet one single person that day that was rude to me.  The bank guy was not rude, he was just neutral and did not care.  The port clerk?  He was probably going to be reprimanded for making his boss come back to the port from his afternoon break but he probably understood I needed the visa to leave and hence called him to come back.  Most Egyptians along this experience were friendly and helpful.  That (which matches experiences in Aswan and Luxor) is why I always think fondly of Egypt and its people.  But lesson learned:  traveler beware of visa requirements as they could vary WITHIN a country!!!

 

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