30 Before 30,  Egypt,  Jordan

Egypt: Getting There is Half the Fun

Getting around Jordan and into Egypt is no small feat. Most places suggest to go around Jordan and end up back in Amman, then fly to Egypt if you want to see it as well.

But there is another way – there is a ferry from Aqaba to Nuweiba, which are both ports on the Red Sea. It can be an easier and cheaper way to get from Jordan to Egypt, especially if you want to do anything in the Sinai.

For me, I knew I wanted to be in the Sinai for at least a bit, so I decided to go ahead and take the ferry.

Alas… as I’m finding is true for much of the Middle East, information online about anything can be scarce and not exactly up to date. Online, you’ll find out all about the fast ferry and the slow ferry from Aqaba to Nuweiba, and there are multiple times for each every day.

Get to Aqaba and ask around about the ferry? First, you’ll be lucky to find even travel agents who are aware of the ferry. And then… well, I came in the off season, and Egypt has been suffering from a serious lack of tourism in the past couple of years. So there’s not a fast ferry for tourists anymore.

And there’s only one ferry per day. It leaves at 11pm from Aqaba, and I couldn’t get a straight answer out of anyone for when it arrived in Nuweiba. So I assumed it would be an overnight ferry and hoped it would get there a bit after sunrise.

I got my ferry ticket, and then basically just killed the day in Aqaba. Gotta love McDonald’s! I had a few different sundaes and McFlurries, and then wandered up the road. Apparently, Popeye’s Chicken is now expanding in the Middle East, because I found one of those! I had lunch there, and then went to the Movenpick for ice cream.

I am officially in love with their ice cream. However, I don’t really love their service. When I paid with a $5 bill for a $2.20 bill, I only got $2 back… no change. I get that change is annoying to count, it’s basically no money, and all of that, but it does bother me when I don’t get proper change. (Especially when you’re paying in Jordanian Dinar… not getting my 80 cents back translates into over $1 US. Still not a lot, but I have a hard time imagining that in the States. Maybe it’s because I never pay with cash there?)

Anyway, I also went down along the public beach, though I knew better than to swim. I had also been warned against swimming there. Public sensibilities in Jordan are still quite modest, so even though it’s a beach, bikinis are most certainly not welcome. I got quite a few side-eye looks in my Capri pants and t-shirt, let alone anything more revealing.

It was a lovely beach to walk along, though the persistent touts of the world remained. In Aqaba, it’s people selling glass-bottom boat rides. I found a tree and sat below it to read my book in the shade, when a Jordanian guy came up to me selling a boat ride. I said no, he asked my nationality. I said I was from the US, which has been funny – in Egypt and Jordan, people have no clue where or what “the US” is – they stare at me for a few seconds and then ask “America?” and when I say yes, then they know it. So apparently we’re just America on this side of the world.

He left, and then I saw him talking with his friend. Who then came over, asked again about my nationality. Then he asked for my passport. He said he was “police” – and I looked him over and thought quickly. I, of course, had my passport in my backpack, but wasn’t sure what this guy’s end was. I was fairly certain he was not police. In the moment, I couldn’t decide if the better option was to demand identification, tell him that I’d show my passport if he brought a “colleague” in a uniform, run away, or to lie.

So I lied. I said I didn’t have it and that it was back at the hotel. That seemed to work, and he wandered away but kept looking back. At that moment, I decided to go on just as quickly as I could without looking upset.

I have no clue what he would have wanted – my guess is just that he would have tried to kidnap my passport in exchange for a glass bottom boat ride. But I’m glad I got out of there quickly. That was the only time I ever felt unsafe in Jordan, and even then, I was concerned more about getting scammed than about getting harmed.

After the day passed, I went on to the ferry port in Aqaba. The night ferry really is a true ferry – it hauls cars, and even some level of goods. It’s not a cruise boat.

As I entered the port, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. As this is not a super typical tourist thing to do, none of the signage was in English, and neither were the announcements. In moments like these, I try to see if there’s anyone who looks like a tourist and didn’t see any. So I just followed what everyone else was doing.

When they called to board the ferry, people started lining up. I got in line when the guy in front of me pointed to the front of the line and told me to go there. I still have no clue why – I can’t figure out if it was a ladies first situation (it seemed they let women on first) or a foreigners situation. But anyway, I made it on the boat without incident and breathed a sigh of relief.

It was about 10pm at that point, and I didn’t really feel like sleeping. So I stayed awake for the ferry ride. The ferry left promptly at 11pm, which is apparently unusual for it to be so on time.

At about 1am, a guy came asking for my passport (sensing a theme?), saying he was Egyptian passport control. This time was different though – he was wearing a uniform, and really seemed to be what he said. So I handed my passport over.

My passport didn’t come back to me for a while though, so I stayed a bit anxious. At about 2am, the ferry docked in Nuweiba and the passport officer collected me and two other gentlemen to get off the boat first.

We were the only three foreigners. Both of them were traveling alone – Daniel was from the UK and Sammy from Morocco. I asked where they were going, and they said “Dahab,” which is on the way to Sharm el Sheikh, where I was ultimately going. We all agreed to share a cab to Dahab, as it was the middle of the night, and we thought being together was a good idea.

The official escorted us to customs and immigration to buy visas, and we would have made it through quite quickly. Except for Daniel.

With a name like Daniel Jones, one would think the Egyptian government might know there would be multiples. But apparently some other guy named Daniel Jones with a US passport came into Egypt and caused some sort of trouble. So it took six border agents 45 minutes to clear this Daniel for entry into Egypt. We laughed about it (I was glad it wasn’t me!), but Sammy and I decided to wait for him while it was getting sorted. I knew if I was in that situation, I would be happy to have friendly company, and I also wanted to share a cab with these two guys. It was that or find a hotel in Nuweiba myself to wait out the night.

After Daniel cleared immigration, we headed out to grab a taxi. At this point the border agent STILL had our passports (he was escorting us to the taxi), and when I motioned to get mine back he held onto it.

Egypt is weird, y’all.

We were approached by a cabbie, and luckily for us, Sammy speaking Arabic probably made us get less scammed than we would have otherwise. We paid 400 Egyptian Pounds (LE) for the cab to Dahab, and Sammy later said it should have been about 80 if we were locals. But the driver started out at 700 LE, so I do feel like Sammy got him down. Sammy also explained to us later that the border agent gets a cut of the taxi cost – that’s why we didn’t get our passports back until we got into the cab.

So it’s now about 3:30am, and we’re headed down the Sinai peninsula in a cab. I felt completely safe in that moment, but I laughed out loud when I thought about what my mom would think about it. At about 4:15am, the driver stops and gets out.

Thank God for Sammy. That night, he and Daniel were my guardian angels and/or protectors and/or explainers. While my head went to “Dear God, please don’t let him be getting ISIS friends. I really don’t want to have to admit Egypt was a bad idea.” Sammy explained that it was actually just time for morning prayers.

So much for assuming the worst of people.

The cab ultimately deposited us in Dahab at a bit before 5:00am. Sammy and Daniel were both going to Dahab, but neither had hotel reservations. And I was planning on finding a bus to Sharm in the morning, so all three of us were on the street with nowhere to go at 5:00am.

What a night.

We wandered down the main street to see if there was a coffee place or something and we happened upon the Every Day Cafe – which was actually still open for dinner. We grabbed some cokes, and sat out on the patio.

Their patio is right on the beach, and the surf was crashing below us. And we watched the sun come up.

Guys, it was one of the most amazing sunrises of my life. I’ll never forget being in Egypt, being in some random Egyptian town, after being awake all night on the ferry from Jordan, and then getting to watch the most perfect sunrise. It was one of those moments that I just stopped to soak in how amazing life is.

And then I got some of the chocolate cake the cafe was selling – it was almost as amazing as the sunrise.

At about 6:30am, the cafe owners came and kicked everyone out. Apparently that’s closing time.

Nothing else along the street was open, so the three of us found a place on the beach, set our bags down, and took a nap on the beach until things started opening for breakfast. Again, this was one of those crazy moments in life where I could never have predicted that I would be sleeping on a beach in Dahab, Egypt, with two random guys.

Through all of it, I felt incredibly safe.

After waking up from our beach nap, we wandered around, grabbed breakfast, and then I decided to suck it up and just hire a cab to Sharm el Sheikh around noon. I was ready to be at my all-inclusive, and hopefully find a bed!

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