Middle East | Egypt – Still Here
So, the observant among you will notice that it’s more than three weeks since my first entry. By rights I should have gone home about ten days ago. I didn’t. Here’s what I’ve been up to.
When last I wrote, I’d just arrived in Aqaba after the ferry from hell. Once safely installed in Jordan itself, things began to go much more smoothly. We sorted out transport to Wadi Musa, the gateway town for Petra, and were en route shortly after a much needed breakfast. The journey wound through imposing mountains and rugged, dry scenery, and when eventually we reached Wadi Musa we found a pleasant town nestling along the flanks of a series of large hills. Our accomodation came in the form of the oh so wittily named ‘Cleopetra Hotel’. Mahmoud the manager promised us that we could watch ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ in the evening, just so that we could all see Petra at the end of the film and be able to say ‘I’ve been there!’
And so it was to Petra. Having already hooked up with Henry and Santi,I now also fell into company with an American called Rachel and a Hungarian called Eva. We shared one of the most magnificent experiences of this trip. Access to Petra is through a long, narrow canyon called ‘The Siq’. It must rank as the best anticipation builder of any tourist site in the world. The canyon in itself is spectacular, composed of vividly coloured rocks, cast into dramatic shadows by the rays of the sun. The anticipation comes from the fact that you know sooner or later the Treasury, Petra’s most famous building is going to come into view around a twist in the canyon. Every turn has you craning your neck and wandering if this is the moment. When finally I came to the place, I was more impressed and indeed awe-stricken than I had imagined. The treasury has such an atmosphere of mystery about it. It stands there, silent and imposing, a relic of a civilization long since vanished. The colours of the surrounding canyon walls, and the effect of the sun cause it to glow a rich deep earthy red,and it is quite simply, beautiful.
We spent the rest of the day exploring as much of Petra as we could, a task made all the more enjoyable by the fact that you are free to clamber and climb all over the place, with only yourself to worry about your personal health. We observed sunset from outside the Monastery, another large and impressive structure, perched high up on a mountain, and accessed by a long walk up one of the many side canyons. The whole city was very impressive, and the lack of other visitors made it even more atmospheric. However, while great for us, it is doing the locals who’s livelihoods depend on tourism no good at all. I’d say there were no more than 150 people there. A shop owner I got talking to said they would normally expect about 2000 a day. World events have sent visitor numbers in Jordan plummeting.
I spent the next day seeing what was left of Petra, and then got an early night inpreparation of the 6am bus back to Aqaba. At the port I bought a ticket for the ‘fast boat’ in the hope that it might be more efficient than the slow. It couldn’t really be less to be honest. In the event it was only three hours late, and got me back on Egyptian soil just after 5pm. It was straight into a service taxi to Dahab in the company of a bunch of Koreans, and that is where I have been ever since (in Dahab, not in a service taxi). My intention was to do my PADI open water SCUBA course, and then go home. I got it half right. From the moment I put a regulator in my mouth and stuck my head under the surface of the Red Sea I was hooked. I did the Open water course. The next day I started the Advanced Open water course. In a few days I’m starting Rescue Diver, and then it’s a four week internship while I get my Divemaster qualification, after which point I can earn money from diving. I rapidly fell in love with Dahab and diving, and so now the plan is to see just how long I can get away with leading this extraordinarily laid-back and enjoyable existance. My main effort of the day is putting on a tank and disappearing into the utter tranquility of the reefs, where a myriad fish dart and glide through the sunlit waters, and you can drift in utter serenity, your breath the only sound, while the rest of the world vanishes completely from your mind. It’s glorious.
Anyway, I’m back in Cairo for a couple of days to meet up with my best friend and get my visa extended. The bustle has come as a bit of a shock after sleepy little Dahab, but at least the rain which has apparently been drenching the metropolis for days has let up, and been replaced by warm sunshine. I should really amend the description of this diary now. Perhaps something like ‘An as yet undisclosed amount of time being very chilled in paradise’. Yeah – that’ll do.