Middle East | Jordan – Going nowhere fast
Get a boat to Jordan I thought. That’ll be nice, simple, easy. A 3pm departure, a leisurely cruise up the Gulf of Aqaba in the afternoon sunshine…nice. I arrived in the Egyptian port city of Nuweiba on an overnight bus from Cairo, at about 7am. A few hours later the ticket office opened and I bought my passage to Jordan. ‘It leaves at 3pm’ the guy informed me. He said this in a way that was indicative of absolute certainty and yet and at the same time succeeded in giving the impression that 3pm was just a random figure plucked from thin air with no basis whatevcr in reality. Just after 2 o’clock I passed through customs and immigration, which despite being mildly bewildering was essentially easy. I found myself outside a large, sparse hangar, with a big sign on it saying ‘Departures’. As I stood there, ‘ures’ creaked, groaned, and fell 15 feet to the ground. Now it just said ‘depart’. We were all herded inside. 3pm came. 3pm went. Myself, an American called Henry, and a Basque guy called Santi managed to get some broken information from a couple of obliging Libyans. The boat was now going to depart at 7pm. It hadn’t even arrived yet. We waited, the only Europeans in about 500 people. We waited some more. 7pm came. 7pm went. A tannoy announcement in Arabic got people on their feet and milling at the gate which remained firmly and resolutely shut. We waited some more. The gate opened, then it closed. It opened, it closed. Another tannoy announcement got everyone very excited. The gate opened, then closed. People milled vigorously. A man with a large firearm started shouting at people. Everyone sat down. The gate opened and about five people went through. It closed. We waited. Eventually we were ushered through and crammed ignominiously onto a bus with all our luggage. ‘Tight squeeze’ doesn’t do it justice. The bus drove 50 yards to within a stone’s throw of the boat. It stopped, and the doors didn’t open. 20 minutes passed. Finally, with the emphasis on FINALLY, at about 8.30pm we boarded the 3pm boat. Nice, simple, easy. It wasn’t until 11.30pm that our determined grip on Nuweiba was eventually released. I spent the journey attempting largely in vain to find an area of floorspace larger than 2 square inches upon which to sleep. I woke in a stationary boat. We were in Aqaba. It was a further three hours before we were able to disembark. Even then the process took an hour or so, on account of the fact that 500 people were attempting to get out of one small door and down one small staircase. I made footfall in Jordan at 6.30am. My 3pm boat was eight and a half hours late, and took seven hours instead of three. Aaahh, the joys of travel. Still, I find myself looking back on the whole experience with some fondness, although God alone knows why.