The great thing about backpacker’s hostels is that they provide an opportunity to exchange ideas with other travelers. Time and again, people we meet in the places we stay give us new ideas that reshape our plans. So, when we arrived in Petra, we had initially planned to take our time passing leisurely through Aqaba, to take the ferry to Nuweiba, and then to connect to a bus to Cairo and travel up the Nile River to Luxor. By the end of dinner at the Cleopetra Hotel, however, we planned to leave Petra directly for Egypt, spend a few days in the beach town of Dahab, travel by ferry from Sharm-el-Sheikh to Hurgada, and then travel down the Nile from Luxor to finish in Cairo.
The most daunting part of the new plan was getting to Egypt in the first place. Fortunately, we hitched our chances to Vicente and Eduardo, two Mexican students we met at Cleopetra who were planning to enter Egypt as well. The four of us, plus some other folks from Cleopetra headed into Israel, all boarded the first bus to Aqaba we could get. It’s a bit of a mystery when the Aqaba to Nuweiba ferry leaves, so we knew we needed to get there as early as possible.
When we got to Aqaba, the four of us, plus a Japanese guy, Tomo, we met on the bus who was also headed to Dahab, tried to find a taxi to the ferry port. We ended up in the car of Mousa, the craziest taxi driver I have ever seen. We started with Mousa turning up the Arabic music on his radio while dancing in his seat as he drove. Then he began a very animated cell phone conversation with both hands off the steering wheel. When he accidentally swerved while talking on the phone with both hands off the wheel, Kara buried her head in my shoulder, (only) partly in amusement. Mousa turned back to apologize, then jokingly swerved the car again. By the end of the ride, we were all dying from laughter.
When we arrived at the port, we were happy to learn that we had two hours until the ferry departed. This was plenty of time to buy tickets and get through Jordanian immigration. After those formalities were resolved, we were helpfully told to wait for a bus to come pick us up to take us to the ferry. A bus that seemed never to come. While we waited (and waited) we met Matt, a New Yorker who was also making the passage after a few nights in the desert at Wadi Musa. After numerous questions about the bus’s ETA, it eventually arrived 10 minutes before the ferry’s scheduled departure and the six of us were on our way. We need not have worried about time, as the ferry left more than an hour after the scheduled departure time.
The passage across the calm Red Sea was uneventful, although it took more than twice the amount of time advertised. It was on our arrival in Nuweiba when things once again became interesting. Although we could see the arrivals hall from the end of the jetty, the police insisted that we wait for a bus to take us there. Meanwhile, scores of Arab men also leaving the boat showed up for the bus as well. It was obvious that there were more people there than one lowly bus could carry. Nevertheless, it was one bus that arrived. When its doors opened, a crush of humanity immediately started moving in. It felt like the Who concert where they barred the doors and all those people were killed. All the people in the back started pushing the people in the front. I ended up in the midst of this with my backpack and I gave into the crush. Just as a man on the bus started pulling me in and a man from behind started giving me a push, the bus driver decided it was time to go. There I was, with both feet barely on the moving bus. But Kara was still off the bus. There was no time for debate. I gave one big push with my left leg and got all the way on the bus. Three more guys got on behind me, one of whom was hanging on to the outside of the bus. I saw Kara standing outside with a bewildered look on her face and Tomo running furiously behind the bus (he had put his suitcase in the luggage hold before getting on). Then, after all that, Kara, Eduardo and everyone else who didn’t make the bus simply walked to the arrivals hall with no objection from the police. I met them shortly after I got off the bus.
In the midst of all that madness, we took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the place in which we found ourselves. Sinai’s breathtaking, craggy mountains stretching all the way to the sea, and the majestic mountains of Saudi Arabia matching their beauty on the other side of the sea, with the whole scene bathed in the purple and pink hues of sunset. We had made it to Egypt, and Egypt provided us its beautiful, crazy welcome. We would have taken a picture, but who had time to take out a camera?