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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Alycia, part 1: ﺃﻫﻼ ﻭ ﺳﻬﻼ ﻣﻥ ﺍﻷﺮﺪﻦ

Ahlan wa Sahlan min al Urudaan (assuming that's grammatically correct), Hello and welcome, from Jordan! Sorry for the delay, but things have been busy busy busy around here. I don't think there's any way to make a "short version" of recent happenings, so I'll try to tackle the catching up one bit at a time.
Alycia dropped by for a visit, so the instant her plane landed, we (we being myself, Hyewon, and Leah, both from crew) whisked her away for a sunny holiday skipping across three countries and two continents twice in two days.

Alycia's arrival was in of itself a bit of an adventure, since her plane arrived from a layover in France nearly three hours late, meaning our little band missed our bus out from midan Ramsis to the border of Israel at Taba. I discovered while making my way to pick Alycia up, that when the ancient Egyptians said that souls that were condemned in the afterlife, they weren't actually eaten by the Devourer, they were damned to a much worse fate--to be lost forever in Cairo International Airport, the ultimate in purgatories. Even with the assistance of a native taxi driver, who parked and accompanied me to the terminal, we still got lost in the airport for a good two hours, before finding the arrival gate Alycia was supposed to magically appear at.
I discovered during the lengthy wait for Alycia's monstrously late plane one of the major infrastructure problems of Egypt--they don't like admitting when things go wrong! Which is to say, on the screens in the terminal where flight arrivals and departures are supposed to be displayed, her flight was not listed as delayed... in fact, it was not listed at all. It was completely wiped from the list and reinserted three hours later as being "on time." To be fair, however, Alycia reported that the airport in Paris did exactly the same thing.

In any case, with a bit of finagling, we managed to reschedule our trip to Petra for very early the following morning. The bus station at Ramses square was probably the sketchiest place I've found myself in the entirety of my stay here, and one of the staff members tried to put us on the wrong bus even though he knew our destination was Taba, and knew that that particular bus did not go to Taba.

We did eventually end up in the right place, however, and off we went. The majority of the people on the bus (including us) were blessedly unconscious for most of the 6 hour ride, and arrived finally at Taba, not really refreshed, but ready to get a move on, in any case.
We'd had to switch buses part way through the trip, as the particular bus we were on actually headed farther down the Red Sea coast to Nuweiba where the ferry departed from, and during this confused, barely-conscious migration, we caught sight of "the guy in the green shirt," who would later inadvertantly give us some very valuable Middle Eastern travelling tips.

We finally exited the bus at the border station at Taba and confusedly tried to figure out the schedule of buses departing Taba for Cairo for the following day. At this point, Enter Travis, "the guy in the green shirt," an American backpacker of unknown origin and only vague inclination towards motives. He'd been on the bus with us the whole time, but the bus was crowded enough that we hadn't had the opportunity to meet him. He was, however, the only other person there who was travelling to the Israeli border, so we quickly joined up with him, and headed off on foot to the border crossing. We made it to the border quickly enough, and crossed over with no problem. The border crossing entrance point to Israel, however, was a completely different story.

At the Israeli security checkpoint, a young, slender, hard-eyed woman with close-cropped dark hair stopped us and asked us why we wanted to enter Israel. We answered her quickly that we were only passing through on our way to Jordan. She let us pass, but it was not so easy for Travis. We waited for him just beyond the security point so we could all go through customs together, but it was not meant to be--Travis made the mistake of telling the hard-eyed woman that he didn't have a set itinerary for his travels in Israel... he thought he might as well go to Jerusalem first, but after that was anyone's guess. After nearly 15 minutes of interrogation, our little group was prompted onwards to the baggage check, forcing us to leave Travis behind.

At the xray machine, the security checkers took Hyewon's passport and rubbed it down with a cloth to check it for traces of undesirable chemicals--probably explosives and drugs. We were asked many, many times whether all of our luggage items belonged to us, and whether or not anyone had asked us to take anything to deliver to Israel. We were all told to open up our bags for close inspection, but after the near-constant bag searching at all university locales in Cairo, it wasn't much of a big deal. By the time we'd all finished and moved on to the line where our passports would be examined and stamped, Travis had finally been let through by the hard-eyed woman, and was undergoing rigorous examination by the baggage checkers. He was forced to remove every item he owned from every bag or container it was in and spread it all out on the table. At this point we lost sight of him.
We handed over our passports to be stamped. When it was my turn, the woman behind the desk asked me bemusedly whether I really have four names, and asked me to confirm what they all were. She then told me that there was a problem, and that they were going to have to send my passport "down to the office" to be checked out.

They had me waiting for nearly 30 minutes, maybe more. In that time I found myself perched on an airport-style bench next to an Israeli woman who was acting as tour guide for a massive group of Nigerians who had gone to Egypt to climb Mt. Sinai. I talked with her for a little while. She said it was shameful of me to travel through Israel without seeing the sights, and decided to hold me personally accountable for the horrors of poverty in the U.S., though other than that she was perfectly affable.

After Ms. Israel took off with her horde of Nigerians, I settled in with Alycia to wait for my passport to be returned to me while Hyewon and Leah went off to exchange some currency to pay for our cab from the Taba border crossing to the Aqaba crossing into Jordan. As we waited, Travis made his way finally to the front of the passport stamp line. As with me they decided to detain his passport, but as he was such a shady character, they took him along with his passport into a back room, and we never saw him again.

The crossing through Israel all the way through to Jordan was fairly uneventful, though we paused just long enough to be awed by the prefab restroom units at the Israel crossing in Taba. They were absolutely the nicest bathrooms we'd seen in months. We even took a souvenier photo, though it was on Hyewon's camera, so I don't at the moment have a copy. We mostly slept during the 2-hour taxi ride between the Aqaba border crossing into Jordan and Wadi Mousa, the village near Petra.

We made it finally, and brokered a deal with our taxi driver, Tarek, to come back and pick us up the next day. We arrived at our hostel--The Orient Gate Hotel--quite late in the day. We made immediate friends with the desk guy at the hostel (as Alycia said, "The manager/front desk attendant at our hostel, the Orient Gate Hotel, has to be one of my favorite people. Clearly, I can bond with a guy who mentions, as we walk in, that he just got up.") He was a friendly guy in an Average Joe gruff sort of way, and tried to coerce us into practicing our meager Arabic skills with him. He enlightened us somewhat as to the interrelations between the various countries in the Middle East, saying that we shouldn't learn Egyptian Colloquial Arabic because everyone outside of Egypt thinks the Egyptian accent is hilarious and laughs at them behind their backs. He also told us that Jordan is a more culturally and morally liberal country than Egypt, and also a more respectful one--for example, he said, he himself would be perfectly willing to drink a few beers, but he would more than willingly refrain if he happened to be in the presence of someone religious. It might have been nationalistic claptrap, but it's true that Jordan seemed, from what I saw of it, like a much cleaner, rockier version of Egypt, with more goats.

Our new buddy advised us that it was too late in the day to visit Petra, as we had originally planned, and that we should head down early early the next day. He even offered to pack us lunches (for a fee, of course, but what are hostels for?). We were a bit worried about seeing Petra the next morning because we'd agreed to meet Tarek at 11am the next morning for our trip back to Egypt so we would be in time to catch the bus back to Cairo. We resolved to be at the Petra ticket office immediately at opening time at 6:30am, and instead spent our evening wandering Wadi Mousa, studying in the hostel's common room, and badgering our new buddy (I wish I could remember his name) to follow through with the sales pitch on the hostel's business card which advertised that they showed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade every night.

The next morning at daybreak we packed up our gear for the morning and picked up our lunches and headed off down the hill past the massive tourist resorts to the entrance of Petra, the Rose Red City.

(To Be Continued...)


Anonymous Richard Bryan said...

The photo of the Hot Drincks sign is a little dark and lacking contrast, but the 2nd last item appears to be "Herpes". An odd thing to put on a sign which seems to be targeting people who understand english. They probably don't sell too many of those to anglophones.

1:41 PM

Blogger Kat said...

Oh yeah. We were curious, and in retrospect we should have ordered one, but too late now, eh?

Of course, there's still time to order some of the other odd menu items i'll be posting up at some point...

3:37 PM


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