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The 1 hour ferry that took 9 hours: Nuweiba to Aqaba

*Please note that this post was originally written in 2007. Details on the ferry may have changed since then.*

So we got a taxi to Nuweiba (1.5 hours from Dahab) and bought our 1 way ticket to the fast ferry to Aqaba, Jordan. They are expensive – $70 US each. The price in LP was $55 so it had gone up a lot since then.

There were lots of goats walking around the streets of Nuweiba, like packs of dogs.
goats

At the ferry terminal, we first entered an outdoor “holding area” and sat by a western-looking couple, much older and well-to-do. They were English. The wife heard us talking and said with relief, “OH! You speak English!” and proceeded to tell us how they had an all-inclusive tour through Viking tours and they’d had a miserable experience. They were left alone for 3 days and seemed amazed that we figured everything out for ourselves, and also seemed glad to have us to sort of guide them along. When I mentioned that I didn’t get to finish souvenir shopping in Egypt, she gave me a beautiful stone “egg” from St. Katherine’s and said she didn’t want it. Wow! How nice!

We weren’t sure where we were supposed to go to wait for the ferry, but we finally found an indoor “holding area,” like a terminal filled with people sitting on benches and lying on the floor and there were flies buzzing around everywhere. It was truly filthy. The English man suddenly got a text message from his tour agency saying the boat wasn’t leaving today because of rough seas and that his tour agency arranged alternate transport for them to get to Jordan. So the English couple left and actually ended up going back to Sharm, because they were so frustrated.

This news about the ferry was bad for us. If the ferry wasn’t going today, it meant we were stuck. I told Jim we should leave and get a car to Taba and cross into Israel, then cross right into Jordan, but the problem was we couldn’t get a refund on our $70 ferry tickets because the ticket agents went home. Ahh, Egypt. If we had been able to get that refund, life would have been SO much easier.  We were basically trapped (unless we wanted to lose $140!)

So we formed sort of a ragtag group of backpackers including Jason and Catherine from England, and Anja and Sayed from Germany. Sayed is originally from Egypt and his being able to speak Arabic was a huge help in getting updates on what was going on. No one ever offers information in these situations, you always have to ask and ask and ask. Anyway, being able to talk to these other backpackers made the time SOOO much more bearable! It was also great to finally talk with some other travellers.

waiting in the nuweiba ferry
Ragtag Group of Backpackers

We first heard that the boat would be leaving at 6pm, not 2:30pm. They said the boat would actually be in Nuweiba at like 4:30, but all the workers would wait to have their first meal of the day (breakfast) when the sun went down because of Ramadan. We couldn’t believe how crazy that was that they would make hundreds of passengers wait just for them to eat.  And if they knew that was going to happen, they could have reflected it in the schedule.

We also heard the slow ferry from the day before didn’t go, so there were actually people sleeping in there from the night before! Also, you cannot leave the ferry terminal, and there is no way to eat unless you buy snacks like cookies and chips from the vendor (or, you bring the food from home). It was absolutely, incredibly stupid and ridiculous. I think a 10-year-old could have come up with a better run ferry terminal.

Anyway, we spent the time talking to our new friends. There were so many flies buzzing around it was so annoying, and the bathroom was so utterly disgusting that I actually opted to use the squat toilet instead of the western one so I wouldn’t touch anything.  I’ve been in a lot of places with dirty squat toilets, but the smell and looks of this one were right up there near the top of my list (the winner for grossest toilet for me is still the airport on Xi’an, China).  I don’t think this picture does it justice…..

Grody urinal
I Can Hold It

I shared some cookies with the others and Anja shared some pizza she had packed, which was a lifesaver because we were all so hungry.

So we waited and waited and waited.

At one point, finally the passengers sitting around us started to eat because the sun had gone down (5:30ish) and two local women sitting on the back of the bench from me, both wearing the black robes but with their faces showing, said, “What is your name?” And I said in Arabic “My name is…” and we exchanged names.  We didn’t know any other words in each others’ language so we basically just smiled at each other. A few other words were exchanged.  I wish we could have had a conversation but of course it was not possible.

FINALLY….at 6:30pm (we had been there since NOON in this hot, humid, smelly, fly-filled terminal) we were herded onto some large buses. I know this probably doesn’t seem like THAT long of a time- noon to 6:30 – but oh my god, it really seemed like FOREVER.
The bus was full and they squashed me into a seat with a woman and I literally had to shove my giant backpack on my LAP where it almost touched the ceiling… it must have looked pretty funny. Jim and Jason had to stand in the crowded aisle and when the bus stopped, men in the seats had the audacity to violently PUSH their way in front of Jim and Jason, who were carrying giant packs. Insane.

We left our baggage in a large cart by the boat, hoping we’d see it again someday.

On the boat finally, we had to hand over our passport because we did not have a Jordanian visa.

The boat didn’t leave until 8:12pm.

As expected, though, it took one hour to get to the port. We were all so happy that this ordeal was almost over!!  It wasn’t, yet.

When the boat stopped, we had to sit and wait probably another HOUR for them to simply let us off because of our passports or whatever. We were starting to reach breaking point. We should have been in Aqaba (the port in Jordan) at about 4pm and it was now like 10pm, and we still had a 2 hour drive to Petra ahead of us!

So finally we were let off the boat and again thought it was almost over. It was MAYHEM outside of the boats where several small flatbed trucks were piled high with everyone’s luggage. We literally had to walk through piles of luggage, in the near-dark, to find our bags. I so wish I had a photo of Jim standing in a big truck, on TOP of a giant pile of other people’s bags, searching for ours, while dozens of others did the same, in the dark. Picture that.  It was surreal.  Luckily all of us found our bags.

We were put on another bus and lead to the immigration terminal where we thought we’d be given back our passports. Again we had to wait a long time for them to finally call our names one by one to get them back.

So FINALLY we were able to get in the cab we were sharing with Anja and Sayed to Petra. After a half hour, we stopped at a desolate truck stop in the middle of nowhere, Jordan, and got a delicious kebab in a pita. Oh man, it was soooo good after not eating ALL DAY.  I still remember that kebab and how amazing it was.

We drove the rest of the 1.5 hours and got to our hotel in Petra at 2:00am. The whole ordeal was so horrible, so awful. I would recommend to anyone to NOT take the ferry during Ramadan, and otherwise, be prepared to wait all day and be sure to pack some food! I would highly consider driving to Taba instead and crossing the border there.

We slept in the next day and went to Petra, which was within walking distance of our hotel.

Looking back on this situation….while it was obviously a horrible horrible day, of course it made for a good memory!  Many times the WORST experiences end up being the most memorable and, in retrospect, fun to think about — believe it or not.



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