May 21, 2009

Aqaba to Nuweiba via the AB Maritime Ferry
Nuweiba, Egypt

Getting out of the Bedouin village of Umm Sayhun and down to the minibus station in Wadi Musa was more complicated than I wished it was at such an early hour of the morning.

The tension was building as we waited along the side of the road in the still desert dawn. There was but one guaranteed morning transport that would get us to Aqaba in time to catch the ferry to Egypt, and that minibus left when it wanted to (or when it was full).

With our Bedouin host of the past three nights off guiding tourists in the desert and next to no public transport that runs in these parts, we were left to fend for a ride into town on our own.

Hitchhiking into Wadi Musa hasn't been a problem before, but at this hour of the morning there was zero traffic entering into town. We had to wait.

Note: I'm not sure if the 'problem' is endemic to this area or Jordan as a whole, but every single person we've hitched a ride from adamantly demanded to be paid as much as a taxi for taking us along with them (on the road they'd be traveling anyway). Normally we'd offer out of etiquette, but yeesh…

We eventually found a willing vehicle to take us into town and pleasantly discovered the minibus still loading passengers. As per our standard procedure, we talked money away from the vehicle, using our Bedouin namedropping technique to secure a price much lower than what the rest were overpaying.

The Waiting Game

AB Maritime's departure complex is but a small part of a very large seaport some five or six miles south of Aqaba. Reminiscent of an Atari game of PONG we bounced around the first and second floors and from window to window before securing our departure stamps and purchasing our overpriced 'fast' ferry tickets (US$70/adult).

The time: Just before 11am.

Passport entry and stamps for Jordan, including the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority visa. Five Jordanian dinars (US$7) are charged as an exit fee (payment indicated by the affixed/canceled stamp).

We spent the next two hours waiting to be shuttled to the ferry by an inner-port bus, but since it was too hot and unsafe to keep the baby outside we isolated ourselves with a few others inside the building (trading the heat outside with the sound of jackhammers echoing through the building from the remodeling taking place just down the hall).

As all the announcements over the loudspeakers were in Arabic, I nervously kept checking the large group of Arab passengers congregated near an island of snackbars and shawarma huts for any sign of progress in the boarding process.

At least two hours passed when suddenly there were no longer any passengers outside. They were gone. Oh shit.

I swiftly collected the family and made our way outside to search for sign of passengers.

Although none were found, I could make out part of the AB Maritime vessel several hundred yards away, accessible through a channel of chain-link fencing.

Fearing we'd missed the boarding we started hiking down the road towards the ferry with our packs on our back (and the baby on Tatiana's front). Fortunately, we were turned around by a guarded checkpoint not long after and communicated enough with the fellow to understand the bus would make another pass for us (and for the small collection of other passengers in the building who'd seen us bolt and were just now playing catch-up).

I'll give you my Backpack when you take it from my Cold, Dead Hands!

Boarding the ship we got into a big argument with the staffer charged with separating passengers from their luggage.

Travelers were relinquishing their bags in the center of the vehicle hold and continuing upstairs; their bags stacked indiscriminately in a long column running down the center of the loading bay.

No luggage tags were given to match with bags with passengers or any apparent accountability assumed for the safety or protection of collected belongings. And as I could assess no effective way to anchor our bags with a locked cable, I protested.

AB Maritime's Queen Nefertiti ship safety diagram gives an idea of the look and layout of the vessel.

"We have baby supplies that need to come with us," I insisted.

"In all your bags?" the Arab staffer scoffed. "No, you can take just that small one."

"Yes. We have it across all three bags," I lied. "We need it all."

Now at my side (fighting the good fight) Tatiana and I were both arguing with the twenty-something man with increased resolve.

Our protests were falling on deaf ears though, as the staffer was more than happy to let us stand in stalemate silence inside the hot, exhaust-filled compartment with our infant while he stacked luggage from the last of the boarding passengers.

It was a meeting of the irresistible force and the immovable object.

And just as I was losing hope a ranking staffer suddenly yelled at the unyielding man from the edge of the large cargo hold—not much more than an advancing silhouette in the mid-day sun behind him.

Arabic was shouted. He clearly wanted to know why we were just standing there. The baggage-taker replied that we didn't want to give up our backpacks.

…And then, just like that, we were given the go-ahead from the ranking fellow to proceed up the stairs. He could care less, just so long as we got out of there.

Passenger Ethnic Segregation

At the stop of the narrow, steep steel stairwell more staffers were instructing passengers where to go. It was pretty easy, as they were merely instructing everyone who looked liked a foreigner to stay in the aft compartment.

AB Maritime Queen Nefertiti Ship Segregation: Non-Arabs in the section circled in red, everyone else in the section circled blue.

All non-Arabs were told they must sit in the aft dining area (circled red above) while the rest of the passengers were shown to the mid-ship seating (circled in blue), which consisted of seating reminiscent of a passenger airliner.

Frankly, we were quite happy with the segregation, as the areas where the transiting Arabs were assigned utterly reeked with the pungent smell of sweaty feet and cigarette smokers.

Dining area (aka "zona gingo") on the Queen Nefertiti

An Arab woman sleeps while her children run amok unattended. Escaping the mid-ship smell, perhaps?

$45 and Freedom

It was long after 4pm by the time we disembarked at the port in Nuweiba, which is about as calm and organized as a city in the aftermath of a high-magnitude earthquake.

Passports were collected aboard the ferry for Egyptian immigration processing, but wouldn't be released until you completed the scavenger hunt for the building inside the port's perimeter awaiting your visa payment.

Visa and passport entry stamp for Egypt collected at 4:40pm

Just a little more pushing and shoving to pass through the customs inspection zone and we were free…

Comments:

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May 28th, 2011

Crossed on the Aqaba to Nuweiba ferry in 2007 and encountered the same oddity with leaving baggage. Instructed to leave my pack in an unsecure niche right next to the open ferry entrance door. What? It had the potential of being a cross sea border theft racket (who's going to pay again and sail back to Jordan for justice?) or simply that some random dockworker could have walked in before it left harbour and walked off with the bag or had a quick ruffle through the pockets.

Questioned the odd request for a while but got around it by appearing to relent, going upstairs and coming back down a minute or so later and taking the bag upstairs with me anyway. One or two other foreigners on the trip appeared to get their luggage at the other end but the whole thing didn't feel right to me so I eered towards caution.

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