We awakened early at the Bait Ali desert camp on Tuesday, sleeping in a tent tends to do that. It was cold, but not uncomfortably so.
A little over an hour later we rolled into the Royal Diving center at the northern tip of the Red sea. Within another forty minutes, Mike Hare, Tom Neven and I were suited up and ready to go scuba diving. A frenchman named Laurent rounded out our group, and after a long walk off a short pier, the fun began.
(note to my kids – I found Nemo.)
Once underwater we started swimming away from the beach, and almost immediately saw a three-foot puffer fish. I didn’t know they made them that big. Very cool. Then we saw some moray eels, tons of colorful coral, and a whole school of moorish Idols. It was a short, basic dive, but felt wonderful to get back in the water, since it’s been over a year since I last dove. And hey, this is the RED SEA!
After a nice lunch of burgers and fries (our first on this trip, and a welcome change from the ever-present hummus), we boarded the bus again for the short trip into downtown aqaba. Our hotel: The Movenpick Resort.
It was such a contrast from the Bait Ali camp we stayed in the night before that we hardly knew what to do. The hotel is nothing short of opulent, and the service is impeccable. The prices are high, but I guess that’s to be expected. Internet access is $9 an hour. Ouch.
We did find an internet cafe down the street which advertised ADSL access at only 2 JD an hour. But after trying it, the place proved to be smoky, dirty, and worst of all – very old, slow computers. I think the one I was using had had turkish coffee spilt into the keyboard a couple of times, it was pretty sticky. At one point, a speaker mounted on the wall above my head came crashing down and tried to kill me. I stayed an hour, but wished that I hadn’t.
We did get some time in the afternoon to go shopping. Aqaba is the place for it, too. There are blocks and blocks of shops arranged by type – a whole block of rug stores, another of butcher shops, etc. Once you get away from the hotels a bit the prices are quite reasonable, to the point where it almost wasn’t worth bargaining. The goods are unique, and we found fun gifts for everyone on our list. I think the one shop I’d like to go back to was the spice shop where we all picked up an array of wonderful things like oregano, roasted sesame seeds, bedouin sage tea, etc. The man running the shop is a hoot, and quite a hustler.
It is also common to see stands set up to sell obviously pirated cds and dvds. We were looking for some blank cds to burninate some of our pictures to, and tried to buy some from one of the pirates. He dug through his box and started pulling out old, scratched ones, and we told him to forget it and walked away. A short time later we found what we wanted at a local camera shop. Incidentally, the cameras and film here seem to be well priced, even the digital ones. I can’t imagine why anyone would bother with film anymore. Digital film is easy to find and not too expensive here, should you ever need to buy any.
When we finished shopping, we went out to a restaurant for dinner and had some great kabobs and such. The place, like all places here, was a bit smoky, however. While we were waiting for our food we stepped next door to a small coffee shop and bought strong Arabic coffee for about $9 a kilo. Lets see how tough it is to get that back through customs!
After dinner we returned to the hotel, enjoyed some movenpick ice cream (which has to be experienced at least once.) and then retired to our rooms for the night.by