We left Aqaba on May 24th for a short 5 day Egypt detour to spend a little beach time and R&R. We took the late ferry from Aqaba (story below) to Nueiba then a taxi to Dahab. Dahab was not what we expected. We had a hotel reservation so we slept for a few hours and proceeded to head further south to Sharm El-Sheikh, a tourist resort town near the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. We stayed at a nice little hotel on the beach on Naama Bay. Joyce was thrilled she could wear her two piece and relax on the beach. The water was incredibly clear and we essentially had our own aquarium to snorkel in just metres from the beach.
Since the last terrorist attacks in October 2015 in Egypt, tourism has practically dried up in the area. While we were there and only a two-hour drive away a bus load of Coptic Christians were murdered by ISIS. It’s hard to imagine what the area was like in its heyday but we could feel the sense of desperation among all of the shop keepers and bar and restaurant operators.
Late ferry to Nuweiba, Egypt. An adventure……..
We were advised to arrive at the ferry terminal 3 hours before departure in order to clear customs formalities and as this being a few days before Ramadan there would be a lot of Egyptian workers from Jordan heading back home to be with their families. We arrived to chaos. Hundreds upon hundreds of mostly motley looking men were lined up with an unimaginable array of giant boxes, crates and parcels waiting to be x-rayed and only one small entrance into the terminal. In a matter of minutes a Jordanian Tourist Police Officer approached us and told us to put our packs onto the x-ray scanner belt and then proceeded to escort Joyce through a side door and into the terminal. I was left to wait more than 15 minutes for our packs while Joyce was waiting on the other side, a white foreign women standing among hundreds of Arab men in a room reminiscent of a Turkish prisoner holding cell. Inside was long line up to a one window hole in the wall where you had to pay a 10J departure tax. Joyce was told by the Tourist Policeman to stand in the front of the line and being the polite Canadian she refused so she was directed to stand aside in a corner of the cavernous room of gawking Bedouin and Arab men.
I finally retrieved our bags and was led through the side door and bypassed the sweating masses waiting in line. We took a seat and waited not really knowing what to do next then along came two other white foreigners from Canada who were immediately directed to join Joyce and I. After a short introduction and a unanimous state of cluelessness by the four of us we were led to the front of the departure tax line where we were immediately processed.
The next step, which I can honestly say we would not have known about save for the Tourist Policeman was to stand in line to have our passports processed and again, we were led to the front of the line to I believe the consternation of those already in line. We were then directed to the front door of the area where the ferry boarding would happen and within minutes we were escorted onto the ferry. Four white tourists trying to look innocent in front of hundreds upon hundreds of others who waited patiently in their place in line.
As tourists we received Royal treatment and as the only foreigners on the ferry we were truly grateful for the way we were treated and assisted by the tourist police. We are fairly adept travellers but can’t imagine how we could have done this without their assistance especially because of the language barrier and the fact that there was absolutely no English signs and all announcements were in Arabic.
This ferry wasn’t a tourist oriented ferry and as you can guess, the story doesn’t end here.
We proceeded onto the ferry at around 8:45 pm, 45 minutes after our arrival and probably 2 hours before the rest of the passengers began to board.
Oliver and Emily were the other two Canadians, a young brother and sister couple from Montreal. We sat together and couldn’t get over the treatment we received and joked that it would be great if the same Policeman met us at the other end. Not likely…..
At around 11:50 the ferry finally leaves port, about 50 minutes late so we were already on the ferry for 2 hours before the 3 hour journey.
Jump forward 3 hours, the ferry has docked in Nuweiba and then nothing happens. People are still sleeping, talking and not seeming to be in any rush to get off. We’re not sure what the process is, where do we exit, when do we exit so we sit tight until to my right two uniformed men come up to me and one seriously looking dude says “Mister, where are you from” to which I answer ” Canada”. He then says “passports please, follow me”. Okay, now what? So we all follow him through the seating area, down the stairs and out to the exit of the ship. Unbelievable, first on, first off! A repeat of our boarding process. How about that!
Not so fast. We follow the man who looks like the main jail guard from the movie “Midnight Express”, one slightly closed eye, a slight smirk on his face and we quickly walk through a labyrinth of very long hallways and corridors in this giant ferry terminal and eventually stop at row of customs booths. This is amazing. The same treatment we had on departure. The customs guy checks our passports and then we continue to stand there for a few minutes until from around the back of the booth our “escort” seems to pop out of nowhere with our passports in his hands and we are again directed to follow him for a very long hike through the terminal. There was not another person in sight. This is a huge terminal and hard to imagine how many people this place can handle.
It is now close to 3:00 am. We continue to follow el capitan for another long hike through this cavernous terminal to a small office door. He unlocks the door and tells us to wait in the room, his office. We go inside, sit down and wait. For what? We are told our passports have to be checked through the global passport checking system and as soon as he hears back from his Manager that all is okay, we can leave. Okay, shouldn’t take long, nothing to hide. He sits down behind his desk, opens up his Dell computer and proceeds to play Arabic music and scroll through Facebook all the while cracking a small smile and looking at us through his one good eye. Hmmm…
We wait. And wait. And wait. Are we being detained? We don’t know. He leaves the office and leaves our passports on his desk. We all look at each other. Do we run for it? Not a good idea.
Finally after about one hour, just as we are asking him to contact his Manager in case he forgot about us and yes we do have a ride waiting for us, his walkie-talkie crackles and he says “okay”. But it’s not quite over. He still has our passports and we again follow him through hallways and corridors until we get outside but the exit gate is still 200 metres away. On the right is a light armored machine gun mounted vehicle manned by an Egyptian soldier. At the gate, an Uzi armed guard. We get to the gate, he still has our passports and he continues to walk with us until we get to our waiting taxi. Passports are handed over, we shake hands and off we go to Dahab, arriving at sunrise, 5:00 am, 10 hours after first getting to the ferry terminal.
It was a great adventure but they made sure as tourists, we didn’t experience any of the very potential hassles that were sure to result without their assistance. When we left the terminal, about 2 hours after arriving, the masses from the boat still hadn’t made their way to the exits.
We did have some fun on board the ferry. Emily was offered 100 camels for her hand in marriage and I had a hoot with several Muslim women when one of them approached me and through sign language said “I love you”. The women wore hijab and niqabs and they all laughed at the antics and we all had a great time! It was really heart warming and fun.