Last week

So, last week then.

The holiday was my first trip to the continent called Africa. I'm not naive enough to think that Africa is uniform any more than is Europe, Asia or, even, America. But it was certainly different to Europe and the bits of America I've seen. It was very different to Jordan which was the first Asian country I've ever visited.

I hope I don't sound like a fat US tourist, but I was surprised how different Jordan and Egypt were. Jordan seemed far more developed, the people had more of a sense of humour and the roads were more sane. And when I say all this, I am deliberately excluding Cairo and Giza from my comparison. Cairo is inevitably going to be a lot different to anywhere else I have visited because of its 20 million people and the fact that it is the largest city in Africa.

The trip was a cruise in the Red Sea from Sharm El Sheik in Egypt on the Sinai peninsula to Aqaba in Jordan in the Gulf of Aqaba. We then sailed around the Sinai peninsula to a port near Suez called Sokhna (or Ain Sukhna according to Google Maps). We then sailed to Suffaga (again exact spelling is meaningless as it is an Arabic name) and visited Luxor from there.


Petra, in Jordan, was the primary reason for stopping at Aqaba but the port of Aqaba was interesting in itself. It is a tax haven in Jordan and is also Jordan's only access to the seas. The coast of Jordan is 12km long at this point and is sandwiched between Saudi Arabia to the south and Israel to the west. I can now say I have seen some Israeli and Saudi soil, whether I've been to those countries or not!

When someone says "tax haven" to you, you imagine a highly successful town brimming at the seams with development and enterprise. And maybe, compared to some of the rest of Jordan, that's what Aqaba is. But when we visited the town we managed to avoid spending any of our money. Where there were any prices they seemed to be hiked to tourist rates (despite the absense of sales tax); but most shops showed no prices at all. This is, I accept, part of local culture, but at the same time it must be in their own interests to raise as much money as possible.

As this was the first stop on our visit, Aqaba also looked quite run-down and unkempt. With hindsight it was a gulf apart from Cairo and Luxor. The roads, for example, were all paved and covered with tarmac. The roads were not full of rubbish (though there was rubbish) and the stray animals seemed to number fewer than at the Egyptian stops.

But Aqaba is crying out for some entrepreneurs. It singularly failed to take advantage of us tourists (who arrived at once in great numbers — the ship carried 1,500 passengers). I am quite sure we could have been convinced to buy had there been reasonable prices on display.

The next post on my trip will cover the beauty of Petra and will include some photos. I may add a link to my FlickR account to this post later.

Popular Posts