The bus system in Israel is efficient, relatively cheap, and they even have free wifi (which is a hot commodity in Uzbekistan and you better believe I used every minute of it). After a few relaxing days in Tel-Aviv we boarded the Egged bus for the southern resort town of Eilat.
We took the bus on a Sunday so it was nearly filled with soldiers going back from their weekend leave. I’d recommend keeping this in mind when planning your trip. The landscape going south was dry and arid. As we reached closer to the border with Jordan, it looked like some sort of lunar landscape. Although we had boarded a bus to the Israeli town of Eilat, we had our sites set on the small town of Aqaba on the Jordanian side of the Red Sea.
We asked the bus driver to stop along the road near-ish to the Wadi Arava border crossing. Luckily where he let us out there were big road signs, so we could walked along the highway until we hit the border. As we left Israel, we walked through 200 yards of no mans land in order to get to Jordan. Despite being in the middle east and contrary to what people might think a border crossing here would be like, there were no ferocious dogs, machine guns, or Schwarzenegger-like guards. It was interesting to walk through and look back and forward at two countries interacting so peacefully, especially in an area of the world so fraught with war and tension.
Once in Jordan, we caught a taxi to the beach hostel Darna Village, 12 kilometers outside the city center of Aqaba. The taxi’s from the border are set prices so we had to pay the ridiculous fixed price into town. The hostel is family run, as most places in Jordan seemed to be. As soon as we arrived we had tea with the owner’s son and then ran down to the beach. From the Gulf of Aqaba you can see Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. We spent the evening sitting amongst the wind-torn umbrellas and random pieces of “sea glass” watching the sun set on the four countries.
For the next few days we spent our time drinking tea, eating ridiculous amounts of baba ghanoush, and scuba diving. The diving on the Aqaba side of the gulf is incredible! You can swim out 50 yards from shore and hit the reefs. We saw: eels, turtles, rock fish, black spotted puffer fish, fan tube worms, angelfish, starfish, sea cucumbers, clownfish, lion fish….I could go on. Once upon a time I wanted to be a marine biologist.
The wonderful thing about Jordan is that like Uzbekistan, getting and giving rides to people is totally normal, safe, and acceptable. Of course like anything you do, especially if you love to travel, there are inherent risks BUT there is also the chance that you will meet a nice man named Fouash that will show you all the wonderful things about Jordan. Luckily, the latter happened to us and it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the trip.
After a few minutes of awkward small talk in the car, Fouash invited us to his restaurant Fish-Fish for tea. I just can’t ever say no to tea, and since being in Jordan I’d figured out that they have the tea of all teas. Super sweet black rich AMAZING tea that is sometimes brewed with sage. He brought us mezze, fresh seafood, more baba ghanoush, hummus and pita. And then he totally won my heart when he gave me the single most refreshing drink on this planet, limonana. GET THIS DRINK…beyond Petra and all the other wonders in Jordan…GET THIS DRINK. It’s this perfect combination of crushed ice, lemon, mint and sugar.
After dinner we had more tea, more cigarettes, and as we sat around talking I nearly spewed out my tea as a man selling cotton candy walked by. Fouash called it Sharbanet, or hair of the lady. On my quest to find the country with the best “hair of the lady”, I have to say Jordan didn’t stack too high.
After dinner, Fouash insisted we come with him while he delivered some food. The nice thing about Aqaba is that while there is tourism, it also has several factories so there is a real local life that you can’t find in some of the other cities on the gulf in Israel and Egypt. He took us through this more residential area. We stopped at a sweets shop. He again wouldn’t let us pay and stuffed us with Knafeh and Baklawa. Completely satisfied, he drove us home, wouldn’t let us pay, and left us with a solid goodbye hug.
I don’t think I’m naive or too trusting. I try to be cautious while traveling, especially as a single woman. But I also try to trust people as much as I can, the world is not out to get me, and it’s through having an open-mind that you make the most of life. People are good, and it’s meeting someone like Fouash that reconfirm that for me. I am so grateful to have met him. He’ll probably never know how much his kindness meant to me and what an influence it has played on my perception of Jordan
Cheers to Fouash, lemonana, and YOU if you actually read all of this!