I arranged for a trip to visit Pharaoh Island, located a couple hundred meters from the coast of Egypt, in the Red Sea. For this trip, you have to book at least 24 hrs ahead because the tour company takes your passport to the Egyptian Consulate to get you cleared to visit, so keep that in mind. I don't think anyone is totally comfortable with the idea of handing over their passport for a day or so, but it was fine and we got it back about a day and a half later. I am glad that I didn't have much time to mull it over because I am not sure I would have actually just handed them over to the cute Jordanian desk clerk at the Hilton if I hadn't been kind of caught off guard.
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Of course, Shack found out that he would have the day off at about 8pm on Tuesday night, too late to make arrangements for him to join us because the Egyptian Consulate was closed by then, so even taking his passport in ourselves wasn't an option. Instead, he went over the border to Eilat, Israel for the afternoon while we spent the day on a Sinbad tour boat on The Red Sea. We missed him but we got the long end of the stick and while he spent the day looking for a bit of authentic culture over there and came up with a slice of pizza, we were wandering around the remnants of an ancient citadel, snorkeling and eating grilled fish, chicken and lamb.
The boat ride from Aqaba only takes about 45 minutes, once the boat actually shows up and everyone loads on ( you have to hand over your passports again to the tour guide before you get on the boat and you don't get them back until you get off at the end of the day - total leaps of faith right and left are going on here).
We were told to be at the dock at 9:15am so, of course being the punctual Canadians that we are, we were there by 8:45. Until 9:20, we were the only two people there. No tourists, no boat, the building was closed up tight and there wasn't an employee type person in sight. Because worrying was pointless, I amused myself by figuring out how to use my iPhone camera selfie remote. The Kid was less amused.
Suddenly, just when we were convinced this was going to be a total no show, four Germans sauntered in and I heard them say they were told to be there for 9:30. Things were looking up and I was beyond thrilled that I could still understand a smattering of German after all these years.
Out of nowhere, the boat kind of just appeared at 9:50 just as another smaller boat with a handful of Aussies came and unloaded their passengers straight on to it and then a bus load of people swarmed in from out of nowhere. We went from just the two of us to a boat load of Europeans in about 7 minutes flat and we were off.
It's quite a nice boat ride to Faroun ( the Arabic name for the island) and it was especially surreal to realize that you are smack dab in the middle of the sea, surrounded by Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Talk about a tempest in a tea pot. I was half expecting Anderson Cooper to pop his head out of the galley at any second.
The structure on the island was originally built by the occupying Crusaders until 1170 when Saladin, The Kid's favourite historical military General, conquered the island and reconstructed the citadel, leaving a Garrison of men behind.
The site was added to the Unesco tentative list in 2003 and its proximity to nearby Israel and Jordon, along with it's lovely coral reefs you would think it would be a wildly popular tourist destination. It's a perfect day trip from Aqaba but I hadn't even heard of it until I got there and started really poking around. Lots of money has been spent reconstructing the citadel and they have done a really nice job of the restoration. Let's face it, if we had this in North America, it would be a theme park with men dressed up in period costume, performing reenactments at 10am, noon and 2pm Sunday to Thursday, tips appreciated.
To be honest, I have been surprised by the lack of tourist infrastructure here in this marvellous country who's economy depends so heavily on tourism. If this were Cancun there would be a tourist kiosk on every other corner and you would be barraged with information about what you could be spending your dollars doing but here, I have had to kind of really work to find the interesting things to do, if you want to go beyond Petra and the Wadi Rum.
There were beautiful spots to sit dotted about the little island, a "pool" fed from the sea and less garbage than we have seen at other sites, which was refreshing.The snorkeling around the reef was a lovely break and I don't think anybody cared whether or not they saw much in the way of exotic fish. When the water is still well over 20C at the end of November and such a clear, intense turquoise that you can see all the way to the bottom when looking down from your perch on the boat, there are not many complaints that I am willing to entertain.
|that's my lunch he is grilling up down there|
I had read some bad reviews on Trip Advisor about unfriendly staff and bad food but I think some people are just impossible to please. The staff was just fine, the BBQ lunch was ample and fresh and everyone had a great time, as far as I could tell. I recommend this to anyone who spends some time in Aqaba, especially military history buffs and, again, just wish that it was better promoted.
|as always, there was hummus, babaganoush, some pasta and potato salads to please the tourist and grilled chicken, lamb and fish with a big, Greek salad. It was all very fresh and tasty so no complaints here.|
As always, the dramatic sunset on the way back to Aqaba did not disappoint.
Aqaba to Pharaoh Island
$37 JD pp includes lunch, snorkeling equipment and one beverage with your meal. You must pay for any drinks beyond that and they did offer beer.