Aqaba, Jordan: Wadi Rum and the Ritcheys of Arabia

Our route to Aqaba cut through the Red Sea. On either side, the coast lines of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia ran parallel to one another, and as we arrived at the coast of Aqaba, we also drew up to the coast of Isreal right next door. This area of the world was so little known to me prior to our journey. I felt as if the American education system hardly covered it in any meaningful detail even though western society relies heavily upon the area for peaceful coexistence, oil extraction, and shipping.

Our stop in Aqaba was an interesting one as it plays an important role in the Middle East. Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia all squeeze into the very small Gulf of Aqaba. It is Jordan’s only port city which makes it vital for commercial and defense purposes. Thankfully, due to recent decrease of political tensions between Jordan and Israel, development and tourism within the region are steadily growing which was evidenced by numerous new hotels being built during our visit. From the decks of our cruise shop, I could turn 180 degrees and see the coastlines of 3 separate countries. It was difficult to imagine that nations with such different motivations and ideologies could realistically share such a small bay peacefully, but they had prevailed.

Locals and a few Middle Eastern tourists lounged along the sandy beaches. Children played in the clear waters while small tour boats and jet skis periodically zoomed on and off the shore. For a resort town, its beaches seemed fairly empty of the usual clamor one would expect. As we walked the streets, the world’s 6th tallest flagpole rose solemnly before this. The Aqaba Flagpole bears the flag of the Arab Revolt, commemorating the Battle of Aqaba in 1917 and WW1.

Our passage through the Suez Canal was inadvertently delayed due to a sand dredger being stuck near the center of the canal. As a result, it threw our schedule off and the captain had to cut a sea day and gave us 1 extra evening in Aqaba. Hannah and I hopped onto shore for a few hours before sun set and explored the ruins of the old castle. We thankfully ran into friends we had made on board: Jessica and Rod with their two kids Santi and Nora as well as Patrick, a solo traveler. The evening was spent as a merry group of friends exploring the bazaar and local mosque before finishing the evening with dinner together aboard the ship.

Jordan also holds one of the 7 Wonders of the World, Petra, and this is what most cruisers come for. But, given the price, long drive, and very limited time on site, we decided to save Petra for another trip, on our own terms. Instead, we elected for an excursion to Wadi Rum, a nature preserve that stretches from Jordan into Saudi Arabia. It was made popular by T.E Lawrence traversing it during the Arab Revolt and WW1. His expertise in guerrilla warfare and covert explosives led to various destructions and disruptions on the Ottoman Turk’s railroad in this region. Wadi Rum itself was an expanse of desert and sandstone and granite rock formations. Camels crossed roads ahead of our bus and lunch in a Bedouin tent camp greeted us at the end.

As the sun slowly descended beyond the mountains of Israel, it illuminated the parallel, deep red sandstone mountains of Saudi Arabia. Above those mountains, the moon faintly shown as crowds of passengers streamed back on board and the Adahn sounded. By the time our ship finally pulled away from Aqaba, the full moon clothed the dark bay waters in a milky white light.


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