It is an unwritten rule that every trip abroad has to have one nightmare journey where the true 'local color' of your destination is revealed. And now our trip is no exception.
We had jumped off our camels around 10AM intending to make the one-hour drive to Aqaba and return the rental car, and get to the ferry terminal with the intent of hopping on the 1PM 'fast ferry' to Nuweiba Egypt. While we made it to Aqaba on time, the Hertz location we had planned to drop off the car at did not exist, so we went in search of another one which fortunately we found fairly quickly. Then it was into a cab and we arrived at the ferry terminal (7km outside of town) at 11:45AM, only to be told one cannot purchase tickets for the ferry at the ferry terminal - they must be purchased back in the main town of Aqaba. So back into the taxi and to the ticket office, where of course we are told there is no 'fast ferry' on this day, but there is another boat leaving "in one hours' time".
Tickets in hand, we returned to the ferry terminal tried to make sense of what was going on. The boat was nowhere to be seen (turns out the boat we saw on our first visit was the 'fast ferry' that departed at 12PM). We find a ferry worker who seems to speak some English and we ask him when the next boat leaves. He says "1PM", smiles and says "3PM", keeps smiling and says "maybe 5PM , I don't know." What we seem to get from this conversation is we are to board a bus at 1PM, which takes us to a ferry, that might leave as early as 3PM but might not leave until nightfall. So we were off to a good start.
We board the ferry at 1PM, there is a literal crush of humanity (a couple hundred people) trying to get through a single door...fortunately one of the workers sees us and helps clear a path while the locals keep screaming at each other in Arabic. We scramble on board and grab some seats near the cafeteria. About 4 and a half hours later, the boat finally shoves off. At this point people are everywhere - lying on the floor in front of us, in every possible seat, on the ground along the exterior railings...its quite a scene. Most of the people were returning from a religous pilgramage to Mecca, they had ash on their foreheads. This was also the last day of Ramadan, so at sunset there was quite a commotion as people prepared to and then broke their daily fast; the folks sitting next to us shared their fuul (bean paste) and pita. And I'll spare the story of the bathrooms...but in the Muslim faith there is a lot of washing going on at various times, and on this boat there was only one place to do it! We felt a little awkward taking photos so no evidence of any of the above adventure.
The boat moves ridiculously slowly, and we arrive in Nuweiba around 8:30PM. Only problem is that all the immigration folks have gone home for the day, so everybody must remain on the boat for two hours until somebody shows up. As the mob waits to disembark, we again are singled out as foreigners and called to the front, where we can see the other doors leading to exits (with lots of people behind them) have been barricaded or padlocked shut. Quite a scene again as people grow more and more impatient and just want out. Finally we are led out, we sort out Egyptian visas which takes about an hour, and at 11:30PM we leave the port in a group with the other foreigners on the boat (a couple Ukranians and a couple Ameriancas...all of whom were also headed to Dahab fortunately).
An hour later we're dropped in Dahab since the driver didn't know where our hotel was...but it ended up being a short seaside stroll away, where the manager was patiently waiting for us. Our Open Water Diver course started at 8AM, so we went straight to the sheets in order to get some rest.