Sinai, Jordan and Israel

So the past 10 days or so have been pretty hectic for me as I have been very, very busy. Since I last posted on Luxor, I have been to: Hurghada; Sinai Peninsula; Jordan; Israel; Moscow; Abkhazia and am now relaxing in Sochi, Russia. Except for Hurghada, Sochi and Abkhazia, all of those were repeat places so I was able to re-visit some favorite places quickly and spend some quality time in new places like Abkhazia. For this post, I am going to quickly go over Hurghada through to Israel which includes the uncanny Petra and will post about Russia and Abkhazia next post as I am behind on my blog and want to get out and enjoy my last day in Sochi on the beach. So here goes.

Hurghada will never be one of my favorite places. In fact, I didn’t even like it marginally and won’t go back. It is essentially a gigantic clusterfuck of people, places, traffic and crap. I had heard Hurghada was the next up and coming Red Sea beach resort but what I found it to be was simply annoying.

Hurghada is broken down into three areas. In the south there is a resort strip on the water where the big fancy hotels are located and have their own private beach etc. I am sure that is fine but I didn’t stay there or even venture down that way as it seemed uninteresting. The north has the backpacker ghetto and the cheap parts of the city which I saw by mistake when my taxi got lost trying to find a restaurant. But I stayed in the middle part which is where all the action was supposed to be and where tourist class hotels, restaurants, bars and everything happens. Big mistake.

I stayed at a place called the Sea Garden Hotel which was awful for the price of about $60 and the rooms were gross and the staff was useless. They didn’t know anything about the city, were unhelpful and you couldn’t get wifi in the hotel even though it advertised you could. So I headed out to check out the town and was thoroughly disappointed.

The original plan was to spend a few days in Hurghada and do some snorkeling etc and chill on the beach. But the city was just too much hassle. Constant harassment from vendors, taxis, restauranteurs and others made it tough to just walk around. Traffic was choking and there was a ton of air pollution. The city itself resembled a clusterfuck out of Atlantic City or Wildwood, New Jersey. If you don’t know those trashy places, it’s just one crappy store after another and hassles a plenty in between. Anyway, the decision was made to get out and head to Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula.

It is worth noting as well that the driver who drove us to Hurghada from Luxor almost killed us twice driving like a maniac. Then when we got to Hurghada, the original plan was to take the ferry across to Sharm El Sheikh which was fast and cheap. But of course it was broken and we ended up having to fly thru Cairo to Sharm and then cab it up to Dahab about an hour or so north of the airport.

Dahab is one of my favorite places in the world as I had spent 3-4 days there back in late May 2000 after I graduated college. Then it was a sleepy fishing village that was a haven for backpackers and was the cheapest place I’d ever been to. 11 years later, it still had that same bohemian backpacker vibe but had changed immensely.

First, the main road along the water was now paved when it used to be dirt, many of the little sheesha places with only pillows as tables had been replaced by restaurants and annoying touts and there was an influx of fancy resorts. I even stayed at the Le Meridien resort in Dahab because, as they say, the best type of hotel stay is a free one and that’s what my stay was so I couldn’t say no.

The resort was beautiful and I took my three days in Dahab as a chance to relax and recharge the batteries a bit after 3 straight weeks of hard traveling on the road. Normally, I would have jumped at the opportunity to go snorkeling in the Red Sea but since I have already done that and I was pretty beat and battling stomach issues, I decided to just chill out. It was a good decision because I knew I had some long, tiring days coming up.

As far as prices went, it was a big step up from what it was 11 years ago but still pretty cheap as far as the Red Sea goes and still worthwhile to go visit. There aren’t too many places left like Dahab so get there while you can. Perhaps Thailand and Goa may be the only places on Earth like it at this point and both of those are getting developed quickly. Pretty soon there will be nothing so get out there!

After heading up to Taba from Dahab and crossing into Israel through Eilat after an hour interrogation (for the first time this trip), we crossed into Aqaba, Jordan and taxied up to Wadi Musa which is the base town for Petra. This was to be my first trip back to Petra since I visited after graduation 11 years ago. It was very different.

Hotel prices had jumped significantly and new hotels like a Marriott, Crown Plaza and two Movenpicks had sprouted up around Petra. I stayed in the Amra Palace Hotel which was adequate for the night and got to the gates of Petra at 615am. I was literally the first one in the park and got to the iconic Treasury all alone. That was pretty special because from experience, if you wait until 8am or so, that is when all the Asian and European tour groups arrive and muddle everything up!
Petra is a big area that has Nabathean architectural gems carved into the mountains all over the complex. The best is the Treasury which is what you always see pictures of in ads and was made famous by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But there are other great spots to visit as well including a long hike up 1000 steps or so to the Monastery (below) which may be even more impressive than the Treasury. You can also take a donkey up and down if you wish as it gets incredibly hot at Petra during the day, even if you get there early.
The biggest difference for me was that the price tag to enter Petra had skyrocketed to some $70. It was about $5 last time I was there and even last year they told me it was only about $45. Since Petra got voted in as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, they have been gouging tourists for all they can apparently. They are really putting out the budget traveler with that price. I have never heard of anything remotely close to that entrance fee anywhere on Earth. It’s too bad.
I had previously visited Israel in June 2000 for a week or so. This trip I entered twice and exited twice to get to and from Jordan. I didn’t even want to go to Israel at all because of all the hassles that the rude border people give you but the flight to Moscow was $400 cheaper from Tel Aviv than it would have been from Amman so that made the decision easy.

My first entry at Eilat, I was questioned for an hour and my subsequent exit into Aqaba was pretty easy. My second entry at Allenby Bridge toward Jerusalem was annoying and took about 45 minutes of questioning. This is all because of the stamps in my passport and the Israeli paranoia about such things. It is really annoying and a big time killer but it was my second exit from the airport in Tel Aviv that lasted 3 hours that made me swear I will never go back to Israel again.
I won’t get into the specifics of how awful the Israelis were to us at the airport but let’s just say we were held up, interrogated, intimately searched several times, had every article with us inspected and then had the process repeated a few times. The Israelis were unapologetic, which is in their nature; just ask Turkey if you follow the news. They were invasive, rude and just awful. I have never been terribly fond of Israelis in general as they tend to be paranoid, loud, rude, obnoxious and this is how I was treated when I visited their country. Mind you, I was raised Jewish.

They kept asking me the genesis of my name. I continually told the truth that it is Italian and they kept saying they didn’t know it. Well no shit, there are only a handful of us on Earth, so it’s not exactly Smith, Williams or Brown. They kept asking me about my visit to Pakistan repeatedly. I understand why obviously and I expected some hassle but there is a way to do things and Israelis have this I can do whatever I want attitude about things very often and it is very frustrating to deal with in person. I am glad I got to the airport 4 hours early. Again, I am still mad about how it went down and it totally took away from a nice time in Jerusalem and especially visiting friends in Tel Aviv which is a great city.

Anyway, just writing that I am getting fired up about how that went down but aside from the Israelis security issues that were completely unnecessary, I enjoyed the time. I then flew up to Moscow and my journey continued to my 299th country of Abkhazia which I will write about next time.

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  1. Good report and glad you took time to share it being so busy right now. Too bad about the airport security but having an inch thick passport with a who’s who of hot spots like Pakistan, Iraq, Angola, Afghanistan, etc., etc., isn’t the norm obviously! Not sure if you ever do it, but Charles use to carry around press clippings on his travels so whenever he was interrogated over stamps, he could show them what he was after and why he has so many of them. But, other then South Ossetia, you probably will never need that again because the rest of your places are more logistically challenging then dangerous or hard to get into.

  2. That’s awful about the Israeli border police. they are noted assholes. Glad you made it thru all those dangerous places. Be safe.

  3. It’s too bad, I had a good experience in Hurghada diving wise. But the traffic and commotion is terrible in town I agree.

  4. Petra looks amazing!

  5. That is awful about the Israeli security guards at the airport. I had a similar problem because I had come down from Syria and Lebanon. They detained me for an hour and asked me the stupidest questions. I also agree that Israelis are tough to deal with in general. They think they can do whatever they want and get away with everything.

  6. Rubber gloves? LOL!

  7. Hi lee, great write up on your experience. I would love to visit Petra someday. Your pictures are wonderful and sorry about the bad time in Israel.

  8. So you visitied Israel AFTER going to Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran and other Islamic nations? They may have given you a lot of hassles at the borders but at least they let you in…..I hear iff you even have an Israeli stamp in your passport the majority of Islamic countries will not let you in with the exception of Turkey, Jordan and Egypt which have relations with Israel. With due respect I think the israeli paranoia is justiied given all the attacks across their borders and the terrorism they face in a daily basis. By the way did you also get to visit Gaza and the West Bank? I guess that counts as a territory.

  9. Maurice kemp says

    There is reason for this so called paranoia you write about. Perhaps you should broaden your expertise to not just travel but some history in the Middle East.

  10. Michae Saltiel says

    Lee, how about using some common sense? Israel is constantly attacked by every flavor of Arab and Islamic terror. It also is ABSOLUTELY THE SAFEST in the world in counter terrorism…THERES A REASON! …it’s called security profiling.
    So they’re inquisitive…been to Volgograd lately? or the Boston Marathon? how about Tunisia (lovely beaches?) Egypt (Pyramids look great this time of the year), Syria (forget it) Iraq?..civil war…Afganistan…suicide bombers…South Sudan and most other African neighborhoods…tribal or ethnic/religious wars ….
    or you’re just plain clueless.

  11. I have visited Israel a number of times and never had issues. Maybe they could sense your unjustified arrogance and racism and that put them on alert. That or the fact that over the past 67 years the number of suicide bombs, rockets and other attacks towards their people is well higher than you can count and so security is a must especially when faced with rude passengers. I think Israel is one of the best countries I have visited and the people are more welcoming and friendly then most places I have been. Racism my friend is not a nice colour on you.

  12. About the behavior- I agree that there are many Israelis that do behave the way you described. It\’s a real problem. Still, try to keep in mind that not all of us are like that, some of us are actually just the opposite of that. Don’t let a few people affect what you think of all of us.
    About the \’paranoia\’- We\’re paranoid for a reason. Ever since 1948 we suffer from bombing and attacks, and every few years there\’s another war. I\’m truly sorry if you felt like you\’re being harassed but this is our way to keep this country safe. Even we, as Israeli citizens, are being questioned a lot.
    Besides, if you ever change your mind and decide to come back I think that there are many great places you haven\’t seen, such as Hamat Gader (truly an amazing place), the Dead sea, Masada, dolphin reef…

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