It is difficult to believe that we have been in Aqaba for a full week. Even so, we both feel that we barely got a chance to see Aqaba. Most of our time was spent taking care of basic life needs like eating and resting. We did spend a fair bit of time on the Internet trying to develop a more comprehensive picture of the situation in Israel and Gaza.
Aqaba is a modern tourist town. It feels much more “Western” than any place we have been since we left the United States. It is filled with western fast food outlets – MacDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Quiznos. It also has a bunch of Jordanian fast food outlets serving kabobs, falafel, and freeze squeezed juices. We tried out the Quiznos (one of our favourite sandwich places back home) but were not impressed. The bread is not the same, and “beef bacon” and “turkey ham” just don’t cut it! We can sadly attest that MacDonald’s hamburgers are the same here as anywhere else we have tried them.
There were several Internet cafes in Aqaba, but we found the best Internet to be the free wireless access provided by MacDonalds. As a result, we spent two or more hours each day camped out in the MacDonalds gathering news reports and following world events. (No, this did not mean we ate meals at McDonalds every day, but the JD .29 ($.50 CAD) ice cream cone was very tempting)
The prices in Aqaba (and Jordan in general) seem to be similar to what we would pay in Canada. Accommodation is slightly less expensive because there are a lot of options for low to mid-range hotels. Most of the low to mid-range hotels are run by entrepreneurial Egyptians. The hotel we stayed at in Aqaba was Egyptian owned and the breakfast bar / coffee shop was owned by a Bengali family. The businesses were run only by the men of the family – including the housekeeping services within the hotel. They were very friendly and helpful, always willing to provide a cup of hot water when we requested it.
The window to our very spacious hotel room (there is enough room beside the Queen size bed for us to store bikes and setup up our tent if we had them), opens onto a back street. There are several garbage bins where the occasional person and many feral cats spend the day picking through the stuff. Aqaba is a very clean city, with people in electric green uniforms spend their days picking up any trash that makes its way onto the sidewalks or streets, although they don’t pick it up if it is in gardens or shubs! As night approaches, the feral cats get into a fight over some choice bits of scrap in the garbage bin – the growling and screams can get intense at times. Then sometime between 10 pm and 2 am the garbage trucks come and collect the days trash, from which point it is silent until morning and the bins start to refill.
Walking around the streets in Aqaba took a little bit of re-acclimatizing. We were both immediately shocked when the cars actually stopped at the cross walk. In Aleppo, at first it felt like we took our life into our hands every time we wanted to cross the street – it was a game you played with the various cars and trucks on the road – how close can the car come without hitting the pedestrian (or can I make the pedestrian jump!). That said, we never saw a collision and felt quite safe in Aleppo after we got accustomed to it. Aqaba was very civilized from a traffic perspective, which gives us much more confidence with renting a car and driving here.