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This just in from Karen Glynn

"Well we got back last week in one piece - just about.

Flew out from Luton Airport to Eilat (Ovda airport) with Excel. We found out that we could have boarded at Manchester.
Flight pretty uneventful apart for the usual travelling companions from hell.

Ovda airport is somewhat un-developed. We had a bit of fun persuading the officials there not to stamp our passports - apparently Isreal stamps in passports can lead to you being turned back from some Middle Eastern countries (not sure which places will do this but we don't want to shoot ourselves in the foot for future holidays). We also had to open all our luggage before we left the airport - they seem to think that a dive bag WILL contain a bomb!

Got a coach from Ovda into Eilat where we met up with a taxi to take us to the border.

Border crossing into Jordan was a 'dinner party' experience - walking through 200 yards of no mans land and reading the 'danger unexploded mines' signs. This was made all the more poignant when 5 south americans were shot by a nutty Jordanian when making the crossing the next day. The crossing itself was easy enough and full of red tape. The red tape had multiplied on the return, but that's for later.

Collected the other side of the border by the Alcazar hotels dive bus - pretty scummy bus but it did the job and we knew the smell was only wet neoprene so we could allay the fears of our non-diving travelling companions.

Arrived at the hotel at 9:00 at night, just in time for dinner.
The hotel turned out to be pretty much deserted (we were there out of season after all). It had an air of decay about it - there's quite a bit of maintenance work needed around the place, but the rooms were clean and all the plumbing worked and the staff couldn't have been more friendly and helpful.

We didn't dive with hotel even though it's the only 5* PADI centre in Jordan as I'd had previous info that the Royal Diving Centre was nearer all the better dive sites, so we went with them. Scubasnacks booked the holiday and pre-booked the diving with RDC as I'll call them from now on.

The first morning the RDC dive bus picked us up and took us to the centre. It seems to be quite usual in Jordan for a hotel to have a seperate beach club. Jordan only has 26kms of coast and quite a lot of it is used as industrial ports so there isn't much left for traditional beach holiday pursuits.

The RDC is on the south cost of Jordan and is about 20 minutes from Aqaba (where we were staying). Our dive kit was sorted quickly and easily and we made our first dive that morning at 10.

We seemed to be amongst very few people who were diving. A lot of the people on the bus were just using the RDC for its pool and beach front (fine by us).

On each of the dives we were taken to the bit of beach (dive site) by bus. You put your kit into a bag and into a trailer with the tanks. You put your suit on before getting on the bus - this was OK in temperatures of 23 degrees C but it might be a bit uncomfortable in the Jordanian summer - but perhaps you are asked to kit up differently when its oven hot.

Once we'd done our first check out dive, we were taken to the sites and once briefed left to our own devices. This was ideal for my husband and he had some new camera lenses he wanted to practice with. We didn't do any dives of less then 1 hour (but of course we didn't have to stay in that long).

We also dived the two house reefs of the RDC. They are actually very nice dives. All the dives in Jordan are more macro than anything else. The reefs aren't walls like on the other side of the Red Sea and are more like gardens with patches of sand. There was quite alot of sea grass around too. It was pleasing to see that Jordan is trying to improve its reefs - it has areas that are desginated as marine parks and they have different levels of access depending on their category. Some areas you can't dive or fish in at all!

One the first day the afternoon dive we did was the Shipwreck. We dived this on our own, unguided. It's an 81m cargo vessel that was sunk about 15 years ago. It's still pretty free of coral and it was quite eery with just the two of us diving it. Nice dive though.

On every dive we saw pipefish, scorpionfish, antheas, grey eels (i'd never seen these before), sweetlips, buttefly fish, moorish idols, - all the usual culprits.

We also saw octopus and a juvenile crocodile fish, plus a devil walking scorpionfish (or something like that) and the odd nudibranch. When we did the tankwreck (which is near the shipwreck) another dive school was diving the shipwreck and they saw a green turtle.

It's not that surprising that's there no big stuff really - it looks like the fish stocks are just starting to recover from overfishing and the Gulf of Aqaba is so busy with shipping that the pelagics aren't likely to be around. There wasn't one dive where we didn't hear the thuds of some big ships propellers.

One dive that I thought was overrated was the Saudi border. You dive with in sight (obviously on land) of the border crossing. You don't get that much nearer to it on the dive and although the coral there is nice, there wasn't much in the way of fish life at all. Perhaps we were just unlucky.

We experienced a slight current only once in 10 dives.
No dives needed to be deep - we only hit 30m once.

We only came across one other English diver in our week. Some of the other divers were Hungarian, Canadian, American, Israeli, etc - quite a mixed pot (which we like)
Having been to Marsa Alam in June I'd say Marsas diving is very similar but there's slightly more of it in Marsa.

The night life in Jordan was way better than in Marsa (and I'm not talking nightclubs here). Being a moslem country, alcohol is only available in the hotels. Aqaba is also a duty free port so electrical goods etc are pretty cheap. What was good was that I felt quite comfortable to go out on my own (without my husband) - I haven't felt quite that safe in quite a few african / eastern / asian countries. It does pay to dress respectfully as a female - especially if being stared at makes you uncomfortable!

Anyway, Aqaba centre itself is easily accessed on foot from all the hotels and it only takes about half an hour to tour the entire centre. I think that fact that it was Ramadan while we there helped, but the streets were full of Jordanians going about their business. My husbands eyebrow stud caused a lot of interest from the Joradnian kids but they really weren't any bother. Lazily for us, everybody spoke at least a little English so it was really easy buying stuff.

Although the Alcazar hotel was half board we chose to eat out one night and had a sit-down chicken doner. It cost us about £5 (total) which was a bit pricey (but we couldn't be bothered to fight about it). The shop we ate at didn't have a price list or menu so we made oursleves vulnerable to being ripped off there. I did see another restaurant with only Arabic food descriptions but prices for meals started from 40p (500 piestres).

If you do stay at the Alcazar you will find the board basis is half board. I found breakfast very difficult as I can't have dairy products. It seemed to be either cereal or yoghurt or pastries. If you got your timing right you could get an omlette or pancake from the chef. Because we were breakfasting early for diving we were generally the only people at breakfast - which was a bit spooky!

They also did a clever little trick with us with evening meals (or perhaps they were being hospitable and we're cynical). On the second night we sat at the same table as the other couple we'd crossed the border with. As we were the only four people using the restaurant we thought we might as well. Anyway, the european staff members (and the owners) used to come into the restaurant at about 9:30 and play scrabble.

We were talking amongst ourselves when Ann-Maire (a very friendly and energetic Belgian lady) came over and offered us the chance to have a typical Jordanian fish dish the next night. Naturally we said why not, and got the fish dish the next night. The night after that is was another traditional Jordanian lamb dish and so on - only after the first night we weren't ever asked if we'd like this, it just came out of the kitchen as a fait accompli. Our cynical selves though that it could have been a clever way of giving the chef an easy time (and allowing the kitchen to keep minimum stocks) while the hotel was so empty. It didn't matter really but I'd be interested to know if anyone else experiences this!

We also went to Petra one day (we really should have taken two days but this was meant to be a diving holiday). The hotel booked us a taxi and it cost 40 Jordanian Dinar - this is just what it cost we'd checked out prices directly with taxi drivers and it was the same. We went with another person and shared the cost out. Admission into Petra was 11 Dinar each and this was the only place that we got any hassle - offers of camels, donkeys and carriages down the Siq etc followed us round all day. Petra is an amazing place and well worth the visit. We didn't get to all the good parts and as we didn't have much time, but we made the thigh-aching climb up to the monastery and past it to look out over the Dead Sea (or Dead Pond judging by the size of it now!). It was well worth the climb - but it's not for the faint hearted. It's a good 20 minute climb if your fit and can take up to an hour if you're not. It's also slightly at altitude which just gives the effort an extra bit of bite. The whole of Petra is stairs going up hillsides so its a pretty tiring day - I should think that if it is also very hot it could be quite dangerous. Petra itself was just amazing and I'd definitely go back there and take longer over it.

We had a good demonstration of how friendly Jordanians are on the way back to Aqaba. Our taxi driver had been told of a short 'cross desert' route to avoid a long detour caused by the closure of part of the main road. The trouble was he wasn't entirely sure which track it was supposed to be. After one false off-road expedition, he stopped and asked a bloke who then chatted to all of us about 'how good our taxi driver was'! There was a bit of a ditch at the end of the cut through where it joined on to the tarmac road and it was full of very soft sand. Well, the taxi got stuck in it of course. We three passengers got out and started to push but that just wasn't enough shove to budge the heavy Merc, then out the dark all the traffic started to stop and locals flooded out of their vehicles to help shove the taxi out of the sand. It was just amazing!

One slight confusement with the currency - it's the Jordanian Dinar and its something like 1.175 dinar to the pound sterling. When you get coins back they're marked as 10, 25, 50 piestres. OK no problem, until we were asked for 500 in a shop! - that turned out to be 50 piestres in fact (once we'd made the usual tourist twits of ourselves and let the shopkeeper count the money out of our hands)

Then the journey home. Now this was little wearing even though we warned to expect it be like this. The return flight was as 18:10 from Ovda. Due to the shooting at the Israeli / Jordan border the week before, we were advised that there were extra security checks at the border and we now needed to leave the hotel at 12:00 noon (bear in mind that Aqaba is all of an hour from Ovda if you could just drive straight there ......if only......). Well we got about half a mile from the Jordanian border and had to empty all our luggage off the bus and open it all and have it checked by two guards holding submachine guns. We then loaded everything back onto the skeggy dive bus and drove the actual border. The driver spewed us out on to the tarmac and couldn't've been happier to get away. We were accosted by a very apologetic Jordanian who asked us again to open our bags. We then went through Jordan emmigration (which is a series of windows) - this was made all the more unpleasant as we were crossing at the same time as a couple of lorry loads of very smelly cows and they kept getting upwind of us.

After Jordanian emigration we had to do the no mans land walk to Israeli immigration (luckily we were allowed baggage trolleys). Well I think the Israelis saw us coming and rubbed their hands with glee. They let our travelling companions with their large black suitcase straight through without even scanning it and then fell about our stuff with all the delight vultures about a freshly dead deer. We ended up totally unpacking our camera bag and almost entirely unpacking our dive kit bag. Each regulator got a very close inspection. The camera kit was x-rayed at least five times in different positions, so it'll be a miracle if we have any photos at all!
Despite all this it only took us an hour to cross the border.

We were collected from the Israeli border by a taxi and taken to the Sheraton Moriah hotel to join the Longwood coach to the airport. It was a bit of shock sitting in a posh western hotel full of Jewish Americans after our moslem week in Jordan! Once again, my husband and I were frisked before we could set foot inside the hotel foyer while our older travelling companions were ushered straight through. Obviously suicide bombers fit quite a tight age / description profile in Israel!

The journey to Ovda was uneventful apart froma warning that the check in process will 'suit themselves'. That warning became clear when we started to queue to check in. The idea was that you had to face 'security' before you checked in for the flight. Instead of security being a quick X-ray of your luggage and a scan of you, this meant gestapo type interrogation with all your luggage unpacked on a table (well not quite but it sounds good!). After about 1 hour, the parents started playing the 'child' card and the oldies started playing the 'dodgy knee / back [insert appropriate body part]' card to jump the queue. We'd managed to end up right at the back anyhow. After two hours of waiting some of the Israeli security folks started sniping people out of the queue to push them through too. With 30 minutes to flight departure to go, there were three 'couples' still waiting:- two girls who appeared to have bought half of Eilat in their weeks stay, a couple that had been held for three hours crossing from Taba (Egypt) into Israel and who had been strip searched while there and me and my husband. Had the security guys been tipped off do you think?

We were eventually beckoned through the blue elastic barrier (some new Israeli crowd management kit they seemed very keen to use). Our kit was laid out on a table (but not yet unpacked - although we did notice another diver behind us morosely re-packing his Cressi-Sub bag). We were then questioned as follows (more or less):

- What is you relationship to each other - answer 'Married' - right answer do not proceeed to private interview room.
- Is this your first time in Israel - bit hard to answer that one as we were here last week and then left immediately
- Are these Eqypt stamps in your passports - Yes
- Why did you go there? - For diving and holidays
- Do you have any friends in Egypt? - (Well I'd like to think so but I wasn't going to tell him!)
- Who decided to go to Jordan?
- Who booked it?
- Who paid for it?
- What are your jobs in England (we both have fairly odd jobs so that took a bit of doing)
-Who earns the most money?
- Have you been asked to carry anything while you were on holiday

I think you can get the gist. If you didn't give satisfactory answers then you got to see the the private interview room. We saw a few people go in there but they came out again and were allowed to board the flight (which probably doesn't say much for the Israeli way of doing airport security)
With 15 minutes to go before departure the guy interrogating us was hooked on the fact that we were divers and wanted to have a look at an underwater camera as he'd never seen one (would you believe it!). After all that we didn't unpack any of our other bags at this security check - but it was covered in ultra high security little brown and white stickers saying 'security checked' - one on each pocket of each bag. Now that's what I call security!!

They held the flight departure up for us. We got our boardinf passes at 18:15 and went straight on to board the plane. Now there's a dinner party story!

All in all though we had a cracking holiday and I'd recommend it to anyone who fancies something a little different than Eqypt. If I've missed anything or you have any questions please ask away!"

Karen can be contacted on:

[email protected]

178 Posts
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Talk about unecessary hassle, there are so many other places to dive which do not involve a full body search (well I needed to spice this up a bit), interrogation, walking through minefields and having to check your dresscode to make sure you don't offend the locals. The diving also sounds pretty boring ..

Good/useful report though, that's one destination I've crossed off the list!

Ginger, Irish, sometimes stroppy
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Eilat is the real pain in the arse, its a great town, good diving and fun nightlife, if it wasn't for the security hassle above, I'd be back there once a year.
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