We arrived into the Sharm el-Sheikh airport at about 11 PM and discovered that there were no more buses to Nuweiba. There were, however, a number of taxi drivers hanging around and, after an hour of haggling, theatrical walking away on both sides, chasing down again, reconciliation, and repeating the terms, we finally got one of them to agree to take us north, over the mountains to our destination.
Clearly, the paltry sum of money involved meant that our driver could to take his time. We stopped at a truck stop for tea; at a gas station to top up; along the side of the road to chat with the folks in another taxi; and, at the very top of the mountains near St Catherine Monastery, to douse the radiator with water and pray under the full moon by the side of the road. Our driver tried enthusiastically to teach us some Bedouin songs and explain the lyrics and we sang and coasted down the mountains with the headlights off (as the Egyptians do) as the shadowy rocks rose up on every side. We found our hotel at about 3 AM and collapsed into bed.
The next morning, we made our way to the port. Nuweiba is not, as our guidebook would have us imagine, a little holiday town by the sea, popular with campers. Instead, it’s a commercial port with few buildings and lots of barbed wire. We waited for four hours in the customs area for our ferry, surrounded by hundreds of people. When the ship finally arrived, there was more delay as the authorities collected everyone’s tickets and passports on the boat; and then, when we docked in Aqaba, it took another hour to get our passports back. By the time we got into Aqaba, it was nearly 10; our one-hour ferry ride across the Red Sea had lasted nine hours!
It was all worth it, though, when we headed out to the beaches south of town the next day to check out Aqaba’s famously unspoiled coral reefs. We swam with the fish (and eels, and sea slugs, and all kinds of exciting marine life), marveling at the colors and variety of the reef and reveling in the beautiful water.
When we got back to Aqaba, we sampled some of the local marine life in a different and delicious form. Fish sayyeida - essentially, spiced rice served with fish or fish broth - takes a variety of different forms throughout the Middle East. The sayyeida we tried in Aqaba recalled our own recipe for Cinnamon Chicken and suggested a variety of improvements, including using top-quality Basmati rice (always a good idea) and topping it with very crispy thin-cut fried onions. Since our original post, we've also learned the virtues of pickled lemon and often serve it as a condiment with this and other dishes.
The most common local fish served in Aqaba's restaurants is red mullet, freshly caught and usually grilled whole. In addition to the sayyeida, we tried the "Floka special fish," served (not unlike a hotdog) with two sauces, mustard and tangy tomato, and the "Floka spicy fish," topped with a spicy tomato and red pepper sauce. All versions were quite delicious.
More pictures of our exciting underwater adventure are available here: