A ship’s horn resonates through the Aqaba seaport causing a flock of seagulls to dramatically take flight. The crumbs from our measly bread offerings rain down upon us as they pass overhead. “Wait here” yelped Usama, our knowledgeable Jordanian tour guide. Perched at the southern tip of Jordan, a swirl of Middle-eastern influences leaped at our senses. The Israeli town of Eilat jutted through the mist to the north, the warm winds from Saudi Arabia flushed our faces from the south and the coastline of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula remained but a frustrating speck across the Gulf of Aqaba.
The last we see of Usama is his sturdy figure pointing frantically at a seaport officer from the back window of a jeep, which worryingly sped off into the distance. “He told me that he wasn’t allowed in Egypt”, a fellow traveller noted ominously. I walk up to the large fortress-esque iron gate and attempt to engage with the officer, “Nuweiba...Egypt?” I question. He casually shrugs his shoulder, but then aggressively whistles to beckon our group to come through.
We dart toward the ferry, avoiding the huge reversing truck cargo loads like characters in a game of Pac-Man. Hordes of Keffiyeh wearing men returning from their Mecca pilgrimage disembark a nearby ship and dissect our group. Ushered into the ferry by the strong breeze sweeping in from the Red sea, I hand over the ripped piece of paper signifying my ticket and reluctantly place my passport onto a pile in a briefcase guarded by a small suited man shrieking “visa”! I then filter into a large curtained seating room which appeared like a large cinema.
The room gradually filled up as our group were slowly reacquainted in the middle aisles. Around us masses of tall bearded men with darkened eyelids and long traditional dress began staring at us. Reflecting my paranoia; the sky outside dimmed and an eerie moonshine penetrated the curtains. Whispers of Arabic voices ghosted past my ears as I left in search of our passports, dodging the pool of yellowy water which began flowing out from under the gentlemen’s toilets as the ferry set off. I chase the suited man who slams his briefcase onto a counter, denting it in the process, and then hands over our passports tied together by a rubber band. I side-step the onrushing crowd and return to the commotion emanating from the ‘cinema room’.
The ferry monotonously rode the gentle waves, lulling me into an uneasy sleep as I closely guard my belongings. Slam! The latch to the ferry’s container tunnel opens.
I launch myself into the luggage container and all the passengers scramble towards me. As people begin to point and hiss hysterically at their luggage, I start throwing out random suitcases and bags from the container into the ensuing chaos, as if I were an aid worker throwing down survival supplies from a helicopter. Large cargo trucks slowly squeeze by, narrowly missing the jostling passengers and a strong scent of diesel infuses the container. A deafening echo vibrates through the tunnel as a vehicle’s siren alarms. The ship’s electricity began to flicker, revealing the Egyptian flag swaying in the moonlit glow outside in the bouts of darkness. “Head for the light!”