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The Many Faces of Africa and The Middle East

Author: Gladys S.
Date of Trip: July 2009

I’ve recently returned from a 7 week trip to 8 cities in the 4 countries of France, Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt. After my epicurean journey across France and studying French, I embarked for Tunisia, Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba, Jordan.

Tunisia is a laid back, vibrant vacation destination. We stayed at the Hotel du Parc, about a 2 mile walk from downtown Tunis.

We did this tour on our own and really enjoyed the variety that the area offered, the souks in old town, the food, the museums, especially Sidi bu Said, that reminds one of being in the white washed villas of the Greek Islands. This hilly seaside area is infested with charming restaurants with to die for views, and flea markets. The best part is that everything is fairly reasonable. We were here for 4 days, far too short to experience what the area has to offer.

Back to Paris to catch a flight to Jordan the next afternoon. I had great difficulty in planning flights from Tunisia to Egypt, so this was the least cumbersome means. Suffering from what appeared to be food poisioning our last night in Paris, my friend and I were not in the best shape upon boarding Royal Jordanian Airlines for Jordan. I have to take my hat off to the crew as my friend became violently ill inflight and the airline took over to find a physician on board, treat her and make her as comfortable as possible…all with a positive attitude.

With a shaky start, the greeting tour agency (Karma House Travel) being pissed off because we were 15 minutes behind other passengers due to my friend having to be escorted to the terminal in a wheelchair because she was so ill, we were transported to the Imperial Palace Hotel. The driver turned out to be far nicer than the company representative, as it was he who accompanied us for the remainder of our trip for the most part, purchasing over the counter treatments for our travelers tummy.

To provide an overview of the city, we toured most sections, including the obscenely wealthy sections. The residential compounds of the newly emigrated Iraqi billionaires we saw are just mind boggling in Amman. We we were wondering how many of those multi billion dollar Iraqi owned compounds were paid for with disappearing, unaccounted for American tax dollars. It appears that Jordanian real estate, with the arrival of the wealthy Iraqi’s has become unaffordable for the average Jordanian.

Since we were 2 women travelling in a Muslim country, there was nothing to do but sightsee and visit historical sites and museums (Mt. Nebo, the mountaintop memorial of Moses captivating the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea, were it not for the smog), all very fascinating and offering great photo ops. Overall we found the Jordanian people to be calm, friendly, and laid back EXCEPT FOR PETRA. Petra is a city built for tourists and like most tourist areas, the goal is to seperate the tourists from their money ASAP, It’s just that they have not learned to do it yet with finesse in Petra, and feel tipping is a requirement, regardless of the caliber of service.

In the actual park of Petra, where the Treasury is located,one is nickled and dimed to death. We stayed at the beautiful Petra Panorama Hotel and Spa, built from a castle I am told. A perfect place for a honeymoon as it is so remote, that you have no choice but the hotel and each other…where a lg. bottle of water is $5USD. Petra was my reason for a trip to Jordan, but the photgraphs that lured me there were far more exciting than the actual visit.

We travelled by a/c car from Petra to Wadi Rum, a desert project by the Jordanian government reportedly to motivate the ‘Boudian’ people of the desert to develop a more stationary life. Camping and rock climing tours are available for the more adventurous types led by these wandering desert experts. After rock climbing in Petra, I was a desert dusty spectator by this time, although the desert can be quite beautiful.

After a day in Wadi Rum, including tea in the desert in a Boudian tent, we drove to Aqaba where I rinsed away the desert dust at the Marina Plaza Aqaba with its spectacularly beautiful physical facility about 10 miles from the Israeli border… and they have a good chef there too. In Aqaba there are many restaurants, parks, beaches and a bit more to do. It is where many Jordanians go for holiday. While you can look over the bridge into Israel, I am told that one is tied up at the border for about three hours, a $40 visa fee at every crossing, which decreases interest in crossing over, however because Aquaba is so inexpensive compared to Eliat, Israel, many Israelis do their shopping in Aqaba as there are less hoops to jump through in crossing the border into Jordan.

Leaving Aqaba via Royal Air Jordanian, I made my third trip to Egypt to allow my friend her first experience of the Pyramids. We stayed at the lovely new 5 star Swiss Inn Pyramids Golf Resort, remotely located about 15 miles outside of a dusty, dirty, trash littered, traffic ingested, pollution infested Cairo, in an area where new hotels, pristine gated residential subdivisions, interior design centers, have overtaken the horizons. Cairo still boasts approximately a 43% poverty population, many living without running water, but there is a rapidly rising upper middle class.

I must note here that a 5 star physical facility without 5 star services is a questionable 5 star, in my opinion. Still, this is a lovely, quiet, peaceful place, certainly away from it all, and I’m sure the kinks will be worked out soon. In that there are periodic momentary brown outs, the thought occurs that the amount of developments has exceeded the area’s power capability. (I once visited Guyana where the residents jokingly called the power company the Guyana Power and Match Company).

Nevertheless, in the 3 years since I last visited Egypt, they have built dozens of gated upscale residential subdivisions, broken ground for huge upscale shopping, a multimillion dollar world class research library, Bibliotech Alexandria, the likes of which I have not seen here in America. Yet when you observe the massive inefficiency of government which reportedly affords employment for life, among other atrocities our nation claims to be against, I can’t help but question, why are American aid dollars being provided to this government?

Anyhow, I’m not a politician, I’m a world traveller, what do I know! Despite all of the unexpected, unwelcome obstacles of this trip, I made lemonade, and had a great time.

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