This weekend, a group of CIEE students took a bus to the southernmost tip of Jordan for a weekend in the port city of Aqaba. We arrived Thursday night to what looked like a lively part of the city, and we were excited to explore it, but it was late, so we decided to check into the hotel and save our exploring for the rest of the weekend. Friday, we woke up early and walked to a nearby dive center, through which we had scheduled a boat and a team of scuba diving instructors for the day. After signing slightly anxiety-provoking waivers, a group of about 25 students and 5 crew members boarded a private boat and headed out of the marina and into the Red Sea. Both the northernmost tip of Egypt and the Israeli port city of Eilat were visible from our position in the Gulf of Aqaba. It was interesting to see the Israeli flag (hung from a building in Eilat) and a flag of the Arabian Revolution (hung from a massive flagpole in Aqaba) standing at attention on opposite shores of the Sea. We visited two wrecks: the first, a Jordanian tank sunk in 1999 by the Jordanian Royal Ecological Diving Society; the second, a Lebanese freighter sunk in 1986 by King Hussein at the request of his son Prince Abdullah (the current king). It’s pretty eerie to see something that’s supposed to exist above the water at the bottom of the ocean, covered with years of plant life but totally abandoned. As it was my first time scuba diving, I was amazed by everything: the countless varieties of beautiful, colorful, iridescent and glowing fish, the various types of coral and underwater plants, the huge air bubbles that float to the surface like giant jellyfish, not to mention being able to breath underwater. Aqaba is extremely hot and has apparently the highest salt content of anywhere in the Red Sea, but underwater everything is cooler and bluer, and all you can hear is the sound of your own slow breathing.
The rest of the Aqaba trip lies somewhere between “surreal” and “not worth mentioning”. We had decided to stay another night, but, contrary to what we perceived Thursday night, the city was basically a ghost town. We ate in an empty restaurant before venturing off in search of a social venue, but we found only one bar, and once we entered, we were the only people there. The next morning, we walked by more than a dozen abandoned restaurants before settling of KFC (the only place in business, apparently). It was as if the entire city picked up and left at the same time and didn’t tell anyone. I don’t regret the experience because scuba diving was amazing, but I will probably not return.