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Malta/Israel/Jordan

The Middle East portion of my voyage did not get off to the roaring start I was hoping for as I awaited my flight out of Edinburgh airport. In fact, it was so poor that I actually didn’t even end up starting in the Middle East on that first day away from my parents. Instead, I spent the first twenty-four hours in Malta! Completely unaware, I had made my way to the boarding gate without managing to receive my visa check, which is apparently required on all Ryan Air flights for non-EU members. I was denied at the gate and advised there was absolutely no way for me to make this flight because the visa check is prior to security. Feathers ruffled, I accepted my fate as quickly as possible, completed the visa check, and made my way to the customer service desk. Now, Ryan Air was willing to book me on their next available flight at no charge. However, that would not be getting me all the way to Tel Aviv. I would have to sleep in the airport, miss my connection via Malta, and then need to repurchase this portion on my own. Due to it being so last minute, I couldn’t afford anything flying out the following day. My only reasonable option was to wait.

Thankfully, I had not booked much in Israel ahead of time. I did some quick research on Malta and made some plans for what would be a scenic country detour. I arrived on the island and immediately bussed South to the Blue Grotto, a stunning gigantic arch covering the entrance to sea caves. Many people were taking boat tours into the caves, but I opted out as it didn’t seem that different than other experiences I had already had on my trip. Alternatively, I went swimming nearby in the beautiful blue waters, which felt amazing considering I definitely hadn’t adjusted to the heat of the Mediterranean yet. Unfortunately, by the time I made it back to the bus, I was already drenched in sweat again. There would be plenty more exploring that evening, so I figured I might as well just embrace it. I had booked a room in the peninsula town of Sliema, across the bay from the capital, Valleta. My goal was to walk along the cliffs and coast to Saint Julian’s, the peninsula town across the bay on the other side, seeing as much as possible before the sun went down.

My first order of business on this walking tour was to indulge on some gelato. Malta is directly South of Italy, so it only seemed right. As the sun began to set, the view of the old city of Valleta was very impressive, especially seeing boats pass by. Many locals were still hanging out on the rocky shores and/or swimming. Away from the shore, I passed many lively outdoor restaurants that appeared to have great food. I was tempted to keep going down the Italian route with some pasta, but my hostel receptionist recommended I try out a Maltese specialty. As I continued to follow along the bay, I could tell that Malta was a very popular summer destination for Europeans; hearing all sorts of different languages. Multiple fancy restaurants and bars hung over the water, which was home to a significant amount of quality sailboats and other water crafts. Most of the buildings carried a Middle Eastern tone, but Italian influences were very apparent. I finally made it to my final destination to try the recommended Pastizzi, a flaky pastry enclosed with different fillings. Not only were they delicious, but three for a dollar nearly filled me up!

There wasn’t much to it, but I could certainly be convinced to spend some more time in Malta with a few friends in the future. I’m glad I was given the opportunity to check it out, as it may have never happened otherwise. The next morning I was finally flying to Tel Aviv, ready to see what would be in store for me. During my trip, the positivity I had heard from fellow travelers toward Tel Aviv had been consistent, so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about! Truth is, there wasn’t a whole lot to see. This didn’t surprise me, but even so, I walked through the old town area in only a couple of hours. The beach in that part of the city looked nice, but I wasn’t really in the mood that day since I had just been to Malta. My mood had shifted to food, and I came across some tasty treats to try near the flea market. Unfortunately, I did not realize how pricey they were until it was too late. I found out pretty quickly that Israel is simply extremely expensive, especially for food and drink, regardless of supermarket or restaurant/bar.

Nevertheless, the main draw of Tel Aviv for most people I talked to is the nightlife. Therefore, I booked a party hostel, something I had avoided for the most majority of my trip. I picked up the best deal on a six pack of beer that I could possibly find, and partook in a fantastic happy hour on the hostel’s rooftop patio as the sun went down, getting ready for what I hoped to be a fun-filled night. I hadn’t been out since Colombia, so it felt great to be able to socialize again. This was also the most Americans I had hung out with at one time during my entire trip. I was typically the only one at most hostels. Throughout the night, more and more of the group split off, but I stayed until the bitter end at the second club we went to as they were playing good house music. I have to admit, for a Monday night, it was a blast! I’m sure glad our happy hour was so happy though because the one drink I purchased that night was fourteen dollars.

The hostel provided the healthiest breakfast I’ve ever seen that next morning. Carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and hummus with tea and honey. I’m not sure how they considered that to be breakfast, but it was probably the best thing for me at the time. I was immediately rejuvenated and ready to catch the bus over to Jerusalem. It was quite interesting seeing the difference between the walled city and the newer areas of the city. A convenient tram was available, but I decided to make my way by foot to really take in the sights. The large market in the new city was entertaining to walk through, but compared to once I reached the alleyways of the walled city, it no longer felt very special. It now felt as if I had stepped into a completely different world. If you weren’t careful, you get easily get lost in the seemingly endless covered sidewalks. I probably scurried through a little more rapidly than I would have preferred, but I was dying to float in the Dead Sea at sunset. I still made time to admire the Western Wall, check out all of the city’s religious quarters, and even walk around the backside where I didn’t see any other tourists. The only thing I’m still confused about is how to access the Dome of the Rock. I was denied entry twice due to not being Muslim, but could not for the life of me find another route!

In any case, I caught the final bus heading out to the Dead Sea for the night, looking forward to cooling down and relaxing. I had done my research, but I had also forgotten some bits and pieces of it. Of course, I decided to listen to my hostel receptionist. He apparently didn’t know that what the research would have said was that what he recommended was closed for reparations. After seeing a couple of other girls get off at an earlier beach, and then having to basically force the bus driver to stop for me at Ein Gedi, I soon discovered that I was in the middle of nowhere with nobody else around. To make matters worse, all of the signs between the road and the water either read “no entry” or “no swimming”. One of them said something about open pits, but besides this, I was unable to comprehend why exactly they were trying to deny access. Well, naturally, I decided not to head the warnings. I didn’t come all this way to just head back without jumping in the Dead Sea. Not to mention, there were no signs of life to enforce anything besides the occasional car passing by.

Who needs a sensory deprivation tank when you can be floating all alone on the Dead Sea by yourself at sunset. It was a magical experience and I couldn’t help but smile as the salt bobbed me up over the surface of the water. I had been to Mono Lake a couple of years ago where the salt water creates a similar effect, but not to this extent! I was having fun, relaxing, and simply floating and contemplating as the sun passed below the surrounding mountains. Honestly, getting out of the Dead Sea is not fun at all. I was slimy, sticky, and itchy. Everything I touched was reflected by this, and it was quite the uncomfortable bus ride back. I’m just glad I got a ride back at all! Even though the schedule stated there would be one, I started getting a tad bit worried as darkness enfolded over me and the vehicles passing by became fewer and fewer.

That had to have been one of the best showers of my life when I returned to the hostel that night. Unfortunately, the bed was the probably one of the most uncomfortable of the trip. You almost have to purposefully make something that terrible! Nonetheless, I still really wanted to wake up for sunrise over the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock. Although the view was great, I think the coolest part of the early wake up was seeing everyone praying down below. Couple this with walking through the empty alleys that were filled to the brim the previous afternoon and I felt as if I had seen a completely different side of Jerusalem. I couldn’t stick around for too long because I wanted to catch the first bus out to Eilat. This bus actually passed through the same route as going to the Dead Sea, but the destination is located on the borders of Jordan and Egypt, right on the Red Sea. I knew the area was known for its marine life, and I planned to go scuba diving with dolphins that afternoon, but as we approached the city, I was shocked how much it reminded me of Vegas! The surrounding desert and mountains, the massive hotels, casinos, and malls; the only difference being the sea next door.

Eilat definitely seemed like a fun vacation destination, especially with the ability to cool off at the beach, but I was specifically pumped to swim with dolphins. This wouldn’t be the classic experience offered in Mexico, something I opted out of earlier in the trip. Rather, I would be diving in an area where they frequently played. In the end, there wasn’t as much interaction as I dreamed there would be, but one dolphin did zip right past, nearly touching me. On the other hand, I was thoroughly impressed by the diversity of marine life within the coral reef, as well as how colorful it was. The water clarity was superb and there were a number of species of fish, sea anemone, and other crawlers and swimmers that I had never come across before. I sure hope I get another opportunity to explore more of the Red Sea in the future, but this was a great first taste!

I was annoyed that there was no public transportation to cross the border into Jordan, but it wasn’t something out of the ordinary. After my dive, I took a short taxi ride to the Israeli side, seamlessly crossed the border in a matter of minutes, had my visa for Jordan waived, and took another taxi into the city of Aqaba. I was looking for somewhere to eat, anywhere, without realizing it was Ramadan, when this random guy flags me down seeing if I need help. Typically, I hesitate in these situations, especially in unfamiliar territory, but I was starving and everyone else I was approaching couldn’t speak a lick of English. He tells me that his brother owns a hotel nearby and their friend has a great restaurant. I received a five dollar meal to feed a king with bbq chicken and lamb kebabs that really hit the spot! After dinner, the guy, Alaa, who actually turned out to be a couple of years younger than me, took me to the hotel rooftop for tea at sunset. I don’t think he comes across many Americans and he really enjoyed practicing his English, so it was a nice time simply hanging out. I was in no rush at all, and the sunset over the Red Sea with a huge mosque standing right in front of us was spectacular. I finally walked over to my hostel and began my logistical scheming for the next couple of days.

Everything I had read online seemed to go out the window as soon as I started speaking to the owner of the hostel. I spent the next few hours back and forth weighing my options. I had laid my head on the pillow with a final displeased decision in mind, when all of a sudden I heard a knock on the door. This guy from Australia, Lucas, was just checking in to the hostel at 1AM and looking for someone to share a 4AM taxi on the two-hour drive to Petra. I was ecstatic! It was going to be rough on almost no sleep, but not only would I now get to see Petra when it opened, the rest of my plans would easily fall into place as well! Lucas and I were very surprised by the lack of tourists at Petra that day. We thoroughly enjoyed roaming around in the cooler morning weather with few other humans, but it didn’t even pick up that much as lunch time approached. We covered a ton of ground during those seven hours leaving Petra quite pleased with ourselves.

Lucas had to arrange for the taxi to immediately take him back in order to catch a flight, whereas I would be resting up as much as I could at the hostel. I ended up sharing a rotisserie chicken dinner with a guy from China and another from India as the sounds of Ramadan reverberated through the town, signifying the fast could be broken for that day. I just so happened to pick my time in the Middle East during Ramadan, which turned out to be a lucky call. Not only did it mean there were significantly less tourists just about everywhere, but I felt that I really got to experience the culture more than I would have at any other time of the year. After dinner, I tried my best to get to bed at a reasonable time. I would once again have to wake up early, this time for a tour of Wadi Rum. This was the desert, but as we entered the area, I could tell pretty quickly that it was much more Martian-like than any other desert I had previously visited. Myself and an older couple from Italy would be driven around to various points of interest in a covered pickup truck for the day by a seventeen-year old.

Besides a close encounter getting stuck in the sand, everything turned out great. After an initial thirty-minute camel ride, we hiked sand dunes, investigated slot canyons, and climbed rock bridges; finishing up with a splendid sunset over the valley. By the end, I was surprised i wasn’t hungrier. That was until I recalled that at every point of interest, the bedouin men provided two cups of tea. I’ve never had so much tea in my life, and it was once again included with the traditional chicken stew dinner that night. I could have easily passed out then and there, but I would have been kicking myself for missing the starry sky. I climbed up on top of one of the massive rocks looking over our campsite and setup shop. Unfortunately, the Milky Way was not visible that night, but I laid there for about twenty minutes in the most silent silence I think I’ve ever experienced. It felt as if nobody was around for miles, even though there were other camps fairly close to ours. The temperature outside was perfect as I finally retreated to my hut to catch some sleep. It had been another fantastic day in Jordan; completely different than the last.

The following day would strictly revolve around travel. First of all, I split a taxi back to Aqaba with the Italians. This was followed up by a bus ride to Amman, four hours North. Next, I walked about forty-five minutes to a different bus station to link up with the airport express bus. In total, it had been nine hours from Wadi Rum to the Amman airport. Thankfully, it was one of the nicer airports I’ve come across for both comfort and connectivity. This was much appreciated since my flight wasn’t until 5AM. I didn’t mind waiting because I hadn’t planned out my itinerary for Egypt at all, and I would be arriving there in less than ten hours! The good news was that Lucas and I had decided to meet up again in Cairo. He had arrived the day before and gotten the low down from all of the tour operators. Per usual, I’m not a fan of tours. However, the way this one weaved its way into my timeline was perfect, at first glance the price appeared to be very reasonable, and I just knew Lucas and I would have a fun time together based on our day in Petra. Everything was all of a sudden taken care of for me for the first time during my trip! I boarded my flight looking forward to what the next five days in Egypt had up their sleeve.

Posted by Krackajak 11:48 Archived in Israel

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