The Pearl of the Red Sea
by Miquel Pontes
n the beginning of November, 1994, a
group of three friends -SCUBA divers of the club ACUSUB (of Barcelona, Spain)- made a trip
to the city of Aqaba, in the South of Jordan, where we submerged ourselves in the warm and
crystalline waters of the Red Sea.
To accomplish the trip we contacted the Dive Club Nautique, in Almuñecar (Grenada,
Spain), since they were organizing the trip in the dates that were of our interest and
with very interesting prices.
We traveled in the flight of the Royal Jordanian, that leaves from Madrid twice a week
toward Amman, the capital of Jordan. It takes about six hours to complete the trip: a hour
and half to Geneva and about five to Amman. Once in Amman, we had to catch another plane
to Aqaba, a 45 minutes' flight.
To enter Jordan it is only necessary the
passport in force, without visas of Israel. The visa of entry is procured in the same
airport upon landing, even though the groups of more than 5 persons can obtain a group
visa prior to the trip.
The temperature in the coast, in November, it is ideal, since during the day does not
surpass 25 or 26 degrees Celsius, and during the night is never below 18 degrees Celsius.
The climate is generally clear, because the desert is not far away. In summer the
temperature is not so peaceable.
The temperature of the water varies according to the zone, but it is never below 22
degrees, with a maximum of about 28 degrees -according to our computers-, and this is so,
in spite of the fact that we were in November. Which is the water temperature in our
Mediterranean coast in these dates ?
In this trip we stayed in the Aquamarina I
Hotel, located in the very same beach of Aqaba. This is a three stars hotel, with a
correct service, even though we believe Arabs are never in a hurry. The hotel has a bar
with pool and a show - restaurant in which, at night, there are live performances. There
we tried typical Jordan dishes, generally prepared with lamb and chicken. Furthermore, the
desserts were excellent.
The hotel has its own diving center, that it is qualified as of the better of the zone,
with four diving ships, and instructors from PADI and BSAC certification agencies. There
is a rental service of diving gear, though we didn't use it since we were carrying our own
material. Our CMAS certifications did not suppose any problem, but in the first dives,
instructors kept an eye on us from above until being convinced we really knew what we
We dived mainly in the coral reefs located to few distance of the coast, generally to less
than 100 meters, and even we entered and exited the sea from the same beach.
The depths that we reached were not large since, though we could dive down to where we
wished, the life is located in the first 30 meters of depth. In the nocturnal dives they
limited us to 15 meters, to decrease the risk of getting lost in the dark.
The duration of the dives depends on the air consumption, but as the depth to which we
were diving was scarce, we almost always stayed underwater for more than 45 minutes.
The first day.
The "Cedar Pride"
The first dive day we started at 9 in the morning,
trying how many weights we would need in our belt, because due to the salinity and
temperature of the water, none of us worn the full diving suit, and this alters our
buoyancy. Our wetsuits were too thick to those warm waters.
The air tanks they gave us, - included in the price of the dive - were of aluminium with a
capacity of 12 liters. They weighted much less than our steel 18 liter tanks, and this
must be accounted when buoyancy trials are made. We had arranged two tanks per person,
what allows us to dive two successive dives before returning to the hotel at noon.
Immediately we took contact with the luxuriant tropical fauna. Having in mind Aqaba is in
the North of the Red Sea, we didn't see large fish at all during the trip, but we did see
lots of life, in the form of coral, algae, anemones and a huge variety of small fish,
clown fish, globe fish, scorpion fish, angel fish and surgeon fish, etc.
We could observe some "napoleon wrasse", a fish characteristic of the Red Sea,
but smaller than the ones observed more to the South. We shot plenty of pictures.
We visited a wreck, the "Cedar
Pride", a Lebanese transport ship of about 100 meters long and about 15 meters wide,
which burned in the port of Aqaba, and authorities decided to sink it down for enjoyment
of the SCUBA divers. The ship is tumbled on one of its sides on a coral populated sandy
bottom at about 27 to 30 meters deep.
Its other side is climbs up to 15 meters of surface, so just entering the water, we can
admire the magnificent spectacle. The interior of the wreck is quite clean, so it is a
delight to enter its cargo bays and leave by the windows of the cabin. The only one
"deception" was that, as the ship was sunk little time ago, there is not yet too
many resident fauna. This "deception" is quickly forgotten by the presence of
the great propeller and the bridge, which is little damaged.
Of the trade and the gastronomy
After a diving day, there's nothing better than a
good Arabic food, lamb with rice, cucumber salad, tomato, fresh cheese, chicken, etc.
After the food, -in which alcohol is not allowed, since we were in an Arabic country - the
smokers can opt for the "argill", which is nothing else than a water pipe,
accompanied with tea or, if it is a tourist restaurant, some alcohol drink. In the
afternoon we opted on making tourism or shopping by the city. In the main street, the
lion's share of the bazaars and shops is located.
Jordan people are, as a rule, congenial and affable people, and in several trades, before
entering the negotiation for the purchase of an object, you are invited to a cup of tea
(with mint or cinnamon flavor), while the seller makes us an small examination: "...
where are you from...","... how many days will you stay here..." and things
There is no problem to be understood with the sellers in English, and the most of them
speak some Italian. After the "presentations" begins the endless bargaining,
even by the most banal things, even though it does not reach the levels of other Arabic
The national currency is the Dinar (equivalent to some US$2) and is divided into 1000
fils. Anywhere you can pay in US dollars, (at an exchange rate of a dollar and half for a
dinar). If you are qualified enough, you can play with exchange rate to perfect yet more
The second day.
the second dive day we could see, between other notable reef inhabitants, a gigantic
seafan, a close relative of the coral, but this one measured no less than 3 meters of
diameter, and was located 15 meters deep, it was really spectacular. All the bottom around
this place, obviously called "Gorgonia I" , was covered of soft and hard coral,
with great abundance of color fish.
Between them, spectacular "lion fish",also known as "turkey fish" or
"scorpion fish" , was very abundant, but we had to be careful, it's very
poisonous. Remarkable was the globe fish or "puffer" which, if is annoyed
enough, begins inflate because of swollen water, resembling a globe (the reason of its
name), though bristled of prongs. One must be careful with the mouth, has teeth capable of
mashing shells and coral, so think what would it make with our finger.
The third day.
The following day, the dive master, carried us to
a very spectacular place called "Aquarium", notable by the quantity of large
fish that live there, though we did not saw so many as we wished.
Hardly three of us had jumped into the water, when the end of the mooring buoy where the
boat was attached to got loose, letting the waves push the boat, inexorably, toward the
reef. The ship crashed onto the corals, damaging the bow. The two propellers broke up as
well so the boat could not relieve from the reef. Nearly all the companions jumped off the
ship to help us, which were already in the water, to attempt to pull the ropes from the
ends, but all our efforts were useless, the ship every time was more jammed. Furthermore,
those which were not wearing the fins suffered the sea urchins prongs.
After a radio S.O.S. a Saudi Arabia border
patrol boat attended, then they tied a rope to our damaged boat which permitted to refloat
it and tow it to port. We remained in the beach, however, and we could accomplish one of
the two scheduled dives. We could see trumpet fish, lion fish, very large puffers and
several small, wonderful mooray eels.
We returned to the hotel in some lorries sent there to pick up us, those lorries were used
to carry people and diving gear when people dived from the beach.
the afternoon, after taking a rapid lunch, we took a bus for an excursion to the Jordan
desert, the Wadi Rum, where we arrived after about 50 km on bus by a "highway"
and 20 Km on Jeep by the desert. We saw a unique sunset over the mountains which surround
the desert. Wonderful.
After the sunset, by the hand of one of the Arab guides, we went to see a "siq",
natural water deposits, located in the rocks, that they are one of the most important
water resources for the Bedouins of the desert. We saw ancient registrations carved in the
The fourth day.
Pharoah Island (Sinai).
the next day we boarded the boat earlier in the morning to visit, under and over the
water, the citadel of Saladino, located in the coast of the Sinai peninsula (Egypt). As we
must cross the Egyptian border, before departure we submitted ourselves to a customs
control, when a Jordanian customs officer registered our diving equipment. On returning we
had to pass the same formalities.
This day the dive had a visibility of only 6 meters, extraordinarily low for the Red Sea,
plancton was the problem. The temperature of the water, about 24 degrees, encouraged us to
dive anyway. Here, in Pharoah Island, below a little fortress, we saw the largest fishes
of the trip, standing out several "napoleon" wrasses. We also had the occasion
of observing large quantities of "fire coral", as famous as poisoning, in spite
of its harmless aspect, touching it can bring us painful consequences for weeks.
Upon returning, and despite we found a thoroughly cloudless sky, the sea was rough, very
rough. This was because of the wind, which originated waves that, at times, passed over
the not-so-tiny boat. They were some crude moments for us all, since the boat was not
prepared to face such rough seas, and we didn't know if it was going worse. There was who
put on the inflated B.C. just in case.
At night we made a night dive, more
interesting than the other by the simple fact of the fact that in Spain are illegal. In
fact, a Jordanian soldier must accompany us when departing at night, for representing us
if we were stopped by the border patrol boats of this conflictive region, remember Israel,
Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia must share the tiny Gulf of Aqaba.
In fact, this night we delayed too much in stopping once a stop sign was given us by a
patrol boat. We could check this fact later, when ships separated after answering the
correct password, since we could observe how they covered again the onboard machine guns.
This night we submerged ourselves in the Power Station, a beautiful place despite being
located within the very same port of Aqaba. The spectacle of lights under the water was
incredible, I recommend you to try sometime. Under the ship, to facilitate our return,
divemasters hung a submersible flash lamp.
The animals tend to show at night to eat, especially the coral, with its showy colors, is
incredible. Also we had the opportunity of observing fish normally shy, completely asleep,
while others can be seen much more active, as the lion fish or the puffers, that fed at
night mainly, since they are hidden in the stones by the day.
Second night dive: Aquarium
This is one of the obligated visits
if you ever go to Jordan, or even to Middle East. You will have the opportunity of
visiting the ruins of what one day was the Nabatean capital, an ancient Bedouin tribe that
established a commercial empire. This empire, contemporary of the Roman, was controlling
25% of the trade of Rome, since it was located in a strategic point, at the end of the
route of East caravans (have you ever heard something about the Silk Road ?) which
departed to Persia, Egypt and of course, Greece and Rome.
Its geographical situation permitted that the capital, Petra, protected by the mountains
in which had been dug, resisted several invasions, until fell finally to the Romans in 350
A.C. approximately, being liberated of a powerful opponent.
The city is located to some 160 Km to the
North of Aqaba. We arrived there in a bus tour which spent over two hours. We entered the
ancient city ridding a horse, since the access is made through a "siq" (a cannon
dug in the stone) that it is too narrow for cars to pass. At the end of this
"siq" appears in front of us, almost unexpectedly, stately, the temple that
there is known as "Khazneh", "The treasury".
You must agree with the guide (usually a local child) in the form of payment before he
leaves you there, you must say "I'll pay you when you come back" or you may walk
the return way. They hope to get a tip of at least 5 dollars, and they are expressive
enough if they do not get it. Have in mind this is a poor zone of the country.
We arrive to a great plain where the temple is found. This is one of the most famous
pictures of the Middle East, the "Khazneh". For its good conservation state, it
doesn't seem to be 2.000 years old. It was the tomb of an ancient king, but it was
converted lately it in a temple. The drawings of the walls seemed to be painted, but it is
a completely natural phenomena provoked by the sandstone in which is carved all the city,
very nice. There are color compositions of all ranges of brown, red, yellow, even blue on
some zones of the city.
We saw also a Roman design theatre that, as all the city, is carved in the stone,
something maltreated by effect of an earthquake. Furthermore we had the opportunity of
visiting other temples located in the center of Petra. One must take into account that
half of the city is buried by effect of the floods that filled with mud and stones the
lower part. The exposed to the East are almost intact, while the ones facing other
directions suffered from erosion.
Throughout all the road we see small improvised "shops", in which the local
people sells bottles they fill with superposed layers of multicolored sand, one of the
more common "souvenirs". Have such a success with those bottles in which the
sand is prepared so that is read the name of the buyer. It also abound those which sell
stones from the place. In fact it is a joke motive that the jordans are the ones that sell
sand to the tourists at a good price.
At night we did the second night dive and the last of the trip for us, though there was
who extended his stay four days more. We dived in Aquarium again, where our ship run
aground two days ago. This time, as we must catch the flight next day in the morning, we
limited the dive to 12 meters and 40 minutes.
The trip was plagued by small anecdotes, those already explained are of the most
outstanding, and only by them the trip was no longer a simple diving trip but it became
something else, which joined us all a bit more, and allows us to see our life from another
point of view.