Woke to a lovely sunny day. The view of the sea from my hotel room, and Aquaba beyond it, was beautiful. A fun, chilled, seaside atmosphere hung in the air. I strolled down the Corniche and to the public beach, where locals were playing or relaxing, depending on age. Went to Wadi Rum Desert Safari tours, on the recommendation of a lone travelling German girl who had booked through them to go to Wadi Rum and camp. I booked the same tour for the next day, for a whopping 85JD. Did very little else. Ate lunch in a pizza place and had my customary wander for a few hours. Aquaba is an attractive city, surrounded by hills. People from all over the place come here, to find work or to find fun (judging by the number of Chinese massage parlours). Lots of Chinese, some Bangladeshi (mainly waiters), plenty of moneyed Russians, Palestinians, Iraqis…from all walks of life. On the surface, they blend in well.
I wandered to the old castle by the huge flag that wasn’t flying today for some reason. This was a pleasant area. I was absolutely exhausted, a perma-jet-lag feeling I attribute to my recent irregular sleeping patterns. Slept as the sun set, and in the evening I went out to find some bars. I also found the Aquaba Speed Test Trials (or at least the place where it was going to take place in the morning), where racers in souped-up ‘drifter’ cars would battle it out the next day on a street circuit that was now being cordoned off by police, with loads of locals helping out stacking tires used as the route. An air of masculinity and a taste of testosterone was in the air, more than usual. Men everywhere, tuning up engines, accelerating aggressively, remonstrating with each other. I sucked back a sheesha pipe as I watched the parade of cars, men with slicked-back hair and designer stubble, women out of the picture.
Had dinner at La Formasa Chinese restaurant, staffed (as most restaurants and bars in Aquaba are) by Filipinos. Had sweet and sour prawns, washed down with 2 pints of Amstel. I was in The Gateway, so I went to a couple of bars around. In one, the most ‘happening’ bar in Aquaba, a legion of drunk of squaddies on a 10-week training exercise in Jordan were creating the party. “Where ya from?” asked one. When I replied, he said: “I’m from the Valleys.” It took me a few moments to realize he meant Wales. I felt out of touch with my British contemporaries.
I enjoyed myself chatting with these lads – the salt of the earth, thoroughly British, doing what all British squaddies do on r+r. I also felt sorry for them, stationed out here, dancing with each other, not a woman in sight. But they were making the best of it, as the British do. I got chatting to another lad, who had just handed his notice in. He’d had enough of the army. He’d been to Germany, Nigeria, Middle East. He was 22 and wanted to be a civvy. He’d done his time, served his country, good lad.
I left them to it and went to East 36° Bar, where a more elegant crowd were gathered, although one older man was elegantly wasted, taking his shirt off and really cutting loose. Again, 90% of people were men. Everyone at the bar looked like a brooding male model. Good-looking people, Jordanians. 2 beautiful Jordanian women were dancing too, watched carefully by their male chaperone. Nobody was going to approach them tonight. Was time to leave, as I had a date with the bedouin the next day.