>Israel has a free visa system for tourists which is lovely and welcome after the minor stress of entering the country. Crack stories abound about the problems of entering the country but it proved fairly simple. The odd question and in you go. Of course, the passive entrance hides the kick-in-the-nuts tax you pay as you leave. Considering I will have entered and left three times on this trip, I am not amused at paying $26 each time.

Jordan was the first Muslim country since Morocco but prides itself on its enlightened and modest attitude to Western values. They charge no entry fee and seemed to forget the expected $8 exit tax when we left. Alas that goodwill didn’t stretch to the border taxi drivers who proceeded to try and rip us off. Nothing too serious but the usual insidious double-take that implant mistrust in travels here. The taxi somewhat succeeded and everyone goes about their business as normal. 😦

Petra is still a highlight. I felt we did more this time and climbed every peak we could see. The pricing policy which involves the compulsory payment for a donkey ride and a guide is as ludicrous as it is cowardly adding £12 to the ticket. But it is indeed still worth it still. The elaborate and extensive rock palettes, monumental carved buildings and numerous graves hewn into the rocks sitting amongst such ochre, ragged but magnificent valleys, reminding you of Death Valley, the Grand Canyon or the Blue Mountains is never begrudgeable.

Egypt offers simpler but more consistent challenges. Everything seems under-developed and at half mast. Hotel palace complexes still sit abandoned 7 years after I saw them. Their gaudy, multi-coloured faces are the mere facades to their delusions of desert dreams. The bus trundled up minor slopes at the pace of a donkey and my restlessness found little solace in sleep. Each time I woke up, the bare, coarse cliffs remained dimming in the light. Twenty hours journey across Africa had seemed shorter.

Something else was bothering me. The endless passport checks, random ticket stops and paying for the entry tax while on the bus and 1 kilometre down the road irritated me. Egyptians are lovely people, even if they are wily in their negotiations. The poverty is real and widespread here but without the corrosive nature of the West. Its depth is managed by authoritarianism and religion. But the frustration builds.

I forgive most of the sleight of pricing tricks in Egypt. They are not asking for much and at such little cost, I can’t be so selfish.


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