National Geographic : 1964 Dec
men are off, riding down the wadis to bring help or justice. Normally one can ride by camel or Land Rover down the wide avenue of Ramm, through the sands of Wadi al Yitm to Aqaba. But torrential rains last spring washed great boulders into the wadi, and so we retraced our route to Al Quwayrah and the Desert Road. The Gulf of Aqaba is a drowned portion of the Great Rift Valley. Jordan's segment of the rift runs from the Sea of Galilee, 686 feet be low sea level, to the Dead Sea at 1,296 feet below; it continues down Wadi al 'Arabah, a wide, torrid sand flat that runs to the square head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Except for the brief flurry of wartime ac tivity in 1917 and 1918, Aqaba remained until recently a sleepy fishing village. In Solomon's time, the port of Ezion-geber was near here, but in the intervening centuries sea traffic has passed it by. Now Jordan has built a modern port, and a model town, laid out by city plan ners, is rapidly coming into being, although a large part of it still consists only of empty smooth-surfaced new streets and promenades. There is an excellent new hotel, with sepa rate cottages on a superlative beach. The waters offshore are a fisherman's dream, with a score of species ravenous for the hook. Underwater Glory at Aqaba There are abundant coral reefs close to Aqaba, and having dived on them several times, I can say unequivocally that Aqaba possesses the finest underwater scenery I have ever seen anywhere in the world within reach of cold drinks and air conditioning. Twice King Hussein and I went diving there (preceding page). The best reefs are not far away, on the eastern shore of the gulf. Coral begins almost at the water's edge, run ning in long fingers of yellow-brown out to deep water. The diver may choose depths from six to nearly 150 feet. I dived with His Majesty in 60 feet of water. Our boatman, a grizzled old fisherman, had pointed downward, saying, "Here, big rock." An enormous coral head, 30 feet high and 20 feet across, rose from the sea bed to within 30 feet of the surface. All about it in the lam bent blue light, coral spread in horizontal fans of white fretwork, and lilac, pink, mauve, and yellow fingers and domes of stone. Through the branches and gnarled trunks of this frozen forest swam butter-yellow goat fish; orange and green parrotfish, chewing the coral and ejecting puffs of pulverized lime; and bristling red-and-white-striped lionfish, 810 Teeming reef life blazes with color in the with poisonous spines like feathers-called by the Arabs jaaj il-bahr, chicken of the sea. We swam down the slope and looked into the darkness of deep water. Great pelagic fish cruised there like submarines. On a rocky promontory hanging over the deep, a feathery black "shrub" waved its plumes in the cur rent. Groping for my plastic slate I printed for His Majesty to see: BLACK CORAL USED FOR PRAYER BEADS.