09.03.2010 - 18.03.2010 30 °C
So I departed from Cairo on an overnight bus trip to Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula, my body still riddled with dozens of itchy mosquito bites and my eyes heavy after having lost so much sleep battling the ravenous blood-suckers. I was so tired and the bus was relatively comfortable so I could have easily slept for the entire journey if it weren't for the unfortunate interruptions at all the police check-points to have our passports and ids checked.
My sleepless night was soon forgotten, however, as daylight broke while still on the bus and I finally got a proper glimpse of the amazing Red Sea coastline. To our left I could see the bare and rugged brown mountains rising from the desert, to our right the shimmering blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba. It was pretty much how I had imagined it to be, except for the power lines, a few half completed concrete buildings and a sprinkling of wind-worn plastic bags clinging to small shrubs by the side of the road.
Much like the other final destinations from each country that I've visited, Dahab and Nuweiba became like rest stops. Once again my enthusiasm about the country I was in had begun to fade a little, but only because a new country was just around the corner and I was eager to get there. Dahab was exactly what I thought it would be like, very touristy, but still relaxed enough and not full of the large resorts which usually ruin seaside towns.
I stayed in a mid-range hotel called "Red Sea Relax Resort", which sounds flash, but it wasn't, or at least my room wasn't. The hotel was very nice and in addition to the regular and expensive private rooms, there were also a few dorm rooms which catered for the backpacker crowd. The best thing was that even though I stayed in a six-bed dorm, I got to take advantage of the rest of the hotel's facilities, like the pool, restaurant, free buffet breakfast, free internet and a small "private" beach. The food and service at the restaurant was mostly terrible, but the rest of the hotel wasn't bad at all.
The pool at the hotel in Dahab - even though the sea was quite warm, the pool was pretty cold
The "private beach" in front of my hotel in Dahab
Dahab doesn't really have what I would call a beach, there's only a little bit of sand near the shore and most of it consists of pebbles and sharp coral. In most places the depth of the water would have easily reached at least six to ten meters within only a few meters away from the shore. But it's the depth and coral that makes Dahab famous around the world because it's all about diving and snorkeling there rather than swimming, though I did do plenty of the latter.
The view from the balcony of restaurant at the hotel
I don't dive, and although you can do diving courses there, it's really expensive and I was perfectly happy to rent some snorkeling gear for a mere 10 EGP which let me see as much underwater sealife as I could have hoped for. It was immediately obvious why it is such a popular diving area, the reefs are amazing and there was an abundance of colourful coral, fish and other sealife all along the coastline. Close to shore you'd be swimming along over a flat bed of sun bleached coral which was only about a meter deep, then all of a sudden a deep cavernous hole would appear below you. The crystal-clear water gave you the feeling like if you were floating on air after diving off a steep cliff. It probably wasn't wise to have let out such a big "Wow" with my lips wrapped around a snorkle as it led to a mouthful of sea water - lesson learned!
The rest of my time in Dahab I spent swimming, relaxing on beach loungers and hanging out, eating, drinking and smoking sheesha with some cool people that I'd met at the hotel.
Fortunately the main stretch along the waterftont was a pedestrian only street so it was the first town in Egypt I'd been to where my ears weren't bombarded by noise of car horns every two seconds.
Small bridge on the main stretch in Dahab along the waterfront
On clear days you could see Saudi Arabia on the other side of the Gulf, and even though it remained mostly sunny the whole time I was there, a few days after I arrived, a faint haze appeared in the horizon and in the evenings the sea and the sky became of the same colour and both merged into one.
Having a couple of beers on the balcony of the hotel's restaurant - In the background the view of the sky merging with the sea, sitting on the left is Øyvind (or it could have been his twin Einar) from Norway who were also staying at the dorms of the hotel
I could have stayed in Dahab for a few days longer, but the dorms were all booked out and the wind made the sea choppy and not so nice for swimming or snorkeling, so I decided to move on to Nuweiba which is where I'd be catching a ferry to Jordan.
I could have gone straight to the ferry terminal after arriving in Nuweiba, but I wasn't quite ready to leave Egypt yet so instead I had decided to stay there a couple of nights thinking it would be like Dahab, but less touristy and more relaxed - I was partly right. This is how Lonely Planet describes Nuweiba: "Most of the year Nuweiba has the catatonic feel of a post-apocalyptic beach resort" - I couldn't have put it better myself. The hotel I stayed at made me feel like I was in the movie "The Shining", but set at the beach. It was totally isolated, located several kilometers away from both the port and Nuweiba City. There were at least 40 rooms at the hotel and I was the only one staying there apart from a trio of older French women. It was really peaceful but in a spooky kind of way, I half expected a kid to turn up at my door wiggling his index finger while saying, "Redrum. Redrum", in a croaky voice... if you've seen the movie you'd know what I'm talking about.
The view from my hotel room in Nuweiba
The view of the hotel in Nuweiba from the beach, it was eerily quiet
It was very strange to be eating in the large restaurant all by myself - it felt like I'd been given my own personal catering staff
The hotel in Nuweiba at night, the empty restaurant and lobby are in the background
I decided to take the long walk to Nuweiba City so I could stock up on some supplies, but even at the center of the city it still felt like a ghost town. The beach in front of the hotel and all the way to Nuweiba City wasn't any more livelier either. It was lined from end to end with deserted and disheveled beach huts which were slowly being swallowed up by sand dunes. It's a good place to visit if you want to know what Earth will be like when "all the humans are gone".
The deserted beach huts along the beaches of Nuweiba
Some half collapsed and sand filled beach huts in Nuweiba
Even with all the isolation, I did make a friend in Nuweiba beach. We met as I was lying on a sun lounger on the beach with my eyes closed and I suddenly felt what I thought was someone licking my hand...
The friend I made in Nuweiba, he and I hung out at the beach most of the day - he loved to stand in the shallows and chase fish
On my last evening in Egypt, I settled in my hotel room to watch "Lawrence of Arabia" so I'd have some extra inspiration for my upcoming journey through Jordan.
I finally made my way out to the International Ferry terminal to catch the fast ferry headed for Aqaba. Surprisingly, only a small minority of the people who took the ferry were tourists and this was reflected by the seemingly ad-hoc process required to board it.
Boarding the ferry from Nuweiba headed for Aqaba, Jordan
So, I'd survived yet another country and as per usual here are my last thoughts on Egypt...
What did I dislike about Egypt?
- I'd be lying if I said travelling through the country wasn't full of hassles, but they were a breeze to deal with compared to what I experienced in India.
- Even though there were some hotels and restaurants where the staff were really polite and professional, unfortunately in most cases the service was quite terrible. Some of it is probably due to the constant churning of rude tourists (and locals) that go through the country which have left the service industry jaded and worn out. Another likely reason is that staff aren't paid very well and this is hardly conducive for friendly and enthusiastic service. The worst examples of bad service were once again taxi drivers and at train (and some tourist site) ticket booths. It's almost as if one of the job requirements to sell tickets is to be as lazy and unhelpful as possible. Also, the vast majority of hotel staff were young men and in Egypt most men's attitudes towards women is still a little backwards. This meant they constantly and unashamedly tried to chat up the female guests by asking them personal questions or using sleazy chat-up lines.
- I've said it before and I'll say it again, not being able to take photos at some sights or museums was very annoying and being told I couldn't take photos only made me want to do it even more.
- And last but not least, another thing that annoyed me (once again) was the chronic queue jumpers - I decided what they need in Egypt (and also in China and India) is men patrolling queues with cattle-prods or stun guns to keep these sneaky rats in-check.
What did I like about Egypt?
- Well obviously all of the sights were absolutely amazing and I was rarely disappointed. Abu Simbel, Aswan and Luxor were great and I'm definitely glad I returned to Cairo, if only to pay a visit to the Royal Mummy rooms at the museum. There were also so many other incredible places that I didn't even get to visit but at least I felt like I had visited the best of them. I just wish it was easier to do it more independently without restrictions on where I could go or having to rely on tourist buses, personal drivers or police escorted convoys.
- Even though above I complained about some of the local population, I did also meet many warm and friendly Egyptians during my travels. In fact some of my most interesting conversations were with people who at first were trying to sell me something.
- The food wasn't my most favourite in the world, but I did develop a taste for Koshary, which although simple, it was quite yummy, cheap and sold everywhere.
- I also liked how lively Egypt is at night. In most places I visited, I could walk out of my hotel late at night and there would still be plenty of people out and about shopping, eating, drinking tea and smoking sheesha.
Some of my admission tickets to sights in Egypt, I spent about 1000 EGP on tickets which is about NZ$250 which is not too bad considering how many places I visited
Alas, Jordan awaits and I'm definitely looking forward to it, so for now I'll say ma-as salama!