There are several ways to get from Luxor to Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula, and there are also several prices, depending on whether you fly, take part of the ride on a ferry, or simply take a bus. The latter was the cheapest, as well as the longest option. Needless to say, it was the option we took! When one travels for a year, cost is always a factor and consideration. Besides, we would be undertaking the 15 or 16 or 17 or…….hour trip with our new friends, Steph and Seb. Bus travel times are always only an estimate in Egypt, as it depends on how many times the bus stops, and for how long. This does not include the several police checkpoints, which constitute the bus coming to a screeching halt, lights on and passports checked, apparently some of which can take place under the influence of “tiredness”. Alex tells me that he showed my passport to a policeman on one of the stops, whilst I slept through, oblivious! What is the saying? Ignorance is bliss!
We went snorkelling a couple of times and were flabbergasted. Absolutely stunning! The beaches of Dahab are not sandy, but rather pebbly. You only have to walk or swim out 20 metres or so, to find that the pebbles become coral and then that coral wall dramatically drops away, and invites you to see not only spectacular marine life but an array of colourful water formations as well. It was certainly excellent competition for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef! On another day, we visited a site called the Blue Hole , where we also did some snorkelling. More spectacular underwater eye candy!
How could we come to Dahab, and not go diving? We couldn’t! We went with an extremely professional company called Big Blue Dahab (http://www.bigbluedahab.com/), owned by the hands-on and competent Mohamed, as well as managed by another Mohamed. After chatting with a few people from different places, we realised that these guys had the professional and safe edge that we were looking for. Our first dive was in a place called Eel Garden. Olivier from France took us out and he was excellent. Apart from seeing the obvious (eels) we also saw yet more interesting coral and marine life. I have said this before, but it is absolutely another world down there! The colours are different, the feeling is different and the vibe is different. Later that day, Tim (an Australian) took us out to another dive spot called The Island. Wow! I felt like I was in an underwater maze – we began by descending through a hole in the coral, and then continued to slither and slide over coral formations that I had never seen before……..one of my favourites was a gargantuan brain coral with some sea anemone tucked into the top…..and its guardians, two “Nemo ” fish. The sight was wondrous to behold!
The other “must do” on the Sinai Peninsula is, of course, climbing Mt Sinai. At 2285 metres, Mt Sinai, or Gebel Musa as it is known to the locals, is the place where God is purported to have delivered his Ten Commandments to Moses at its summit. It is thus revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. Along with Steph and Seb, we did a night walk. We took a mini-van from Dahab at 11.00pm at night, and arrived near Mt Sinai, at around 12.30am, then a group of us (there were various groups, some even taking camels) began the trek up to the summit. It is rather an easy walk, but I must admit that I struggled. I think that 9 months on the go is finally taking its toll! The reality is that I need a rest! But, I soldiered on! Thanks for helping me with my backpack Alex! We reached the top at around 4.00am….along with a multitude of others, where we hired a blanket and mattress and snuggled down for a few hours, before waking up to the sunset. Well, Steph and Alex did, whilst Seb and I slept on….a little. But we still saw the colours , right Seb? We got the picture!
No sooner had the sun risen, than there was a mass exodus of people descending the slope, towards the Monastery of St Katherine. The walk down was actually harder than the walk up, which consists of the 3750 “Steps of Repentance”. These steps are made of roughly hewn rock, and are said to have been laid down by a monk as a form of penance. If I was exhausted during the walk, I was shattered after it! We reached the monastery just after 8.00am, but had to wait until 9.00am for it to open. We sussed out the surrounding and inviting rock scenery, picked a flattish space, and collapsed for an hour or so.
By the time the monastery opened, we felt like the living dead, like walking zombies! The aspect which makes this Christian monastery so spectacular is that it’s tucked into a barren valley at the foot of Mt Sinai, with absolutely nothing else around it. Walking down the mountain, as it comes into view, it almost looks like an apparition, as its sandstone colours and hues blend into the surrounding countryside. It too has been a place of pilgrimage since the 4th century AD. ” It traces its founding to about 330 AD, when the Roman Empress Helena had a small chapel and a fortified refuge for local hermits built beside what was believed to be the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses” (Lonely Planet guide on Egypt). It was very interesting, but I think I was too tired to properly appreciate it. We drove back to Dahab at around 10.30am, and upon our arrival, we showered and went to sleep, waking up several hours (read 7.00pm!) later. Holidays should be for relaxing……right?!
Who should we bump into in Dahab, but Mary, Gerald and Torin! Well, OK, Gerald had e-mailed me, so I knew that they were around! Remind me…..WHAT would we do without e-mail, and HOW did we cope before its advent? On our last night, we all went out to dinner, including Stephanie and Sebastien. This group of people are, without a doubt, some of the nicest we have met on our travels!
The Egyptian chapter was coming to a close, but where to next? Originally, we were supposed to go to Turkey, via the Middle East, perhaps Israel, perhaps Jordan. Apart from Cuba, this was the only part that was not included on our around-the-world ticket. Without getting into detail, we must fly from Rome to Barcelona on the 30th June, which does not give us much time. So, after several hours of internet research, we decided that the most feasible option, both cost and time wise would be to fly to Austria.
Once the decision had been made, I was on the phone to my very special and dear friend Silvia in Vienna, asking her how she felt about having visitors that very weekend! Keep in mind that it was Wednesday night when I called. Once I got the go ahead, we booked the ticket, through Egypt Air, on-line, and we would be flying out on Friday.
A bit on my friend Silvia. Silvia is from Austria and was my very first international friend. She became my pen-pal, whilst I was at high school, at age 13, and we have written, phoned, e-mailed, and stayed in contact ever since. More on this later!
At midnight we caught a mini-bus back to Cairo. In the early hours of the morning, on the outskirts of Cairo, we found ourselves hugging Seb and Steph saying goodbye. They would continue on to the city centre and we had to catch a taxi to the airport. We all had tears in our eyes a s we waved goodbye! We will really miss you both Stephanie and Sebastien!
It was just after 7.00am when we arrived at the airport, and we went directly to pick up our e-ticket! “Your ticket has not been paid for and your reservation has been cancelled”, we were told by the guy behind the customer service desk at Egypt Air. “Whaddayatalkinabout”, is the first thing that came to mind, and the second is why is customer service sometimes called customer service when there is no customer service! The guy helping us was so apathetic – as we freaked, he yawned and told us, whilst biting his nails, that we would need to come back in an hour and speak to the appropriate personnel. I urged him to give me a hint as to what he thought the outcome might be, but he was seriously in “Talk to the hand” mode. I heard myself thinking out loud, breathe in, breath out! He did tell us that we were still in the system, however, which was had to be a good sign.
Before we knew it, we were on the plane, flying to Vienna!
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable” – Clifton Fadiman (1904 – 1999).
Dedication: To all the wonderful people we have met on our travels. Some of you have had a huge impact on our lives. Meeting people like Gerald, Mary and Torin, and Stephanie and Sebastien has enriched our lives. We have learnt, laughed, experienced and shared, and we feel that we are better human beings for it. Thanks to you, and to the many others that are forming us into the people we are, and will continue to become!
(Photos: 1.- Highway through Sinai Peninsula, on the way to Dahab. 2.- Four-wheel driving, on the way back from snorkelling in the Blue Hole, near Dahab, close to the shore of the Red Sea. The mountains you see on the other side are actually in Saudi Arabia. 3.- Bedouin people & their camels, near the Blue Hole. 4.- Red Sea, as seen from the Blue Hole. 5.- View from our hotel room, Dahab. 6.- Ombi & Alex underwater…..this was actually taken by our dive instructor, Laura, when we did our Open Water Diving Course in Honduras, a few months back. 7.- Sunrise on top of Mount Sinai (lucky Alex takes good photos, as I was sleeping). 8.- St Katherine’s Monastery. 9.- Ombi & Alex on the top of Mount Sinai. 10.-Stephanie, Sebastien, Johnny Depp (oops, Alex!!!) and Ombi relaxing in a Dahab resturant. 11.- Steph, Seb, Alex ,Ombi, Mary, Gerald and Torin, eating out in a restaurant, on our last night in Egypt, Dahab.