The Call of the Desert

Wadi Araba

Alright, I did it again. I had such a good time the first time in the white desert that I could not say no when Suzie said she was going on an overnight trip to some Canyon Wadi Araba in the Sinai.

We were supposed to be 5 for the trip but Yosh fainted during the night and hurt his head quite badly on the sink. His friend Alex and he ended up not coming so we were only 3 at the end: Suzie, Faris (British-Iraqi) and me :).

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The trip was organized by the hotel (Penguin hotel in Dahab) consisted in ridding a camel for 1h30 first. It was one of the thing I said I would do before leaving Egypt so that was perfect. I had a very tall camel so I was seated very hight. It was very impressive. The ride went very well and I did not experience any back pain or things like this that other people complained about. Maybe it was because of the extra padding they added on the saddle or maybe it was because we rode at walking pace the whole time.

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Then, we hiked through some really narrow canyons for 1h or so. This was quite impressive and it was fun to climb up and down along them.

This was followed by a yummy lunch and 1h more of camel ride to reach our camp for the night. We then hiked up one of the big sand dune to check out the sunset while our guide Mohammed was fixing dinner.

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From up there, we had a cool view on the rest of the valley made of mounts and sand dunes. The sunset was ok but not great.

On the contrary, dinner WAS great. It was almost the same thing that I got in the white desert. It was also very good though so I did not mind at all :). My 3 best meals here will have been while on day trips to the desert!

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After dinner, since it was almost full moon, Mohammed took us for a moon walk around the camp. It was nice walking at night with only the light of the moon and the stars to see where we were going. I spent some time watching the stars but I did not see any shooting stars this time and I missed the sky map Alex had with him while we were in the white desert. I should have bought it from him when he offered! We called it a night and I ended up sleeping looking at the stars. I actually woke up around 3AM to an amazing view of the sky where it seemed like the number of stars had doubled! Was I groggy or what?

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I woke up before everybody so I decided to climb up one of the big mount and seat at the top so that I could show off and look cool… hum, I mean, so that I could meditate and commune with the environment ;). OK, for whatever reason I ended up there, I had a really breathtaking view of the whole place and felt very at peace with the sun warming me up and the slight breeze cooling me off.

After climbing down, Mohammed finally fixed breakfast that consisted of great banana honey pancakes (thicker than crepes but thinner than American pancakes) and tea. And I almost forgot the hobnobs Suzie had brought with her that were a great compliment to the Bedouin tea.

We rode back to the Bedouin village in the back of a pickup truck and were at the hotel soon after.

The Sinai is a very interesting place when you think about it with its great desert landscapes and awesome sea shore. I am really enjoying this part of my trip. Of course, I enjoyed the more cultural part I did before, it is just different.

[Edited on 5/19/2006 to add related pictures]

Like a Fish in the Water

Not much news lately! What is David doing?

Well, I have been in Dahab for a week now. This part of my trip is more like vacation and hence there is not much going on that is worth writing about ;).

I have been diving in the morning and windsurfing in the afternoon almost every day.

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I took a refresher dive (10th dive for me) on Monday. I was able to perform the drills easily and remembered most of what I learnt in the past 2 years. Once underwater, I was not ready for what I saw. It was amazing. A very nice coral reef with school of red and silver fishes, parrot fishes, sand fishes and so many others that I had trouble knowing where to look :). Oh, and I almost forgot, the water is so much warmer than in Monterrey that even if it is not as warm as say, in the Caribbeans, it felt like taking a bath ;).

I went on a fun dive on Tuesday and realized I had some troubles with buoyancy control and kicking underwater so I took a 2 day class the following days to fine tune my understanding and practice with an instructor.

The dive on Friday went way better and I also feel way more comfortable under water. I still use a lot of air so this is what I plan on working on the next dive.

Diving is omnipresent in Dahab. Just walk down the promenade and you will see tens of dive shops that offer all kind of services. Diving is quite cheap too. I pay $21 per dive with all rentals and air as well as transportation included.

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Dahab’s second attraction (or is it the first?) is that it is usually quite windy and hence it became the hot spot of the red sea for windsurfing (and kite surfing). I found a nice protected lagoon and a cool school (Surf and action at the Coralia hotel) where I have been continuing my initiation to windsurfing. I had taken a weekend class at Shoreline lake last year so it was not all new. It has been going very well and I made my first beach starts and jibes after 3 days :). I then started using the hook the following day. I will take the intermediate class starting as soon as the wind picks up again.

I really love windsurfing. It has been a very rewarding water sport so far. And all of you kite surfers, I am sure you would love it here!

During the rest of the time, I met a lot of people at the hotel coming from all over the world. Also, Crystal, Alex and Andy were in Dahab for 2 days and we hooked up for dinner both days. It was great to see them again. They told me about their trip to upper Egypt and how Crystal and Andy sadly got food poisoning in Aswan. They are now back to Bulgaria. It was too short. We will have to meet another time.

Life in Dahab is great. I understand some people never leave!

[Edited on 5/19/2006 to add related pictures]

Saint-Catherine Monastery and Mount Sinai

Saint-Catherine and Mount Sinai

After a week of playing in the sea and doing not much else. Today, we decided to go visit the Saint-Catherine Monastery and hike up to the top of Mount Sinai. As usual in Dahab since I arrived, our party was very international with Carolyn (American), Suzie (English) and Rado (Slovakian).

For the cultural aspect, Saint-Catherine monastery has been built to protect the church built close to the burning bush where (based on the book of the exodus) god told Moses to remove his shoes because he was on a sacred soil. And the Mount Sinai is the place where Moses received the 10 commandments from god.

Since the monastery is closed on Fridays and Sundays. We decided to make it a day trip and go to the top of the mount for sunset.

We arranged for a mini-bus the day before costing each of us EGP110 for the round-trip.

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We left early in the morning and made it to the monastery first that is open for 2 hours only in the morning (on the days it actually opens to the public). The church is just amazing with an impressive collection of orthodox icons, mosaics, amazing light features and many other golden items. The most impressive for me was definitely the museum that presents some of the nicest items the monastery owns. That includes very fine gold objects as well as more icons and paintings but also an amazing collection of books like the Codex Syriacus (Vth century) or a version of Iliad and the Odysseus (XIth century).

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Behind the church, you can actually see the burning bush. It is not exactly what I was imagining!

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After a great lunch downtown Saint-Catherine, we started the hike at 2:30PM and reached the top around 5PM. The hike is quite easy if you follow the camel path and then climb the 700 step stair. All along the path, there are small shops that sell drinks (hot and cold) and food as well as crystal stones.

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At the top, you have a nice view of the surroundings and the sunset was just great with plenty of nice colors. And since most of the tourists come for the sunrise, there were no more than 30 persons at the top so it was quite peaceful. We waited a bit longer to see the stars but did not get to see much because of the half moon and the clouds.

We finally decided to go back. It took us around 1 hour to get back to the mini-bus. It is possible to sleep at the top of the mount either under the stars or in one of the Bedouin shops but I was not interested in that for that time.

To give you an idea, the usual tourist trip works like this: you leave the hotel at 11PM, drive to Saint-Catherine in a full mini-bus, arrive their at 1AM, climb to the top of Mount Sinai at night arriving around 3:30AM-4AM, watch the sunrise and go back. Then you usually visit the monastery (in a fatigue haze for some) before going back to your hotel. Not exactly what I am looking for in this trip but it works if you only have 2 weeks of vacation and want to fit the visit in.

All in all, that was a nice change of pace and a great place to visit. Highly recommended :).

[Edited on 5/19/2006 to add links to related pictures]

Dahab – 1 week after

I made it to Dahab without any trouble. I took the 12:15AM bus from Cairo and arrived yesterday morning around 10AM. The bus ride was event less except for the numerous ID controls.

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I found a cool hotel by the sea with a nice room with a view for a very decent price and decided to make the Penguin Hotel my home for my stay. The staff is quite nice, they have a restaurant on the sea-front and a scuba diving center on premise.

I spent yesterday roaming around the village. Most of the damages have already been fixed and it is difficult to see where the bombs exploded. Military and police presence is very high with dogs and metal detectors everywhere. The Coralia hotels located a bit further south was more a bunker than a vacation village with security all around and ID check at the entrance.

The town is almost empty though. Some of the hotels are totally empty. In the evening, the restaurants have very few clients. Business is very difficult right now.

Around town, you can see placards written in English calling for peace, for support or some claiming Dahab will rebuild and be stronger. It is nice to see that.

It is quite difficult to get an idea of how busy it can be. When all the cushions in all the restaurants on the sea-front are used, it must be quite amazing and maybe frustrating.

In the meantime, the other tourists and I are enjoying a great spot as it must be rare to get it.

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The town has a great feel to it. They built a promenade on the sea front with restaurants between the path and the sea and the hotels on the other side. No building is higher than 2 floors and concrete has been kept to a minimum. The rest of the town is dusty and a bit dirty but almost nobody goes there anyway.

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At night, the restaurants setup candles all around and it becomes very nice, almost magical.

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In the evening, it was so quiet. Seated on cushions, drinking a nice freshly squeezed orange juice, in the dim light of the candles, a warm breeze in the face, looking at the limitless sea extending in front of my eyes, I felt so much at peace I thought I could stay here for a very long time.

In case you did not get it:

Come to Dahab, it is a great place to be!

[Edited on 5/19/2006 to add link to related pictures]