Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Egypt II: Hurghada and the Sinai Peninsula

After busing from Luxor, we got stranded for a 2 days in Hurghada because the ferry across the Gulf of Suez to the Sinai Peninsula, of which there are only 4 a week was canceled due to high seas. Not that being stuck on the Red Sea is a bad thing, but Hurghada is not the first choice. Hurghada is a resort town that has been taken over by Eastern Europeans, especially Russians. A strand of 1970's style hotels, interspersed with half built skeletons of unfinished projects and construction site beaches and pharmacies advertising Viagra and Cialis. All signage is in Russian, Polish, and Arabic, no English. The town seems an interesting combination of Egyptian Muslims who work the town, their devout lifestyle interacting with scantily and inappropriately dressed Russian men and women, drunkenness, and an overall Russian good time. The Egyptian men involved in the tourist industry of scuba diving and hotel industry have embraced the eastern Europeans and many of them speak Russian and some also speak Czech and Polish and sometimes the language of love with the female tourists if you get our drift. We used our time there to play in the water. The Red Sea is most famous for its clear water and beautiful coral reefs. Over the years, much of the coral has been destroyed due to poor stewardship, however, the coral is still some of the best in the world and the marine life prolific. The water is a constant temperature year-round, a bit chilly, and the beaches are mostly pebbled but the life under the water makes it a world-famous destination for diving on the cheap. All though the best diving is off the Sinai peninsula around Dahab (our eventual destination) we spent a day on a boat and Guy got to dive while I snorkeled for as long as I could stand the cold water and my fears of being alone in open water.
We spent the day on a boat full of Polish, Czech, and Russian tourists. Guy’s diving buddy was a Pole who spoke no english and the dive master, Mohammed, spoke fluent Russian, English, some Czech and Polish and Arabic. The best part of Hurghada was cheap, fresh sea food. We left on the ferry 2 days later to Sharm El-Sheik on the tip of the Sinai peninsula and bused north to Dahab, a chill place for backpackers and hippies on the shores of some of the most beautiful diving in the red sea.

Dahab was lovely. We hung out there for 4 days. Dahab was part of Israel from 1973 through 1981, When Israel held the Sinai peninsula. Dahab was a small Bedouin camp back then and Guy remembers going there as a kid when he lived in Israel to camp on the beach. The Bedouins are nomadic desert people who have live in the deserts of the Arabian peninsula as goat and sheep-herders. They are rugged desert people, setting up camp in the most inhospitable of dry, desolate desert. As times have changed, they have become more stationary wih permanent settlements, but remain fiercely independent and proud of their culture, resenting being told how to live or what to do and at times becoming violent towards their ruling government. As a place like Dahab became more commercialized, the Bedouins were pushed aside by Nile valley dwelling Egyptians and now live on the outskirts of town. Today Dahab is a full-blown tourist destination with a mile-long boardwalk on the beach lined with hotels restaurants and dive shops, but it still retains its mellow and bohemian feel and look. Every restaurant is a variation on the theme of a "Zula": Bedouin style hang out of low tables, big throw pillows on the floor and plentiful sheesha as well as sea food and juice smoothies.

Our time in Dahab was spent playing in the Red Sea, looking at the beautiful coral and marine life that is literally right off the shore. Guy dove and we both snorkeled. We also climbed Mt Sinai, the place where Moses is thought to have received the Ten Commandments. The trip was unfortunately the worst example of mass tourism as we summited at sun rise with about 500 other people. In the standard package, the only one available if you do not have your own car, everyone arrives at 1 am and is assigned a mandatory Bedouin guide to take you up the highway trail that is lined by Bedouins aggressively offering camels or Kiosks with coffee, food, and other tourist junk every 100 meters. The tourists were half the fun of the climb: Loud Spaniards and Italians, religious pilgrims, Chinese in hospital and ski masks riding camels, a Taekwondo team in their outfits, and mandatory Russians. The mountain's peak is at 8000 feet in the middle of the dry, hot, stark, rocky Sinai desert for which Moab, Utah was named after. The hike took about 2 hrs. up the camel trail and culminates in 750 rock-cut steps that took you to the top. We got there at 4 am and hunkered down in the cold night in our sleeping bag for an hour before the sunrise. Although not a solitary or spiritual experience for either one of us, and despite all the cigarette smoke and cacophony of languages, it was beautiful to see the sun rise over the desert mountains. We walked down the 3750 Steps of Repentance. We got to the bottom at 8 am and waited with masses for the Monastery of St Katherine at the foot of Mt Sinai to open and when it did, we pushed through (or were pushed by the throngs of pilgrims) to see the Church of St Katherine where a bush that is supposed to be a descendant of the Burning Bush still grows and a well where Moses hit the rock and made water appear.

We returned to Dahab tired from being up all night. We had 2 more days which we spent in or by the sea or chilling in the Zulas. From here we would catch a ferry to Aqaba, Jorda to the fabled City of Rose: Petra.

Click here to link to the Picasaweb picture folder

1 comment:

  1. I'm putting in a plug now for you two to keep blogging when you return to the States, so we can see how/if your perspective has shifted after months abroad...