Mohammed tells us to expect a 12hr bus ride filled with military checkpoints attempting to to aid stability in the area bordering Israel and notorious for black market trade. And on top of it, the reason we’re traveling around the coast rather then directly through it is that Bedouins have lately resorted to kidnapping a few tourists to ensure the government takes note of their demands. But you can’t half blame them as these demands are for basic infrastructure, rights to their land and freedom of a few political prisoners. The latest kidnapping was a few days earlier where a Norwegian and Palestinian Israeli were taken between Dahab and Taba, right where we’re headed. However, typically the hostages are not hurt and are only used as a means of ensuring the government listens. In fact, the Dahab stop isn’t really suppose to be included in our trip at all but is an alternative to a night at St Katherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. This of course is famous for being the place where Moses supposedly saw the burning bush and received the 10 commandments. But I think our non-religious group is fairly happy with the alternate beach side retreat and a few beers.
Passing through the Suez Canal we cross from the continent of Africa to that of Asia and get our first glimpse of the Red Sea shimmering a florescent blue. We fly across the main highway and pass the Middle Eastern resort hub of Sharm-el-Sheikh before accessing the Red Sea again on the other side on route to Dahab. We arrive in a record time of 9hrs, and all hurry to get the first view of our hotel on the beach. Its brilliant. A beautiful white resort overlooks the Red Sea to which you can make out Saudi Arabia and further north Jordan on the other side, only 16kms between us. A beach bar and pool sit right on the waterfront where an esplanade traverses atmospheric bar and seafood restaurant where pleasant mannered waiters invite you in. Immediately you feel the chilled vibe sweep over you after the chaos of Cairo.
So Murray and I take in a beer at one of the bars stretching right out over the water. Arid desert mountains tower above in the distance where palm trees line the coast in between the white and wooden buildings. It feels like a true hippy town catering for backpackers and divers due to the spectacular underwater world which includes the famous blue hole. Sweet shisha smoke fills the air and we are clambered on by the local cats that are looking for a bit of bread while the sun sets in the distance. We all meet up for dinner at Ali Babas seafood restaurant, another beautifully decorated restaurant where you feel like you are sitting is some-kind of arab tent filled with lanterns and coloured glass lights. Its so enchanting. After a meal of calamari tajine and BBQ chicken, out comes the shisha pipe again for everyone to have a go. However, we decide to do a dive the following morning so save our lung capacity.
Six of us meet up at 8am the next morning at the Padi Dive Shop and assess the conditions. Its pretty windy but we are assured that only 10 minutes drive south, an offshore beach dive surrounded by a cove will be fine. After being kitted out, we pile into the 4WDs and travel along the arid coast line, that in parts reminds us of the Mediterranean, before arriving at the cove. Sure enough conditions look good and the water is an alluring deep blue. Our Egyptian DM gives us the brief, ensures we are hooked up correctly, refers to us as “My Dear” and then, we’re all under. We descend and the water becomes the deepest blue and crystal clear. Traveling along at around 18mts down the conditions are pretty good but the water cold. Clusters of coral sit beneath us as small to mid sized fish swim underneath. My mask continuously foods which un-nerves me and after surfacing, although the dive is nice, I choose to finish at one. Murray continues on for a second and I go back to the resort to do some shopping before traveling to our beach camp in the next few hours.
We promise to return to Dahab and the Sinai peninsula once the stability improves. With its golden beaches, crystal clear water, desert mountains shimmering pink and its tranquil vibe, its one of those places you could spend weeks. But we have to keep moving, and after less then 24hrs in this exotic paradise, we jump back on the bus and scream along the highway to our beach camp and the final two nights in this fabulous country.