To Egypt, ish
I must admit, the Egyptian leg of this journey south wasn’t the one that inspired me the most. After my trip to Morocco last June, I expected similar scenes of hassle. In the Middle East I was always going to stick out as a foreigner, but whereas previously I had often been treated with intrigue (“why did you come to Syria?”), here I would be seen as a walking wallet.
With the short hop across the Red Sea from Aqaba, the short, squat buildings dotted across the wide, dusty roads of Nuweiba exhibited a marked difference from the Jordanian streets. The hassle involved in negotiating a shared taxi down to Dahab was a somewhat less pleasant welcome to the country. Everything has to be negotiated in Egypt; I suppose it becomes inevitable when such a large proportion of the population relies on tourism as their source of income.
But I cannot say that Dahab was Egypt. The town is split into three parts: the “resorts” which open on to the soft, sandy beach lining the lagoon; the “camps” which cater for more budget holiday-makers & travellers; and Dahab “proper”, which is where the people working here actually live. Wind-surfing centres line the lagoon of the resorts with motor-boats skimming across the calm sea. Here, there is not an Egyptian in sight, it was all British families and bikini-clad Russians. One hundred metres away, the other side of the high, resort walls, is the village of Dahab where veiled women walk the streets and men wear djebellas rather than speedos.
I took a hut in the more back-packer part of town, which is more set-up for diving, with the Red Sea coast here lined with coral reefs. This used to be on the hippy-trail — Egypt’s Shangri La, so to speak — but as the place has developed tourism has proliferated. Come evening, walking down the main street in town one is obliged to literally run the gauntlet of all the restaurant touts vying for custom.
Whilst I would have loved to have sampled the diving here, my budget didn’t really run that far, and so I hired a snorkel and joined the scores of white backs exposed to the midday sun, marvelling at the corals and abundance of tropical fish. I had always thought snorkelling was a bit silly, but free-diving down through the turquoise waters to the coral amongst the shoals of exotically coloured fish banished these preconceptions.
Another day I hired a mountain bike, venturing towards the mountains that line the Sinai coast. Error. Cycling in the scorching, dry, desert heat, with temperatures above 35°, I thought I was going to become a shrivelled, dried-out corpse; just another feature of this arid terrain. Arriving back in town, I buried my head in a water-melon before diving into the cool waters of the Red Sea. This heat would take some getting-used to; and acclimatise I must if I plan on heading further south into Africa proper.