The Highs and Lows of the Sinai

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 19, 2006

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Ah, it's been just lovely here. Like Goa was for India, it's not been Egypt really, but more a little holiday, a break in the sun before heading back on the road.
Dahab is the backpacker beach resort of Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula, although to be frank, it's not quite as low-key as I had anticipated (or indeed, been told). Don't get me wrong, I've had a great week chilling out in the sun and thrilling in the ravishing Red Sea diving, but this place is definitely more Gold Coast than Goa. Okay, maybe more Noosa than Palolem. There's been a huge amount of development and touristification here over the last 5 years, and it appears that Dahab has well and truly been discovered.

But what's important here is the quality of the diving, and that remains as outstanding as ever. The warm waters of the Red Sea support an incredible ecosystem of coral reefs and fish life, plus such marine luminaries as whale sharks, manta rays, green turtles, and even dugongs. Alas, none of those crossed my path this week, but the reefs are close to some of the I have ever dived on, and with water so clear it could almost be liquid crystal, I've had a blast.
Two of the dives, The Blue Hole and The Canyon, have instantly shot into my all-time Top 5, and I had hoped to add the Wreck of the Thistlegorm to that list. One of the most sought-after wreck dives in the world, and certainly the most famous in the Red Sea, the Thistlegorm was discovered in the late 1950's by Jacques Cousteau, and then rediscovered in 1993. A British warship, it is the wreck to dive on in the Red Sea, and I was well keen.
Unfortunately, a dive company here (which shall remain nameless) left me in the lurch when I all already booked a trip with them, and even rescheduled my next week or so around the dive, and so the wreck of the Thistlegorm eluded me. I was not a happy camper, but with nought I could do, I threw them my best dark look, and stalked off into the night. In sha' Allah, and it' juts one more reason to come back this way, soon!
A Dive Masters course is starting to look pretty tempting, and a great way to live and work here too.

Of course, it hasn't all been underwater frolickings. There's been some serious midnight activity taking place here also. No trip to the Sinai would be complete without a nocturnal jaunt up Mt Sinai, the peak atop which God bestowed the Ten Commandment upon Moses, to take in the dawn, as the sun rises across the ragged ranges of the Sinai. The view from the top was gorgeous, and one of the most memorable sunrise I know I will ever experience. The climb up (and then down), however, was a killer.
We left Dahab at 11:30 pm for the 2ish hour drive to Mt Sinai, and having arrived, started our ascent up the camel track, the rocky path bright and silver under the glow of a full moon. By 4 am we'd reached the top, and after a quick (and extortionate - of course, they can charge whatever they please on a mountain-top) coffee and Snickers bar, we were all ready for the sun.
Sunrises have always seemed to me to be the masochist's sunsets, but this one was worth the effort. Slow strands of pale light, like gossamer, crept over the horizon and gradually showed us the craggy landscape we'd be climbing over through the night. As we all sat there and watched, the light grew brighter, revealing the day, and it just got better, as this rosy dawn became a sunset in reverse. Pure magic.

By the time we'd all piled back down the mountain, explored the fortress-like monastery of St Katherine, and made our way home to Dahab, I was buggered. Absolutely, and unequivocally, shagged. I'm very glad I did the climb, and saw the dawn, but I'm bloody stoked that I never have to do it again! Mountain-climbing in the middle of the night, even on such a historical and storied location, is not my ideal way to spend time at 2 am. I've been that energetic and sweaty at 2 am before, at least in some sort of biblical sense, I'm sure, but never while wearing a backpack and hiking boots...

I could easily spend weeks more in Dahab, most of it underwater, but time and (more importantly) my bank account say otherwise. All good things must come to an end, and tomorrow I get back on the road, and head north into Jordan. Still, I always love having reasons to return to a place and explore a little more, and Dahab will definitely be seeing me again.

Ciao for now,
Love Connor.
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