There's a special charm traveling to developing countries, after you get over the fear put in our heads by media.
I arrived late in Cairo with less than half an hour to transfer to my flight to Sharm El Sheikh. With so much luck, I managed to get my visa (as advised by E) and run with 4 other latecomers to catch the flight.
I was a hot mess, too busy trying to make my flight than to be concerned about actually being in Egypt.
Lift off gave me a bit of a picture of just how big Cairo is. City lights stretched on for miles upon miles!
And one hour later, just after midnight I landed in Sharm, hoping that my arranged taxi was still waiting for me.
Luck stuck by my side as I was greeted by a Canadian female taxi driver and a Dutch lady also heading to Dahab, wanting to split the fair.
I was flooded by so many strange feelings and wonders. It was hard to chat with the lovely ladies on the hour long drive as we swerved left and right avoiding sand patches, potholes and garbage. It was impossible to see the scenery as there was only the dim lights of the vehicle, occasionally bypassed with an extra pair of headlights racing passed us. I could only make out the wave of mountain tops separating the dark blue sky from even darker horizon.
We passed through 4 check stops where the robed and turbaned men with automatic weapons waved us through. What have I gotten myself into??
The Dutch lady was dropped off first and as we drove through the streets of Dahab looking for Es place, I got my first real glimpse of Egypt.
The time was closing in on 2am, but there were still shops open with food displayed on rickety carts and a mess of clothing hung, flapping on randomly placed lines.
The streets were lined with cats and dogs eating garbage, at this point my taxi driver told me this Bedouin neighborhood is full of goats during the day.
We pulled into the chicken shack (literally a shack stocked with piles of caged chickens) and I gave my 200LE (20 Egyptian Pounds are equal to about $1.5CAD), thanked and hugged my driver and was greeted by a big smile dressed in a flowing rainbow.
E took me into her plastered box house to be relieved of my luggage and worries.
Currently, it's one week into my stay and I've been completely transformed.
As I write this, I am enjoying the light sounds of waves and people chatting in the musical Arabic tongue, while drinking a powerful Bedouin tea in one of the many beachside cafes.
It's 5pm and the sun and temperature are dropping to a chilly +21'C. The Saudi Arabian mountains across the Red Sea are glowing pink and purple in the sunset, I'm reddened by the sun and salted from the sea.
There is just so much to write about from this passed week, I don't know where to begin!
My first day in Dahab was mindblowing even though I barely did anything. E took me for late breakfast with a friend who lent me a mask and snorkel for my time here.
We half swam-half drifted to the coral just out from our breakfast spot. It would take me a lifetime to write about the beauty of snorkeling this world-famous coral, so I will just say it's like viewing the most colorful Martian lands while floating above. There is a slight feeling of godness.
From drinking Bedouin tea and eating falafel and foul (beans) to wandering the unique promenade strip of Dahab.
To try to put the picture in your mind, think of sturdy wooden huts 1 to 2 stories high packet together so tightly that they appear to be squeezed. Each beach hut is a shop or a cafe or a restaurant or a dive centre or a tourist centre. The shops are filled with dusty rainbow clothes and beachy knickknacks, the restaurants and cafes are fitted with colorful pillows and rugs and umbrellas.
Most of the menus are duplicated, serving Egyptian breakfasts, Turkish coffees, desert teas and a wide variety of cake. Egyptians looooove their sugar!
I am now into my 3rd week in Dahab. This whole time I have been residing in a camp called Charlie House, where I volunteer a few 'Egyptian Hours' a day for a free tent. I say Egyptian hours because time doesn't seem to exist here. I was told in the beginning I was expected to work about 3 hours per day, but after picking up garbage, cleaning the co-ed washroom and sometimes doing a bit of online work, I am relieved from the job (maybe 30 mins later) and told I am a very hard worker.
There is something to be said about living in a one-man tent in the Egyptian heat. Not only am I awaken every morning in a pool of sweat, but because there is no time here, it's not uncommon to listen to the ramble of Arabic (which is hard to decipher between yelling and normal speech) at any hour.
To give you an idea of how confused I am about the Arabic tone, one morning while snorkeling with a cop, a lawyer, and the camp manager, I heard them talk-yelling in the water and swam over to see what was going on. Did they spot an interesting fish? The manager said that the cop was panicking and couldn't swim. We pushed him towards the shore, but the whole time I figured that he was just tired and needed a bit of help. After I realized that he was literally panicking and could not breath or swim, but because their voices sounded like their normal aggressive talk, I assumed they were fine. In the end, they were.
I am on the last days of my trip now and there is so much to tell.
Being in Egypt has giving me a perspective on life that makes me feel so little and inadequate, with too much privileges. I can only feel overwhelmed with thankfulness.
I have fallen in love with a man here named Mohamed, as well as with the shop worker and the taxi driver and the restaurant owner and the street cleaner and the hagglers and hustlers and the woman who yells all night and the children who beg with bare feet and the dogs that roam the streets and the cats that steal the food off my plate. I pitied them all at first, and my pity turned to respect and my respect turned to love.
Egypt is the most surpressed country that offers no relief. Egyptians are treated as the scum of the world by our Western society. They have no rights, no opportunities, except to follow their cruel leader, Abdel Fattah El Sisi-or is it the militia- or is it Allah? Or maybe they are all the same?
I have been asked many times from friends if I feel safe here. I feel like a king. After getting used to a world with no soap or toilet paper or washing machines or clean water. After eating fly covered food left out in the hot sun all day, served by the hand that took my 10LE, blew his nose, scooped the foul into the pita and handed it to me. After living with no mirrors and sleeping on a well-used mat while mice and cockroaches scurry across my pillow (did I mention that I upgraded from a tent to a palm shack for no extra charge?). After watching the naked children in the streets playing with dead cats and garbage. After being asked daily-sometimes hourly, to marry a man, or a boy, or an octogenarian (because sex before marriage is illegal here). After all this, my safety is Egypt's main priority and everyone here is fully aware of this. If I am harmed, there is dire consequences. If I harm some one, I will always be in the right. I have more power in a land where I don't understand anything, I am treated better then the Bedouins who could navigate a desert or the doctor who work 12+hr days or the families who built this city. I eat and swim and drink Turkish coffee staring at the calm seas while everyone around me runs to make me my breakfast and pour me my coffee and brings me cigarettes and cleans the streets and offers me Arabic lessons and taxi rides for less than the price of fuel used. I feel uncomfortably safe and hugely mistreate- I do not deserve this.
I see and learn too much every moment to include everything in this post, so now I will stick to some adventures, like Bedouin dinner in the desert!
In a Land Cruiser packed with friends I have met, we skidded along the invisible desert road to a Wadi in the mountains. There was an hour before sunset so we walked up a small mountain, but the thing about this desert is that there is always a taller, more beautiful peak behind the next. I continued hiking up the next one to see if I could catch the last few rays. It was a stunning view with the little ants I call friends scattered below and the view of the Red Sea triangled between two mountain peaks. The colors of these giant sandstone structures changed from Brown to yellow to orange to pink to purple as the sun descended behind them.
I was welcomed onto a rainbow woven carpet surrounding a fire with a hot glass of Bedouin tea, the smell of fire-roasted chicken and a semi-circle of friends watching the 2 Bedouin men and one Bedouin boy prepare fresh pita bread cooked over a stone on the fire.
Dinner was fire-roasted vegetables with chicken, the traditional tomato and cucumber salad, tahina, bread and rice. It was an incredible meal under a gazillion stars in the middle of no where.
Less recently, I was invited to a desert dinner and show by a handsome young Egyptian tour agent. The event held place in the mountains in an area reserved for this occasion (possibly happening nightly). There was a stage in the plateau surrounded by well-used rainbow carpet and pillows, some Palm shelters and a little bar/kitchen hut. These were all surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and surrounding the mountains was the vast Egyptian sky.
There were many groups of paying customers, waiting for dinner and a show. I adventure up one mountain peak to catch the view as the sun descent. At this point, the stage had a crowd of people singing and dancing. After the sun set, I took my seat on the carpet next to a group of people and watched a teenage boy perform a Sufi Dance of the Whirling Dervishes. He spun around and around with a beautiful dress flowered out like a tutu. The dance lasted for over 40 captivating minutes, and as dusk turned to night, the dress illuminated as the boy spun and whirled. It was incredible to watch! The Whirling Dervish uses this 'dance' as a form of meditation and prayer.
As the crowd ate their desert dinner, the fire dancers came out to spin burning sticks and ropes and torches.
I think that the show stopped early because the power kept cutting out. As most groups left down the mountain in their Land Cruisers, some groups utilized the stage with their hand drums and sang chanting Arabic songs.
The night sky in the mountains is also worth mentioning. There is very little light pollution and the moon doesn't come out until pretty late. All the constellations are rotated in the sky, so Orion is standing upright and tall, while the Big Dipper is hanging by the handle out to dry.
After this night, I made a huge effort to spend as many evenings in the mountains as I could.
This whole time staying in Dahab, it was very easy to meet an array of people. I spent a lot of time sitting at camp playing Towla (Backgammon) with the guests and residents there, or going to the local cafe to drink Turkish coffee and play dominoes with the Egyptian friends I met, or doing more touristy things with the lovely, young British lady, Abi, who introduced herself to me in a restaurant and we realized we shared some common friends and interests. Or cooking dinner with E&P or going to Hobby Night to play Secret Hitler with their amazing group of their friends. Even the shop keepers got to know me just from walking past daily.
Spontaneously, Abi arranged a night snorkel for us one evening. At 7pm we suited up in the buoyant wetsuits and were given a high powered underwater light with a few tips and unfavorable jokes about sharks being attracted to light. I was trembling as we doned our goggles and snorkel and emerged into the scary unknown.
It was one of the most terrifying, unique and beautiful experiences I've ever had. But to try to describe it would be impossible. Being suspended under the brilliant sky and above the universe below the sea. If the Milky Way existed on our Earth, I was floating through it. With the flashlights off, any movement in the water the bioluminescence sparkled and shimmered in the turbulence.
I was, again, surrounded by beauty and overwhelmed with emotions.
Abi and I also spent a day cycling to Blue Hole, which is a famous snorkel spot 10kms North of Dahab. We cycled in the heat of the day, past camels and Palm huts and groups of divers and mountains and sandy beaches. After refreshing ourselves with fresh squeezed juice at one of the many restaurant/cafes lining the shore we threw on our snorkels and hit the water. The Coral here line the whole coastal shore, so there is endless perfect snorkel spots. This particular spot lines the shore, then juts out into the open waters, and at a certain point there is a big circle cut into the reef. Thus given the name "Blue Hole".
So from puffer fish to Lion fish to coronet fish to Nemos to rainbow parrot fish to countless other iridescent fish and sea life, Abi and I enjoyed this stunning Reef before our bike ride back to town.
Another tour I joined with E and friends was going to Little Colored Canyon, Mushroom Rock and a small Oasis near Wadi Disco. After a long and amazing day of adventuring, we were welcomed into a Bedouin home and fed a fire cooked meal. I will let the pictures do the talking this time.
The last thing that I will write about is Abu Gallum. This place is up the Red Sea coast over 10 miles from Dahab. It is accessable easiest by boat, or some venture by camel, and few by foot. I chose the latter. I couldn't tell you much about Abu Gallum, besides being an amazing snorkel spot and retreat Paradise from the city. The shore is lined with little huts all for rent, with a few restaurants in between.
Within the first 20 minutes of snorkeling I saw a huge and majestic Tiger Fish, iridescent coral, schools of colorful fish and a rock.... that turned black before my eyes... and started to move.... and took shape into the creepiest, most beautiful octopus!! This octopus put on a wild and fascinating show, displaying colors and tentacles. I was awe-struck!
The evening at Abu Gallum was just as amazing! The sky above was full of shimmering stars, while the sea was sparking with bioluminescence and pockets of glowing fish. I was standing in an alien fairytale, the whole time in disbelief and falling head over heels in love. I regret to say that I cannot post any pictures of these sacred grounds. It is a place you need to experience yourself!
So, now that I have written half a novel about Dahab, I will admit to you that I am now sitting on my Mom's bed in Canada with a broken heart and tender emotions. I will end my travel blog here before it gets too heart felt.
Through all these travels I have learned more about life and the world and love and people, and it had only been in 4 months and in 9 countries.
It has been full speed, but this engine is still purring!
Thank you for sharing some of these adventures with me. Until next time! Vrim vrimm vrimmmmm