Diving with Nemo and Dory and freezing our butts off on Mt Sinai
18.01.2010 - 28.01.2010 28 °C
Dahab was meant to be a three-day stop to do some diving and to chill out, but quickly turned into nine blissful days, where we forgot about time (and our mounting hotel bill!).
It took us two days to get to Dahab, the first day was spent travelling for three hours towards the Sinai Peninsula, only to have to turn back to Cairo for another three hours, due to road floods. However the second day, ma sha' Allah (God's work be done), the roads were open. We arrived in Dahab on a mini-bus to be greeted by “Jimmy”, who was the fixer of all fixers - a gregarious, cowboy hatted enigma who swanned in and out of our days, making sure we were ok and organising everything and anything we wanted.
However upon our arrival, Jac had visions of ‘Hostel III’ when Jimmy redirected us away from the hotel we'd booked, to a sister hotel called"Shams", which was much, nicer and was also right on the water. The staff instantly treated us like friends and all who passed us said a cheerful hello. A little too good to be true? However all suspicion was soon forgotten when we were joined by Sally, an Aussie girl who’d been on our Intrepid Trip, who was staying at Shams and thankfully appeared not have been skewered/abducted/brainwashed.
Dahab is a super-chilled seaside village, with wooden restaurants lining the pristine shore, decked out in low tables and colourful cushions, and Jack Johnson and Bob Marley playing. The stunning reef is right by the shoreline, with clear blue warm water and exotic fish visible from the shoreline.
Shams - Dive shop and rooms
Shams restaurant - right on the water
Making Dahab's waterfront a camel-free zone
The mode de jour in Dahab is: dive, chill out, read, sleep… then repeat. We dined at either of two favourite places, a Chinese restaurant (hey, who doesn’t enjoy dumplings and noodles after two months of unleavened bread and kebabs?) and at our Shams Hotel where Jac befriended the affectionate but tenacious cats who did everything to charm you then steal your steak. Never before have we seen omnivorous cats who devour chickpeas and pita bread!
Just another afternoon in the sun
Jac with one of the sweet but voracious cats that lived at Shams
Creative room service
Tinfoil-tastic meals at Shams restaurant
Sally had done her Open Water dive course with the Shams Dive shop and raved on about Ehab Mohammed, her instructor. Jac decided to follow suit with Ehab, who was a yogi-like Dive Instructor who was terrific and calm (even when Jac had beginner’s underwater panic barely 2m underwater!). Enthused by the serenity and beauty of reef diving, she decided to go straight onto her Advanced Dive Course. Few beginner divers get to do their ‘drift dive’ lesson in the famed Blue Hole, which is a 100m deep sink hole that drops off immediately from the reef, and has claimed the lives of many who try to reach a tunnel 60m down that leads you through to the surface. Exhilarating was an understatement!
Jac with Ehab on her Open Water... no Jac, the regulator is in your right hand...
Jac happy after her first Open Water Dive, love that mask face!
Jac and Chalky in a bubble curtain near The Canyon
Jac and Ehab at the bottom of The Canyon - first 30m deep dive!
Headed to the Blue Hole - memorials to those who perished attempting the infamous daredevil 80m dive
The entrance to the sinkhole
Jac about to hop in
In the Caves
Exploring the reef
A deadly lionfish
Nemo and Nemoette
It's a bit clammy on the floor
Strike a pose
Karate Kid vs Kill Bill
Watch out behind you!
Chalky and his dive buddy, Omar
Jac and Ehab
We decided to take a side-trip to Mount Sinai and St Katherine's monastary, as the former is where Moses climbed to receive the 10 Comandments and also where he sighted the 'Promised Land'. We had the option of going overnight, to see the dawn, or during the day to see the sunset. We chose the latter and afterwards incredibly glad we did (more on this later!).
Like most of of our Egypt experiences, the minibus that picked us up arrived on 'Egyptian time' and we set into the desert hills inhabited by the Bedouin people. The hills used to be underwater so there are a raft of fossilled shells and aquatic life in the rock, many dug out and sold on the roadside.
St Katherine's is visited by many Orthodox Christian pilgrims as it's the site of The Burning Bush and Moses' Well. We fight through the crowds around the Burning Bush to visit what isn't the original bush itself, but a descendent of the original tree. People are all jostling to have photos near it and to pinch leaves off the beleaguered tree. The Well of Moses is less impressive, being a small bricked hole in the ground, but has interesting frescos of Moses and his receiving of the Ten Comandments. What was really beautiful was the Orthodox Church, which was decorated in gold-plated hanging lamps, framed icons and richly painted throughout. St Katherine's bones were resting in the church, but unfortunately for us agnostic tourists, no photos were allowed of the humble but beautiful church.
The Road to Mount Sinai
The crowds gathered around the Burning Bush
The Burning Bush
Atop the Orthodox church
Frescos of the story of Moses
After visiting the Monastary we then headed up Mount Sinai. The 'real' way was up some 3,000 steps, which were carved by a monk in penance (for what we need to wiki). Unfortunately due to the icy weather and rain, the steps were largely iced over and too dangerous to climb. Instead we had to take the camel trail. Jac took the low-maintenance method of going by camel, while Chalky walked the six or so kms of windy uphill trail. However what was unavoidable was the last, sweaty crude 750 steps to the top. It would have been sweaty had it not been terribly cold, with a freezing wind blasting us the whole way. We met Tony and Rachel, a Canadian couple who used to run an organic farm and interestingly were part of the 'Wwoofer' organisation (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) that host voluntary workers for bed and board.
Once at the top the view was spectacular, however we could not spot what would be the 'Promised Land' that Moses supposedly saw. The craggy mountains, glowing with the afternoon sun were awe-inspiring. However, can you believe that it was so bitterly cold (even with multiple thermal and woollen layers) that we could not bear to wait half an hour for sunset? We set back down, and grateful that we didn't do so in the dark, as the loose rocks were slippery. Once darkness fell however, it really started to be unbearable. We swear, we have never been that miserably cold in our whole lives. We were so glad we decided not to stay atop the mountain overnight (no tents, just open stone shelters) to watch the sunrise. And we understood how angry Moses would have been, after trudging up the immense mountain (no steps or camels there), receiving the comandments from the Almighty, chiselling them into heavy stone tablets, and carrying the darn things all the way down, only to find his clan were celebrating and worshipping a gold cow! Perhaps that was his punishment for actually receiving 25 commandments and tossing 15 of them on the way down to create his 'Top Ten' to save his struggling arms...
On the way up Mt Sinai (beats 2,250 steps vertical)
A tiny gold monastary atop a mountain
Jac on the camel as Chalky walks (holding camera)
Now for 750 steps straight up...
Jac was last seen hamming it up for the camera...
At the summit! Freezing but happy
The magnificient mountains
You wouldn't think there'd be ice in Egypt...
The setting sun on the mountains
Much warmer (and happier!) having dinner with Rachel and Tony at Shams
After nine days of blissful relaxing and diving, we decided to leave for Jordan, which involves crossing the Red Sea by ferry to Aqaba. We were disappointed the day before we left, to discover that we might have to stay in Dahab for a few more days, as arriving to Aqaba on an Arab weekend (Thurs, Fri) meant that all accomodation in the small town was packed and prices sky high. However Jac was too good in finding a room, so it meant we farewelled our Egyptian home away from home.