Sinai (OK, mostly Dahab), Egypt (1.09.10 – 1.15.10)

I’ve had this entry written for nearly a week now, but I’ve had hugely unreliable internet, if that, so updating with pictures was kind of out of the question. Better late than never, yes? Yes.

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, getting to Egypt was far more difficult than it should have been. The flight got into Sharm El-Sheikh three and a half hours late, which was sorely inconvenient as well as just being infuriating. I cleared customs and then had to go about getting a taxi to the youth hostel in town. The taxis were eager to rip me off… no surprise there. They wanted to charge 250 Egyptian Pounds for a taxi ride that was 14 km in total. I’ll give you some conversion rates here. 1USD = 5.5 LE (Egyptian Pounds). 1 km = 0.62 miles. SO. That’s about $45.50 for a taxi ride less than 9 miles. When I instantly told him no way, he tried to say “No, no, it’s not very much. Many Egyptian Pounds are not many English Pounds.” I quickly retorted than I knew EXACTLY what the exchange rates were and that was far, far too much money. I knew I should pay about 30LE for the ride, which he also tried to insist was over 30 km. “No, no. It’s very far, very far.”
After a fair bit of messing around, I said “If you’re going to lie to me, then we’re done talking. I’ll find someone else.” and proceeded to walk away. Before long, I was able to get them down to 50LE, which is still more than I should have paid, but far better than the 250LE that they thought they were going to get away with. As it turned out, no one had ever heard of the youth hostel where I was planning to stay. I was dropped off on the street where it should have been, and reluctantly, I ended up staying in a hotel for 200LE for the night. I can’t afford prices like this, but I needed somewhere to stay for the night.
In the morning I checked out and found a Starbucks, which basically guarantees internet. After some internetting, it became clear that the alleged hostel should have been exactly where I was looking for it. I consulted the guidebook which informed me that if you are looking for budget travel, then you need to get out of Sharm El-Sheikh , but Dahab, an hour and a quarter up the coast was the place to be. I attempted to find the hostel once more, in vain, and then conceded to the fact that I would need to move onto Dahab. I got a taxi to the station and had to wait for a while, but while there, I met a woman from New Zealand. As it turned out, we were both heading for Dahab, and were both planning to stay at the same place. Friends we became! Once the bus came, everything went smoothly from that point on. We got to the Dahab bus station, got a taxi to Penguin Village, and checked in. Once we’d dumped our bags in our rooms, we went for a walk around town to scope out food options, as well as getting a feel for Dahab. After walking for a while, we returned to Penguin Village to lounge in the restaurant attached to the hotel. Juanita decided to head to bed around midnight; I stayed up for a while, chatting with a couple of the staff members. Around 2AM, I decided to go and lay on the deck and stargaze for a bit before heading to bed.
On Monday, I took my time getting up for the day, showered and went to find Juanita. In short, we lazed about all day. We each made plans for trips departing that night. Juanita decided to do a two day whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, and Petra, while I decided to go on the night hike to Mount Sinai to watch the sunrise in the morning. Juanita left around 9PM, and at 11PM, my bus was ready to depart. The bus drove around several hotels in town, picking up 12 people in total, and then driving to the foot of Mt. Sinai. At 2:20AM, we began our walk, which seemed endless. In the dark, you can see the summit looming in front of you, and you think, you hope that it’s not as far as it looks. It took our group three hours and twenty minutes to reach the summit. The walk up was exhausting but incredible. The night sky was as clear as I’ve ever seen it, and I saw quite a few meteors. At about 5:40, we reached the summit, and before long, the first signs of sunrise were apparent. The sky became redder and redder, and the sun rose over the peaks before us. It was beautiful… and absolutely freezing; I had to rent a blanket to keep warm. At 7, we began our descent in full daylight, and luckily, once the sun rose, the temperature was quite pleasant. We made it down Mt. Sinai in an hour and a half, and then waited for half an hour outside of St. Katherine’s Monastery, waiting for it to open at 9. The doors open, and in we all filed. The church itself was beautiful, and inside the monastery walls is where the alleged descendant of the burning bush grows. We left wishes in the spaces between the bricks that surround the burning bush ancestor, and then made our way to the entrance to catch our ride back home. We arrived at Penguin Village around noon, and I promptly fell asleep for five hours. When I woke, I didn’t do much of anything, and hung around the restaurant for the remainder of the night.
On Wednesday, I woke and though I had considered spending the day diving, as I had suspected might be the case, I was far too tired to do any such thing. I was lazy for the majority of the day, though I did take a walk around the center of town, and did some shopping for my little sister’s upcoming birthday. That night, Juanita returned home from her journey, and we celebrated this fact with food and beer.
Thursday was to be my last full day in Dahab, and I told myself that I was going to go diving. I woke early in the morning to make the 9AM dive, and woke to feelings of extreme anxiety due to worries about a few skills that I was to perform my for refresher dive, which is necessary for anyone who hasn’t been diving within the past six months. My anxiety got the better of me, and I told them that I was going to skip the 9AM dive, and instead catch the 1Pm dive, so that I had more time to rest and talk myself out of my worries. At 12:30, I started getting worried again, and came very close to deciding to miss the 1PM dive as well, but I was calmed down by a friendly girl who had also just had to do a refresher dive. The girl’s name was Saäna, and she was from Finland.
Once in the water, I was elated that I had decided to go through with the dive, and enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly. After I was done with the refresher part of the dive, and had completed the skills, we went diving, and reached a depth of about 20 meters, or 66 ft, which is the deepest dive I’ve done so far. The reef was magnificent, and I saw so many incredible types of fish! I saw trumpet fish, dragon fish, scorpion fish, clown fish, among those that I can actually name. It was a remarkable experience, and once done, I wished dearly that I hadn’t been so foolish and worried that morning… but so it goes! Once back from the dive, I hung out with Juanita for a while, and later went to pick up the present which I had ordered a day before. Afterwards, I returned to the Penguin restaurant, and spent more time with Saäna and Juanita. Saäna lives in Helsinki, and when I mentioned that I was planning on going in March, she offered me a place to stay. I told her that I would be sure to take her up on her offer, as I had been intending on Couch Surfing while there anyway, and then discovered that she is a Couch Surfer as well! Viva CS! The rest of the night was spent sitting around the fire, drinking beers and chatting with the staff… and excellent and relaxing last night in Dahab, truly reflective of the duration of my stay there.
I woke early on Friday, in order to ready my things for the journey to Nuweiba, and then onto Jordan. Juanita and I ate breakfast, and said a fond farewell… well, more like a ’see you later,’ as I now have a place to stay in New Zealand. Warning: Offer me a place to stay, and I will take you up on it. I need only the smallest excuse to travel.
The bus trip to Nuweiba was uneventful, and after about an hour, I found myself at the port ferry ticket office, which proved to be an adventure in itself. While there, I met two guys: Nathan, from Chicago, and Feargus, from Ireland. We chatted for the duration of our long camp out at the ticket office. I arrived around noon, and the ferry was due to leave at 3PM. The ticket office didn’t open until 1:30, and I didn’t have my ticket in hand until 2:50… welcome to ‘Egyptian time.’ It was 3:50 by the time that we were on the ferry, and 4:40 by the time it left port… truly ridiculous!
The ferry ride was fairly quiet. We gave our passports to the officials so that we could pick them up at the office in Jordan, complete with Jordanian visa. During the ride, one of the crew took a liking to me, and later called the three of us up to first class, where a full band was playing an impromptu concert. After a few hours, we were docked in Aqaba, Jordan… and that is the start of another story.

First signs of sunrise as seen from the summit of Mount Sinai

Getting lighter…

And this is what we had been surrounded by in our dark walk to the top

The crowds, all taking photos of the rising sun

The chapel at the Mount Sinai summit that some madman was crazy enough to build!

More crowds…

The sun has risen, and at this point, people started descending

It was FREEZING at the top!

Breathtaking, non?

The walk down

The morning views were spectacular

Camels. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the strangest creatures on the planet.

St. Katherine’s monastery

The bush allegedly descended from the burning bush

The wishing wall!

Back down at the bottom; I made it!

Ooph… enough pictures from Mount Sinai?

The Gulf of Aqaba, directly outside of the restaurant.

The land you can see in the distance? Oh, that’s just Saudi Arabia.

Dahab by night

A picture of me and the lovely Juanita, with whom I spent basically all of my time in Dahab.

This is the restaurant attached to the hotel… so, where I spent the majority of my time just lazing around. It was glorious.

Bye bye Egypt! This was taken from the ferry on the way to Jordan.

Jordan up next! Complete with SO MANY PHOTOS!

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