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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Paradise Found: Dahab

Day 121 - 125

While working at the hostel, a couple of people had told me about this place called Dahab in Egypt…a big scuba diving destination, I wasn’t sure if I’d really be interested in going being that I am from Hawaii and to be honest, beaches don’t really impress me too much, especially when compared to Hawaii’s own.  But the last Australian I had met could not stop talking about it.

After we crossed the border, somewhere in the Red Sea, we arrived in Nuweiba, Egypt.  Luckily, I was able to convince Lee that we should try to spend a few days in Dahab before moving on and seeing all the famous sites of Egypt.  The problem though when we arrived at the butt crack of dawn was that we couldn’t find the shuttle that I had read about.  We also couldn’t find the town of Nuweiba.  All the drivers who were desperately waiting for passengers all gave us the same story and told us the ‘town’ was far and that we couldn’t walk there and that the bus to Dahab wasn’t until 4:00PM.  I didn’t want to go with these drivers who were obviously taking advantage of our situation.  All I needed was internet but we didn’t see any signs of a town and I wasn’t catching any wi-fi signal.  So…reluctantly, we agreed to go with one of the drivers at a rate of 60EGP ($10.50), each.

We arrived in Dahab about an hour or so later, it’s about 80km away from the port of Nuweiba.  We arrived and the driver took us to a place called Auski Camp (stands for Aussie + Kiwi) and was actually one of the places we had considered.  Ready to take no survivors, I bargained down Osama, the young guy that worked there, for a room WITH air conditioning + bathroom ensuite.  I told him that we would stay for two days but perhaps longer.  Contrary to any other person I had tried to bargain with in the past, he refused my business and agreed to my rate of 50EGP ($8.80) a night but said that we shouldn’t stay too long…ha. Okay, we shook on the deal and Lee and I shared a room for less than $5 a person!

It was about 8:00AM and we still hadn’t eaten anything so we found our way to the adjoining restaurant that overlooked the Red Sea.  It wasn’t beautiful like Hawaii beautiful but it was definitely relaxing and serene….we ended up having our breakfast and lounging…then having a shake then lounging…we were there at the restaurant - lounging -for 4 hours! We finally left, reluctantly, at 2:30PM, only because we realized we couldn’t spend the ENTIRE day there.

So the two days we were there eventually became 4 days…the second day that we were there, we decided to rent bicycles and go out to the Blue Lagoon.  We got our bicycles for 25EGP ($4.50) which included the bicycle + snorkel gear.  It was a good thing to have the bicycles because we were also able to stop at the bank to try and get Lee’s traveler’s checks cashed. Lee and his traveler’s checks…this was an ongoing challenge in our trip with most places not able to convert these papers into hard cash.  The bank was located at least 3 miles outside of the town so it worked out that we could stop here before we made our way to the Blue Lagoon.  Although the bank agreed to cash them, they said that they were done for the day and anyway, would require proof of purchase.  Well, at least Lee knew where he needed to go and what he needed.  After we got business out of the way, we rode another 5 miles or so down to the Blue Lagoon. 

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The water there was beautiful and the beach was full of people and even little children, begging or money; we had to be mindful of our things…we decided to take turns in the water with our snorkel gear. Since I’m not much of a swimmer, I let Lee go ahead first. He took my underwater camera and took some nice shots of the reef.  Soon, all the people on the beach were given a signal and within minutes, they all disappeared into buses and drove away. I snorkeled around a bit and the water was very clear and you could easily see all the fish!  I forgot how much fun snorkeling was!  After an hour and a half at the beach, we decided to ride back since we were planning to book a tour that evening and were told 7:00PM was our deadline.  Riding home over bumpy rocks and sand was no fun anymore and our butts were soooo sore! Bad, bad idea!

That night we decided that we were going to climb up Mount Sinai, the mountain where it is said Moses received the 10 Commandments from God.  I am not Christian but these religious sites are very interesting and appealing to me for some reason.  Thankfully, Lee is an easy going guy so he agreed on my plan and we, no I take that back, Lee was able to find a tour for 70EGP ($12.30).  I was so proud of him! Not even a week with me and he was already picking up my techniques!  The going rate for these tours were 100-120EGP and the lowest we were able to get was 80EGP but Lee managed to get it for 70EGP!

The hike up Mt. Sinai and the visit to St. Katherine’s Monastery is a field trip that departs at 11:00PM.  Why so late?  Well it’s brilliant, really…you hike up there at night so it’s not so hot and it’s expertly timed so by the time you reach the summit, you’re in for a spectacular view of the morning sunrise!  The downside with this night tour though is that you’re basically paying for your hostel but not using it…which sucks but the idea of going at night was exciting!  I had never done a night tour before…we should have tried to take a nap earlier in the day but we didn’t and we paid for it…we departed at 11:00PM, arrived at the base of the mountain at 2:00AM and started trekking up.  There were bus loads of people there, maybe 500 or so people…all wanting to hike up the mountain.  The hike up wasn’t too bad, yes, I can say that now that I have survived it! The incline was pretty steep but it was a straight, smooth path. 

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This camel almost attacked me!                                   One of the shop owner’s (S/Jar Buks) that gave me hot water!
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We didn’t know what to expect, probably because we were overly excited by our 70EGP steal that we forgot to ask some basic questions like: ‘what shall we wear?’ Dahab was hot, hovering around 95F every day so we never thought it would be cold at the top! Lee had his jacket in hand but just before we stepped out of our room, decided he didn’t need it and threw it back down.  That was definitely the biggest wrong move he made on the trip, well, besides carrying only Traveler’s Checks!

The view at the top was stunning but yes, very cold!  Luckily I had my windbreaker…but poor Lee with only a t-shirt was freezing!  Luckily, I had the Hawaiian flag with me and offered it to him to cover himself.  He willingly accepted and admitted that it was the Hawaiian flag that helped him survive the time up at the top.  Among some of the people there, there were many religious people who started singing hymns at the top. Some groups filled the air with melodic voices while others, obviously, were not in the the song- singing business.

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                                                                           All the people who hiked at night!

The walk down was much easier and we were able to get down within an hour and a half or so.  It was still so cold though and my hands were freezing!  There was a point that I thought something was wrong with me because even after coming down for about 30 minutes, my hands were still numb! I had actually brought a thermos along with me for the journey, which broke on our way up, but I saved the cup and asked some of the shops set-up along the way to give me hot water.  The two that I asked both said ‘no’ but later felt sorry for me and told me to come back and would give me water (I used the water to mix my instant coffee packs that I had brought along!) It was comforting to know that these were good people; it wasn’t just about making money. Thank you generous souls!

Soon enough the sun was shining brightly and it became very hot!  At the bottom of the mountain, we made a quick visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery - a Greek Orthodox church - which was part of the tour.  I didn’t actually go into the altar area as there was an admission fee.  There was a Greek guy in our group though that said he got in free because he was Greek!  Wow, lucky him!  He even got a ring as a souvenir from the church! I wish I were Greek!  Most of us didn’t go in the church because it was too hot and we were all just too tired…

On the 4 hour bus ride back, we were all pretty tired but stayed up to talk a bit. Our group, for the most part, was a cool bunch - a Canadian, American (who lived in Japan) and Japanese girlfriend, 4 guys from Egypt, a Greek and some other people, I think they were British, that we didn’t get too close to….we exchanged travel stories and the Canadian shared with us how he had his money and passport stolen in Brazil and shared some other really terrifying news about travel in Brazil!  This worried me as I had never heard bad things about Brazil up until this point!  Gunpoint, rape, passport, money…these were words that I never want to hear traveling!  Anyway, I am still going….let’s just hope that what the Canadian experienced was an isolated incident!  Eventually I fell asleep and before we got off the bus, we all agreed to meet up again and smoke hookah (water pipe) together that evening…it was something Lee had wanted to do, so this was something we were definitely interested in doing!  

We went back to the hotel and Lee decided to go back to the bank! Oh, I felt so bad for him. He was so tired but needed to get his money!  And instead of riding, he walked there!  Luckily, he was able to get all that paper work, receipt business sorted out and got his money exchanged. Meanwhile back in the room, I played on my phone…somehow I couldn’t sleep anymore.  Lee came back about an hour and a half later and we ended up talking….we talked until 6:30PM! Finally we were starting to get sleepy so we decided we would get a little shut eye before we went out to meet the group at 7:30PM. That never happened. Lee woke me up at about 9:45PM! And we were both too tired to get out of bed and decided to skip dinner (we didn’t eat anything this whole day except some snacks we had brought along on our hike) and go back to bed! It was unfortunate though as I was really looking forward to getting together with everyone again for a nice meal and hookah!

The following day, we arranged a tour out to the Blue Hole which is THE main reason that people come out to Dahab.  Again, we bargained our way and went to the Blue Hole for 50 EGP which included snorkel and transportation on 4x4. Originally we thought we could ride our bikes out here but after feeling the pain, and later realizing how far it actually was, it was a good thing we did the tour!

Wow! Is all I can say. I was not prepared for the magnificence of the Blue Hole…flat reef at the shoreline and then voom, the reef drops and there is nothing but a big blue hole.  I was actually a little scared to swim over the blue hole as I thought maybe something would come suck me up from beneath.  Thankfully, there was a family traveling with us in the same tour and the 7 year old son didn’t want to use the life vest so offered it to me.  Ha ha! How embarrassing, the 7 year old isn’t scared and needs to help the xx year old grown-up! I needed it though!  Though it is hard to take underwater videos! Lee kept telling me to go underneath and I realized the vest was preventing me from getting completely under the water.  At the Blue Hole, we again alternated our swim times but after lunch the family decided they weren’t going in anymore so Lee and I decided to go in together. 

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Altogether, we had a really good time in Dahab! It was a laid back town and even though I’m not a fan of beaches, this place had a different feel to it.  And even though my lunch at the Blue Hole was paid at full price - 40EGP ($7.00); you really can’t bargain when it’s all tourists and nowhere else to eat! - this was the ONLY thing that we ever paid full price for during our entire time in Dahab!  Our hostel, tours, meals, yes our meals (free appetizers, free bottled water, free desert, 10% off), our laundry, EVERYTHING was never paid for at full price; maybe that’s why I liked this place so much?!  I was so glad I had found a good travel buddy that was fun to be with and interesting to talk to.  I was liking Egypt so far…next we were off to Luxor….we didn’t know what was in Luxor (neither of us had a guide book) but hey, it’s a famous place - they even have a hotel named after it in Vegas - and everyone was talking about it so we knew we had to stop here.  Before getting to Luxor though, Lee was interested in stopping over at the Suez Canal to see the large ships coming through.  The Suez Canal? This is what you learn about in school! I was interested in seeing the Suez Canal!  So we bought a bus ticket (oh, we got ripped off for this but it was okay, we had already saved a ton of money!) through the hostel and hopped on a bus to the great port city of Suez. 

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