February 6th, 2011


Trip to Egypt writeup

Well, five days after returning, I have to say the continuously unfolding political situation in Egypt is still blowing me away. I saw hints of it when I was there three years ago - basically, any country where people felt it was so expensive to live and so hard to find a job that you just basically couldn't afford to get married ... that's the kind of things where you would expect people would consider it worth laying their lives down to make it change.

A bit about Dahab, Egypt: I'd originally thought I was going to go to Sharm El Sheikh, despite the fact it had a rep as a party town. Instead, solely based on hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, I wound up picking a place further south north, though I hadn't realized we were going to be an hour drive via occasionally sand-covered highway from the Sharm airport. But Dahab was extraordinarily pleasant and utterly worth the drive and extra cost and hassle (70 quid RT transfers via TravelRepublic.co.uk, SO HAPPY I set this up before we left, they met us perfectly upon arrival and we wound up traveling in a private car each way) to get to. It is a small town, seemingly of 5-8K people and a similar number of goats, rural enough that our first sight the morning after we arrived was of a young boy running down the road chasing after his camel. The people that stay there are mostly divers, I think, and thus not prone to getting riotously drunk - can't do that when you're going in the next day. There is a nice beachfront promenade with restaurants where for prices about 30% less than the UK you can eat on cushions while looking at the ocean. The view is pretty spectacular during the day, too: on the horizon across the waters you can see the red mountains of Saudi Arabia looming like the walls of a forbidden desert kingdom. Which, you know, it kind of was. It felt intimidating, somehow, having this place that is now in my mind like the USSR of old staring at you. But Dahab itself is low key and pleasant and lovely, just a small market area and full of tourists but still utterly Egyptian when you take three steps away from the strip.

J decided to come with me rather at the last minute, but I was able to change my one person in a double to two people in a double reservation at the Tropitel Oasis with a minimum of trouble. This turned out to be a really nice place to stay despite my fears of "all inclusive:" the food was good, if not outstanding, we got free drinks all day (not that I did much of that), the gardens were lovely, and the people that worked there actually seemed genuinely friendly. The night we showed up, they did a singing and dancing and presentation of cake thing to a table of three girls; apparently it was the fourth return for one of them, and if she comes back next year they will name one of the trees in the garden after her. And then there was the gorgeous water full of colorful fishies right of the dock, a perfect place to snorkel. There was a dive center on site, but I'd made reservations elsewhere. Ultimately my two complaints were too many mosquitoes and too short of a massage; the lack of internet turned out to not be their fault. The distance from town - about four miles - was more than I wanted to walk (especially after a day in the water), but the hotel ran a shuttle five times a day and we could cab it for four quid. My vote: awesome hotel, great town.

Anyway, our activities pretty much followed exactly the plan I'd laid out before I left, when I was thinking it would just be me, but with additional flexibility about the ordering of options and the eventual decision to bag on further scuba diving due to it being not available for J and me kinda getting my fill the first two days. So what we did was as follows"

Day one: We are picked up at the hotel at 8 AM by the dive company and go into town to get our equipment, then are dropped off at "The Lighthouse" to do our dives. I spent morning doing the first half of my PADI open water dives (writeup here if you missed it) while J did a "try dive" and succeeded in 1) making my instructor wish he were teaching J instead of me 2) getting a nosebleed in his mask, causing J to decide perhaps he wouldn't be doing anymore of this diving thing. J wound up lounging under an umbrella and drinking mint tea while I finished my second dive: he clearly had more fun than I did. I think we finished fairly early in the day, but most of the afternoon is a blur as I was really stressed out. We went for a walk to see about pricing for trips to Petra afterwards, then went back to the hotel for free lunch and a major nap. The evening was also a blur. I blame stress and cold.

Day two: we are picked up at 9AM and taken AWAY from town to a walkable dive site called "The Canyon." I finish my two final dives, while J snorkels and does some water colors. We go back into town to pay up (requiring a bit of a scramble as they want cash and due to lack of internet can't figure out the exchange rate for pounds), then head out for a walk on the promenade. We find a guy with affordable trips and set up for two - he allows us to pay him "on a promise" for the expensive trip to Jordan since we are low on cash - and get into an extensive talk about the political situation in Egypt. We then have an ultra-leisurely lunch at the "Bedouin Lodge," stew for me and grilled chicken for J, while we watch the ocean and laugh at the four black cats who are trying to scam our food. We go back to the hotel, nap, then get up in time for lovely massages, dinner (this time with wine!) and a few rounds of cards on the patio.

And ... well, I'll tell you about days 3 and 4 later.