As it turns out, that downtime in between day and evening never came to be. Instead, I sat with Ling and the folks with whom she had just completed a refresher scuba course as they rehashed the events of the day. We drank Stella beers (no, not Stella Artois…Egyptian Stella) and they talked about the fish they’d seen and what it felt like to be back in the water.
I had started a blog post in this same Word document five days ago when we were on the ferry from Aqaba, a beach town on the tiny coast of Jordan, to Egypt. As I write now, we are headed back the other direction, taking the ferry to Aqaba and staying a night before heading back to Amman for the duration.
The past week in Dahab, a laidback scuba town on the coast of the Red Sea in Egypt, has been phenomenal. Having traveled there before, Ling was very subtly encouraging me to choose a long stay in Dahab over a package deal in Sharm el-Sheikh, a larger and more touristy Egypt beach town south of Dahab. She had described to me just how relaxed Dahab was, but it was something I couldn’t quite imagine until I saw it. I’m so glad I trusted her, and feel so lucky to have spent a few days in such a gorgeous setting meeting such wonderful people. (And frankly, lucky to have gotten onto this ferry; the Sinai doesn’t really do organized tourism, so getting on this boat was an adventure. Let’s just say that an Egyptian line appears to be nothing more than a large crowd of people jostling one another in the vicintity of a ticket window of some sort.)
But back to the beginning of this leg of the trip: After an hour-long ferry ride, Ling and I arrived in Nuweiba, Egypt, where we were to meet a driver from our hotel who would take us on the hour-long journey to Dahab. When we got off the ferry, there was no driver to be found; instead, we found a mostly empty parking lot with a few buses and quite literally just followed the other tourists onto one of them. It was hot and things got sweaty, and after only a few minutes we were dropped off in another parking lot filled with cars and trucks and furniture and people. There were no signs to tell us where to go or how to find our drivers, so we more or less just wandered through a building or two until we arrived at something of a security checkpoint. And, thank god, on the other side of that security checkpoint a man was waiting with a sign with Ling’s name on it. (A bit different than when I arrived at the Queen Alia Airport in Amman and found my driver holding a sign that said “Ms. Mallory” – no last name. Made me smile.)
After several rounds of Would You Rather? (adult braces for a year, or pedophile glasses with transition lenses for a year?), we arrived at our hotel, Coral Coast, and instantly fell in love. It’s a tiny hotel with maybe a few dozen rooms, and the pool was literally steps away from the door of our cozy room. We spent the next four days doing what you do when you’re in Dahab: lounging by the pool, snorkeling and scuba diving, eating Asian food (yeah…I don’t quite understand either), and drinking lots of Egyptian Stella. It’s a place that makes it easy to forget that there’s a world outside, and in fact, many locals were once vacationers who found the thought of leaving Dahab unbearable. We met folks from London, the U.S., and New Zealand who had essentially dropped off the grid and now spent their days teaching scuba and living the dream.
Dahab (emphasis on the first syllable: DAH-hab) is known for its scuba diving, and although I’ve never dived before, I figured I couldn’t leave the place without getting a taste of some underwater adventure. I signed up for a “Discover Dive” course one day, overslept (that’s a shocker for those of you who know me), and rushed out of my room with nothing but a towel and lunch money. I hopped in a truck with my American-born dive instructor and two Welsh divers about my age and we drove 20 minutes south of Dahab to some of the loveliest landscape I’ve ever seen. As you’ll recall, I brought only a towel and lunch money, so there was no camera to document my adventure, but suffice to say it was amazing, and that I’m officially hooked. I spent the morning snorkeling, and I was so giddy and high on life that I kept laughing out loud underwater and gurgling (to the fishes, I guess), “I’m SNORKELING off the coast of AFRICA.” When I’d pop my head up, I’d see sandy beaches, sharp mountain ranges, and camels and then I’d duck back under and continue beaming to no one in particular.
Scuba diving itself was equally amazing. My guide, Matt, held onto my tank and took care of the other stuff that keeps you breathing on our 30-minute dive, and while the experience is a little nerve-wracking at first – I mean, you’re breathing underwater – it is ultimately freaking a-MAH-ing. I’m already dreaming up where I might go to take a full scuba certification course. Who’s in?
It’s hard to believe that this large chunk of the trip is already over, and it was even harder to leave a place that allowed me to spend my days in the water and my nights sitting on a bunch of pillows on a deck overlooking the water as I sipped cocktails, played gin rummy, and smoked sheesha (don’t worry, Ma; that’s not a drug). The night breeze almost makes you forget that the daytime is so hot that it’s impossible to spend more than a few minutes at a time outside of some body of water.
When it comes to vacations, I’ve always been frustrated with myself for taking a thousand scenery pictures that never mean much to me after the trip (and that my relatives have gotten rull bored looking at). But Dahab was so interesting that it was hard to not take a ton of photos of the beach, the shops, and the sights in general. It’s a strange place that’s both dirty and gorgeous; the streets are littered with bits of trash, as is the beach, and many of the buildings (even just outside the busting center of the city) look deserted. Stray dog and cats appear in every shop, hotel, and restaurant, and around every street corner. That description makes me think I’d hate the city, but all things considered, it’s still a beautiful place, and the contrast of, say, dirty streets to bright blue water silhouetted by mountains, makes you appreciate your surroundings even more. I could do without the extreme nature of the heat and the persistent shopkeepers (who were occasionally very creative – one man selling canvas bags yelled out, “Want to steal some money?!”), but they don’t make me love Dahab any less. I mean, I got to spend last night drinking Bedouin tea (a black tea made with sage), playing with an adorable puppy (pretty sure he didn’t have rabies….yet), and sitting by the ocean watching the moon rise. How can you argue with that?
I brilliantly didn’t bring my camera cord with me on the trip, so you may not be seeing photos of said gorgeous scenery until I’m back in DC (perhaps a bit sooner if we upload some of Ling’s). For now, I’m headed out, but I hope I can go back to Dahab soon. Tonight Ling and I will be staying in a slightly less sparse hotel in Aqaba, and I’ll be doing my best to avoid further sunburn and treat my totally badass “reef rash” which left me with large welts on my right knee. I’ll do my best to check in a bit more regularly, but again, I shouldn’t really promise anything. If you don’t hear from me for a few days, please assume that I’m having fun and ignoring my computer rather than slowly dying of coral poisoning.