Easter in Egypt

Dahab, Cairo: 6-16 April, 2007 

Dan, Ev, the Pyramid of Khufu and the Sphinx at Giza 

Mention Egypt, and one conjures up images of the Sphinx, Tutankhamun´s mask, or in my case, the 3-dimensional model pyramid with vertical cross-sectional opening I constructed for a high school  project.  Egypt has been a "must-see" destination for me since childhood, and since threats of terrorist attacks had showed no signs of waning, we figured Easter 2007 was as good a time as ever to visit the land of the pharaohs.

In ten days we dived in the Red Sea, climbed Mount Sinai (or sometimes nicknamed "Mount Moses"), trekked through the Sinai Desert on camels, and made an obligatory side excursion to Cairo, to see the last remaining ancient wonders of the world.   

Where we stayed - Dahab 

For the diving enthusiast searching for a chilled-out, hassle-free base, the ex-Bedouin village turned hippy tourist town of Dahab is ideal. It´s one and a half hours´ drive from Sharm al Sheik airport, has convenient shore diving, good access to Sinai desert sites of interest and a relaxed atmosphere.  With all amenities within short walking distance, it didn´t take us long to locate the best fresh guava juice, the yummiest banana thickshake, the nicest dips and flat bread on-the-house, and the most elaborate aluminium foil creations (piled with grilled seafood and salads).   

 The "Lighthouse" dive site, Dahab (no need to look again, there´s no lighthouse there)

 View from our balcony at Coral Coast Hotel, Dahab

 Sinai desert meets the Red Sea

Getting around 

Those who can afford internal flights within Egypt should NOT think twice about taking the overnight bus from Dahab to Cairo instead.  I wasn´t sure whether to be reassured, or annoyed, by the bus stopping every 30 minutes for "passport control".  But these intermittent pit stops were not the cause of my sleepless night.  I fully respect the practice of praying five times a day, but wasn´t it overkill to have Islamic prayers blaring inside the bus for the entire 8 hour journey?  By the way, the day bus is no less painful and longer by two hours!

 Driving through the Sinai Desert

Camel trek in Sinai 
(For some reason my camel had a penchant for sniffing the assholes of other camels)

The local way of hitching a ride? 

Dining but no wining

With the exception of fuul (mashed up fava beans), my taste buds really struck a chord with Egyptian cuisine - or at least, the food that we were served while in Egypt.  Surprisingly I didn´t get tired of the almost daily fare of hummus and babaghanoush with pita bread, but we hit saturation point with whole grilled fish.  Luckily most restuarants in Dahab had some form of Schnitzel on the menu, presumably catering for homesick Germans.   

Mmmm...that guava juice was sublime...  

Bedouin hospitality, paid for of course.  I was almost famished enough to eat the fried chicken on offer, but regained my senses upon noticing a deep fried feather. 

An Egyptian bretzel man sighted in Cairo´s Khan al-Khalili Bazaar

Dive away

For non-divers there is plenty of snorkelling in and around Dahab to keep one occupied, but after occupying myself for 30 minutes swimming against the current and stopping intermittently to clear my snorkel of seawater, I decided I was better off putting up with my erratic bouyancy and completing the Advanced Open Water PADI diving course (which, by the way, is recommended if you want to dive the more interesting sites in the Red Sea). 
 

 Gearing up was a calorie-burning exercise, especially having to carry 10kg weight belts

Surveying the Ras Abdul Gallum dive site

Not my most flattering outfit...

 Hey buddy, Moment mal! Wait for me! 


Cairo

Two days is really more than enough to see the highlights of Cairo, namely the Pyramids at Giza, and the Egyptian Museum.  There is no doubt a charm to the city we never fully got to explore or discover, but on first impressions Cairo is pretty polluted and confusing to get around.  Conveniently our Egyptologist tour included our own driver, who appeared constantly high on something...perhaps the perfume he insisted on spraying all over me despite my protest.

Spot the pyramids from Cairo city

At Giza, avoiding the camel ride protagonists

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara

Even if it´s a little flat, at least I still have one!

No introduction required

Climbing Mount Sinai

The most popular times to summit Mount Sinai are during sunset and sunrise.  Due to time restraints and decompression limits we started climbing an hour before midday, and practically had the whole mountain to ourselves.  Of course I can´t comment on how spectacular the sunrise or sunset would have looked, but I was thankful for not having to share the narrow 3750 Steps of Repentance with other tourists (especially unfit ones).  By the way, Moses was supposed to have received the 10 Commandments from the summit of Mount Sinai, but we are doubtful he could have carried the stone tablets all the way down by himself. 

View from Mount Sinai, 2285m above sea level.

The ancient burning bush at St Katherine´s monastery,
stripped a little bare of its leaves by devotees such as this one caught in the act

 Man selling Coke near the summit of Mount Sinai

My first introduction to Leibniz Butterkeks (Daniel´s biscuit of choice) was on the top of Mount Sinai.  Light, crispy with a faint taste of butter (12%), these were surprisingly tastier than the digestive biscuits I had picked out.     

Mount Sinai summit