Days 30, 31: Getting To Dahab (Or “Aren’t We Still In The Same Country?”)

I made it to Dahab!

Weren’t no easy going, though.

I left Luxor at about 5 p.m. on Monday on a large East Delta Travel bus. Boarding with a few Australian backpackers, one couple hailing from Grenoble and a handful of Egyptian families, I managed to snag my own seat and didn’t have to share with anyone – though this was up in the air for a bit: I plonked myself down near the front of the bus at the beginning of the trip, when the vehicle was still about half-empty. As the bus barreled on and made some stops between Luxor and Hurghada, we picked up more passengers and eventually an Egyptian woman and her two small children took the seat next to me – no problem there (though later on, halfway through the ride I observed one of these otherwise charming ayyileen barfing all over the place, so in retrospect I’m very lucky in the way things turned out). At this point, apropos of nothing, the driver – who had already proven himself an excitable sort, having evicted two male passengers on the side of the desert after a short but hysterical screaming match that I understood not one word of – came along and told me to get up and move to another seat. With no explanation, he indicated a still-empty siege nearer the back of the bus. Fearing his wrath, I did as I was told. Before the bus started moving again, though, a sweaty, mustachioed fellow leaned in over me and made like he wanted to sit next to me (I was sitting in the aisle seat, so this would have required my compliance). Well, I didn’t like the looks (or the smell) of him, so – though I wasn’t wearing my hijab – I refused, once more going through my prissy-hissy-fit routine of “Mish with rajool (man) alone! La la la!” Rather than get angry, the driver nodded his head brusquely, as if my refusal was only proper, and propelled me to yet another empty set of seats – surely the last left on the bus – and there I remained for the rest of the ride. So I have no idea what all that was about, but with the luxury of a whole siege to myself, I certainly have nothing to complain about.

The bus ride itself – which Guidebook predicted would last between 14 and 16 hours – in fact took no less than 18 hours. We stopped every three hours or so to refuel and go to the bathroom, and though we mostly rode in the middle of the night, I kept hopping off the bus to look around at these surreal desert truck-stops we kept finding ourselves in – just gas stations, maybe a convenience store with a few insomniac drivers outside smoking shisha, and then – as far as I could tell in the pitch-black – miles and miles of Nothing and Nowhere.

Throughout the ride, the little TV screen mounted in the bus showed a mix of WWF wrestling, Egyptian soap operas and some fantastically bad American movie that seemed to involve zombie Vietnam-era soldiers being used by the U.S. government for various and assorted No Goodery (it was in English with Arabic subtitles, but the sound quality was terrible so – mercifully, I think – I wasn’t able to follow it too closely). Anyway, between that, the stops and the fact that our bus broke down – I kid you not – three separate times (whereupon, each time, we all unloaded our chattel and waited around on the side of the road for another East Delta Travel bus to appear from nowhere and pick us up) I didn’t get much sleep.

Sometime just after sunrise (which was spectacularly gorgeous, as promised full of blazing technicolor light bouncing off the desert sand and saffron cliffs) we hit the Sinai Peninsula. Once we did, and through the rest of our journey, our bus was halted roughly every forty-five minutes at police and military checkpoints, when we were all asked to show our passports and visas again and again. Even given the embattled history of the Sinai Peninsula and recent terrorism here, this seemed excessive – we were still in the same country, after all, and it’s not like they were asking to search our bags for weapons or explosives. But, when the uniformed Egyptian man with the machine gun comes a’callin’, one answers promptly, no?

These maps should help a little to describe my travels over the last few days – again, I started out in Cairo on Friday, took the 12-hour train down to Luxor, the 18-hour bus up to Dahab on Monday night into Tuesday (on the Western coast of the peninsula, just across from the Saudi Arabian coast) and early this coming Monday morning will take the bus – advertised to take about eight hours, which should make it at least 10 – from Dahab back to Cairo:

Tonight, at 11 p.m., I’ll set off with the tour bus I just booked (don’t worry Mom, I’m not trying to go it alone) to St. Catherine’s Protectorate (should take about two hours from Dahab), from whence I’ll proceed to hike up Mt. Sinai (also known as Mt. Horeb and Jebel Musa or “Mountain of Moses”) to hit the peak at sunrise. Here’s a closer look:

When the tour bus heads back to Dahab late Wednesday morning, we should get a good gander at the Blue Desert, which I’m also pretty excited about.

And now I have about eight hours to kill in Dahab, which – as advertised – is pure heaven. All royal blue ocean, moderately-priced little backpacker hotels and hostels right on the rocky beach (I’ve chosen the Penguin Village Hotel for my stay – the 20-pound-per-night rooms which Guidebook speaks of don’t seem to exist, but 35-pounds-per-night still seems pretty fair considering the ideal location, clean bathrooms and helpful staff), and the most relaxed atmosphere I’ve encountered since landing in Egypt. Though Dahab is almost exclusively a backpacker and tourist town, the locals so far all seem incredibly laid-back about garnering our business – none of this following-travelers-down-the-street garbage that might have driven me mad in Luxor were it not for Bicycle. For the first time in a month, I’m walking down the street in a tank top – and no one is blinking an eye – and tourists and locals alike are enjoying Stellas and cocktails on restaurant patios with not an ounce of shame or stigma.

Right! Time to go snooze on the beach for a bit to rest up for tonight’s adventure. If anyone has a message for one god or another that I might pass on, let me know – I understand Yahweh is wont to frequent the Mount on occasion…


2 Responses to “Days 30, 31: Getting To Dahab (Or “Aren’t We Still In The Same Country?”)”

  1. lulu Says:

    Phew, well at least all these endlessly long and disrupted journeys sound worth it. Dahab does indeed sound like a wonderful place to chill a little, which is what I gather you’ll do after The Trek. Can’t wait to hear about THAT. it’s possible that the “excessive” security is in part because Mugabe is either in Sharm-el-Sheikh or about to arrive…dunno. I have to read these recent posts several times over, just to figure out where you are, where you just left, where you’ll be next….truly an adventure! xox

  2. El Matamoros Says:

    Thanks for the maps — I hadn’t realized (until applying myself to them with what Beryl calls a “10-power scrute”) quite the enormity of the distances we’re dealing with here.

    Also, regarding the impromptu game of musical bus-chairs — is it possible that the on-edge driver was actually looking out for your welfare and sending you back to a “siege” that he figured would leave you undisturbed? And, while on the subject of the seating arrangements, did all the passengers re-assume their same seats each time you changed buses? If so, it would show admirable, if unexpected, civility on the part of the beoble.

    Funny you should mention all those security checkpoints and document inspections — by serendipitous coincidence, just last night here in the World, Your Favorite 70s Show was on the box and it was the episode where they go up to Canada to buy beer, but get busted by the Mounties and the appropriately-named Fez hasn’t got his green card. Oh, the mirth.

    And boy, Dahab certainly sounds like the Oasis From Your Dreams. Even I smiled and relaxed, just reading about it. Sort of. Didn’t last long, mind you, but thanks anyway.

    Finally, like Lulu, I’m eager to learn what’s on top of Mt. Sinai — will they have little bar/shtublis flogging hot wine like on top of ski peaks? Er, probably not. A little stand where they sell little souvenir 10 Commandment tablets? Less unlikely, but not very much so… Probably a little military/meteorological outpost, is my guess.

    We’re all on tenterhooks.

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