Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sinai Peninsula's Red Sea Coast, Egypt

Welcome to Egypt!

Clearing the Israeli border was easy. It was once again staffed by young cute super friendly folks. The Egyptian side wasn't quite as easy. The isobutane fuel that we bought in Eilat for my stove looked like a bomb on the Egyptian x-ray machines. They started to give Betty crap about it until she told them what it was. When we were about to leave, a guy took our passports to an office to do who knows what. When he was done, he didn't return them. He walked them to a table in between us, put them down, and told us to come get them. It wasn't like there was a ton of people around to steal them before we got to them, but I am used to my passport going directly to someone and directly back. I am not comfortable having a guy leave it on a table in a large room.

These wild camels surprised me when we came whipping around the corner.

Just after the border, I managed to miss the turn for Taba. I'm not sure we missed much though. I believe it is just another resort town, but it has a little historical significance. When Israel ceded the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt, they kept Taba. However, in 1988 an international court ruling moved the border 2km north and Israel lost a major chunk of its Red Sea coast line, including Taba.

Morning chai break on the Red Sea.

When it warmed up a bit, Betty and I stopped on the coast for a morning chai and coffee. Soaking up the scenery enjoying yummy drinks was a great way to start a very long 157km day of biking. I was pretty happy that they didn't confiscate our stove fuel.

Betty biking down the Red Sea coast.

Biking along the Sinai coast, there is ocean on your left and mountains and electrical lines on your right. After Taba which is right at the border, there are no towns. There are only resorts. There is no shoulder on the road, but that isn't bad because there isn't too much traffic.

Pharaoh's Island.

The fjord.

The only identifiable sites on the road, other than resorts, were Pharaoh's Island and a fjord. Pharaoh's Island, also called Coral Island, was originally a Phoenician seaport. In the 12th century, the Crusaders built a castle on the site. Then, it was taken over by Sultan Salah El Din who enlarged the castle. Today, it is a great snorkeling spot and it looks like they have added a pool. They are not sure of the origins of the fjord. It might be a geological fault. It might be an old river valley.

Mid level resorts along the Red Sea.

After the fjord, the Sinai Peninsula coast to Nuweiba was not what I expected. There would be nothing for miles, then an upscale resort, then nothing for miles again. There were so many new resorts being built, but I can't imagine the tourism industry sustaining them. The existing resorts we saw did not look busy and November is supposed to be the start of the high season. Next to the some of the resorts being built, it looked like there were temporary villages to house the constructions workers. There were no stores. It was weird to see the high end resorts beside such poverty, though I'm not sure that is the right word. I believe the villages were built poorly because they are only temporary. I've seen that contrast many times this trip, but have never been comfortable with it.

Temporary worker villages near the new resorts.

I liked the contrast of the resort looking building, next to the rocks, next to the temporary home.

As we got farther south, there were less high end resorts and more down to Earth resorts. Instead of giant hotels, there were small buildings and bungalow style huts built from palm trees. I liked these. They seemed more mellow. One of these, Sallyland, was mentioned in a book, Return to the Desert: A Journey from Mount Hermon to Mount Sinai, that I had read in Israel. It was neat to see it in person after reading about it. I'm not sure why the fancier ones were closer to Israel. I know that Israelis can enter the Sinai Peninsula part of Egypt without a visa. Maybe they are trying to attract the Israeli tourists.

Bungalow style resort

The one really strange part about the bungalows coming from palm trees is that there were almost no existing palm trees. The only vegetation was at the high end resorts where they are growing it. There are a few wadis with water, but I don't think they could provide that many palm trees. Perhaps they bring in the palm tree trunks and fronds from somewhere else. There is certainly room on the overloaded trucks and vans that we saw. I can't believe how high they load some of those vehicles. I would guess that some are loaded 1 to 1.5 times as high as the vehicle.

How to properly load your van.

This market near Nuweiba left something to be desired.

I can't remember if we did anything in Nuweiba. We picked up some supplies and looked for a road that did not exist. The map insisted that there was a road along the coast. All we found was a kid who grabbed onto the back of Betty's rear baskets and pulled while she was trying to ride up a hill. She was almost forced to body slam the kid, but he ran off before she got a hold of him. I gave him the stink eye and yelled at him instead which was not nearly as effective.

Mountains along the Red Sea.

Biking up the Nuweiba-Dahab hill

From Nuweiba to Dahab, there was more spectacular riding. The road left the coast and started up a mountain pass with towering peaks on both sides of us. We climbed 800m over 15km against a headwind in the heat of the day. I was tired, loving it, and feeling a little bit guilty for it because Betty was struggling. She never gave up though. For some reason, I love the hills and have adapted to the heat enough to bear it. The one problem was that I ran out of water, which ended up being pretty neat to observe what happened to my body. In thirty minutes, I went from glistening sweaty skin to dry salty skin. I didn't think anything of it because the wind had picked up and I felt cooler. I didn't suspect I was dehydrated. However, after Betty and I met at a false summit, she gave me some water and I started sweating again almost immediately. When I ran out of water a second time, I stopped sweating again too.

A dead camel that might have stopped sweating.

Somewhere in there, my ridiculous amount of sweat got into the space between where my bike computer connects to the bike. The extra salt water was causing the electrons to bounce around a few more times and trigger the computer more than it should. A few times, my computer thought I was going over 100km/hr until I dried out the connection.

The last valley before Dahab.

Contrasting rock coloring in the final valley before Dahab.

More great rock formations in the valley before Dahab.

Even more great rock formations in the valley before Dahab.

Once we got to the real summit, we were excited. We figured the rest would be down hill. However, we just kept riding across terrain that seemed flat. When we were about 20km away, the mountains spread out a little bit and we entered a stunning valley. Unfortunately, it was almost dusk. We were going to be racing against the sun to get to Dahab. We biked at an exhausting 30km/hr to beat sunset and were confident that we would eventually hit the big downhill. When we finally arrived at Dahab, we realized there was no big downhill. We had been going slightly downhill since we crossed the pass.

More great rock formations.

Last great rock formation.

When we rolled into town before sunset, we luckily ran into a windsurf shop manager who showed us the way to the Indian restaurant we were looking for and recommended a hostel to stay at. I don't think we would have ended up in the right area at all without his help.

One of hundreds of restaurants on the boardwalk in Dahab (photo from Internet).

The Indian restaurant was fantastic. When we were deciding if we needed to order more, our waiter said that there was no way we would have any chance of finishing what we already ordered unless we were starving. We told him we were and to trust us. We easily finished off all of our meals and 4 flavored mini-milks to aid our muscles in recovery. After dinner, we rolled into the Bishibishi Garden Village and into our beds to aid the rest of our recovery. We had big days of diving ahead.

I have no idea what I am doing. Probably asking for directions. Looking at this picture, I am starting to understand why three different people offered me shirts on my trip (photo by B. Cremmins) )(edit: Betty tells me that I was being a 'real man' and asking for directions when we were looking for the supposed coast road from Nuweiba to Dahab).

1 comment:

  1. May be if this Sinai is part of another country, it would have been more touristic and attractive to many sorts of tourists!