Winding Down in Dahab

Winding down in both senses: as in, ten days of doing nothing in one spot over the holidays, and also counting down our remaining time in Egypt.

Dahab is a good place to spend Christmas and New Year. It’s very touristy. Which means lots of harrassing merchants and haranguing tour vendors. But also lots of restaurants and caf├ęs.

We have a rooftop room in a small hotel in a quiet part of town. (I wouldn’t quite call it a penthouse.) One side faces the mountains.

Good pizza place across the street

The other side faces the Gulf of Aqaba. You can see Saudi Arabia across the water.

Chilly when the wind blows

The days turn into a satisfying routine. We get croissants for breakfast from the German bakery down the street. Maria goes swimming. I sit in the sun and read. We go out for dinner. Rinse and repeat.

We break up this idyll of idleness with a couple of day trips. One is a snorkeling excursion.

It’s not very pleasant. It’s disorganized. (Chaotic, actually.) All of the equipment is unsafe and falling apart. We are pushed from one site to the other with no explanations. There’s usually trash everywhere.

Boat full of non-swimming Egyptians and no life jackets

When we get to do any actual snorkeling, it’s great – the Blue Hole and Ras Abu Galum are rich in corals and fish. But I had visions of tranquilly floating around on our own. Nope – we’re supposed to follow a ‘guide’.

Thankfully, Maria had a good time.

Truck transport with jagged metal projections in the overcrowded bed

I enjoyed our second excursion much more. For one thing, it is entirely self-organized. We want to go to St. Catherine’s Monastery. We are not interested in departing in the middle of the night to ‘see the sunrise over Mt. Sinai’ – why anyone would want to do such a thing is beyond me. We just need a drive there and back.

By great good fortune, Maria makes the acquaintance of Ahmed, a Dahab taxi driver who’s happy to drive us there and back – a round trip of 256 kilometres – for around $70 USD. (Half the price of organized-tour transport.)

Maria and the unflappable Ahmed

Ahmed picks us up at our hotel. The drive through the early morning desert is very scenic.

Sinai highway

This is the third thing I can cross off my list of must-see places in Egypt.

St. Catherine’s Monastery

The area within the walls has a lot of character. The monastery is manned by bearded and be-skirted Greek Orthodox monks.

The Basilica is the visible hub of the monastery.

Basilica bell-tower

The interior is a jumble of mosaics and icons. No photos allowed.

Basilica, interior

Our favourite part is the collection of icons and manuscripts. They are now in a space designed, built, and paid for by Western donors – and it shows.

Pump Up the Volumes

This is a direct descendant of the burning bush mentioned in Exodus 3:1-17.

Sure. Pull the other one.

And this is a direct descendant of the goats mentioned in Leviticus 16:7-11. (OK, I just made that up.)

Carrots are for sharing

The time comes to pack up our things and go. It’s been a relaxing ten days.

We arrange for Ahmed to pick us up and drive us to the airport in Sharm el Sheikh, 100 kilometres away through the desert.

In the distance, a lone white camel

Our flight doesn’t leave until 4:00 AM. We plan to leave our baggage at the airport, the go into town to kill time until later in the evening.